8 things not to do in Melbourne – a guide for visitors

Melbourne is a tricky place for a tourist, as there are few flashy tourist attractions and a visitor usually has to spend weeks or months to really get under the place’s skin.

If you happen to be visiting Melbourne and Google what to do, you’ll be met with a dizzying array of highly repetitive suggestions. The spirit of plagiarism is alive and well on the internet, which helps to explain why so many of these listicles seem identical.

What’s worse, they’re often wrong. Oh, all of the things that are listed do exist, but they’re actually not the best that Melbourne has to offer. They’re tacky, pointless, boring, over-exposed or simply not what living in this city is all about.

Therefore, here is a list of Melbourne attractions to avoid and some more useful alternatives. No doubt there will be people who disagree with my list (it’s the internet, after all!) but I hope I can add a few options to the usual checklists with which visitors arrive. My suggestions all have a local, non tourist-orientated bias. That means that if you’re the kind of visitor who goes to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower and then go shopping, this probably isn’t for you. But if you take an apartment in Montmartre, stay for a month and walk everywhere, you are certain to find something to love below.


  • Avoid: Degraves Street and Hosier Lane
  • Seek out: Literally any other street or back alley in the CBD.

Degraves street is a small pedestrianised alley in the south end of the Central Business District. It’s full of cafes and is constantly bustling. Hosier Lane is about ten minutes walk away and is a permanent open air graffiti gallery which is constantly changing. So far, so good.

However as anyone who has spent time in the City will tell you, these attractions are not unique to these streets. But they tend to crop up on “best-of” lists, meaning that there are more tourists than locals and it’s hard work not being caught in someone else’s selfie.

Melbourne is chock-full of little back alleys that have delightful hipster eateries and odd street art. Truly, they’re everywhere. You just have to hunt.

Try this: whatever road you’re on, walk in a straight line, then take the two next left turns you come across. Look up. BAM – street art. Look to the side. BAM – a boutique coffee shop. Drink a coffee, take a photo and repeat. Don’t be afraid to explore.


  • Avoid: Flinders St Station
  • Seek Out: Royal Exhibition Buildings

Flinders Street Station is the main transport hub for the city, and is dominated by a giant yellow-and-burgundy building which seems to be constantly under repairs. It’s not bad for a photo, but like all train stations it’s dirty and is mainly used by people who are trying to get somewhere. Most of the interesting parts of the building are inaccessible, so unless you’re taking a train, make your visit brief.

Instead, catch a tram up to the Carlton Gardens where the Royal Exhibition Building is situated. This is a gigantic domed structure which was constructed in the 1880s when Melbourne was just making its name. Dramatic from the outside, if you time it right you might also be able to join one of the free tours run by the nearby Melbourne Museum. The inside is just as ornate and is a fascinating insight into the world 140 years ago. The whole site is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is something of an overlooked gem in my opinion.


  • Avoid: Fitzroy
  • Seek out: Northcote and Thornbury

Fitzroy became famous thirty years ago as a haven for artists and other creative types, and a thriving cafe and arts scene grew up around Brunswick Street. However nowadays the area is profoundly gentrified and is increasingly becoming a party destination. It still has its charms, but if you’re looking for the weird and alternative, jump on the tram towards Northcote and Thornbury.

To be fair, Northcote and Thornbury are also pretty gentrified. But they don’t have the human-zoo feeling that Fitzroy has. The further north up High St you go, the more ratty and fringe the shops get. You’ll find weird little cafes and drinking holes, restaurants of all shapes and sizes, and an arty/ethnic/hipster feel all around. Stick your nose over someone’s fence and check out their organic vegetable garden. Listen in to people arguing alternative politics in a cafe. Then go and have a beer and see a band at the Northcote Social Club.


  • Avoid – St Kilda
  • Seek out – Elwood

St Kilda. Ugh.

Well known as a bohemian beachside suburb, St Kilda was my home for several years. I rubbed  shoulders with junkies and Jersey Shore types alike. However on my recent visits I’ve noticed an increased culture of violence and alcoholism, combined with the fact that St Kilda appears to contain every single British and Irish backpacker who has ever got on a plane.

Seriously. The place is heaving. Innit.

If getting smashed and having a fight on the beach aren’t your idea of fun, move one suburb down the coast and enjoy the tranquility of Elwood. The beaches are just as good, but they’re not full of preening backpackers and there’s a friendly commmunity vibe. Wander inland and you’ll be surrounded by cute 1930s Art Deco apartments in tree-lined streets and comfortable local cafes and drinking establishments.


  • Avoid – The Queen Victoria Market
  • Seek out – South Melbourne or Prahran Markets

The Queen Vic Market seems to be on many tourists’ agendas, and I honestly have no idea why. It’s smack in the middle of the CBD, so there aren’t really local customers. There’s plenty of food available, but it’s crowded and unfriendly (the Turkish borek stall is an exception). Outside of the food hall, it’s just row upon row of bored vendors selling cheap and nasty tourist trinkets to the Chinese package tourists. Don’t waste your time.

Instead, try visiting the South Melbourne or Prahran markets. Both of these are close to the city and easily accessible, and both are frequented mainly by locals. It’s at these kind of places that you’re likely to get into a conversation about cheese with a stallholder, or find some weird amulet that you can’t live without. Eating (South Melbourne Dim Sims) and coffee options (Market Lane Coffee in Prahran) are everywhere. Afterwards you can explore the local neighbourhoods on foot to get a taste of inner-Melbourne suburban life.


