Saturday, February 21, 2015


Melbourne CBD
The first days back on my own in Melbourne were hard. I stayed in a mediocre hostel, and realized that the giant, impersonal, come-and-go atmosphere of the place were bogging me down. I wandered the city for hours, ate many helpings of dumplings in Chinatown, and spent a lot of time browsing the shelves of the State Library of Victoria’s beautiful La Trobe Reading Room.

reading poetry at The Dan
One of the highlights of those first few days reestablishing my bearings in an urban setting was the Saturday afternoon open mic poetry readings with the Melbourne Spoken Word group at The Dan O’Connell Hotel. The eclectic but talented group of regular readers welcomed me to perform, and I’m so glad I did. I definitely need more practice behind the microphone, but I was encouraged to return the next week, and I did!

By that time, I had wised up and changed hostels, moving out of the CBD (central business district) into the neighborhood of Fitzroy to stay at the charming Nunnery Hostel and Guesthouse. I totally recommend this place. It is right across from the Melbourne Museum and the Carlton Gardens, and only a few minutes from the entirely free tram network around CBD. I spent a whole day in the Melbourne Museum--it’s got great exhibits on evolution, an outdoor forest gallery, a whole room on bugs (many alive and on the move!), and Bunjilyaka, an impressive storytelling/art display on Aboriginal life in the area historically and presently.

I was able to connect with the director of the Australian Poetry Journal, who invited me to attend the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards ceremony. I got to drink and schmooz with the literary elite of Melbourne at this hilarious presentation of awards to five of the twenty-one shortlisted authors on the back gardens of Parliament. Upon arrival and halfway through, I found myself needing to wander away from the crowd to have a laugh at how awesome these surprising opportunities feel. (I had the same reaction to discovering my room at a guesthouse in Botswana had a bathtub---a particularly special luxury after camping at the rhino sanctuary for weeks.)

Poets and friends: John McKelvie, me, Brent Harpur
photo by Jenny Hodge
Neat-o events like the Premier’s Awards aside, I really owe the folks at The Dan for making me love Melbourne. After my second time performing, I got to talking with some of the other poets, particularly Brent Harpur and John McKelvie. I became instant friends with Brent, a skilled poet more known for his cartoons and his recent documentary. I spent nearly every day with Brent in my final week in this UNESCO City of Literature.

He introduced me to several of his artist friends, showed me some great hole-in-the-wall restaurants, pointed out much of Melbourne’s amazing street art (Brent’s knack for noticing great art--on the walls of buildings, in sculpture gardens, in random sidewalk sunflowers--is extra impressive given the fact that he is legally blind.)

One of our best ventures was to the William Rickett’s Sanctuary in the Dandenongs, outside Melbourne. Hundreds of miniature-to-lifesize clay sculptures of the artist, Australian wildlife, and Aboriginal people fill several acres of the eucalypt forest. Some have criticized the artwork because Ricketts depicted the desert people he lived with for many years in this forest setting, but I was deeply moved by the fusion of human, natural, and artistic forces in the sanctuary.
sculpture in William Ricketts Sanctuary
sculpture in William Ricketts Sanctuary

I left Melbourne February 10th and flew to Darwin, the capital city of the Northern Territory. More on my adventures here in the Top End and the Territory in future posts!



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