Sunday, March 10, 2013

A proud Melburnian’s guide to being a crappy host

Last month, a group of friends came to visit Melbourne. Three from London and one from Adelaide. We had all worked together at Prostate Cancer UK once upon a time. Surely, there are few things less daunting in life than entertaining a bunch of well-travelled, heat-fearing Brits. Adelaidians, on the other hand, I am less fearful of. My beautiful friend from Adelaide is impressed by a yarn-bombed tree and the sight of more than three cafes in a row.

I had the self-imposed challenge of devising a fun-fuelled schedule that showed off the best of Melbourne and had the perfect balance of history, culture and booze. Excel spreadsheets may have been involved.

I have always suspected that my interests in Melbourne differ from many people’s interests in life. ‘Hey, look! Evidence of Melbourne’s earliest public underground toilets. They’re in disuse now but have been heritage listed,’ I said to no one because NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD BE INTERESTED IN THIS SHIT. LITERALLY. Instead, I took them to Madam Brussels, a bar named after the renowned nineteenth century brothel owner, filled them with jugs of cocktails and told them about Melbourne’s sordid history of prostitution. History AND booze. Tick and tick. Later in the week, we also visited Seamstress for cocktails and a snapshot into the early twentieth century sweatshops and migrant workers who populated the north-east corner of the city, and Croft Institute where they discovered my fetish for syringes and realised there is actually no historical reference for this creepy laboratory set-up at the end of the bin-lined alleyway.

Occasionally, Australians like to make up stories for tourists. Drop bears, anyone? I don’t do that. But I’m not above making stories more colourful (or crass) for my audience. As we drove down the Great Ocean Road, towards the Twelve Apostles, I couldn’t wait to reach Loch Ard Gorge, the real gem of the shipwreck coast. There I could tell my favourite story, of the shipwreck Loch Ard and her two sole survivors, Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael.

The Loch Ard sailed from England in 1878. After months at sea and within just days of reaching its destination, Melbourne, the ship clipped the reef at Mutton Bird Island and went under in just minutes. Tom, the 18-year-old apprentice, was a strong swimmer and made it to safety. He later went back into the water and saved the young lady Eva. They sheltered in the cave within the Gorge, had hot steamy sex, then Tom ascended the cliffs to get help.

Did you spot the bit I added in for effect? No, I didn’t fool anyone on the day either.

The offending bug
Later that night, the five of us bunked at a motel in Port Campbell where we encountered our first giant bug in the room. I was the lucky one who spotted it and the first one on the bed screaming for dear life, leaving my already insect-mauled friend Sachin to try and catch the bastard with the motel supplied teacup. In my defence, it was a massive and very predatory looking bug. The perception that Australians live in rugged landscapes surrounded by some of the most deadly creatures in the world? Shattered in a matter of moments. I believe that’s karma for all the drop bear fibs I told over the years.

What surprised me, though, are the kinds of things that tourist agencies tell tourists, with the pure motive, I suspect, to make those of us who live here look stupid. Like when my friend Natasha asked to see the place that was inspired by one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The what? You know, she said, that huge thing that is on a hill in the park and its design was based on one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. The WHAT? We saw it on top of the Eureka Tower and it’s in the middle of the park and next to this music stage and the voiceover man said it was based on one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS?

She was referring to the Shrine of Remembrance and, apparently, its design was based on the Mausoleum at Whatshisface. Who else knew about this? I demand to know. I told Natasha that no one in Melbourne knows this fact and therefore it’s not worth knowing. If she wanted to go to the Shrine she should’ve just said so and called it the Shrine.

Yes, I’m a delightful host.

I guess I can count on no one ever visiting me again.

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