A little over two weeks ago, I found out I had been shortlisted for the Monash Prize – a literary award open to short fiction writers from Australian and New Zealand universities. I’d entered the competition knowing how prestigious it was, in a what-the-hell moment, not thinking anything would come of it. Then I received the email telling me I’d been named as a shortlistee, which set off a crazy whirlwind adventure.
I called my parents to let them the good news, and also to tell them I’d been invited to the prizegiving, where the winner would be announced, but that it was in Melbourne in just over a week’s time, so I should tell them the offer was nice but we won’t be able to make it on such short notice, right? The next day, my mother called me back and said, ‘I think we should try to get you there.’
A week later, I was sitting next to her on a Qantas flight bound for Melbourne, catching my first glimpse of Australia and failing entirely to hide my childish excitement. At this point I must warn you that this is going to be long, it’s going to be about one little white Wellingtonian’s three-day adventure in the real big smoke, and it’s probably going to contain way too many pictures and excited ramblings, because this was a pretty big fucking deal. So skip it if you want. I’m not going to practise either textual or pictorial restraint with this one.
Pulling the trip together on such short notice (applying for urgent passports, paying through the nose for last-minute flights, my wonderful mother having to organise transport and accommodation in a city neither of us were familiar with) was stressful and it was tough. But holy shit was it worth it.
Here’s a picture of my first glimpse of Australia.
I hadn’t been overseas since I was seven years old, and I’d never been to Australia before, so I was incredibly excited about this trip. And it didn’t disappoint. We packed a lot into our short Australian sojourn, and it definitely whet my appetite for international travel. I want to go back to Melbourne, but I also want to see more of what this tiny huge world has to offer.
Melbourne has a population of approximately four and a half million people. Let’s take a minute to remember that four and a half million people is the entire freaking population of New Zealand. As we were flying in over the city, I looked down at the massive sprawl of buildings and realised that my entire country could fit into this one metropolis. Yet, it didn’t feel crowded or cramped or chaotic like I expected (except for maybe in the shopping centres). It just felt like a bigger, flatter, better-thought-out Wellington – ‘Wellington on crack’, as my friend Tess described it. And I immediately felt so comfortable in the city. I really felt like I could be very happy living there.
We landed in Melbourne on Monday night. On Tuesday, we got out early in the morning to figure out the best way around the city – which turned out to be by tram. Trams are everywhere in Melbourne. There are tram lines running through the middle of most of the major streets, and within the city they are free to ride. It’s amazing (Wellington, are you taking notes?) and was a novelty for a hopeless tourist like myself.
We then headed over to spend the rest of the morning wandering through the major department stores, Myer and David Jones, and getting a taste of the Melbourne shopping scene. We then wandered around a shopping centre for a bit (I’m not sure where we were or how we got there, there were a lot of people and it was all very confusing), before we stumbled across this: a building within a building.
This is the shot tower, which used to be where shot balls (like bullets, used in shotguns) were made. As you can see, today it houses multiple different shops and is an historical site in Melbourne. I wouldn’t know for a fact, but I’d guess when the shopping centre was in development, they weren’t allowed to tear down the shot tower, so just built the shopping centre up around it. If you look closely in the first photo, you can still see an outline on the side of the building where its neighbour used to be.
After a day of wandering around the city, in awe of its size and the sheer number of shops (two Mac counters in Myer and another one in David Jones????? is this real life????), it was time to get ready for the main event: the awards ceremony for the Monash Prize. It was held at Deakin Edge in Federation Square, an incredible little theatre with really beautiful glass walls. Here’s what I looked like.
If you followed the above link to the Monash Prize information, you’ll already know I didn’t win. But that’s more than okay: I went into the event knowing that my chances of taking home the award were pretty slim. Just to be shortlisted was an incredible honour which led to an unforgettable, invaluable and, I’d venture, even lifechanging trip.
This photo was taken by a photographer during the pre-event. Here I’m with another shortlistee (on the left) and Justina, the winner of the Monash Prize (on the right). They were both lovely, kind and intelligent people who I very much enjoyed meeting. I was incredibly happy for Justina: she was incredibly sweet and humble, and deserved to win.
The event took place on National Sorry Day, a day on which Australians take time to remember all the injustices that happened to the aboriginal peoples when the Australian government tried to assimilate them into white Australia. It was very interesting to learn a little bit about race relations in Australia, and it highlighted the fact that, despite what some might like to believe, racism is still very much a thing that happens. Cheers to Europeans of the 16th to 20th centuries for shitting on indigenous cultures everywhere they went.
On Wednesday morning we took a tram out to the Melbourne Zoo, where we spent several hours wandering around and I surprised myself by having a really good time. (I don’t typically like zoos; as a general rule, it makes me unhappy to see animals caged up in tiny enclosures.) We spent most of our time in the section where the Australian animals were kept, and I got to see kangaroos, koalas, snakes, wombats and platypus for the first time.
This wombat was so cute. It was also a lot bigger than I was expecting.
