I feel a bit like a hitchhiker here in Melbourne, albeit a metaphorical one. I seem to be eating and walking my way through the city, hitching a ride at each restaurant, coffee shop, street, interacting with the people there and then moving on. I’ve always liked human stories, and what better way to find out about a place than to talk to the people who live there?
Melbourne is a complex beast; a reflection of the country it resides in, so people are a good first step in unraveling that I think. And they are always the most revealing thing about a place. So here are a few interactions I’ve already had with people.*
*Identities and names have been changed to protect those who did not know I was mentally recording what they were saying. Ah the pitfalls of interacting with a blogger.
Jimmy the Busker
Jimmy chatted to me outside of a train station, as we watched another busker strumming something I didn’t recognise. Jimmy placed the pocket sized New Testament he was reading down and asked me where I was from. He told me he was also a busker, and the man we were watching was very inexperienced. He showed me his calloused fingers to prove he was telling the truth about his profession, because he had no instrument with him. I nodded, told him I did indeed believe him. And then he asked me if we had right wing nuts in the UK like they do here. I nodded again, and then he kind of changed lanes and said “Also, if you want to carry around an Australian flag, it doesn’t mean you’re a Nazi, because we went to war to beat the Nazis”. At that point my friend arrived and I said goodbye to Jimmy, unsure where the conversation was about to go. I might never know.
Brady the Fundraiser
Brady was one of those purposefully good looking people raising money for a charity on the street, whose pretty face entices strollers nearby, like me. It turned out that Brady was British and had grown up not too far from where I lived in London. Brady told me he had been here for seven years, that he could finally apply for citizenship, and that when he first got here he just messed around a lot; “you know how boys can be” he said. I nodded, fully aware of how boys can be, wondering if he had a girlfriend now. He told me of a friend who had just returned to the UK, who he couldn’t convince to stay; he seemed sad about it, so I didn’t press. He obviously loved it here.
Mildred the Recruiter
Mildred was from the north of England and was tasked with helping me find work. She told me during our first meeting how she loved it here, how terrible the jet lag was, and how strange the postcode system is in comparison to the UK. She recommended two websites I use to find a place to live in the city when I eventually move. We also discussed at length whether jet lag from the UK to Australia, is worse than jet lag from Australia to the UK. I don’t know which is worse and I haven’t yet found a job, but I am hoping the latter happens before I discover the answer to the former.
Greg the American
Greg is a new friend with lots of opinions. He’s been here for almost twenty years, and still thinks Australia is “just OK”. He hasn’t lost his American confidence and believes that the Aussies are not as relaxed as they appear to be. He notes that the customer service here is not great from his perspective, whereas I have found it nothing but lovely. I tell him he comes from a place where customer service is revered and people work for tips, which is not the case here. He agrees but still thinks it could be better. I tell him he wouldn’t like London in that case and he laughs. We discuss the differences between Brits and Australians, and then he shares an anecdote where an Aussie wanted his opinion on a notoriously divisive (and sometimes political) issue. He shared it and asked for the opinion of the person who had asked him; they replied that it was too personal a question for them to answer. This explains a lot about his view of Australians. But he’s stayed here for almost twenty years, so it can’t be that bad.
Rob the Tram Passenger
My friend and I met Rob together on a tram whilst on our way to a pub (what’s new). He was inebriated and trying to get into conversations with any passenger who made eye contact with him. My friend and I were his first consenting conversation for that journey. He wanted to know where we were from i.e. ethnic origins. Then he proceeded to tell us that as a boy from an Aboriginal community, he had been taught to hate white people in Australia, because they only did bad things to his people. I said very little, but my friend who is white and grew up in Australia, seemed empathetic and handled it better than I think I could have. Eventually his stop came, but not before my friend reminded him he had left his bottle behind. He seemed grateful and exited the vehicle. My friend and I talked about it afterwards; neither us felt good about it, for different reasons. I was glad to have met him though; there’s so much more to say on this but I’ll leave it here for now.
At the moment the picture I have in my mind is of a patchwork, a series of experiences, specific to Melbourne in some ways and in others not so much. There are lots of pieces missing, hundreds of them. Which just means I’ve got loads more hitchhiking to do.
Image credits 1, 2, 4 & 5: Man Hairstyle by habione 404 from the Noun Project 3: Woman Hairstyle by habione 404 from the Noun Project