I spent a lot of work time on the road. Reckon 70% is probably too much. Many trips are what I term FIFOs or Fly-In-Fly-Out. You get a whiff of the place but before you can savour the flavours you have to jet to the next meeting destination.
So I try to make time for extended stays in the places I enjoy. Australia happens to be one of those places. And Melbourne beckoned a second glance.
I remember my first brush with Melbourne. It was the 2006 Commonwealth Games, John So was Lord Mayor, and I was a guest of the State government.
I recalled one of the staff members from then the Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development (DIIRD) explaining to the delegation how the flow of gold into the city in the 1880s stimulated a major building program that left her with many grand constructions including the Parliament House, Melbourne Town Hall, Treasury Building, General Post Office, the State Library, cathedrals, universities and the Queen Victoria Market. "Marvellous Melbourne", she called it.
Image by David Iliff (Wikimedia Commons)
I saw Marvellously Modern Melbourne. She was the picture of a contemporary and thriving multicultural city framed against a Victorian backdrop of civic grandeur from gilded wealth during the Victorian gold rush. And her voice was tens of thousands of Melburnians chanting "John So is my bro".
Based on my standing time, I dare say John So received the longest ovation of all the dignitaries at the opening of the 2006 Commonwealth Games. My bemusement was short-lived thanks to the Australian architect seated next to me. He told in many passionate words the story of the former first directly elected Lord Mayor of the Melbourne City Council, his humble beginnings as a Hong Kong immigrant to this "Lucky Country" and his zeal for his city that won him the 2006 World Mayor Award
. Here was a man endeared to Melbournians. And Melbournians themselves seemed to be passionate about their city.
Melbourne had showed me some heart and soul.
Approximately 5 years later, work brought me back to Marvellous Melbourne. Now "Most Liveable Melbourne", having replaced Vancouver in the top spot of EIU's Global liveability report
. I'd read the report including Mercer's Quality of Living Survey
but I wanted to understand why she was the world's most liveable city.
Flinders Street Station
Image by Adam.J.W.C. (Wikimedia Commons)
What is so special about Melbourne?
I know the facts and figures that the government and tourism office feeds me – second most populous city and cultural capital of Australia, blend of seascape and green hinterland, multicultural community, relatively low crime rate, a comfortable standard of living, quality education, good healthcare, Australia's manufacturing heartland etc. I know she is easy to get around by public transport. She lives and breathes sports and culture. Food and coffee is everywhere. People in Melbourne seemed friendlier. Every visitor will come to see and know these as they transverse the city.
Image by Rae Allen (Wikimedia Commons)
What makes Melbourne special is her heart and soul.
Perhaps it's the willingness of Melburnians to embrace the new and different, the multicultural flavour of its population, an open welcome to an immigrant who has adopted and epitomised Australian ideals to become Melbourne's Lord Mayor, and the passion of that Lord Mayor for his city and people. Or maybe it's the hook turns I keep hearing about. Turning across tram tracks can change one's perception of the world around him or her.
Melbourne's heart and soul will not reveal to my mere glances and flighty efforts.
To understand her is to appreciate her temperament, language, scent, emotions and peeves; To watch as she wakes up and goes to bed, feel the textures of her seasons, taste her bountiful produce, the sound of her laughter, her sorrows, the good, bad and ugly…
To woo this grand dame will require much time, effort and many dates.
Perhaps a series of musings on Melbourne is what I need. Call it "Lionel's Melbourne". I might score a kiss on the cheek at the end of the date. Who knows where we'll go from here. Maybe a long term relationship…
I warmly invite you to join me as I fall in love with her.
Dear Reader: If you live in Melbourne, what makes her special to you?