24 Hours Discovering Historical Melbourne

Note: This trip was taken prior to the current Melbourne lockdown.

Melbourne is known for its café culture, its trendy shopping, and its liveability. But I wasn’t there to go dress-shopping along Chapel Street, or indulge at a boutique restaurant. I was there for a historical novel writing conference, and decided to spend my free time delving in to the historical side of Melbourne.

I knew little about the city’s history. I sat on the Skybus as it wound its way from the airport to my accommodation, and smiled to myself when I saw a street sign for Batman Avenue, the theme to the TV show playing in my head. After my day of exploring historical Melbourne, I would know that the street was not a shout-out to the caped crusader, but a nod to one of the founders of the Melbourne area.

The Old Treasury

The Old Treasury building in Melbourne

I started my morning at the Old Treasury. It turned out to be the perfect place to begin delving in to Melbourne’s history. The lady who greeted me at the door not only explained the layout of the museum and the best way to navigate my way through it, but when finding out that I wasn’t a local, also gave me a potted history of the founding of Melbourne. With a crash course in Melbourne’s history, I stepped in to the museum.

The Old Treasury is the sort of place I love. Built in the nineteenth century, it has elegant and architecturally interesting rooms filled with history and memorabilia. First you moved through displays focused on the growth of Melbourne from a small town to a world-renowned city, then in to rooms which featured police documentation, including the arrest record of Ned Kelly.

Down in the vaults of the Treasury, where gold bullion used to be stored, were digital projections explaining life during the days of the goldrush. I had visited the Adelaide Treasury the week before, and had loved the underground tunnels that formed our gold vaults. It was interesting to compare our tunnels with the series of vaults in Melbourne (South Australians and Victorians love to one-up each other).

At the time I was there they had an exhibition on bushrangers. Bushrangers seem to have an elevated status in Australian folklore, and none more well-known than the Kelly Gang. They had Dan Kelly’s suit of homemade armour displayed in the exhibition, and it’s just so surreal to see something in real life like that.

Fitzroy Gardens

Flower display inside the Fitzroy Gardens Conservatory

The Fitzroy Gardens are right alongside the Old Treasury building, and wandering through them I came across the odd curiosity of Cook’s Cottage. Captain Cook is given the credit for discovering Australia, leading to the British choosing to send their unwanted convicts to the new colony of Botany Bay, which is now in the Sydney area. What then, was his house doing in Melbourne, a place I had never associated with Captain Cook?

Cook's Cottage in Fitzroy Gardens

The house, it seems, was built by Captain Cook’s father after Cook had begun his naval career. It was then uprooted from Yorkshire in the 1930s and reconstructed brick by brick in the middle of Fitzroy Gardens. It was amusing to see it, though I enjoyed wandering through the nearby Conservatory with all of its beautiful flowers more – it allowed my brain some space to settle down after all of the information it had absorbed at the Old Treasury.

The Royal Exhibition Building

The Royal Exhibition Building

From Fitzroy Gardens, I wandered over to the Royal Exhibition Building, a strikingly unexpected pavilion which housed the first Australian parliament after Federation in 1901, and hosts a museum and a large number of events throughout the year. I was there at the wrong time to take one of the tours, but it was enough for me to see it from the outside.

The State Library of Victoria

The Reading Room in the State Library of Victoria

I did not expect the State Library to be such an imposing building from the outside. I went there because I had read that they had Ned Kelly’s armour on display, and I wanted to stand in front of an iconic piece of Australian folk history.

The armour was located upstairs on the fifth level of the library, and even if you’re not interested in the armour, it’s worth going up there just to look down upon the light-filled Reading Room.

Ned Kelly is undoubtedly Australia’s most famous bushranger. Together with his brother Dan and friends Joe Byrne Steve Hart, the ‘Kelly Gang’ spent several years eluding police until they made a final last stand in a shootout in the town of Glenrowan, where they outfitted themselves in makeshift armour to protect themselves from the gunfire.

After seeing Dan Kelly’s suit of armour at the Treasury, I stood in front of the case that held the remnants of Ned Kelly’s armour and took it in. There was that feeling of wonder, being so close to something that seems the stuff of legend. It’s hard to explain that feeling you get when something you’ve learned about at school, seen portrayed in documentaries, movies and TV shows, seen parodied in cartoons, is there in front of you. Seeing the marks that the bullets made as they collided against the metal, seeing the thickness of the metal and imagining how heavy it would have been to wear, made the story of Ned Kelly that much more real to me.

I barely scraped the surface of what I could have seen during my day exploring Melbourne. Where should I go the next time I visit?