I don’t remember what type of bird this is, but it was really really pretty.
This koala was cuddled up in a tree having a sleep, and I was ridiculously enamoured with it. I maintain that it is the cutest thing I have ever seen; thus, probably the cutest thing in the known universe.
Here’s another koala; this one was born to be a model.
And here’s me checking out some giraffes.
Melbourne Zoo was weirdly obsessed with loos.
Not only did we find this giant statue of a loo roll, but there were decorative toilets everywhere along the paths, and you could even buy individually wrapped loo rolls in the gift store. I’m not making this shit up. It was both weird and hilarious.
After the zoo we headed back into the city to grab some lunch (and after that some dessert, of course).
I had this incredibly chocolate mousse, with a beautifully presented iced chocolate to drink. Melbourne knows how to to desserts (also daytime food; Wellington, take note).
We spent the afternoon in the museum, which I was very happy about. On our way there we passed this beautiful exhibition hall.
It was a pretty big building.
I have no photos from the actual museum because the history major within me was too excited about being there. We went to see the First Peoples’ exhibition, where I learned about the history and culture of the aboriginal nations that inhabited Australia before white people came and basically fucked everything up. We also saw an exhibition about Phar Lap, a famous racehourse that Australians think is theirs, but since he was born in New Zealand we know he was really a kiwi.
We also spent some time in the royal arcade, an old English-style shopping street. There was a shop selling macarons that had a beautiful display. Unfortunately I was too full from lunch to try one, but they looked really pretty.
This is Carlton Gardens, a beautiful park right near the museum. Melbourne was full of amazing parks like this one, and they all looked just so pretty in the autumn with rich-coloured leaves everywhere.
After one last dinner by the riverside, it was time for bed. The next morning we were up at 4am (6am New Zealand time, I told myself as I sleepily stumbled into the shower) to catch our flight back to Wellington. In the airport we did some last-minute retail therapy in the gift shop, where we were helped by a lovely young woman who told me she liked my blue eyes and that I should come back and study at Melbourne University with her. Not gonna lie, it’s a pretty tempting idea.
But then we boarded our plane and three hours later we were landing in Wellington, and it was all over. But, short as it was, it was an incredible experience which I am so grateful to my parents for financing and making it all happen, because it’s given me so much to think about. Melbourne was beautiful, enriching, and inspiring.
- You’re not aware of your nationality or your accent until you travel abroad. I was surprised by how acutely kiwi I felt while I was in Australia.
- In the modern day we live in a globalized world, in which international news comes to us instantaneously. The Internet allows us to call and even video chat with people in other countries as if they were right here with us. Travelling made me realise that Earth is actually a really fucking big place, and a lot of it is just water.
- Australia and New Zealand are pretty similar. Walking through Melbourne, I sometimes had to remind myself that I was in another country. It felt like home.
- That said, I’m sure if I travelled to different parts of Australia I would feel the differences more strongly. But we’re both former British colonies, and as such our cultures – at least in the big cities – are very similar.
- The main differences I noticed: accents, money, size, everything was just bigger and so much more spacious, Subway doesn’t taste the same as it does over here.
- We flew Quantas on the way there and Air New Zealand on the way back. In the most unbiased way possible, I’d have to recommended Air New Zealand over Quantas any day. The seats were comfier, the plane was newer, the legroom was roomier, there was a better selection of entertainment, and the in-flight meal was yummier. That said, Air New Zealand has a pretty shocking air hostess uniform. The Quantas dresses were vastly superior.
- Melbourne felt like home. I don’t mean that in the sense that it felt like I was in Wellington, but in the sense that I felt right there. It was a city I felt like I could be very happy living in. And maybe one day I will.
Anxiety has a place in all this. Or, to be more accurate, a lack of anxiety. Because I would never ever ever have been able to do this a year ago. If I had received an email this time last year telling me I’d been shortlisted for a writing award and was invited to attend the prizegiving in Melbourne, there would have been absolutely no question about it: I would have said no straightaway. My anxiety was so bad that there would have been no way I could have handled a last-minute international trip. It would have destroyed me.
Thanks to a sturdy medication regime and months of steady, self-directed recovery, not only was I able to do this trip, but I would argue that (for the most part) I was able to do it well. Especially considering the space I was in this time last year, I’m immensely proud of myself. I’d be lying if I said the trip was free of anxiety and stress. It wasn’t. After my mother called me to say she wanted to fly us over to Australia, I cried for a long time. I was already under immense pressure from uni and it was the one more thing I couldn’t handle. But the next day I gritted my teeth and got stuck into passport applications. It was hard, but I did it anyway. And I’m so glad I did.
Travelling to Melbourne and back was a testament to how far I have come on my recovery journey. It’s filled me with hope for the future, and widened my potential capabilities beyond what I could ever have imagined. 20-year-old Beth in May of 2014 would not be able to believe this. She wouldn’t believe that I am her, that I have been able to do everything I’ve done. But I am. I did it. And I’ve found strength in myself, reason to believe I’m going to be able to do even more.