An exercise in observation: Walking home from Melbourne’s city

Some authors take words and create sights, smells, sounds and shared experiences.

When Jenny Sinclair uses her words, I’m inside her head. It feels natural. It’s like I’m reading my own thoughts. She pays attention to her world and narrates rich stories.

“Here, an open door gives a glimpse of a bicycle prostrate in a darkened hallway; there, a wall is painted with a blue mural of fish in darker hues; the scent of frying onions drifts out of a half-open window; and somewhere down the street, a guitar is playing.” This is Jenny describing a walk through suburban Melbourne, only, you took it together.

Jenny’s words made me realise my eyes might be open, but I’m not truly looking at the world.

So I began taking notes as I walked; of the everyday things I take for granted.
It’s 5pm. I’m done. After sporting heels all day, I bounce down Town Hall’s steps in my runners.

The first thing I notice is the air. It sweeps across my face. I haven’t felt this free all day.

Swanston Street is beginning to pack out now. As the sun ducks behind buildings, city commuters emerge and embark on their pilgrimage toward Flinders Street Station. The defeatist in me sees zombies, but I’m attempting a more favourable outlook these days.

This evening, the smell of horses hits me early. I look across at six of them. They each have a foot lifted. I feel stupid for thinking wearing heels each day is a chore. A stream of pedestrians and peak-hour traffic sweeps me back up and out of my thoughts.

Something’s happening. Hi-vis is everywhere. Neon-vested police officers are scattered on each corner of Swanston and Flinders, though commuters are unphased.

I catch “Turnbull” and maybe, “two-face”, but definitely, “same as Abbott”. Ah, okay. A protester comes into view on the steps of Flinders Street Station. Twenty-five cops carry on conversations as they absently glance in the guy’s direction. It seems he doesn’t like politics, but he’ll put us all through his own. That’s Melbourne.

I descend down a bluestone staircase to the Yarra. It’s looking a little off colour, like leftover milk from a bowl of cocoa pops.

Descending Princes Bridge’s steps onto the banks of the Yarra

Tall, reflective buildings come into view. From a distance, the Southbank pedestrian bridge is an ant farm. People are trying to get ahead, but forget how to give way, navigate corners and keep left. Right of way is subjective this afternoon.

The Crown complex envelopes me with its shiny, sleak strip of fine dining restaurants and exclusive-looking bars. Most are yet to open. They tease with their empty, perfectly arranged tables and spotless wine glasses. I look, but don’t touch.

Glancing back at Princes Bridge as I leave the heart of the city
Glancing back at Princes Bridge as I leave the heart of the city

Cyclists zoom past me, weaving in and out of a web of people. Me? I weave in and out of a constant current of smokers. All us commuters weave through pockets of tourists with camera phones in the air.

Crossing Spencer Street and reaching South Wharf Promenade is an instant hit of freedom. The after-work crowd thins out and I can breathe. I take in the water views and the timber promenade underfoot. The clouds have burned off now.

I smile at the people relaxing over a drink–in full sun–at The Boatbuilders Yard. They’ve either come from a hard/long day at the office or a hard/long outlet shopping trip.

Soaking up the sun along South Wharf
Soaking up the South Wharf sun. It’s slightly better than Fishermen’s Bend sun, but not as good as Southbank sun.

I’m finally alone as I cross the DFO carpark–my secret passageway under the West Gate Freeway.

It’s industrial now. Car showrooms and repair centres. Self-storage buildings. I pass my tram stop at the same time the 109 releases city workers and students. Zombies. It’s satisfying to think that would have been my tram.

Today, since I’m on a personal assignment in experiencing and not tramming, I brave Death Alley. Otherwise known as Gladstone Lane: a name which is far too restrained.

Gladstone Lane. It's really not thaaaat frightening. But people may not hear you scream above the 109's rumble
Gladstone Lane. It’s really not thaaaat frightening. But people may not hear you scream above the 109’s rumble

It’s narrow, blanketed in graffiti, parallel to the tram tracks and derelict warehouses, and completely isolated. That’s partly untrue. Some of the run-down warehouses belong to teams of architects and graphic designers carrying messenger bags and MacBook Airs. If the tram zombies besiege, I’m sure they’d rescue me. Or tweet a pic of the incident.

I survive the laneway I’d previously avoided for two years and am home in 33 minutes. Entering my overpriced, century-old, flawed Victorian rental, a wave of validation sweeps over me. I live in Melbourne.

One third of the way down Gladstone Lane. That could be a zombie waiting for me at the end. Or a dumpster. Do I take the chance?
One third of the way down Gladstone Lane. That could be a zombie waiting for me at the end. Or a dumpster. Do I take the chance?
Pocketfullofchelle