You’ll see several of the sights of Melbourne in this post. Most are clearly labeled and explained. Not everything is clear to the visiting aliens, however. This sign announces that the shop inside is actually a funeral parlor. I kid you not. I’m still wondering whether only white ladies can be buried by this mortuary, or husbands of white ladies (regardless of their color), or only white ladies are employed by the company, or what. Apparently, according to the sign, only a woman can understand. Does this seem a bit sexist or racist (or both) to you? I promise you, Melbourne as a whole seems neither.
The above paragraph affords me no easy transition to the rest of the blog. So we’ll just forget it and focus our attention on Abby Weller, Dandenong’s one-woman Chamber of Commerce. Abby’s a rural Indiana native transplanted to this Melbourne suburb via Michigan. At Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing she was challenged to become an urban missionary. She accepted; for for the past three years she’s been working with young people in this suburb, a 45 minute train ride from Richmond.
We had planned to meet her in December but our unscheduled return to Oregon preempted that appointment. So on our unscheduled return to Australia from New Zealand (our kind of travel is not for the inflexible!), we made good on our postponed date. We were glad we did.
Abby is representative of so many idealistic young people we get to work with in CMF International. They don’t make any money in this ministry, but the impact of their work is incalculable. She focuses on 5th and 6th graders, befriending them and their families, and pointing them toward a hopeful future and gently introducing them to Christ.
She’s enthusiastic about her mission and her town. Dandenong is one of Australia’s most richly diversified communities, she explains, and we believe her. She led us on a walk through the town’s Middle-Eastern, Indian, and Asian sections–and there are others. We even saw some Aussies in the mix. We had kabobs in an Afghan restaurant and snooped through some of the shops in the major mall where all this diversity is on display.
New Zealand and Australia have both impressed us with their official and unofficial spirit of welcome to immigrants, who seem to have learned how to get along with one another—and who welcomed this talented young woman from America who is devoting herself to their children’s welfare.
Back to Melbourne proper. The various sites downtown are an endless visual feast for visiting aliens. Joy and I boarded Tram #48 in Richmond and headed into the city the other day. More precisely, we boarded it twice. When the purpose of your trip is to notarize an important paper, it’s a good idea to take along some identification. Like a passport. It’s amazing how legalistic a lawyer can be (in Australia you go to the office of an attorney [“solicitor”] for this purpose). A friend of our son-in-law recommended this one. I knew we were in trouble when we stepped into his elegantly appointed office in the heart of Melbourne’s financial district. The first thing he did, after we shook hands, was to walk me over to his law library (which covered two walls) and pull out the definitive textbook on Australia’s notary law. He wanted me to see the author’s name on the cover. His. Beside it was another book, this one on international notary law. Same author. Obviously this guy doesn’t work cheap. He was also not about to notarize a piece of paper for a couple of foreigners who arrived without their passports. So we had two tram rides that day. I’ll have the loan for his fee paid off in no time.
That’s not really what I meant to tell you. I started to describe the visual feast that is downtown Melbourne. As we walked from the solicitor’s office to catch our tram, Joy snapped the following pictures on Flinders Street–in 15 minutes. Think how long this post would be if we’d walked for an hour!
Like most other cities these days, Melbourne is home to a host of graffiti artists. Here’s a view of Hosier Lane. There are lots of other graffiti collections like this one. This popular genre of outdoor art elicits two opposing responses: 1) What an egregious disfiguring of public property; these criminals ought to be locked up! 2) What a great example of individual genius; these creative artists are really good! Many years ago I bought a large, expensive book of graffiti art gathered from around the world. It taught me to pay closer attention. I guess I’m not ready to lock these artists up.
Wedding. As we walked past a fine old church Joy spotted a wedding party in the side courtyard. It doesn’t matter what country we’re in, we can’t help joining in the spirit of the occasion. I think Joy pretended to be a colleague of the professional photographer as he shot his pictures.
A sad sight we saw on many of Melbourne’s streets: a homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk in midday. The city’s police seem to be tolerant of these who make their temporary–or permanent?–homes here. We’ve also seen this phenomenon in many cities we’ve visited.
Flinders Street Station. Matthew Flinders was the early 19th century explorer and cartographer who first circumnavigated Australia and gave the continent its name. His legacy is all over the place. There’s a Flinders town, a Flinders University, a Flinders Street, and famous Flinders Street Station. You often see this icon in TV news stories featuring downtown Melbourne. It’s a favorite rendezvous location for meeting in the heart of town. “Meet me under the clocks.”
Federation Square is representative of the architectural treasures that abound in Melbourne. This multipurpose facility houses a visitor center, theater, event center, national gallery, festival headquarters, and much more.
Actually, our time in the solicitor’s office was more positive than I made it sound. I must confess he treated us kindly with the charge for his services. His receptionist greeted and hosted us graciously. Our lasting impression, I confess, was of the two dogs, Millie and Max, who are really in charge of the office.
Millie is an Australian Kelpie. Max, we were told, is a mutt. They are both magnificent animals. Millie is demure, rather introverted, friendly but cautious. Max hasn’t met a stranger. He doesn’t overpower, but he doesn’t wait to be introduced.
In an earlier post I told you I try to read something about each country we visit. For Australia it’s Thomas Keneally’s A Commonwealth of Thieves. The title gives the story away. The first white settlers on this continent were prisoners, banished to this far away land down under to pay for their crimes, everything from murder to stealing a few shillings. It was England’s elitist way of dismissing the despised unfortunate classes and relieving their overstuffed prisons.
I enjoy reminding my Aussie son-in-law of his nation’s roots, especially since he’s forever gloating that he rescued our daughter from the perils of America. The evening TV news here, which faithfully–and daily– headlines America’s latest political shenanigans, feed him all the evidence he wants. But now, thanks to Keneally, I can retort with tales of Australia’s sometimes equally inglorious history.
Except that I’m being unfair. A large percentage of the thousands of prisoners transported here in the late 18th century should never have had to leave England. Their crimes were petty misdemeanors, a category English jurisprudence scarcely recognized. Death, prison, or banishment were the court’s options. Off to Australia with them! The unforeseen consequence, though, is that most of these so-called lawless persons worked together over time to create a respectable society in Botany Bay; we know the area as Sydney. They prevailed over the most daunting circumstances: murderously difficult ship conditions, food shortages aboard and on land, skimpy clothing in frigid weather, scarce farming tools, threatening natives—who were themselves threatened by the invading whites, and yes, some unsavory characters in their midst). This part of the story reads very much like America’s history. You know who won there—and here. These relations remain tenuous even now.
Keneally’s history reads like a novel. That’s not a surprise. He is a novelist, the author of Schindler’s Ark, the 1982 novel adapted for the movie Schindler’s List. I had read Robert Hughes’ masterful The Fatal Shore many years ago. Commonwealth of Thieves has made me want to reread Hughes. I’m intrigued by the early days of white Australia. And—also important—when my son-in-law points out what America did wrong in our early days, I can quote Keneally. That is, unless he decides to read the book for himself. Then he’ll discover Keneally is a fairer man than I.
JOY’S PICKS OF THE PICS
Thinking of home….Tillamook