A few days in Melbourne.

I visited Melbourne for a few days in 2016, so I decided to route myself through the city on my way to Singapore — my theory being, “If I’m going to cross the Pacific anyway, why not see a bit more?” Although it lacks San Francisco’s varied topography, Melbourne shares with it a Gold Rush past — different sources of the stuff, but around the same time. In the three years between visits, there’s been considerable redevelopment — new towers, etc.

I spent Monday revisiting the “new” National Gallery of Victoria — co-located with a film center that’s being renovated. Last time, there was a retrospective on John Olsen, an important Australian painter. This time, photography from all over was the big show, with smaller exhibits upstairs.

One of these was on the Australian painter Roger Kemp (1908-’87), whose “Lunar Passage” (left, from 1969) I liked particularly. His sketches were also impressive. The third floor, closed in 2016, was open. It includes indigenous art, even a rap video. Both the “old” NGV and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, visited in 2016, have collections of indigenous art, but this was the first contemporary work I’d seen. The next day, my friend Joy Low took me to a gallery on Bourke Street specializing in indigenous art that also had contemporary work, but nothing like this.

On Tuesday morning, I had coffee with my friends Anne Marie Davies and Ted Hochschwenden at an alleyway café on Desgraves Street. This part of the city is crosscrossed with alleys, all teeming with small shops and eating places. There are also arcades with bigger shops. With a few exceptions, they all close up on weeknights — the arcades are literally locked up.

In the afternoon, I met up with Joy Low at a Turkish café on Little Bourke Street, Le Petit Bourke. We then visited the aforementioned gallery and two bookstores — one tiny and so jammed with books that I found it unnerving.

The next day, I had lunch at Supernormal, an Asian fusion restaurant, with my friends Jana and Rhys Ryan. They lived in Berkeley for several years before Rhys went back to Melbourne to rejoin the firm where he’s now a partner. Jana is from Georgia, so we talked US politics. The restaurant is across from The Adelphi, where I stayed at Rhys’s recommendation — a small hotel not far from Flinders Rail Station at the west end of the city center. Trams loop through this area and are free — you only have to pay to travel to or from more distant locations. They makes getting around easy.

Late in the afternoon, Joy Low and I met up again and went by tram to the Catholic Cathedral, St. Patrick’s, and then on to the “suburbs,” residential areas outside the center that are equally venerable, but smaller in scale.

The scale of the suburbs is lower than the city center — one to three stories, with two stories as the predominant average.

These areas are being steadily gentrified. They’re also being redeveloped through a process of site consolidation and infill that adds height and bulk without much thought for what’s next to it. In 2016, I felt that the cities I saw—including Newcastle and Sydney — had a fairly high standard of design quality, but the Melbourne suburbs, like the older suburbs here, are scaling up piecemeal. It’s hard to picture how they will add up to a convincing fabric. What you see instead is generic and undercooked, likely what happens when the developers and their teams aren’t really top flight. There’s no local control, so no one “in charge” is pressing for it, either.

Joy Low and I took a tram back into town to meet her friend Peter.

He was standing near the Victoria State Parliament, where a throng of indigenous citizens and their sympathizers were protesting the murder of one of them at the hands of the police. Orderly and well-organized, it featured some ringing speeches on police violence and official negligence. Parliament has ignored the findings of its own commission and been unresponsive to petitions, they said. After failing to get a table at an Italian restaurant, we made our way over to Hardware Alley — Joy Low’s suggestion — and had a wonderful dinner at the Hardware Club, also Italian, a featured cuisine in the city.

Here are a few more photos of the city:



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