Even with a small group of sixteen and a very experienced guide, it was a challenge to see a bit of Melbourne this morning so we could get the lay of the land and make plans for our free time this afternoon and tomorrow. It's a big city and there are so many choices. Luckily our hotel is located in the CBD and nearly everything we would consider doing is within walking distance, especially when we can make use of the free tram that circles the area.
We started the day with a private tour of the gaol (jail). Even though its primary purpose was to incarcerate people for crimes committed here rather than convicts transported from Britain, it was a huge edifice with a complex behavior management plan and protocols for reforming behavior. Melbourne was a gold rush city, so it attracted the same sort of fortune hunters that were famous in our Wild West. Prisoners were generally held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day and even their exercise yard separated them from one another. When they were moved from one area to another, they wore white cloth masks with eye slits. The mask reminded me of ones worn by our KKK. The prisoners ate in their cells and rations were generally limited. Initially, hangings were public and they become such a big attraction, the crowds that came to watch became dangerous and the gallows were moved inside. It was common to make death masks of those so punished and phrenologists made studies of the bumps on their heads and tried to predict who the next criminals would be.
Then we had a lecture from a Vietnamese immigrant who talked about how refugees are handled here. Because Australia is such an empty country, there have been times when immigrants were very welcome. But Australia's proximity to Asia meant that many of these immigrants did not look like the original descendants of British convicts and a "whites only" law was passed. This brought many Italians, Greeks, Lebanese, Hungarians, Poles, and Yugoslavs, and just like in our country, these folks settled in enclaves and brought their approach to life with them. For the Italians this meant importing the Mafia and there were many events that took place in their neighborhood that would have fit perfectly on an episode of The Sopranos. When many southeastern Asians began to flee here in boats, the government was afraid that they would be overwhelmed, so anyone caught on the water was placed on Nauru, an island offshore and eventually sent back to the homeland they fled. After proper vetting Australia had been taking about 12,000 refugees annually, many from Syria these days. But recently the immigration law was changed again and these folks will only be here for five years and never allowed to become citizens. It is clear that all the first world countries in the world are feeling overwhelmed with refugee problems and are struggling with how best to handle them. As a child of immigrants who worked with immigrants in the school setting, her talk touched me deeply.
At the ANZAC Memorial we had great views of the city. Australia and New Zealand compete on the athletic fields, but ave died together in many battles, which are commemorated here. ANZAC Day, a Down Under version of Memorial Day, is coming soon and it sounds like veterans are respected and honored with heartfelt ceremony, rather than just being a day to have picnics.
Central Melbourne has wide streets separate by narrow lanes, a bit like the alleys we have in Chicago where the garbage is stored and the goods are unloaded. Today the lanes here are charming collections of restaurants and little shops. Some are heavily festooned with graffiti, which is regarded as an artistic endeavor and welcomed. In this nice climate people can dine al fresco year round and they were certainly doing so today. Anyone who has been to London has shopped in the arcaded areas and there are some of those here, too. Our last stop was at the Queen Victoria Market, which is half fresh food and half clothing and souvenirs. This market was so full of people, it felt like the crowds swept us along and my feet hardly touched the ground. Christmas shopping came to mind. The variety of the food for sale was mind boggling. Cheese shops sold product that would appeal to every sort of ethnic group that has settled here. An Egyptian spice shop also sold the spices northern Europeans put in glug and heat at Christmas time.
Our feet were getting tired, so we hopped on the circular tram and rode around the entire CBD. It took about an hour and helped us to decide were to start touring on our own tomorrow. It is clear that Melbourne has much that interests us and we will be frustrated by all that will be left unseen by days end. You could easily spend a week here.