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Our Kind-of-Annual Australia Trip, 2019

We try to get back to Australia almost every year, here’s how it went down this year

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It has been a while since I last checked in because we have been ridiculously busy as of late. In fact, until we returned from this trip, Anna hadn’t spent a weekend in Singapore in a month and a half, having to make trips to Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia mostly for work, plus our most recent getaway. Add to that the fact that we’re in the process of selling our apartment and buying another to renovate and we haven’t had much time for anything.

The last time you heard from me was when we were in Bangkok, Thailand in March, our second trip there already this year. I was back in Thailand just a week or so later, this time hanging out again with my mate, Owen, in Phuket, but I didn’t write about it because that trip was mainly just me and him kicking back in various bars and pubs, not particularly intriguing reading. There were a few amusing moments over those couple of days, like when we saw someone put their young child up on the bar in a place across the road so it could pole-dance with the strippers (below), but besides that and being quizzed extensively by a drunk bogan about my allegiance to Australia, not a lot of material to make much of a story about.

If you read this blog remotely regularly, you would’ve read that we met up with our Australian friends from Singapore, Tom Cargill and Leonie Brown, when we were in Sri Lanka earlier in the year. The couple got married in Singapore late last year, however, we were unable to make it to their wedding because Anna had already agreed to speak at a conference in Seoul, South Korea. When they arranged to have a wedding party almost four months later in Melbourne, we made it a priority to go, an event that was ironically being held almost a year to the day since we were last in town. We would be in Australia a little over a week, two nights of which would be spent visiting my family back in Traralgon, so let’s look back at our Victorian break.

Saturday, April 13, 2019
We flew out from Singapore at around 12:30am and landed at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne at about 9:30am. A few things worked in our favour on this trip to make it all a little easier, namely that we had been upgraded to Business Class for our flights there and back so we could just fold out our beds and sleep the entire time, plus Anna had qualified for an APEC card, allowing us to cut queues and take diplomatic lines at the airport. We got through the airport in no time, plus the traffic was pretty quiet too and as a result we were at our hotel, City Limits Apartments on Lt. Bourke St. and directly opposite Amphlett Ln., named after the legendary Divinyls front-woman Chrissy Amphlett, in the city at just after 10:00am. It was kind of a shame we couldn’t check in until 2:00pm, but we know how to kill time in Melbourne so we dumped our luggage, grabbed a couple of takeaway coffees, and hit the town.
Our first stop was going to be the Queen Victoria Market and on the way three things became immediately clear:

  1. There are a hell of a lot more homeless people in the city now compared to any other time I can recall. Initially I thought I must have forgotten about them due to living in Singapore for so long, but seriously, there is about three sleeping or begging on both sides of each street on every block.
  2. A high percentage of retail stores, particularly in the middle and the northern end of Swanston St., have been replaced by just endless rows of either noodle, dumpling, or sushi restaurants.
  3. There were also a ton of Indians, Sikhs to be precise, resplendent in their colourful, flowing robes and luxurious moustaches, walking around everywhere.

We looked around the stalls at the Vic Market, picking up some gifts for friends and relatives, as well as some snacks for ourselves, and then walked down past countless more Sikhs to get to Hot Poppy, our favourite cafe from when we both used to live in North Melbourne. Even a lot of the charm of our old stomping ground had disappeared, with Errol St. now lined with massage parlours to go along with the cafes.
After brunch was done it was almost time for us to check into our hotel so we made our way back through the myriad of Indians, all decked out in their finest attire, and we couldn’t help but wonder why there were so many around. When the topic of immigration in Australia comes up, Indians are never mentioned so it was difficult to figure out why there were literally thousands of Sikhs in Melbourne now. When we walked past Flagstaff Gardens, however, we soon realised why, as the area had been converted into a ‘mini-Punjab’ to celebrate the festival of Vaisakhi:

Melbourne CBD became a bastion of Sikh culture on Saturday as it celebrated Vaisakhi with thousands gathering to participate in the annual Sikh Parade, a procession, known as the Nagar Kirtan.

Up to 20,000 people are believed to have attended this year’s event, which took place on the streets of Melbourne starting from Parliament Gardens to Flagstaff Gardens.

Vaisakhi is the most important Sikh festival and is celebrated by millions of Sikhs across the globe.

The festival marks the day in 1699 when the 10th Guru of Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, founded the Sikh community known as the Khalsa. It also marks the onset of the harvest season and the Sikh New Year.

Before long we were back at our hotel, checked in, and showered before taking a nap for a couple of hours in the afternoon. We were going to need the energy, as the party was beginning at 6:30pm that evening.

