I am a writer in the making with a passion for imagery, globetrotting and exquisite designs.
Published January 25th 2013
An ode to a true Australian custom
As a curious and somewhat weathered traveler, I like to think that before coming to Australia I had seen my fair share of cool and practical things made available to the public for free. These range from the Venice Graffiti Pit in Venice Beach, California, to the luxurious Japanese toilets found in Bangkok's Terminal 21 mall (a far more likely candidate to win 'toilet of the future' than Demolition Man's puzzling seashells), and from walk-up kayaking at New York's public boathouses to the Summer Party beach chairs in Brussel's Parc du Cinquantenaire. It is not uncommon to find, in many countries, that some higher power has thought of (and decided to invest in!) some sort of complementary infrastructure or service for the sole purpose of delighting residents and tourists alike.
Which brings us to our current object of praise: public barbeques. Cycling along one of Melbourne's bike lanes one day with my boyfriend, who is a Melbourne boy, I came across these box-like structures. "Why is the Yarra lined with rubbish bins?" I asked. "What, those? They're just the barbies." After a moment of confusion, expecting to spot a host of golden-haired dolls along the river banks (bless these abbreviation-loving folk!), I suddenly realized what he was talking about. "Brilliant! So they're coin operated, I suppose?" I added musingly. "Nah, you just press a button and they fire up." "Well, they must be in a wretched state!" I laughed. "Actually, the council takes care of cleaning them too." I was dumbstruck.
From that point on I insisted of making full use of these button-operated devices. We regularly grill meat along the riverside against a backdrop of the CBD, sizzle vegetables in Albert Park in the company of a fearless black swan tagged S54, and brown crusty bruschetta bread in Caufield Park while we watch the more eager and muscle-happy male members of our company kick the footy on the field below. A brief search revealed that there are plenty of online resources to aid you in the selection of the perfect picnic spot. The City of Melbourne website provides an interactive map that pinpoints locations within the city, and the Melbourne Water website includes areas along the outer fringes. For those who simply want to stay in the neighborhood, this app allows you to search the 3 closest barbeque spots to any given address.
Though to accustomed locals this whole business may seem far from brow-raising, to my foreign eyes these barbeques have an air of iconic majesty about them. Australians have taken an age-old custom (the term 'barbeque' nudged its way into the English language in the mid-1600s, from a generally accepted Caribbean origin) and owned it like the novelty-embracing people they are. It is as if the Argentinean government decided one day to provide free usage of public mate pots and bombillas to its population of avid tea-sippers, or the powers that be in my own little boot-shaped country opened up some free ski slopes where we could all slide down a mountainside to our heart's content (maybe throw in free a pair of skis to use as well?). Around here, the barbeque is not just a style of cooking, or a community-cementing pastime, it is a cultural statement.
What an exciting story Olga, your writing made me feel like I was right there with you. I look forward to reading more of your travels. Perhaps you will write about Canada when you stop by for a visit. Love Auntie Adrienne
I like your article dear Olga! You make something pop sound noble and deeply cultural! And when I read "Well, they must be in a wretched state!" My sly smile appeared, I though: "here we are with the Italian background!" ;-)