Melbourne: Royal Botanic Gardens, a Welcome to Country smoking ceremony, and Hosier Lane graffiti

Today we met to board our bus shortly before 8:30AM. We went to the Royal Botanic Gardens and met a guide named Jakobi who took us on an Aboriginal Heritage Walk and had us participate in a Welcome to Country smoking ceremony, which involved burning leaves and herbs. Jakobi explained the First Peoples’ use of several trees, flowers, seed pods, and plants. Then our guide took us off to the side and discussed the history of persecution of the Aboriginal peoples by the British, and the legal status problems and prejudice that are present now. This will be a theme of the tour.

When Captain Cook grounded his ship on the Great Barrier Reef, the Aboriginal people living in the area helped him fix the ship so he could return to Britain. When he reached Britain, he reported that Australia was uninhabited by any people. The Aboriginal people were classified under the Flora and Fauna Act until 1967. That’s not a typo.

The flag of the First People

I realize there are a lot of “but’s”, and “wait’s” and “however’s” and that I am a North American, and we treated our First Peoples horrifically as well. That’s not the point. I am telling you about this because there is a lot of palpable tension in Australia about this issue, and because I hear about it as well as other issues of racism and xenophobia frequently. The murders in the mosques in New Zealand have added tinder to these tensions.

The Botanic Gardens are beautiful, with an interesting mix of native and imported specimens. There were some spectacular beds of succulents. The Aboriginal guide showed us an interesting variety of banksia that has seedpods that are used for transporting fire. The inner core of the pod smolders for hours while the outer case of the seedpod remains uncharred. There is a picture of one of those seedpods above, and several succulents below.

We had lunch at the Abbotsford Convent Bakery, which has woodfired ovens build in 1901 for the Good Shepherd sisters whose convent it was, and who started a finishing school for girls because the bishop told them to, even though they were not an “education order”.  The food was very good and there was far too much of it.

After lunch and a short walk, we were taken to Hosier Lane in the central business district. Hosier Lane is a side street painted with graffiti from Wellington Parade to Collins Street. It is legal graffiti, encouraged by the city council, which paints the lane dark grey every so often so the graffiti artists can begin anew. This is not the only graffiti street in Melbourne but is the most well-known. Melbourne has a reputation for interesting street art including not just graffiti but sculpture, carvings, and yarn-bombings. We walked back to the hotel from Hosier Lane (via a pub) and for dinner, 8 of us went to the Duke of Wellington, walking down to the CDB again. I walked back to the hotel from the Duke and came out with a total of 17,500 steps for the day.

One of our members is leaving the group on Monday. He misjudged how much activity he could handle. There is a lot of walking every day, 3 to 5 miles, and lots of travel within each country.

Melbourne – Fitzroy Gardens and St Patrick’s Cathedral

Today is Thursday, my first day in Melbourne. Melbourne is the capital city of the state of Victoria. It has a population of about 6 million. It was founded in 1835 by settlers from a British colony in Tasmania. There were failed attempts to protect the aboriginal people living in and using the Melbourne area from being ripped off, but eventually they were. The original tribes were the Wurundjeri, the Boonwurrung and the Wathaurang. Tomorrow I will learn more about them and their story during a trip to the Botanic Gardens, where we will experience a welcome ceremony.

This morning I had a tiny coffee and very large croissant at a coffee shop near the hotel, and then walked through Fitzroy Gardens diagonally up to St Patrick’s Cathedral. Actually, before venturing out, I had several cups of instant coffee in my room, which is equipped with an electric kettle. Instant coffee is very typical in Australia, where you are much more likely to get instant coffee than brewed coffee. I know that instant coffee is hard for North Americans to accept, but it is what it is, people. My question is, why don’t people use electric kettles in the US? They are so quick and convenient. Maybe it is because we don’t drink much tea, but there’s dozens of uses for boiling water other than tea. Well. I think I need an electric kettle.

Waterfall fountain, Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne

Back to the Fitzroy Gardens: The Fitzroy Gardens is a 64-acre park directly across the street from my hotel. The gardens were established beginning in 1848 as a respite for city dwellers. There are many footpaths lined by large trees, some open green lawns, and other interesting features such as a waterfall; a mini Tudor village; a conservatory; and Captain Cook’s boyhood cottage, moved from England in the 1930’s. Many of the larger trees in the park have large metal sleeves around them to protect them from possums, which are a protected species not related to North American opossums (other than that they are both marsupials and both the size of a cat.) I hope I will see an Australian possum on Saturday when we go to the wildlife sanctuary. I am told they are much cuter than American opossums. For one thing, they have fluffy squirrel-like tails which makes them look a lot less rat-like. American opossums look like giant rats, pretty much. It is hard to think of a big rat as cute.


