The Melbourne Botanic Gardens


One of the things we enjoy on holiday is taking a stroll in the evening after we’ve eaten – if the weather permits. Well that wasn’t a problem while we were in Melbourne. A couple of evenings we took the opportunity of a warm, pleasant evening to cross over the Yarra and have a wander in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The gardens extend over 36 hectares, just south of the river and were established in 1846 on what was originally a mix of rocky outcrops and swampy marshland. Today it’s a “picturesque” landscape of paths meandering along ornamental lakes and beautifully kept lawns, trees, flowerbeds  and other “botanical features” with a collection of over 50,000 plants from Australia and other parts of the world, including rare and threatened species.





Being early summer and close to Christmas (feels weird writing that!) during our first stroll, on a Saturday evening, there were a number of Christmas parties taking place in the various buildings in the park used for events, and there was outdoor theatre showing current films.

We spent a couple of hours or so wandering around on both our visits and the sun was beginning to set by the time we left – in both cases by the gate facing the Shrine of Remembrance. We climbed the steps to take in the view


before heading back through Kings Domain (more pleasant lawns and gardens), back a cross the river to Federation Square for a nightcap.


Melbourne Docklands


Melbourne’s original docklands, a complex of wharfs, warehouses, railway facilities and light industry were developed towards the end of the 19th century on swampland to the west of the city centre. At one time is was a busy hub of activity with ships being loaded and unloaded.  However,  they fell into disuse following the containerisation of shipping traffic and by the 1990s it was virtually abandoned. Since then, like many docklands in cities that have suffered the same fate (e.g. Darling Harbour in Sydney, Salford Quays and the various docklands in London) they have undergone redevelopment which has seen the construction of office and residential blocks, bars, restaurants and leisure facilities, including the Etihad Stadium and the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel. We’d picked up leaflets in the tourist office on Federation Square about Art and Heritage (i.e. industrial history) Trails, so being interested in both, thought we’d go and have a look.

We took the tram out from the City Centre. The route was entirely within the “free zone” so nothing to pay. It was something of a grey day (although the cloud cleared during the afternoon) which wasn’t great for photographs, but I snapped a few anyway.

Like many developments in former industrial locations, it felt a little desolate and hadn’t developed fully. The art trail is no doubt intended to encourage visitors and that certainly worked in our case. I guess it will take some time before it fully develops it’s own atmosphere.

There are 26 works of art scattered across the Docklands, too many to see during one visit, and some are not accessible to casual visitors. Here are the ones we saw

Meeting (2013) by Wang Shugang – 8 red, life-sized men crouching in a meeting circle –  at the NewQuay Promenade.


Silence (2002) by Adrian Mauriks


This next piece Cast IV (2015) by Anthony Gormley was located in the lobby of a residential building and could only be viewed through the window.


However, I sneaked inside the lobby when a resident entered and got a look close up without having to peer through glass!


Round the corner, facing the Etihad Stadium (no, we hadn’t nipped back to Manchester. The stadium is home to Melbourne City, part of the empire of the owners of Manchester City) a large mural Edge of your seat (2015) by the street artist, Rone


Next stop, on the dockside facing the Stadium is Cow up a tree (2001) by John Kelly, a work that certainly “does what it says on the tin”


Moving round the dockside we came across this large work in glass reinforced cement by John MeadeAqualung (2006). It rather reminded me of a giant whale or fish diving below the surface.


Whitecaps (2011) by Ari Purhonen, a Finnish-born Australian artist based in Sydney.


It’s a kinetic work where the metal cones resting on top of the old timber piles, which once supported the wharves, move in the wind creating sound, the intensity depending on the strength of the wind

Shadow Trees (2014) by Sally Smart, described by the artist as a “choreography of trees”.


We really liked this large scale work, The River Runs Through It (2011) by Mark Stoner


It consists of a series of shaped paving, 16 white pre cast concrete ‘wave’ forms, 5 brick ‘dunes’ and carefully placed planter forms.

