Words by Paul Hollingworth.
Meandering in Marvellous Mid-winter Melbourne
Planning an outdoor walking event in Melbourne in late June is somewhat like Mrs Gump’s chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get! On this occasion though, we lucked in. The weather was a warm and sunny 16° and our diverse group of Melbourne Motorcycle Tourers and Motafrenz Car Clubbers set off for a leisurely 90 minute/2.5km walk for the City of Melbourne’s “Heart of the City” walking tour.
Stop Zero, the meeting point was in keeping with generations of Melbornians and “under the clocks” of Flinders Street Station. The sights and sounds of the city’s busiest intersection – back to life after so long in lockdown – was exhilarating. Goths, bogans, wealthy, stylish, dags, footy fans, young, old, and in every imaginable colour and gender variety, made for a perfect introduction to any tour or visit of the city.
Stop Number One was just across the road at Federation Square. A once much hated space, is now used, appreciated and loved by many. But before we continue – an old man toilet break! Then up the square past ACMI, the Koori Heritage Centre and the Ian Potter Gallery of the NGV. Popping back out at Flinders Street opposite the Forum Theatre where I regaled (bored) everyone with my story of going to the Forum to see “Teen Wolf” when I was a boy. All the lovely attendees smiled at me – either condescending or because they had gas, one can’t be too sure. We then diverted from the published tour to visit Hosier Lane. The world renowned graffiti hotspot. This was packed – proving that street art is as valuable to Melbornians as a Picasso (and rightly so).
Then up to Stop Number Two, St Paul’s Cathedral. Gordon told us all of the interesting story of St Paul (which I now mostly forget, but you can probably get an update from the Bible). I haven’t been inside the Cathedral for nearly thirty years, which is disgraceful for someone who has lived in Melbourne for most of their life. A cathedral is a must visit in every city, it is often the most valuable historic monument reflecting the way the people from that place and that time aspired to be. We spent quite a lot of time here actually, and I would highly recommend a visit the next time you are in town.
From this point the stop numbers become a bit mixed up, so I’ll free-ball my narrative from now on, if you don’t mind.
Our tour gave us information about the Regent Theatre and Plaza Ballroom, the Melbourne Town Hall, and the Athenaeum Theatre – all within sight from our vantage point on Collins Street. Here, Ross told us some wonderful, firsthand stories of the Regent and the Ballroom before we headed up Collins Street to Spring Street. Along the way there were no tour-stops, but we all enjoyed the walk, the chats and the architecture of this premier part of the city.
On Spring Street, Lyric contributed to the narrative – advising us not to miss the exhibition at the old Treasury Building, and a tale of the wonders of the Windsor Hotel – being from poor bogan stock, I have never ventured inside… maybe one day… Ross was telling a story about a soggy red carpet, but I was distracted by a protest outside Parliament House. The protest was an anti-vaxxer rally. The sign said “vaccines are child abuse” – perhaps so, who am I to judge, but I am old enough to remember the effects on children of once common deseases like polio and rubella. I am reminded of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” – “four legs good, two legs better”. Maybe someone should tell the protesters, “vaccines are child abuse, but no vaccines are child abuseier”. I have digressed, sorry.
The protesters were kind enough to move down Bourke Street so we could gather for a picture on the steps of Parliament House where I spouted some general knowledge about the building and its use by the Commonwealth Government, and Gordon told a story about the proposed dome and his God-King Jeff Kennett. Across the road was the Princess Theatre – looking wonderful once again. Ross told us of the incredible and subtle Harry Potter themed interior decoration – possibly almost worth the cost of a theatre ticket alone.
Next off for the last little bit, a walk down Little Bourke Street/Chinatown. Melbourne’s Chinatown is the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere, and the oldest continuous Chinatown in the English-speaking world. Along the way we passed two more theatres both with active productions. We are truly very fortunate to live in such a fantastic, vibrant and cultural city. I remember all these theatres being closed and rundown when I was a child. Thank goodness the City Council (or possibly Union bans) saved them!
The last stop was to be the old General Post Office – now the wannabe H&M, but our protesting friends had taken over so we just kept moving on to lunch. Darrin had suggested we head off to Hardware Lane, and once there he suggested Max’s. A very good choice indeed! They had a table to fit us all, the service was quick and friendly, and the food yummo.
Another side note: I first met Darrin when I was only just starting out in drag. He lived in (what I thought was a mansion) in Brighton with a whole bunch of other girls. The girls were already established young drag queens, and I found their friendship and mentorship invaluable in those early years. We’re all a bunch of old hags now, of course.
Lunch marked the end of the official event, and many said their goodbyes and headed off. Daniel had mentioned that he would be interested in visiting the Queer Exhibition at the NGV, so a few of us headed off there. It was sad, inspiring and confronting, but well worth a visit if you get the chance.
All-in-all I had a wonderful day, the weather was superb, and the delightful company of the fourteen attendees from the two clubs was to die for!