DESTINATION ( DOLLARWISE) AUSTRALIA Melbourne for misers
Lee Mylne suggests how to enjoy the Victorian capital without breaking the bank
IDE a tram: Catching a tram is the quintessential Melbourne experience and usually costs only a few dollars to get almost anywhere. But to see the city highlights for free, jump aboard the City Circle tram, a burgundy-and-cream coloured old rattler that goes around a loop taking in Flinders, La Trobe and Spring streets and venturing as far as Docklands. There’s a commentary and, if you don’t get off, the whole circuit takes about 45 minutes. It runs every 12 minutes, from 10am to 6pm (to 9pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays). www.metlinkmelbourne.com.au. Out on a limb: Jutting into Port Phillip Bay, St Kilda Pier is a lively landmark, its 700m length almost never deserted. Fishermen drop lines over the side, kids skip and run, and on a sunny day the waters alongside are skimmed by sail-boarders and kite-surfers. The kiosk at the end of the pier, rebuilt after being destroyed by fire in 2003, is a great place for an ice cream or drink. For something more substantial, try Little Blue, the restaurant behind it, named for the penguins that make their home here. Behind the pier the breakwater offers a place to sit and contemplate the city skyline. www.parkweb.vic.gov.au. Pick a park: Whether it’s for a power walk around the Tan (a 3.8km loop around the Royal Botanic Gardens) or a lazy afternoon under a tree with a book, Melbourne’s parks and gardens are well loved and well used. Choices include the Fitzroy, Treasury, Queen Victoria, Alexandra, Flagstaff or Carlton gardens, as well as the vast expanse of the Royal Botanic Gardens, where for $18 you can also take a guided Aboriginal Heritage Walk through the ancestral lands of the Boonerwrung and Woiwurrung people.
At the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne, about an hour’s drive from the city, you can wander in the fabulous Australian Garden for just $9.50 entry. www.rbg.vic.gov.au. Chapter and verse: Sit and read under the domed ceiling of the glorious 19th-century State Library of Victoria in Swanston Street, wander the galleries or just soak up the light. This beautiful edifice is made up of several expansive spaces; be sure to take a look at the Redmond Barry Reading Room, Queen’s Hall and the La Trobe Reading Room. For the best interior views, head to the Dome Galleries and the public viewing platform on level six.
A permanent exhibition, The Changing Face of Victoria, tells the story of the state (and includes gems such as bushranger Ned Kelly’s armour). And it’s all free. www.slv.vic.gov.au. Art attack: The National Gallery of Victoria is divided into two locations. The Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square has 20 galleries in which to lose yourself amid the largest collection of Australian art in the country. NGV International in St Kilda Road has four levels of galleries, with works by Monet, Manet, Rembrandt, Picasso and others.
The collection has more than 70,000 works including ceramics, sculpture, photography, design and costumes. Admission to both galleries is free and includes a great program of no-cost talks, performances and films as well as a kids’ program. www.ngv.vic.gov.au. History lesson: Phar Lap is the most popular attraction at Melbourne Museum but there’s plenty more to do and see for the whole family. The museum is strong on Melbourne’s Aboriginal and European history, and how the two entwine, and gives a good sense of the city’s development. Don’t miss Bunjilaka, the award-winning Aboriginal cultural centre. Kids will enjoy the blue whale skeleton, the brilliant insect collection (with live exhibits including ant colonies and big spiders) and the dinosaur exhibit (which opens in April). Entry is $8 adults; free for children. www.museumvictoria.com.au.
Lively landmark: St Kilda Pier and Pavilion is one of Melbourne’s best loved and most serene spots
Display case: The Royal Exhibition Buildings Monumental site: Entry to the Royal Exhibition Building, Australia’s first UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation World Heritage site (along with the surrounding Carlton Gardens), is by guided tour only. Built in 1878, it has been carefully and beautifully restored. Your guide will outline its history and the many uses to which it has been put (including as a wartime barracks for servicemen), painting a picture of a well-used and well-loved monument.
Climb the stairs to the gallery under the dome for a closer look at the frescoed walls and ceilings. Tours run daily at 2pm from the Melbourne Museum and cost $5. www.museum.vic.gov.au. Hard cell: The Old Melbourne Gaol’s Crime and Justice Experience really lives up to its name. It’s a spooky old prison where you’ll see Ned Kelly’s death mask and the place where he was hanged almost 130 years ago. You can extend your stay by taking part in a role-play visit to the adjacent former City Watch House. You can even spend a few minutes locked in a dark cell. On Saturdays, a free live performance of the Ned Kelly story is staged in the jail at 12.30pm and 2pm. Admission is $20. www.oldmelbournegaol.com.au. Have a drink with Chloe: The upstairs bar at Melbourne’s landmark hotel Young & Jackson, on the corner of Flinders and Swanston streets, is the abode of Chloe, the city’s most famous nude. Chloe was painted in Paris in 1875 by Jules Lefebvre and the portrait has hung in Young & Jackson since 1909, when it was considered somewhat scandalous. As Chloe’s fame grew, she became a favourite, especially in war years when the pub’s position opposite Flinders Street Station made it a place of last farewells for departing soldiers.
Free tastings and talks about the hotel’s history are run every Saturday at 3pm in Chloe’s Bar. www.youngandjacksons.com.au. Road to discovery: Wandering the cobbled laneways and alleys of Melbourne’s city centre is sure to yield surprises. Brick walls covered with graffiti art, tiny galleries, interesting boutiques and welcoming cafes can be found tucked away in dead-end streets. Some lanes have become galleries in themselves; explore the stunning 19th-century Block and Royal arcades with their soaring ceilings, stained glass and frescos. The Cathedral Arcade, with its art deco design, is also worth a look. Tours of the Block Arcade run on Thursdays at 1pm, take about 21/ hours and cost $9, including
2 afternoon tea. More: (03) 9654 5244. Sporting chance: Sports fans could probably spend all day at the National Sports Museum and Melbourne Cricket Ground, immersed in tales of triumph (and, inevitably, loss), brought to life by a rich collection of memorabilia. Treasures include Don Bradman’s baggy green cap, Ian Thorpe’s swimsuit, Hubert Opperman’s bicycle and Australia’s first Olympic gold medal, won by Edwin Flack in 1896. The museum, part of the MCG complex, has lots of interactive areas that are popular with kids and features life-like hologram presentations of cricketer Shane Warne and AFL star James Hird talking about their respective games. Admission is $15 ($22 if you want to tour the hallowed ground of the MCG). www.nsm.org.au. Ship to shore: Get out on the Yarra and jump aboard a ferry to the maritime port of Williamstown on Port Phillip Bay. The hour-long cruise with commentary takes you along the river from Southgate, under bridges, through Docklands and past working docks. When you disembark at Gem Pier, explore historic Williamstown, a shipbuilding village since 1860. On the waterfront,
Brick-a-brac: Lanes and alleys are full of life Nelson Place is home to cafes, restaurants, parks and interesting small shops. On the way back, there are great views of the Melbourne city skyline.
The journey costs $22 one-way; $29 round trip. www.melbcruises.com.au.
www.visitmelbourne.com Lee Mylne is the author of Frommer’s Melbourne Day by Day (Wiley Publishing Australia, $19.95), to be released on April 1. This is the first in a series of features on best-value options in popular Australian destinations. Next week: Dollarwise Sydney.