Well, actually I suppose I should mutter a bit more about Adelaide first. I killed a few hours between the conference ending and my flight across country by visiting the zoo. First zoo I’ve ever visited (to the best of my knowledge – I suppose I might have been to one as a small child) but I thought that, well, I wasn’t likely to get too many other opportunities to see the Antipodean fauna. Naturally, the first animals I saw through the gates were, in order, a North African Pygmy Hippo, some Oriental Otters of some variety, two Giant Pandas and a rather energetic Red Panda. Truly is Australia a diverse and special land. The Red Panda was very odd to see - it had long legs, and so looked a little like Doctor Moreau had stuck a cats legs onto a badger’s body. It was also impressively dextrous as it climbed things, and possessed the curious knack (shared by all the other animals at the zoo) of looking away from the camera *just* as I pressed the capture button.
Anyway, where was I? Right, zoo. The local wildlife, including birds, were really rather fascinatingly odd. I think the rodent-alikes were the ones I liked most, which I suppose isn’t surprising given my fondness for rodents. In at least one of the aviary enclosures, there were several Long-nosed Potoroo running about which, given that I’d just seen them in the nocturnal animals building, came as a bit of a surprise. On the other hand, I got a much closer look in the aviary, given the daylight and the fact that one decided to cross the path as I walked along it, passing my boot by mere inches. The other major highlight would have to have been the feeding of the Sumatran Tiger. ‘Twas only a few, mostly meat-stripped ribs, which I suspect was to prevent the general public from seeing nature’s teeth and claws in too red a state, but they were added in to the enclosure such that to get at them the tiger had to be within a metre of the glass. Those creatures are *huge*. The head was massive, with pale eyes with a disturbing habit of focusing quite clearly on the distracting monkeys interrupting its midday snack. As for the rest of it, you could have trivially fit the whole of my body into its torso (and isn’t that a comfortable image) even before those terrifyingly muscled legs and menacing paws were invoked. Magnificent creature, and a great display of visible power. He had it; we did not, and we were grateful for the armoured glass.
Right, on to Melbourne. Aside from the oh-so-helpful advice of my taxi driver last night, my native guide (hereafter NG) (regrettably not actually guiding save from afar as a result of injury) had a more sensible list of suggestions for things to do and places to see. My B&B is sufficiently close to the centre of the city that after getting a tram into town (more on them in a bit), I was able to comfortably walk back in the evening along the edges of several rather nice parks which I intend to explore more fully later.
Anyway, thus far the city has favourably impressed me. It doesn’t have the overall squat feel that Adelaide had, which is I think due more to the larger city blocks than the hideous skyscrapers. Each block is shot through with narrow little alleys (laneways, apparently), all lined with shops and restaurants so the closer feel of European cities is retained despite the unnaturally broad major streets. Seriously, if you really need six-lane roads as the major routes around your central shopping district, something has gone wrong. The sheer number of restaurant is terrifying, as is their variety – within a five minute walk of Flinder Street Station there are probably far more than a dozen sushi places, ranging from full and formal dining rooms to takeaways doing a brisk passing trade. There are also fish and chip shops and creperies rubbing shoulders with Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, and I even saw a shop selling nothing but churros. You’d think that as a result Melburnians would all be spherical, but the average body shape over here seems to be better weighted, as it were. There’s still the full range of shapes and figures, but the distribution tail doesn’t stretch nearly as far or enthusiastically into the obese end of the spectrum.
I mostly spent my time today wandering about largely aimlessly, finding out where places were and getting a rough feel for layout and direction. I did, however, make one visit to a landmark based on the suggestion of my NG – the State Library. It’s beautiful. Firstly, the building itself has a massive dome arching over the central reading room, which is apparently as wide as it is high. It’s four stories high. As a result, the simple white walls and roof, and the dome’s enormous windows, make the room bright and airy whilst still wholly enclosed and a thing in itself. There’s nothing fancy in the room, aside from some inscriptions around the lowest floor walls, with the only decorations being the bookshelves, the starburst of the reading tables and lecturns, and the clear triangles and chevrons of the windows themselves. It’s a very nice example of doing something simply and properly, such that function is optimised and done beautifully too.
Aside from the building’s own value, the contents are also impressive. I skipped the exhibition on the history of Shopping in Melbourne, but the display about books themselves (including a large number of very old manuscripts and early printed books) and their social history was great. The other two exhibitions were an history of Victoria and a collection of art from the region over the centuries – both of them. The tricky bit, following the stories, is that Victoria is the name of the region, so chosen to butter up the reigning monarch when applying for independent colonial status. It does, alas, mean that the adjective Victorian has two distinct but ambiguous meanings in a lot of the text. The art display was unexceptional – some good, some bad – but the history of the area was very well done. One of the things which intrigued me about it at first was that it was advertised by a picture a rough looking helm. When I inquired about entry at the desk, the very first thing I was told was how to get to see Ned Kelly’s armour, with it being patently clear that at no point did the woman pointing the way consider that I might have no idea whatsoever who he was. It’s a sad thing to say, but my first thought on reading the historical records and seeing the armour in the flesh for the first time was that I could almost hear Black Sabbath beginning to play in the background.
Oh, and did you know that one of the names which served for a time for the colony was Batmania? What, prey tell, would you call someone from Batmania? Alas, they settled for Melbourne to butter up the then Prime Minister (two points are not a trend), or the history of Detective Comics might have been very different.
Edward VII was, as far as I know, a monarch who did very little. As such, I’m rather curious as to why there are large and prominent statues of him in both Adelaide and Melbourne. Did he have some colonial association with them? The statue in Adelaide is, by the by, the fancier if smaller of the two.
 I’m afraid that this is very nearly a tautology in my books – skyscrapers rarely have any redeeming visual features, being mostly blocks with blocks on. At least a crude steel viewing platform on a tower of girders has honesty on its side.