Melbourne Vignettes – Luna Park and an Addled Canadian

She was tiny and she was exquisite. She was dressed appropriately – head scarf covering her hair and with long concealing attire to her feet. She spotted me observing her. I smiled and she smiled back. Her already beautiful face glowed. Beside her he noticed. He instinctively moved in protectively, but without laying a finger on her. When he saw the recipient of her favour was an old fellow he relaxed, just nodded and moved away from her. He was a huge guy – rugby player huge. He wore a black singlet, shorts and thongs. Tattoos and muscles abounded. Brother? Husband? I had no idea – but the contrast between the two was striking. She seemed a happy soul, comfortable in her skin – if one can deduce as much in a fleeting moment. I imagine she was delighted to be in such a place on such a glorious day – as I was.
And Luna Park was, to me, such a pleasant surprise. I expected a run down, down-at-heel crumbling amusement arcade affair – a throwback to the days when entertainment for the masses took a simpler form. Yes, it had obviously seen better times, but there was something very beguiling about its retro feel. I had merely come to watch so there was consideration for that as no entrance fee was required from me. On this Sunday it was busy, but certainly not crowded. And it appeared to me that on that day the place formed a microcosm of what our country is all about. From the well-heeled, judged on dress, to the hipster and bogan; with every skin hue imaginable being represented. Many languages could be discerned. Best of all, laughter abounded.
I was also there to watch a little girl in action. At an age when fear is unknown, Tessa Tiger was up for anything. She ran and rode the rides and ran some more. It was unbridled glee – those blue eyes sparkled with the fun of it all. Later, exhausted from all that exhilaration, after it was all over, she had fallen asleep on her mother’s shoulder before even the exit was reached. Her Poppy had been entranced by the wonder of her small frame going for it.
But amazing me as well were the Amazons of the roller coaster. These were the lasses who rode the brake as the ancient ‘car’ whizzed its way, albeit creakily, around the perimeter high above as I sat in the sun. They stood tall in their naff purple uniforms, these girls. Seated beneath them the punters screamed for all they were worth. The two that particularly appealed had long pony-tails protruding from their equally naff caps. As their conveyance started each downward thrust they’d brace themselves, move the brake-stick forward into position and down they would ride, long hair flowing behind them in the updraught created. They sort of reminded me of those maidens in bygone days who rode the wings of bi-plans in aviation stunts. I thought these purple princesses were almost as magnificent as my magnificent almost four-year old granddaughter.
So, dear reader, if there is at some stage a possibility of visiting this St Kilda icon with your kiddies – or, even better, grandchildren, do not demur. To see it all through their small persons is priceless.

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It was warm and sweaty during my five days in Yarra City, first down in Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, then later up by Bourke Street Mall. And I had a ball. I’d read Fitzroy Street was dying commercially, but the nights we were there it seemed vibrant and alive. The pubs, restaurants and cafes along the thoroughfare were full and doing great business. Katie chose the eateries we graced and each, in their own way, were purlers. Her old man enjoyed her selections immensely. One introduced me to tapas – United Kitchen (2/52 Fitzroy), another to Tex-Mex fajitas (Elbow Room, 19 Fitzroy). I’m yet to be convinced that I am a tapas type of guy, but both these tucker outlets presented delicious fare. And then my beautiful daughter suggested I try the latest legume sensation, edamame beans. I could become addicted.
Whilst on food, while I was there the Age, in its food guide, listed its top ten fish-‘n’-chips outlets in the city – and one was very central so easy for me to access and sample. Tank (Level 3, The Emporium, 287 Lonsdale) lived up to its description in that august former broadsheet:-
Melbourne’s best fish and chips 2016 – Sophia Levin – February 9, 2016
Tank Fish & Chips
Don’t be fooled by the paleness of this beer batter; it’s quite possibly Melbourne’s best. It’s the crunchiest casing of them all but the seasoning, reminiscent of Arnott’s Barbecue Shapes, is what will win you over. It’s peppered all over the thin, golden chips and flawless potato cake ($1.20), along with a sprinkling of deep-fried parsley. Expect two moist pieces of the fish of the day in the Old School Fish N’ Chips pack ($11, usually blue grenadier). Both stores are also beautifully designed, a collection of blue Victorian tiles juxtaposed against neon.
Emporium food court, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne CBD, 03 9020 4342; also at 149-151 Lygon Street, Carlton, 03 9040 2124
And everywhere she put in an appearance the little one charmed. One of the Elbow Room guys introduced her to the art of bar-tending and a waitress at an Acland Street pit stop presented her with a free milk shake because of her ability to place an order at so young an age. A lovely matronly ‘witch’ at Spellbox (Shop 7, Royal Arcade) let her wish so many spells I didn’t think we’d ever convince our darling to depart the wonderful small realm of her imagination.