St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne

If you walk diagonally across Fitzroy Gardens you reach Landsdowne Street within a stone’s throw of St Patrick’s Cathedral. I have read that it is the largest church building in Australia. It is built in Gothic Revival style, with three spires, with walls of a basalt called locally, bluestone. It is a beautiful building, with statues of St Catherine of Siena, St Mary of the Cross McKillop, an Australian-born saint.

St Catherine of Siena at a door to the Cathedral

At St Patrick’s Cathedral they were busy setting up for a big Mass on Friday, which is St Patrick’s Day. St Patrick’s was the home cathedral for the now-disgraced former cardinal George Pell, who has been sentenced to 6 years in prison for assaulting 2 choir boys. This is a tragedy and embarrassment for the Roman Catholic world, but for Australian Catholics it’s an open, raw wound, not unlike the pain we feel in the Archdiocese of Washington with the disgrace of Theodore McCarrick. There is an iron fence surrounding the cathedral grounds. Long, colored ribbons have been tied to the fence to acknowledge the suffering of the victims of clerical sex abuse, and a saddened attendant sits outside the church at the foot of a statue of one of the parish founders to field questions and comments.

Ribbons on the fence to commemorate victims of clerical abuse.

I am sure you will be thinking how appropriate it is that there’s a statue of St Catherine at the doorway to the Cathedral, since she tried to be a defender of the Church against clerical malfeasance in her time.

Keep it between the lines, people.

Train to Melbourne

Today I took the train from Goulburn Station to Southern Cross Station in Melbourne. It is a ride of a little over 8 hours, crossing some rural Australian countryside. Because of the drought, there isn’t much green to be seen, and because most of this part of Australia is managed by people, there are no wild animals to be seen. Sorry, no hoppitying herds of wallabies or roos. Just sheep, cows (or cattle, more likely) and in the southernmost areas, horses.

The open countryside of southeastern Australia

The train is clean and comfortable, and the track is generally, though not universally, in good condition. The price of a first-class ticket is reasonable, with reserved seat for $71-90 AUD (depending on whether you buy the ticket on line or at the station. On line is cheaper.) The first-class car was quiet, clean and comfortable. It didn’t have wi-fi or power points (receptacles). The food was unremarkable. You can order a hot lunch from an attendant who comes through the car. The order is cooked for you, and after about an hour the ‘buffet car’ (which does not have a buffet, just a service counter) staff announces that the hot meals are ready to be picked up. As it turns out, the hot meals are TV dinners.  I ordered the chicken teriyaki. It was served with rice, a small sampling of vegetables, and a very nice whole grain roll. Along with a soft drink, it cost $12.

Goulburn Rail Station

We stopped in a number (12 or so?) small towns to pick up or drop off passengers. In Cootamundra, we wncountered the passenger car section of a train called the 3801 Limited. The steam locomotive, the 3801, was restored in the 1990’s by a consortium of government and private groups and ran as a historic train until 2017. It was supposed to have started running again in February of this year. The passenger cars, which are well maintained and look ready to roll, are parked on a siding at Cootamundra rail yard, but without the 3801 engine.

3801 Limited, passenger cars – at Cootamundra

There is an abundance of graffiti on this route, particularly once south of Wagga Wagga. I collected some images that may become the topic of another post. The house below has acquired some magical properties.

I am staying in Melbourne at The Pullman on Park. This is the hotel from which the OAT tour leaves tomorrow. The hotel is tall with a small foot print. My room is on the 16th floor, facing north, so I can see part of Fitzroy Gardens, the spires of St Patrick’s cathedral, and numerous interesting roofs. There’s a lot to explore down there. I found a pizzeria that makes a fantastic cheese and vegetable pizza, and that was dinner tonight. (I am not impressed with the hotel internet. It crashed once already tonight.)

Train buffs: I took lots of photos of details of the Goulburn station; my train; rail yards we passed through; track features (such as the concrete ties that are replacing the rotted out wooden ones); locomotives; track testing/repair/laying equipment; and sundry types of train cars. See me later for these if you wish.