My guess is that this picture was taken a little later in the night

Soon it was time for the pair of us to get up again, put our collective faces on, and get to the Commercial Club Hotel in Fitzroy for Tom and Leonie’s nuptial celebration (left). Friends and family had traveled from all over for this night, including some of our other drinking buddies from Singapore, TJ Godiaco and Adrien Gras, and the newly-ish weds had booked the place out for their private function, a lively night of eating, drinking, hilarious speeches, and boisterous tomfoolery. I have a knack for saying something stupid quite often, to the point where some of my friends use the hashtag #shittimsays in messages, so we were discussing how and when I would put my foot in it on this particular occasion. Well, we would have to wait a little while, but not excruciatingly long — Anna and myself spent a significant amount of time talking to Tom’s parents, first his mother and then his father, and we were all getting along famously. That kind of changed later in the night when I interrupted Tom’s father, a rather left-wing Liberal, while he was speaking to a group of people to point out that he strongly resembles Dick Cheney. It took a bit of time and effort to dig myself out of that hole.
The Commercial Club Hotel closed at 1:00am and the party continued afterward, but we were a little tired for that, even after our nap, so it was soon time to return to the hotel, but it was great to see Anna unwind properly for the night.

Sunday, April 14 – Monday, April 15, 2019
We took Sunday quite easy, just strolling around the city, passing AFL legend Wayne Carey on Collins St., and then dodging the bums, as well as the psychotic junkies, some of whom were simultaneously talking to themselves, shitting their pants, and fighting off invisible adversaries, when we started to take more notice of all of the posters for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Standup comedy is always a bit of fun and it’s also something that doesn’t happen much in Singapore so we decided to check out some shows. There didn’t seem to be a lot of big international names this year, but Arj Barker is always hilarious so we decided to pick up some tickets to see him. I also had plans to catch up with my friend, Pat Corrigan, at some stage and it dawned on me that the reason we had come back to Melbourne last year was because he had bought tickets for us to see the Dean Ween Group and Primus so we decided to get an extra ticket for him for Thursday night. Adrien had mentioned at the wedding the previous night that he wouldn’t mind going to a show on his first trip to Australia so Anna and myself went back to the hotel, perused the Comedy Festival guide, and eventually stumbled upon an act that looked like it could be a bit of fun, INVINCIBLE: Prince vs Michael, described as:

The King of Pop vs His Royal Purpleness. Fierce queens, Ashleyrose Gilham (USA) and Janelle Da Silva (Frankston) throw down in the world premiere of INVINCIBLE. Let’s party like it’s 1999 because these smooth criminals will bring the laughs and steal your heart.

We messaged Adrien to tell him and he loved the idea. Looks like that’s Friday night sorted now, too.
Anna had plans to spend Sunday night with friends so I caught up with Owen and his girlfriend, Rochelle, for what turned into quite a few drinks at various cool bars hidden in laneways around the city before settling into Kicks to watch a couple of NBA Playoff replays.

Monday was a similar kind of day, this time spent roaming around some of Anna’s favourite stores on Brunswick St. in Fitzroy, a fantastic lunch at Naked for Satan where all main dishes are just $11.00 in the afternoon, followed by walking down Smith St. in Collingwood to look at all the secondhand stores that I like, and then dinner at the Panama Dining Room, including $1.00 oysters. Things got interesting when a bunch of young guys walked in, at first looking like a group of university students, but it was only when I was coming back from the bathroom that I saw the tattoos across the throat and hands of one of them — It was Dustin Martin and a few other players from the Richmond AFL team. After that we stopped off at a bar near our hotel for a few drinks.
A bit of a look around from those couple of days:

Tuesday, April 16 – Wednesday, April 17, 2019
We had planned to drive down to Traralgon, about 160km (100 miles) east of Melbourne, to see my family on Tuesday, but one thing we didn’t expect was that the price of renting a car for three days would exceed that of our accommodation in the city for six nights! Seriously, it is insane to think that it would be more than twice as expensive to sleep in a car than in a nice, albeit basic, inner-city apartment!
Anyway, we were able to drive down in the early afternoon, stopping off along the way at Lady Lavender’s Tea Room in Bunyip so Anna could have one of her favourites when in the countryside, scones with jam and cream, and a cup of tea.

Hangin’ out with Dad

We eventually arrived in Traralgon at about 5:00pm and had the intention of meeting up quickly with some people, but there wasn’t enough time so we went up to my parents’ place. My mother has begun suffering from rheumatoid arthritis in recent years, leaving her in near-constant pain and discomfort which tends to get her down a bit, but she definitely seemed to perk up a bit having us around. The evening soon evolved into a night that consisted of dinner, quite a few drinks, and some long deep and meaningfuls with the folks, all interspersed by my legs being licked relentlessly by their dog. Time to wash my shorts, I guess. As is always the case when we stay at my parents’ house, we forgot just how quiet it was when we went to bed. We had quite a fair bit of trouble sleeping, because every time my stomach gurgled, as it does frequently, it almost seemed amplified by the sheer quiescence of the place, briefly masking the background white-noise of crickets and cicadas and causing Anna to burst out into fits of laughter, a pattern that would constantly repeat itself over the course of the night.