The artist’s blog tells us that

The intent is to create a sense of a spatial landscape that references some notion of the wind, sun and physical form of the original bank of the Yarra (River).


Webb Bridge (2003) by Robert Owen is a pedestrian bridge over the Yarra “transformed into a work of art by the unique metal weave that surrounds it”. It’s design is inspired by the woven eel traps used by local Indigenous people.


Blowhole (2004) by Duncan Stemler is another kinetic sculpture where the arms and cups are moved by the wind, rather like a cup anemometer used to measure wind speed.


We particularly liked this next work, Reed Vessel (2004) by Virginia King


Set in a recreated marshy wetland, viewed from a distance it looks like a boat emerging from the water. The artist tells us that it

embraces themes of migration, the river and the sea. The work references the history of the site, the once-abundant food source of the vast, tidal wetland that existed here, stories of the river and marine archaeology.

The final work I photographed was Continuum (2005) by Michael Snape a tower made up of two dimensional figures cut from steel.


The artist is said to have found inspiration for the work by the way the Docklands was coming back to life after a period of abandonment. That certainly seemed to be the case, but it will probably take a little while for it to be fully realised.

There was more to see, but we’d been wandering round for a couple of hours and as we were near a tram stop, caught the next one that would take us back towards our apartment. On the tram we got talking to a local who had been temporarily located to the Docklands. She wasn’t impressed with the area feeling it was too far out from the centre and lacking atmosphere. It clearly needs time to “grow into itself”.


The State Library of Victoria


The morning of our second full day in Morning, we decided to visit the State Library of Victoria, which is at the north end of the Central Business District.


It’s an interesting, impressive building, with a large, round, domed reading room.


The library also shows exhibitions, including two which are on permanent display, the Changing Face of Victoria  and Mirror of the World : books and ideas which are located on the galleries around the circumference of the dome, providing visitors with good views down into the void of the reading room!

One of the highlights of the exhibition about the history of Victoria was the section devoted to the famous Bushranger, Ned Kelly. The exhibits included the armour that he wore during some of the Kelly gang’s raid and during the final showdown with the police in the small ton of Glenrowan, where they were planning to rob a train, on 28 June 1880.


and his death mask.



I couldn’t help but note the library opening hours, 7 days a week – 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday to Sunday. What a contrast with libraries in the UK which are being starved of resources. The main library in Wigan has had it’s opening hours severely cut back , shutting at 5 p.m. weekdays and, unbelievably, at 2 p.m. on a Saturday! You can almost forget visiting the library if you are lucky enough to have a full time job.


Fitzroy Gardens


One of the attractive features of Melbourne were the extensive public parks and gardens in the city centre. Fitzroy Gardens, on the south eastern edge of the Central Business District is one of them. The park was created in the mid 19th Century on what had previously been swamp land just north of the Yarra river. It’s named after Sir Charles Augustus Fitzroy who was Governor of New South Wales (1846-1851).

It’s laid out like a British park with lawns, tree lined pathways, fountains and flower beds – although the plants are somewhat different from what we’d find in Britain.

One of the avenues is lined with magnificent elm trees – a rare sight in Britain due to native trees being savaged by Dutch Elm Disease. Unfortunately I neglected to take a photograph 😦

But here’s a few shots I did take




A visit to the ancestral home


The oldest building in Australia stands in the middle of Fitzroy Gardens in central Melbourne, only a short walk from our Appart-Hotel. It wasn’t actually built in Australia but in Great Ayton and was the home of the parents and other family members of James Cook the renowned 18th century explorer and navigator who is something of an icon in Australia. The cottage was brought to Melbourne in 1934. Each brick was individually numbered, packed into barrels and then shipped to Australia where the cottage was re-erected. Cuttings from ivy that adorned the house were also taken and planted – I doubt they’d get away with that today given the strenuous measures taken when entering Australia to prevent foreign specimens being imported..

We have a particular interest in Cook as he’s in my wife’s family tree – she’s descended from one of his siblings (as are my children, of course!). So we could argue that it’s her ancestral home! So a visit while we were staying in Melbourne was a must. Unfortunately the family connection didn’t result in the entrance fee being waived!


