My first impression of Melbourne from the airport bus is a vast sprawl of towers on a distant rise, much larger than I expected. The skyline almost rivals Manhattan. My accommodation is in one such tower – forty floors serviced by only three lifts so it’’s a wait. One woman complained that it took her fifteen minutes to descend on her way to work, stopping at every floor in the morning.
I’m here to attend the annual meet of the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics – last year it was in New York. After settling in, I catch up with my team mate Ron from Team Auckland Master Swimmers for something to eat. So, the second thing I notice is the diversity in this city which makes me feel right at home. There are also buildings going up everywhere. Half completed skyscrapers dot the skyline with cranes attached. There is architectural innovation with varied results from dull to interesting. Some of the old colonial constructions like town hall, church and library cling on against the march of the modern. A new row of restaurants stretch along the South Bank of the Yarra River – over priced for what they offer. Still it’s nice to look out over the water.
On Friday it’s registration at the pool, a time to check the place out and the transport from town. Melbourne’s tram system is very efficient and gets me to the Melbourne Sport and Aquatic Centre in twenty minutes. The complex is vast. We’re racing in a fabulous fifty metre outdoor pool, shaded from the sun with a massive awning. Inside is another competition pool and a diving pool. Elsewhere there is a leisure pool and various learning and training pools. No excuse for non-swimmers in Melbourne. The 1500m freestyle event is running so I have a little warm up indoors and then meet up with lots of old friends from around the world all of whom have travelled this far to compete. It’s a time to renew old acquaintances and make new international friends.
Heading back to town I decide on the Museum of Immigration. This seem to be a global hot topic at the moment and I’m interested in what the Australians have to say about it. Starting at the top, I discover a floor exploring identity and just about every culture is represented here, confirming my impression that Melbourne and the State of Victoria is indeed diverse. It’s a moving if familiar story of immigration, how people travel huge distances for economic and political freedom. Down a floor and the history of Australian immigration and policy is laid out in all its imperfections. The notorious White Australian Policy is there, along with its demise due to human rights acts. The contribution that immigrants have made is acknowledged and I exit through a courtyard of tribute to the rear of the building. It’s good to have an alternative view from current impressions of Australian politics.
There’s a rooftop drinks party out in the suburbs from 7pm. It involves two tram rides. We’ve decided to get their early so we can go and eat later. There’s the remnants of a wedding party and several other groups. I spot my old friend Robert (Noosa and Paris) and we gravitate to a quiet space indoors with a great view of the City. Gradually we are joined by older swimmers and then my young friends from Out to Swim London turn up and I have to do hugs all round.
The security guard on the door recommends a Chinese restaurant across the road who are known for their dumplings. We want something with a few vegetables though and go for the noodles. Unfortunately, it’s not until we try to pay that the cash only policy is discovered. Neither of us do cash so I go off in search of an ATM clutching my New Zealand debit card and hoping that will work. It does though we’ve missed a few of the trams home.