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Australia: city side.

The people of Melbourne, Australia, did something typically Melbournian for their city's 150th anniversary:

They turned their main street into a park. In came trucks loaded with sod and down went a carpet of thick, green grass that covered two full blocks of Swanston Street. When the festivities ended, the grass was rolled up and business continued as usual.

Melbourners love parks. Over the years, they have amassed hundreds of acres of them, so that now nearly a quarter of the city is green space. In dry spells, Melbourne keeps its gardens well watered, which makes the city stand out like a bright green patch on a brown background. During last summer's drought, people even apologized to visitors for the parched look of the surrounding countryside.

Melbourne is Australia's financial capital, "everybody's home office," and though it is the nation's second largest city (nearly 3 million people), it still has small-town appeal. On a weekday afternoon, time seems to run slower in Melbourne's Treasury Gardens, as old men in straw hats, young girls with their mothers and men on crutches browse through an outdoor exhibit of art, while just across the street, traffic rushes by as usual.

Iths easy to get around in this town. Public transport is inexpensive--pay $1 and you can ride all day. "And would you believe it," said one indignant citizen, "some people still complain about the service!"

Unlike other Australian cities, Melbourne has kept its trolleys. The "old rattlers" add a turn-of-the-century flavor that Melbourners like. They take their history seriously. Where possible, they fit new high-rise buildings behind old Victorian homes is a civic passion.

Melbourne's skyline is a blend of traditional and modern. Its tallest buildings, at present, are the Collins Place twin towers, 50-story structures that house offices and a unique hotel: The Regent Melbourne starts out like any other hotel with a lobby on the 35th-floor mezzanine, but the first rooms are on floor 36. Offices occupy the floors in between, and the gap is spanned by high-speed elevators. This tower-top hotel is always filled on weekends, said one employee, not by the usual clientele of tourists and businessmen, but by Melbourne citizens who come to enjoy the view.

From the vantage here, one can see far out into Port Phillip Bay and trace the sweep of the Yarra River, which curves past the city's center. Its waters are worked continuously by scullers and water-skiers; horsemen, cyclists and joggers use the trails along its banks.

Australia's latest fitness celebrity has recently set up shop at the Regent. The lite-lunch crowd comes to Julie Stafford's Taste of Life restaurant to munch such delectables as beet root, orange and chicken sandwiches and to wash them down with a brew of chicory, barley and toasted rye--not everybody's cup of tea, perhaps, but Julie's cooking, which she believes helped her husband recover from terminal cancer, is winning converts throughout Australia.

Across the Yarra, near the Princes Bridge, stands Melbourne's reply to Sydney's flashy opera house--the Victorian Arts Center spire. "So what?" may be your first response. The spire looks like a glorified radio antenna. But a tour of the plush, state-of-the-art theaters beneath and the adjacent National Gallery of Victoria and Melbourne Concert Hall turns indifference to enthusiasm. This arts complex rivals any in the world.

The Sydney-siders might not agree, however. They have a standard list of complaints about their more conservative rival to the south. Melbourne's weather is too changeable, they say, and its night life? They just roll their eyes. "Put it this way," said a Sydney cabdriber. "Melbourne's a good place to visit on a weekday."

Yet Melbourne does offer one evening activity that no other city equals --the Penguin Parade. Every night at dusk, residents head out to Phillip Island, 60 miles from town. One enterprising flying service even lifts groups over at $100 a person, champagne included. In all, thousands arrived nightly to watch the island's flocks of fairy penguins clock out from a hard day's fishing and waddle up the wide beach to feed their young on shore. People are instructed not to take flash photos, but the penguins pay little heed to the fawning crowds; they are much more worried about local birds that swoop down and try to make them lose their suppers.

Recently, the penguins' food supply ran short; human volunteers moved to hand-feed the babies and to thus avert a national catastrophe--the loss of one of Australia's best tourist attractions.

Melbourne's first and most successful attraction was gold. In 1857, city businessmen offered rewards to anyone who could find the yellow stuff in their neighborhood. It was discovered that very year at Ballarat, about 70 miles west--the richest alluvial gold deposit in the world. There, an old mining town called Sovereign Hill has been carefully restored, complete with mine shafts and a stream thoughtfully seeded with gold dust for the amateur prospectors. Some visitors come away with more than valueless flecks. "Just the other day a little girl from Melbourne found a gold nuggest lying on the ground, right here in town," said a Sovereign Hill employee, "a small one, of course." In recent years a man prospecting in surrounding hills found a somewhat larger nugget, which he sold to a Las Vegas casino for $1 million.