The cottage has been furnished to be representative of the how it would have looked in the 18th Century


In the extension there’s an interesting exhibition about Cook and his voyages.


The house is surrounded by a reconstructed English style cottage garden


where there’s a statue of the man himself. He probably never actually lived in the house as his parents moved there after he’d left home for Whitby.


Although the house is quite small it was worth the visit and the entry fee (many tourists were standing outside the garden taking photographs without paying to go inside (to be honest, so did I last time I was here!). It was interesting to see the reconstructed interior of an 18th Century artisan’s cottage where my wife’s ancestors lived. The exhibition was interesting too and the guides, wearing period costume, were very helpful and keen to tell us about Cook and the cottage.


NGV International


During the morning of our first full day in Melbourne we decided to visit the National Gallery of Victoria- International. A modern gallery just a short walk down St Kilda Road from Federation Square. It “does what it says on the tin” and houses the NGV’s collection of works by non-Australian artists.  Unfortunately the Gallery was preparing for a major Triennial exhibition which was going to take over a large part of the exhibition space and only a limited part of the collection was accessible

Immediately behind the entrance hall is the Grand Hall with it’s massive stained glass ceiling (the world’s largest) by the Australian artist Leonard French


It’s quite an impressive work – rather like a stained glass window from a Gothic cathedral turned on its side and suspended from above.

Although the number of galleries we could access was limited, we were still able to see a good number of works. These were some of the ones I particularly liked, some by less well known artists, including a reasonable number of women.

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I particularly liked this installation being shown on the first floor by Alvaro Catalán de Ocón and Bula’bula Artists.


In 2016 Alvaro Catalán de Ocón and members of his studio travelled to Ramingining in Arnhem Land to work with a group of Yolngu artists. The collaborative design process, led by Catalán de Ocón, devised a way to join weavings, repurposing traditional Yolngu mats as PET Lamp chandeliers.

So the work consists of a series of mats woven from strands from PET (Polyethylene terephthalate ) bottles, suspended above circular mirrors.

Although many of the works in the Gallery’s collection originated from Europe, they have a good selection of works by Asian artists.

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Near the gallery shop there was one of Maarten Baas’ Real Time Grandfather Clocks, like one we’d seen at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.


We only spent a couple of hours in the Gallery. Partly because the of limited number of works accessible due to the preparations for the Triennial, but also because the sun had emerged. And in December we weren’t going to miss out on some hot sunshine!



Melbourne is a relatively young city but architectural styles span 200 years or so with many Victorian houses and buildings, Victorian and Edwardian arcades, Art Deco buildings and modern tower blocks and skyscrapers.



Some attractive parks and gardens


and seaside too


The traffic in the city is horrendous, but there’s a good tram system which is very convenient for travelling around, and travel on the trams in the central zone of the CBD is free. 


There are cafes and restaurants just about everywhere serving every type of cuisine imaginable and not too expensive.


There’s a good selection of museums and galleries. I’d say the number, range and quality of the collections is similar to the major Regional cities in the UK – like Manchester and Liverpool. The main Galleries are the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) International and the NGV Australia (Ian Potter Gallery). There’s lots of street art too.



The hub of the city is Federation Square which is on the corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Street and opposite Flinders Street Station. The open space, which is used for open air concerts and other events, is surrounded by modern buildings with jagged outlines and a “fractal façade” clad in sandstone, zinc  and glass. The buildings house the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), the Ian Potter Centre, restaurants etc. The main Visitor Centre is also located in the square.


The design of the buildings stirred up some controversy when they were constructed, but I think that they’re attractive.

As it was December, there was a Christmas tree outside the Visitor Centre, which, after sunset continually changed colour. There was also a giant snow dome and a light show projected on to one of the buildings.  Consequently lots of families with children were congregating in the square.


The Arts Centre, just south over the Yarra, was also lit up


There was plenty to keep us occupied so quite a lot to write up still!