Two hours in Melbourne and the vibe is surreal. It’s grungy, graffitied streets are alive with activist intention and colourful statements about love, death and life. But these same alleys feel hollow, archaic, haunted and broken at night. A lost civilisation off the streets of the modern urban landscape. There’s something sinister in the dark, bars tucked away in dead ends, people in blackened attire with lethal smiles from whiskey shots and puffs of weed lurk around forgotten corners, chic restaurants and niche bars seem cold in their industrial settings and the whole thing is some bewildering mix of dirty London and sunny Sydney. But the line between Melbourne’s Jekyl and Hyde sides is a flexible one, blurring into each other, softening in the lonely lit skyline. With just a handful of skyscrapers it looks smaller than it is from the viewpoint over the Yarra river. Like in any other city parks and puddles of green scream out loudly from their imprisonment in the smokey grey grid, fountained lawns meet tram lines and hipster clad trends pass a steady helping of grey suited business men and homeless bodies hunched under the weight of the belongings they smuggle through the streets.
In the sunshine the city is transformed. A halo of light dances off glass fronted towers, showers down on the beaten, shop lined streets. Victoria Market bustles with keen tourists and laid back locals, St Kilda sings a promise of city escape with its stretch of white sand, and even the varying levels of pretence from sunglasses cannot hide the smug satisfaction on the faces of the cities inhabitants. Even a homeless man smiles as I pass, though I share nothing but my own blissful grin, he wishes me a ‘g’day’ and carries on with the tinkling tune he hums to himself. Melbourne sheds its soul in the sunlight, is possessed by deep mystery by the moonlight, conceals secrets of liberation in its twists and turns, and encourages diversity through its music, style, food and people. It’s a broken culture, more united than anything I’ve witnessed. I feel free here, I sense change here and most of all I find a weird peace here.