Melbourne is a city of fluctuating temperatures.
The Men Behaving Badly had told me about days at 41°C followed by days of 21°C so it’s almost impossible to acclimatise to heat here as there just isn’t a steady climate.
When I arrived on Monday it was 15°C. Today it was 31°C and the following day was forecast to be hotter still, but with rain.
Therefore, it seemed sensible to spend the hot dry day seeking out the city’s gardens.
Temperatures are cooler in green spaces, especially where there is tree cover so I headed first of all to the Royal Botanic Gardens of Victoria which are on the edge of the city centre.
Melbourne is blessed with green space, much of it actually a hangover from the early rich settlers who sought reminders of ‘home’ and an escape from an environment they despised.
At the main entrance to the Gardens are twin observatories, purpose built for observing the transit of Venus. It had been all about the transit of Mercury while I was in New Zealand.
Two observatories to be used for about six hours over a couple of days only… seems a bit extravagant.
Measuring the transit of Venus was an essential step in creating an accurate chronometer. There was an international race to be the first nation to do so – control of the seas was the prize.
Britain spent £4,000 on sending Captain Cook to Tahiti to measure the transit of Venus.
The Observatories at the Gardens became key in assisting Melbourne with accurate time keeping. Prior to establishing the actual time there was no agreement on sailing times, working times and a chaotic situation was in place.
The Observatories telegraphed the correct time to the main clock on Bourke Street so that it could be set. Work now started and finished at agreed times.The railways that were being built could now run timetables.
Entrance to the gardens is free which I find astonishing, considering what a beautiful space they are.
The Gardens were founded in 1846 when land was reserved on the south side of the Yarra River for a new botanic garden. This site was originally land that the Indigenous People who lived here had used for hunting and gathering.
The British, as they had in New Zealand, changed the land and the river significantly. The Yarra’s traditional name means ‘river of mists’ and its course was straightened changing the land’s ecology.
Across the state, the land was transformed to agricultural use meaning that many of the plants that the Indigenous People relied upon for food were eradicated.
Today, the Gardens cover 89 acres that slope to the river with trees, garden beds, lakes and lawns. It displays almost 50,000 individual plants representing 8,500 different species. These are displayed in 30 living plant collections.
Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria is also home to the State Botanical Collection which is housed in the National Herbarium of Victoria, including 1.5 million preserved plants, algae and fungi, and Australia’s most comprehensive botanical library.
The work carried out here is a key part of supporting the country’s biosecurity, identifying alien plants that should not be imported.
The Gardens an incredible space and I spent the morning here before crossing the Central Business District via a number of Laneways filled with street art to the Fitzroy Gardens.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever been to a city as filled with graffiti and murals as Melbourne.
Some of the Laneways are particularly famous for it such as Hosier Lane and the brilliant AC-DC Lane – named for the band themselves.
There are some stunning works here as well as commentary on the current situation.
I was also in search of lunch and was in search of any tucked away cafes or lunch spots. I was avoiding the more famous Laneways as they are crowded.
I stumbled on a tiny cafe, with room only for a counter in its shop opening straight onto Flinders Lane. It was named Tom Thumb, which I thought very appropriate.
I’m a sucker for a good name and I went straight in. Lunch was a toasted bagel topped with mashed avocado and feta with a flat white – well, when in Melbourne…
At 14.30AUD, I thought it was a bargain. tes, you can get cheaper, but you can also pay more. Service was friendly and the bagel was delicious.
So, onwards to Fitzroy, on the opposite side of the Central Business District.
Opened in 1848, the gardens are one of the major Victorian era landscaped gardens in Australia and add to Melbourne’s claim to being the garden city of Australia.
Along with Sinclair’s Cottage where the head gardener lived, a key feature is Cooks’ Cottage – the house where the parents of James Cook lived, brought from England in the 1930s… which seems to me to be a bit of a random thing to do.
The gardens were central to the city’s social life with events such as Hospital Sunday – fundraising society events – held annually until well into the 1920s.
Fitzroy Gardens are reminiscent of Hyde Park, London in my opinion and there were lots of people seeking shade beneath the trees.
Melbourne is a huge city but it’s also a very green one – something to appreciate on a hot day.