In a land where good-natured quirkiness is a matter of national pride, Melbourne has its own peculiar attractions. One of them is Phar Lap, Australia's most famous race horse. The 17-hand high chestnut gelding won 37 races and the 1930 Melbourne Cup before dying a martyr's death at the Agua Caliente Handicap in California in 1932. It is believed he was murdered by the Mafia. Phar Lap stands in glory in a large glass case at Melbourne's National Museum. His heart, the largest horse heart on record, is preserved at the Institute of Anatomy in Canberra. "A magnificent animal," exclaimed one proud Australian viewer. "And what a job of taxidermy."

Phar Lap still holds Melbourne's heartstrings. When his trainer, Tommy Woodcock, died last spring, the old horseman was given the largest funeral in Melbourne's history.

Melbourne's other shrines, in descending order of reverence, are the Old Melbourne Gaol, where the notorious bushranger (outlaw) Ned Kelly was hanged in 1880, and the oil painting of "Chloe" at Young and Jackson's Pub. The nude Chloe has survived 100 years of admiring, if unrepeatable, toasts.


These tidbits of Australiana are as nothing compared to the concentrated stuff that awaits tourists at the Argyle Tavern in Sydney. This nightspot is located in the old Rocks district, site of the first convict settlement. The band, armed with good voices but awful jokes, evokes every gaudy ghost of Australia's past. Anyone who likes to dine while watching a live sheep sheared to music, or listening to a rumbling recitative on a didjeridoo, a hollowed-out log that aborigines call a musical instrument--this is the place for you.

People who survive may wish to pursue other Sydney night life. For a heightened sense of danger, a stroll through Sydney's "clean sleaze" district of Kings Cross will do. The best strategy here is to walk quickly past the girlie bars and tattoo parlors with eyes focused straight ahead.

Those with a different concept of fun may take a wild 60-mph taxi ride along Sydney's snaking freeways out to Doyles on the Beach at Watson's Bay to enjoy--after recovering their equilibrium--a delicious seaside supper in the open air. The forecast is printed right on the menu: "Today's weather: fine." Haute cuisine buffs may prefer to stay downtown at Kables restaurant, where the chef is a master of disguise. Seafood is ground up and presented as bockwurst, Duck Supreme on Quince Compote looks a lot like roast lamb and the bill for a large group could pass for a second mortgage. The food is delicious.

Sydney is almost as lively by day as by night. Each morning workers arrive by hydrofoil from far sections of the harbor at the Circular Quay--it's easier to come across the water than to tackle the traffic jams on the freeways. At lunchtime, people hit the streets again, having traded their suits for jogging shorts.

Tourists can take the 20-minute hydrofoil lift to Manly as the first leg of a multibeach sightseeing tour of Sydney's north coast. If one beautiful beach doesn't suit teir fancy, there'll be another up the road. Along the way they'll pass Long Reef Golf Club, perhaps the most dangerous course in the country. "There's copper in the soil that attracts lightning," said the bus driver, "and there's plenty of stories about wives that's used it to get rid of their husbands."

Also on this end of the city is Waratah Park, where one can shake hands with kangaroos, glimpse a Tasmanian devil, be soundly pecked by an Australian emu and even pet a koala. Park attendants don't allow visitors to hold the sleepy creatures, which may become frightened and scratch.

Just north of Sydney, surrounded by five national parks, the broad Hawkesbury River flows in a grand finale into Broken Bay. The Hawkesbury, once populated by aborigines who lived in the limestone caves along its banks, is now a favorite playground of city dwellers who relax in its quiet coves. Amphibious planes stand ready at Broken Bay's Palm Beach to taxi visitors back home.

But Sydney's most popular attraction is its own front yard, the combined handiwork of God, British convicts and Australian workingmen. To one side stands the mighty Sydney Harbour Bridge, alias "the iron lung." To the other is the unsinkable Sydney Opera House, built at an 850 percent cost overrun for $102 million. The view has been praised by poets and statesmen, but perhaps the most memorable comment came, long before the bridge and the opera house were built, from a convict condemned to hang on a rocky little island just off the coast. Asked for his last words, he simply looked around and exclaimed, "Lovely harbor yehve got here." It's the kind of story Sydney-siders like.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Melbourne and Sydney
Author:Kreiter, Ted
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1985
Previous Article:Delicious dishes with oats.
Next Article:The rainbow that never fades.

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