What I did in Melbourne: the wrap up

I’ve told you lots about the Melbourne trip already, but I wanted to give you an overview of the week, with lots of pictures.

So what did I do?

Got lots of exercise:

Bicycling with Theresa and friends

Bike trails along the Yarra River

A very international group of cyclists

Went to three shows in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival:

Theresa loves the Bedroom Philosopher (even if the show was a little...uneven)

Ate lots of delicious food:

Yummy Korean food

And, of course, went to concerts!  I’ve already told you about Great Big Sea, but we also went to see Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot.  The show was great, but the audience was unenthused.  They didn’t dress up, they didn’t dance, they barely bobbed their head.  They applauded.  They seemed to like it, but they just did’t get involved!

Brian rocks the stage

We dressed up of course.  Catch me going to a rockabilly show and not dressing up!  I managed to get Theresa’s hair into perfect Victory rolls, and wore my Love at First Flight dress.

Theresa's hair - my first successful Victory rolls!

Fooling around in the bathroom while dressing for the show

And we danced!  We bobbed up and down and tried to lead each other (man, I suck as a lead) until someone finally asked us to dance.  And then another couple saw us and was brave enough to dance as well, but that was it.  Audience of hundreds, and we were the only dancers!  But hey, I’m not very brave, and I was brave enough to dance when no one else was – yay me!

Theresa's awesome pink dress as she spins

Theresa on the steps of Parliament after the Setzer show

I also helped Theresa and her flatmates do a massive clear-up in their garden.  Why is housework and gardening always fun at other peoples houses, but not your own?

Getting poked by the rose bushes

I also just wandered and explored the city, with Theresa, and alone, enjoying the architecture and the shops and parks.

Having fun on the steps of a church by myself

And with Theresa

And finally, of course, I taught a corset making workshop.  More about that later.

Busy corsetmakers at Thread Den


Qantas 37 – Melbourne to Wellington and the spaces between

I’m on the flight between Melbourne and Wellington (unfortunately I don’t think they call it Melly, so I can’t say Melly to Welly), catching up on the Big Bang Theory, reviewing my week just past, planning the week ahead, and considering the Melbourne experience.

Travel writers love to compare Wellington to San Francisco. And Wellingtonian’s love to tell me that “I’d love Melbourne – it’s the Wellington of Australia.”

So somehow I pictured Melbourne looking like Wellington and San Francisco. It doesn’t. It’s flat.

In fact, it’s not like Wellington or San Francisco at all. Welly and SF are both unmistakably themselves – they may remind you of other places, but you could never be in either and not know where it was. Melbourne is a chameleon, reminding you of everywhere you have been, hiding itself. It takes a while to see Melbourne, rather than bits of New York, Toronto, Chicago, Wellington, Oakland, San Francisco, St Louis, and all the other cities people said it reminded them of.

But Melbourne is fantastic – not Wellington, but interesting in its own right.

The first thing I noticed is how far the airport is from the city. Wellington is amazing and unusual in that the airport is so near the city centre. Honolulu is the same way. I always forget that most cities aren’t like that.  So it takes a lot of driving on a really boring motorway (Australia seems to specialise in boring motorways) before you see the city.

Old buildings and new buildings side by side in the city centre

The next thing I noticed is how wealthy Melbourne is today and must have been in the 19th century. The buildings are amazing. Every corner brings a new theatre with oriental domes, a church or cathedral, or just another row of gorgeous houses. Melbourne was built off the wealth of the Australian gold rush, and it shows.

The 1920s Forum theatre - we saw a comedy festival show here

Details of the Forum theatre

Apparently this is the largest cathedral in the Southern Hemisphere. Or Australia. My guide had a hard time deciding.

There is still more money in Melboure than Wellington today – both individually, and (due to the larger population), collectively. There are no Louis Vuitton and Chanel shops in New Zealand – we simply don’t have the economy and population to support them. I enjoyed the window shopping, but I’m glad we don’t have the big international designer stores locally.

The fabulous Flinders St Station

Another difference in architecture that massively changes the feel of the city is the materials used. Wellington was leveled by an earthquake in 1840, and much of the rebuild was done in wood. Melbourne is built of stone and brick.

That's Victorian as in 'the state of Victoria', not the era!

On the steps of the Victorian Parliament after a show

I’m biased and love my city best, but I have to admit that Melbourne does do one thing way better than Wellington. I love chai tea, and in Melbourne the chai is real loose-leaf tea (not a nasty sugary syrup) served with steamed milk in darling little teapots, with a tiny pot of honey on the side, and a quirky cup and saucer to pour it in to. So much yummier, so much classier. Cafes of Wellington – take note!

Mmmmm....best chai ever!


Melbourne fretwork

So Miss Theresa and I are engaging in mutual blogging.  She’s blogging about the Great Big Sea night (all the bits that I was too bashful/restrained/euphoric/discreet/giddy/shy to write about) and I’m sitting next to her blogging about Melbourne fretwork.

She said “didn’t you already blog about Melbourne fretwork?”

And I said “only about the idea.  I have’t shown them pictures! ”

And I haven’t taken 200 images of buildings in Melbourne with amazing wrought iron (which is probably what it properly is, not fretwork) not to show you some.

The fretwork just fascinates me.  It’s all over the place: on almost every single house.

Yellow fretwork

I wonder who made it?  Was there a whole industry in Melbourne?  Or was it imported?

Geometric fretwork (and Theresa and I)

When do all the fretwork buildings date from?  I can do a reasonable guess at architecture dates in NZ and the US, but I’m not at all familiar with the architecture styles in Australia.

Cast iron fretwork, and architectural fretwork

Theresa also pointed out to me that many of the houses around Melbourne have names.  We looked at the names together and wondered what they meant.  Were they named by the owners?  Or by the builders?

Spiky lacy fretwork on Pioneer House

Did the inhabitants of Pioneer House feel particularly adventurous?

Theresa captured me capturing the houses

Why are these houses named Stella and Loretto? Were the inhabitants from Italy and Austria, respectively? Or did the construction company just map-hop looking for attractive names? Or does it have nothing at all to do with the places?  Is Stella for stars?

Look at those beautiful classical swags cast on to the facade

Did the people behind ‘Ulsterville’ come from one of the small hamlets named Ulsterville?  Or did they want to commemorate their origins in Northern Ireland with a witty name (even if they didn’t manage to christen a town, at least they got a house!)?

Fabulous fretwork details on 'Ulsterville' With Greek key designs!

Most of the names are either pseudo-classical or UK place names.  The fretwork designs come from anything and everything.  Many are Neo-Classical, a lot are sort of pseudo-Italianate, but I particularly love the ones that show an Oriental or Art Nouveau influence.

Oriental inspired fretwork

Flowing floral fretwork

Fretwork framed by NZ ki trees

I find it so interesting that the fretwork is so prevalent in Melbourne, but so rare in New Zealand.  I wonder if the damp New Zealand climate made wrought iron impractical, if they just didn’t care for the fashion, or if New Zealand was never wealthy enough.  You do see a bit of wooden lacework in New Zealand, but of course it isn’t as robust, so it’s getting rarer as the years go by.


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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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