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There was much else to rave about during my five days in a city that once in its past was threatened with the name Bearbrass (apparently a mis-rendering of Birrarung, meaning ‘river of mists’ in the language of the Wurundjeri people). I suitably experienced the Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei Experience at the NGV St Kilda Road – well worth the effort if you’re in that neck of the woods before it closes April 24th. With Tess I was gobsmacked by the denizens of watery environments at Melbourne Aquarium. Alone, I found myself saddened by Melbourne Museum’s World War One exhibition, but later delighted by the Lunar Festival at Victoria Harbour in front of Etihad Stadium. At the latter, on the cusp of Chinese New Year, I took the 86 into Docklands and observed all the Asian culinary delights on offer in the pop-up stalls. I made my selection and retired to the water’s edge where several pretty young ladies plied me with pale ale. There, beside the briny, I contemplated how good life is. T’was bliss.

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As always when travelling to places known and unknown, there are the people one meets along the way. There had been a collective search, unsuccessful, to find a Kikki K (a Typo clone) outlet. When time was less pressing and I was solo, I came across one on the third level of The Emporium. I entered and was immediately greeted by an effusive, effervescent, enthusiastic and obviously bored sales assistant who plied me with her charm and practically demanded to know my complete personal history. This Melbourne belle was a delight and I enjoyed my time perusing her wares – and spent a few bob too I might add. There was the French family I met at Tullamarine waiting to travel to this lovely isle – the dad, the only one speaking English, about to take up a secondment to the Antarctic Division at Kingston. He plied me with questions, seemed impressed with the fact I knew a little of France and I entertained his two very fractious kiddies with mobile images of my son’s fishing exploits. But the corker of all my fleeting meetings was the encounter with the addled Canadian. She was from deepest Saskatchewan and we were seated opposite on the No16, returning to the city. When I took my place she smiled and said hello. I noticed her accent and away we went. She was attractive in that wholesome American way, in her mid-thirties I would guess, had two children back home and was up for a chat. She told me her flight out was horrendous – she’d never been on a plane before and had no intention repeating the experience. I wondered, then, how she planned to return – tramp steamer perhaps? She had never seen a train nor a tram prior to this Melbourne excursion. She was staying only two days before three in Adelaide to see a friend. Then she was returning home to a snowy winter – somehow. After booking into to her CBD hostelry she noticed, on a map, that there was a beach – St Kilda I presume – that didn’t look too far from the city, thought a dip would refresh her after her nightmare up in the air and resolved she’d perambulate down to the strand. She had no idea of the distance involved, nor the impact of the summer heat in Oz. She soon realised she’d bitten off more than she could chew and hopped on a tram to return to the city and presumably a plan B. Only trouble was she became discombobulated by the fact that the roads here operate in opposite fashion to those back in the land of the maple leaf and she found she was again heading towards the bay rather than away from it. She figured it out and was on her way home when she regaled me with the statement that we sure live in a confusing country. Addled Canadian was all very bemused by her own travails, was in good cheer despite them and she seemed unfazed by the fact she had already wasted one-fifth of her stay Downunder. She gave me a lovely smile as she disembarked at Flinders Street to thank me for the sympathy I expressed at her woes.

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During my stay I impressed myself by adding a few more tram routes to those already travelled on. I spent my last morning happily pointing my camera around Gertrude Street. And, as icing on the cake, I caught up with old mates Carolyn and Brother James, as well as soon to be married niece Peta and her beau Troy. But being with Tessa – well that was simply the best and hopefully, it will be not the last time I’ll travel in her company by a long shot.

Ai Weiwei/Andy Warhol exhibition NGV = http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/andy-warhol-ai-wei-wei/

United Kitchen website = http://www.unitedkitchen.com.au/

Elbow Room website = http://www.elbowroomstkilda.com/

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