Not Quite at Home in Melbourne
Following our brief exploration of Brisbane and a lovely holiday in tropical Cairns, with visions of the reef and rainforest still in our heads, we flew to Melbourne, planning to find a small apartment to experience Aussie Urban Living. On a bright Sunday morning, we bought Day Passes on the Metro and traveled to as many inner districts as possible, discovering that pretty much every one offered walkable urban living options.
So, we began to search the Internet, as we have done in cities all over the world. To our dismay, we found that all the apartments on offer were way above our budget - what to do? Then, we discovered Gumtree (www.gumtree.com.au), a classified ad site with plenty of accommodation ads, so many, in fact that it was boggling. But what were on offer were rooms in "share houses", that is, one room of a multi bedroom house with shared kitchen, bath, living room and laundry. As this was not what we preferred, we took a break from our search and walked across the street to a pub for beers and to decide what to do. We concluded that if we wanted to live in Melbourne, it seemed that a share house arrangement was our best and only option.
So, we continued our search and found what seemed to be a workable arrangement. We arranged to rent a double bedroom in a three bedroom house on a quiet street in South Yarra. Mitch, the owner, occupied one of the bedrooms and Emily and Riis, a nice Kiwi couple, occupied the other. This was an interesting experience, another variation to add to the Nomad Accommodation. types.
Having moved in, we began to explore the neighborhood. A short walk brought us to Toorak Road with a main tram line, plenty of shops, including a bakery, small supermarket and lots of cafes, along with South Yarra Railway Station. A few blocks more brought us to Chapel Street, one of Melbourne's most famous retail, cafe, and club streets, offering shopping, eating and drinking opportunities plus a giant Woolworth's Supermarket. We had all the attributes of a perfect urban neighborhood.
The CBD was a ten minute ride on tram or train. The neighborhood had charming Victorian homes interspersed with more modern ones, wide sidewalks, shady trees. The nearby banks of the Yarra River and the verdant expanses of the Botanic Garden and the Royal Domain offered us connections to the natural world.
Why Weren't We More Comfortable Here?
A contributing factor was our somewhat uneasy living situation. Our live-in landlord was one of the most persnickety and bossy people we have met in a while - perhaps ever! Hence we were continually on edge that we would be scolded for something we had done or not done. There was one way to do things, his way!
Also, we concluded that even though there were plenty of bars and restaurants within several blocks of our home, none of them became that special comfortable place we returned to often. This was partly due to the American-like tendency to have excessively loud music playing, thereby making it difficult to easily carry on a conversation. Moving to the outside areas was not a viable option as that is where smokers tended to gather.
Then there were the similarities to the USA that we kept discovering as we explored Melbourne's neighborhoods. It seemed that there were an excessive number of cars on the streets, probably encouraged by the plentiful parking available everywhere and the relatively cheap cost of petrol, $4.75/gallon. This in spite of the fact that the transit system was excellent. The result was an excess of traffic congestion and noise.
We later came to realize that another part of the explanation was the cost of things - prices are uncomfortably high in Australia (ie. pints of beer for $7.50, a half liter bottle of soft drink or a cup of coffee for $3.25 or more; a sandwich at a fast food place for $8 to $10; meals at cafes were never less than $25 for 2 and usually $40). It seemed to that we weren't getting good value for what we were spending and yet had little alternative.
We discovered two of the major causes for the high prices. First, according to www.fairwork.gov.au, the National Minimum Wage is $15/hour or $569.90 for the standard 38 hour work week (before tax). In the USA, the national minimum wage is $7.25/hour (or higher in some states). Therefore, the cost of labor is higher in Australia than in the USA. Second, the Global Financial Crisis hit the USA much harder than Australia. This caused the Australian and US dollars to now be equal in value, versus AU$1.30 to the US$1.00 in the not too distant past, a situation unfavorable to holders of US dollars (us).
Nevertheless, we remained determined to continue our urban investigations since it was increasingly clear that Melbourne offered some very pleasant and unique aspects to include in our research on People Friendly Cities.
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