Mum had a medical appointment on Wednesday morning so Anna and I waited for her and dad to return with the all-clear before we ventured into town to have a look around the shops. It has been 20 years since I left that town and 12 months since I had last visited, and while some aspects remain completely untouched since I was a child, the bulk of the place seems almost unrecognisable. Traralgon was always a very simple country town so it was a pleasant surprise to see some really cool cafes, cocktail bars, and international restaurants pop up among the fish and chip shops, news agencies, pharmacies, and op-shops. I honestly never thought I’d see an independent Mexican restaurant around the corner from a sushi bar in Traralgon in my lifetime. To be honest, I never really thought there would ever be many Japanese or Mexicans living there!
Once we were done it was back up to the folks’ house for a fun night of dinner and a few more drinks, this time joined by my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew. At first, the kids seemed to be mostly excited about the prospect of presents, but we actually had a great time sitting around and chatting to them, grossing out my 13-year-old niece with some of the more disturbing photos I’ve taken around the world, all the while chatting about basketball with my 11-year-old nephew. When the kids hit the wall and my sister’s family had to leave, Anna, myself, Mum, and Dad just sat around in the living room, laughing and having a great time, Anna passing out midway through. We, with the obvious exception of Anna, probably could’ve done that all night, but we needed to be on the road at around midday the next day. We had a busy day ahead of us.

Thursday, April 18, 2019
We had a short amount of time on Thursday afternoon to pack in quite a few errands;

  • We had to drive the 160kms (100 miles) back to Melbourne
  • Anna intended to stop off at Cannibal Creek Winery in Tynong North, about halfway into our journey
  • Stop in to visit my grandmother in her nursing home in Berwick, not far past the winery
  • Check into our hotel
  • Fill our rental car with petrol and drop it off at the Hertz agency
  • Meet Pat for a reservation he had booked at Supernormal, a small plates bar, at 5:00pm prior to seeing Arj Barker at 7:00pm

We left Traralgon not long after midday and were making decent time when we arrived at the Cannibal Creek Winery. It was a little difficult navigating the entrance to the place at first so we ended up parking in a farm area and walking around to the main entrance, but once inside we settled in for a nice, relaxing lunch with a local dog:

Next on the agenda was visiting my grandmother, someone who has always been a fierce woman, so it came as no surprise when we arrived that she was waiting for us at the main door, wondering what was taking us so long. I also knew for a fact that she would ask me why I hadn’t shaved, as well as be irritated by me wearing a cap, both of which she brought up within the first minute of speaking to us. She showed us around her nursing home, including her own room, and then we sat down and chatted while she complained constantly to the nurses that our cups of tea were taking too long. Mum prepared me for the worst when it came to visiting my grandmother, but she actually seemed a lot better than when I saw her a year ago. Sure, she needs a walking frame to get around and occasionally gets names confused, but she seemed in good spirits and quite mentally coherent for an 87-year-old woman, her only real complaint being that Parkinson’s disease makes things a bit difficult.

We left Berwick with what we thought was plenty of time to drop off the car and get down to Flinders Ln. in the CBD for Pat’s reservation, but there was one minor problem as we were getting closer to the city — Good Friday was the following day, plus there was Easter Monday, as well as ANZAC Day on the Thursday of the next week, giving people the chance to take a sneaky 10 days off and, despite the fact that we thought the bulk of the traffic would be going out of the city, it was starting to get really congested taking us nearly 45 minutes to get from Toorak Rd. to our apartment, a distance of 4.5km (2.8 miles). We kept Pat updated, but by the time we had filled the car and dropped it off at the return centre, we had missed our reservation and couldn’t get a table at Supernormal so we went to a nearby tiki bar for some beers before seeing Arj Barker.

Arj Barker’s show was hilarious, but Anna couldn’t help but continuously mention to me throughout the show about how much he reminded her of me, from the dress sense to the stupid stuff he says. We had a blast at the show, then went back down to Supernormal to wait for a table and they were eventually able to squeeze us in and it was damn good! After that it was off to some other bars, including trying unsuccessfully to get a spot in the hidden underground bar at Pizza Pizza Pizza, before settling into another place next-door. Anna was meeting up with some old friends of hers the next morning for brunch so she left early, leaving Pat and myself to our own devices, a long night of drinks and catching up.
Here’s how it looked from our perspective:

Friday, April 19, 2019
Anna’s brunch plans came to fruition while I just kicked back, eventually meeting up with her at Arbory for some breakfast. We went for another stroll again, this time around other parts of the city, but due to being Good Friday, we were kind of limited in what we could do.
As it got later in the afternoon, I decided to message Adrien, who had been traveling around Victoria, to see if he was back from his trip, but almost immediately after I pressed ‘send’ I noticed a guy with a suitcase across the road from us that looked identical to Adrien. It was indeed him so he read my message while we were speaking and his plan was to check into our same hotel and have a shower so Anna and I went to a nearby rooftop bar and waited for him.
He soon arrived, we had a couple extra drinks, and then we walked down to Johnston St. in Fitzroy to have dinner. The food was great, Anna and Adrien loved the wine they ordered, but it was all coming out a bit slowly, however, we still managed to make it to the show on time. We joined the line outside the Melba Spiegeltent, the guy on the door checked our tickets, and before long we were inside completely hassle-free for a night of what we anticipated being some Prince versus Michael Jackson action. The show soon started, beginning with a moustachioed man in a neon leotard dancing with a walkman on. This was followed by a juggler in a parachute tracksuit, contortionists, singers, and finally a rather acrobatic piece performed on a ribbon suspended from the ceiling to the tune of Prince’s Purple Rain. The show was brilliant and we were constantly in fits of laughter, both at the hilarity and sheer absurdity of the performances, however, the three of us all agreed that it was nothing like we expected. There was a reason for that; the show we had tickets to see, INVINCIBLE: Prince vs. Michael, was being held in the Melba Studio. Instead, we had inadvertently gone to the next-door Melba Spiegeltent, where the people checking the tickets weren’t paying a whole lot of attention, and accidentally attended Circus Oz: NEON:

NEON is an unapologetic, funny, and downright dirty dancing cabaret where circus meets comedy and song in an unforgivably big shoulder pads night out.

This is Circus Oz as you’ve never seen them – adult, uncut and celebrating the gloriously gaudy and glitzy 80’s.

NEON – a hilariously naughty night out that takes the oh so wrong and makes it oh so right.

Realistically though, the show was probably as good, if not better than the one we intended to see anyway. To top off a great night we went back to Naked for Satan for some drinks before heading back to the hotel.
A look back at a bizarrely amusing night:

Saturday, April 20, 2019
It was now our last day in Australia and we still had a fair bit to try and pack in. First we were meeting up with one of Anna’s old Singaporean friends from Melbourne, Andrew Loh, plus his wife and three kids for brunch at the cafe next to where we were staying. As always seems to be the case, despite the fact that I don’t like children, Andrew’s five-year-old son immediately took to me and wouldn’t leave me alone for the next several hours, from trying to climb me while I was sitting, to asking me endless questions, and eventually eating garlic mayonnaise and trying to burp it into my face. Despite the endless attention from a small child, it was a fun lunch.

Next Anna and myself hit Chapel St. in Prahran to have a look at some of the old vintage stores we used to like, but, like much of Melbourne’s inner suburbs, a lot of the stores were vacant or for rent, but we walked around for a while before going back into the city. We met up with Adrien again at a nearby pub before he had to change hotels and soon Pat came down to join us as well. The original plan for Pat and myself was to meet up with our old friend, Travis Malloy, but he was unable to make it at the last moment. Instead, Pat, Anna, and myself went to Coda, a phenominal restaurant, bumping into my friend, Squeak Freeman, and his girlfriend en route. Squeak was only in town for the night so they vowed to meet up with us later. Dinner was incredible, it is supposed to be quite difficult to get a table at Coda, but being the Easter long weekend, I guess a lot of people were out of town so the three of us just walked in and managed to get seats at the bar. As soon as dinner was done, we went down to Double Happiness for the rest of the night, later joined by Squeak and his missus:

We flew out of Melbourne the following day, but my stomach wasn’t feeling that spectacular. On the plane I was doing some rancid farts so I had to go release the hounds in the aeroplane toilet, which is quite difficult when you’re my size. When I was done, I discovered a really creepy flight attendant had been standing outside the toilet door the entire time, helped open it when he heard the door unlock, and offered me a glass of water as I, as well as the fragrant aroma of what I had just released, exited the tiny room. Naturally, I declined and tried to get back to my seat, far away from this weirdo.
The next day I still wasn’t quite right, but when I eventually saw Tom back in Singapore he told me that about 30% of the people at the party had fallen ill, Leonie herself being stuck in bed for a few days and not feeling 100% again until almost two weeks later. Apparently there was one girl at the party that was rather sick, but still attended anyway and that’s where it all began, however, it seems like I got off lightly compared to some of the other guests.

Every trip back to Melbourne and Traralgon is a fun, but sometimes trying, time away, and my sincerest apologies to all the people I would have loved to have caught up with, but was unable to due to lack of time, especially my old friends still living in Traralgon.

Until next time…

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