Five of My Favourite Sights Along The Great Ocean Road

Five of My Favourite Sights Along The Great Ocean Road

Australia has thousands of kilometres of coastline: white sand beaches, rugged cliffs worn away by years of erosion, and rocky outcrops to which we love to give blatantly obvious names. While the entire coastline of Australia makes for spectacular scenery while driving, the Great Ocean Road holds a special place as one of Australia’s most loved road trips.

The Great Ocean Road runs along a stretch of the Victorian coastline from Allansford to Torquay. While it can be done as part of a day trip from Melbourne, or as an interstate drive from Adelaide to Melbourne, to be able to fully experience all of the sights along the way, you will need at least two days, if not longer.

We drove the Great Ocean Road from Warnambool to Apollo Bay, before turning inland to continue on to Melbourne. Here are some of my favourite sights along the Great Ocean Road:

The Bay of Islands

The rugged cliffs and desolate outcrops of the Bay of Islands

Starting our journey along the Great Ocean Road from Warnambool, our first stop was at the Bay of Islands, a pretty introduction to the rocky outcrops, sheer cliffs and surging ocean that is characteristic of much of the coastline along the route.

The Bay of Islands feature several rocky limestone stacks poking out of the water
The Bay of Islands contains many stacks threatening to collapse into the sea due to erosion from wind and water

There are several lookouts along the bay where you can gaze out over the ocean, and marvel at the strength of wind and water to create the landscape in front of you. I recommend starting the Great Ocean Road from this side of it – the further east you go along the Great Ocean Road, the more spectacular the views along the coast become.

Path leading down to a small cove in the Bay of Islands
Path leading down to a small cove in the Bay of Islands

The Grotto

The view of the Grotto from the carpark, showing the stairs that lead down the cliff to the grotto itself
The view of the Grotto from the carpark, showing the stairs that lead down the cliff to the grotto itself

Whether you look at it from the lookout above, or journey down the steps to the viewing area at the bottom of the cliffs, there’s always something fun about looking through the Grotto, a natural frame through which you can look through out to the sea and the rocky cliffs beyond.

The Grotto from the viewing area at sea level
The Grotto from the viewing area at sea level

Loch Ard Gorge and Thunder Cave

The sandy beach at the bottom of Loch Ard Gorge
The sandy beach at the bottom of Loch Ard Gorge

Loch Ard Gorge is situated on the section of the Great Ocean Road known as Shipwreck Coast. The clipper with the same name was shipwrecked close to nearby Muttonbird Island in 1878, and all but two of the 54 passengers perished in the rough waters.

To see just how powerful the water can be, you can walk to Thunder Cave, where the seawater rushes in through a gorge, crashes into the back of a cave eked out through thousands of years of erosion, and slaps back into the next wave as it rushes into the cave, causing a thunderous roar to sound. There would be no surviving it if you found yourself in the water with the strong waves pushing you towards Thunder Cave.

Looking out over the beach of Loch Ard Gorge
Looking out over the beach of Loch Ard Gorge – time it right and you can have the entire beach to yourself!

Loch Ard Gorge itself is far calmer – the roaring waves of the ocean give way to a gentle sandy beach, where it is usually safe to take the stairs down to the water’s edge. If you’re lucky and manage to time your visit in between the waves of tourist groups who visit here, you can have the entire beach all to yourself!

London Bridge

London Bridge - one of its arches collapsed due to erosion, leaving just one arch standing
London Bridge – one of its arches collapsed due to erosion, leaving just one arch standing

London Bridge really has fallen down … along the Great Ocean Road at least. The land mass once stretched into the ocean, with two arches in the middle to give it the effect of a bridge. But like any environment with fast blowing wind and moving water, one of the arches eroded and widened until the earth above it collapsed into the sea.

The Twelve Apostles

The iconic view of the Twelve Apostles
The iconic view of the Twelve Apostles

The most iconic of the sights along The Great Ocean Road, it is a stunning sight to see the eight remaining limestone stacks poking up out of the surf. Ignore the throng of people swarming to take the perfect photo, find yourself a quiet place along the fence line, and take a moment to observe the waves, feel the breeze and ponder at which might be the next Apostle to succumb to the will of nature.

Limestone stack of the Twelve Apostles
The weather wears away the limestone stacks – it’s a guessing game as to how long the remaining apostles will remain standing

Note: Unlike the other sights along the Great Ocean Road, and the carpark for the Twelve Apostles is on the other side of the highway, where you can also find a visitor’s centre. A pedestrian tunnel has been constructed underneath the highway to allow you to get safely from the carpark to the viewing point.

The other side of the Twelve Apostles
Don’t forget to look in the other direction! While everyone is taking photos of The View, give some love to these two apostles who stand on the opposite side of the viewing area

Have you driven the Great Ocean Road? Which sights were your favourites?