We had been roughing it in Australia for six months by the time we reached Melbourne and we were quite unprepared. For one thing, it was freezing and at this stage in our travels we were down to our last threadbare threads and completely ill-dressed for winter. K-Mart had only done so much to kit us out with warmish hoodies and had kept us in socks, but my outfit certainly wasn’t something I’d have been seen dead in at home.
As soon as I stepped off the train and into the tramline-scored city of Melbourne, I was heartily ashamed of my thoroughly patched jeans and holesome walking boots. Dashing between colourful lampposts dressed in guerrilla-knitted rainbow stockings, were the beautiful folk. I don’t mean the glamorous, or dare I say it, fake people you’ll find at the top of the Gold Coast. I mean the creative types, who were absolutely in fashion by being so absolutely out of it. Tandems passed by at a leisurely pace, adorned with a couple of cape-wearing arty twenty-somethings. Everyone had green hair or no hair or a black fringe that covered both eyes. There were satchels, horn-rimmed spectacles and tattooed ladies and gentlemen scattered about so randomly that it could have been rehearsed.
Progressing further down Brunswick street we ceased to be surprised by the giant baby head that was growing out of one wall, by the mosaic covered sofa-shaped bench sat adjacent to the main street, or by the amount of bowler hats, coloured boots and quirky offbeat cafes that seemed to pop up between every two shops. Our noses chose one and we went inside to hide our bedraggled selves from the exhausting beauty of the street.
As we emerged a while later, fully caffeinated, an aging biker with a long white beard beckoned to us and handed us a flier for the Rose-street artist market down a side street. At first, we were a little worried that we were about to be jumped by the rest of the aging biker club and their terrible beards and metal studded leathers, but as we continued along the street, the walls began to blossom with amazing artwork. It was some of the most beautiful vandalism I had ever seen. And actually, in this district of Melbourne, I’m not so sure they class anything as vandalism. At a painted brick wall we turned into a courtyard full of music, hand-made jewellery and colourfully restored furniture. It took all my willpower not to spend every last dollar. Like the rest of the city, it was an absolute Mecca for the unusual, and glancing in an antique mirror I glimpsed myself in the midst of it all. Actually, as it turned out, I didn’t look out of place. Everyone looked incredibly different to each other, and in that way we matched. For all its European style charm, something about Melbourne’s openness and heartfelt welcome to originality added a distinctly different flavour. It said ‘Welcome to Australia, mate’.