It’s the southern summer and quite the time to be in Australia. There is a whole new world out there, a modern, inclusive country with a genuinely friendly attitude to visitors. The old joke about the famous writer who was asked by immigration "Have you got a criminal record?" and his reply - "Is it still compulsory?" - in a withering reference to ancient history of young nation is past its sell-by date. Today’s Australia is a vibrant place and no better displayed than in its most loveable city - Melbourne in Victoria, a state proud to say "This is as good as it gets."
They welcome tourists with an open heart these days, rolling out the red carpet for all nationalities, particularly Indians, who they know are such great fans of cricket that Australia may be their top destination in the year to come - 2020. The MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) is the crown jewel of sporting Melbourne and it’s ready to host two big events - the women’s World Cup final on March 8, 2020 and the T20 world championship towards the end of the year.
While the sporting events will be a natural draw for visitors to Melbourne, there is a host of activities and places to see in Victoria that the visitor must arm himself with all the facts to have a wholesome experience. Melbourne’s thriving cafe culture is a most inviting feature as the city prides itself on being one of the coffee capitals of the world. A definitive easygoing trait is well served in its hundreds of cafes, including the unique hole in the wall coffee kiosk that has standing place only for two staffers who serve thousands turning up every day for the unique brew.
A variety of places to see may be common to many of the great cities of the world. What has driven Melbourne to its preeminence in Australia is its desire to be among the most liveable cities of the world backed by a thinking and pro-active government. If Melbourne’s great competitor Sydney in New South Wales had its natural harbour and scenic city coastline to offer, Melbourne has worked harder to keep its flat topography in great civic order - so hard it is to spot anything out of order in the city’s thriving CBD and inner city and its leafy suburbs.
Having been a frequent visitor to Australia in the last decades of the 20th century and then observed Victoria in its newest avatars in the new millennium, it might be fair conclusion draw that Melbourne’s growth - sometimes defied in its burgeoning real estate in residential towers in the inner city - has been channeled in thoughtful action whereas Sydney’s hedonism may have, along with its wannabe America outlook, just have held it back from its potential. But, on a less serious note, what Melbourne best presents is fun, fun, fun.
The piazza culture of Federation Square leads often to the witnessing of fancy events - flash mobs as well as protest music - all in the course of a day. And there is so much more to see and experience in a vibrant city. The Eureka Building visit to take in the views from the 88th floor - still recorded as Melbourne’s tallest though soon to be overtaken by a 110 floor tower nearby. With its flat topography you get the impression you can see all of Melbourne and way beyond from the observation windows.
A streak of red amid blue in the impressive facade of the building has a story to tell of Melbourne’s heritage and the Victoria’s history in the gold rush. The touch of red is a reflection of the blood spilt in the gold rush. The name of the building itself is evocative of the gold rush as the Archimedean ‘Eureka’ was the term the prospectors used whenever they found gold. The Eureka Skydeck is easily accessible as the high speed elevator takes you to level 88 in 40 seconds flat to take in the awesome 360 degree views of the city below.
What sets this place apart is the friendliness of the staff, their dedication to work and their sheer enjoyment at what they are doing. It was a unique experience to be locked up in a room while the whole space was pushed out of the building. They call it "The Edge" experience. All that keeps you safe in the glass cube from the Melbourne streets below is the strength of the plate glass floor. Many tall buildings around the world have this feature but none lets you hang three metres out of the building in spectacular fashion when you are nearly 300 metres high.
The affable head of operations and technology explained as to how they are constantly innovating to capture the imagination of visitors. Their virtual reality
experience on the top floor is not for the faint-hearted. As you ‘walk the plank’ with the head gear on, the plank seems to be hanging out of the edge of the building. It takes a brave soul to venture further and grab the pogo stick, especially since a pigeon appears to fly inches from your face as it rises from the building.
A wondrous journey begins as you "step" out of the building and you fly over Melbourne like a bird, taking in all the sights that are precise in detail as they come from actual aerial video footage of the city. The Eureka Skydeck 88 is a splendid introduction to the delights of Melbourne, Victoria.
(R. Mohan is the Resident Editor of the Chennai and Tamil Nadu editions of Deccan Chronicle. He visited Melbourne, Victoria on invitation from Visit Victoria and Scoot Airlines)...