Thursday, March 31, 2011


The Shot Tower - a building so good they put it inside another building.

Last weekend Ms. Millicent Crow and I went to have a look at what Melbourne's been up to lately.  We like to keep things authentic when we travel, so we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at our hostel and discovered that, due to my reluctance to read fine print and general lackadaisical approach to booking things, it appeared that we had inadvertently availed ourselves of an opportunity to celebrate Australia's convict heritage by staying in accommodation that painstakingly recreated the conditions in one of the earliest European buildings in the Port Philip colony, which was of course a manky old jailhouse.  Since it was me who booked the 'room' (and I don't use inverted commas lightly, so believe me when I say this was actually a 'room,' rather than a room) I got to be the one who slunk down to reception to have a chat with the night clerk, a man who turned out to not be my best-ever interlocutor.

Note the grimy curtains, concealing the horrors within.

"Um... mate?"
"I was, that is, ah, we were wondering.  Ah...  What are the chances that we could maybe change our room, would you say?"
"It's just, do you have any that have, like, windows, at all?"
The man just did a sort of grimacy eyebrow-raise.
"Or even one where the walls go all the way to the ceiling?  Ours don't seem to do that."
"You on level two?"
"Yeah, level two."
"None of the walls go to the ceiling on level two."
"Says on the website."
"Ah. OK. What's the, ah, the window situation then? Is there any chance of a window, would you say?"
"Mate. The Grand Prix's on.  We're full up all weekend."

After having spoken to several native Australians and a few foreigners who have been there long enough to learn the culture, I now understand that the correct thing to do at this point would have been to offer the man a bribe.  Apparently this works for all official functionaries from Night Clerk right up to State Premier level (with the exception of sworn-in police horses, who are incorruptible) and is a cornerstone of the Australian way of life.  All I can say in defense of my failure to uphold this custom is that I'm bad at picking up on social cues, I suppose - and besides, if I was into paying extra for things I probably wouldn't have booked the absolute dirtbag-cheapest hostel in all of downtown Melbourne in the first place.

Police horses, Swanston St: The last honest public servants?

In fairness, though, it's a bit inaccurate to compare our hostel to an actual prison.  In prison, for example, they usually have delousing protocols that take care of the vermin, and you don't have to pay a key deposit.  And, while the strange odours, noises in the night, unsanitary blotches on the flooring, and the casual racism of the other inmates may have put us in mind of old Sing Sing, we should remember that in western democracies at least, prisons are generally expected to adhere to certain minimum humanitarian standards that just don't seem to apply to hostels. The real-world outcome of this is that, while in both types of institution you'll see bossy little signs on every available surface laying down the law on a whole range of human behaviours, only in a hostel will the signs be laid out in that least humanitarian of fonts, Comic Sans.  That is cruel and unusual and it will not stand.

 This bossy sign is actually from the train station - in our hostel, spitting on the walls, floors or stairs was one of the few activities not expressly prohibited.  Although by God it should have been.
None of this was a problem of course, because we didn't go to Melbourne to sit in a hostel reflecting on our life of crime.  Having lived in that town for a little while a few years ago, we mainly went back there to look at bats and ride on trams, both of which goals we achieved early and in abundance. We also wanted to find a statue of a giant owl that had been making us feel mysterious for the past four years or so, ever since we glimpsed it on a wintry morning from the window of the train that hauled us and all our bags and boxes out of the city and away from our insane flatmates and jobs in call-centres, to deliver us to Sydney and sunny points beyond. We wanted to see if the owl was as awesome up close as it was in memory - or if it was even actually real, because you know how sometimes when you've got all your bags and boxes on a train and you're leaving town early in the morning, you might accidentally makes things like giant owls up in your head? Well it turns out that it is real, and it lives on a traffic island on top of a big concrete pillar, and it might actually not be an owl, but a parrot. It looks very ancient, like it's been there a lot longer than anything else around, and it's as if maybe they found this giant owl statue perching there on the Yarra floodplain and said Bonza mate, let's make the town right here. Anyway, owl or parrot, it is just as mysterious and wonder-inspiring as we had remembered, and I'm not too sure but I think it was happy enough to see us back in town.

This is what calm and mysterious looks like.


  1. Makes me feel mysterious just looking at it...

  2. There's a mysterious owl in Barcelona too. Soph had a picture of it from when she was there, and it took me ages to find it.

  3. i reckon it's a turtle

  4. Is that bird truly bigger than tall buildings, or is that just you fucking round with "perspective"?