  • Avoid – The Yarra Valley
  • Seek out – Mornington Peninsula

The Yarra Valley is about an hour’s drive from central Melbourne, and is known chiefly for its wineries (of which there are many). The wine is fine, I suppose. It’s not tremendously picturesque, but it’s not awful either. If you arrange a tour or convince someone else to do the driving, you could spend an excellent day travelling from cellar door to cellar door, becoming gradually less discerning as you go.

However, I’d suggest you head south, to the Mornington Peninsula. It’s roughly the same distance, but it has better wineries (in my view – especially the Pinot Noir), more other activities, and you can easily sleep off your drunken stupour on one of a number of nearby beaches. The small towns in the area are quite charming and all are a convenient place to stop off for a feed.

Just don’t go during the school holidays! The entire peninsula is a holiday getaway for harried families over summer.


The Great Ocean Road is fantastic if you want views of the Southern Ocean smashing against rocks and fertile hillsides. But you’ll also be spending a lot of time looking out of one side of your car (not much fun for the driver), and the frequent twists and turns are not kind to those who suffer from motion sickness.

Instead, consider going the other direction and staying on Phillip Island for a couple of days. The south coast is rugged and scenic (and surfable), but the North coast is sheltered and safe, and totally suitable for families. There are numerous accommodation options, and if seaside views get boring you could always go and see the penguins come ashore at night or the koala sanctuary inland. No motion sickness is anticipated.


  • Avoid – Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Open Range Zoo
  • Seek out – Healesville Sanctuary

If wildlife is your thing, Melbourne Zoo in Parkville and the Open Range Zoo in Werribee are both great. But let’s get real for a moment – you’re in Australia. Why are you going to see African animals?

Instead, drive out to scenic Healesville, 80-90 minutes from Melbourne, and visit the Healesville Sanctuary. Apart from being a profoundly relaxing and soothing place, you’ll be able to see nearly every single type of native animal from Southern Australia, as well as some from the tropics as well. When you’ve had enough, go to the Four Pillars Distillery in the town and partake of some liquid libations.


Visitors, I hope you’ve found a couple of sights here that pique your interest. Melbourne isn’t a very tourist-orientated town, so it’s easy and rewarding to step away from the “must see” sights.

Melburnians, tell me: What have I missed or gravely misrepresented?


Adventure: Walking the Capital City Trail

Recently I walked the length of the Capital City Trail, a 30-ish km circuit walk around the inner suburbs of Melbourne. It passess through about a dozen suburbs and links up a series of walking and cycling trails that are human-powered arterial routes. I’ve wanted to do this walk for years as it seemed like something that was achievable in a day but also demanding. I also wanted to see how all these areas linked up without relying on motorised transport. The day I walked it was around 37 degrees – not my choice, but that’s the time I had available.

The whole circuit is pretty well signposted, except for the area around Docklands. Still, it’d be worth taking your phone to make sure that you’re not too far off the path. Drinking fountains can be found around every 2km and food sources abound.

The Eastern section – Richmond, Abbotsford, Clifton Hill

I started here, at Riversale Road, because it is the closest to my home. Most of this section follows the Yarra River and parts of Merri Creek and are accordingly prosperous, leafy and pleasant to walk along. This is by far the most attractive section of the Trail.

The Northern section – North Fitzroy, Parkville

By the time I got to the north it was seriously hot. I was sweating like a cornered nun and was happy for the drinking fountains every half an hour, since that was about how long it took to empty my, by now blood-warm, water bottle.

Much of the trail in this area follows the path of the former Inner Circle railway, so you’ll be sharing the path with lots of cyclists. Cafes and other food sources abound, including one where I spotted Eddie Perfect.

After passing through North Fitzroy, the Parkville section can be pretty uninviting. It’s still parkland, but a sparse and dusty one dominated by hot winds. Much of the track runs parallel to the Upfield train line so it’s tricky to get lost.

The Western section – Flemington, Docklands

To be honest, the western section of the walk is pretty grim. After the greenery of the east and north, you pass under a freeway at Flemington Bridge station and don’t emerge for another 5 km. Much of this route is underneath the Citylink freeway and beside the train line, with a stagnant stream on the other side. It feels a little like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, part of the downside of car-centred city design. That said there is an abundance of street art and interesting posters.

Passing out from under the freeway and crossing over Footscray road, you find yourself in the recently invented suburb of Docklands. It’s all very shiny and new, with loads of shops and apartments, but no-one seems to want to be there. I lost the trail at this point due to poor signage, but decided to just walk south until I hit the water. After stopping for lunch at a largely abandoned cafe I wended my way through the sterile offices of Australia’s banking industry, before crossing Spencer street and finding the Yarra River again.

The Southern section – CBD, Cremorne, South Yarra

The first part of the southern section passes through the southern edge of the CBD, with superb views and ample refreshment stops. At this point I had to stop at a chemist to buy some tape and tape up my abused feed. I must have looked hilarious to the passers-by – sitting on the concrete in a side street, sweating profusely, and using a pocket knife to cut up medical tape.

Once past the eastern side of St Kilda Road, you find yourself amongst the boatsheds of Melbourne’s posh secondary schools. Here the path diverges – you can choose to walk along either bank of the Yarra. I chose the northern bank, and was rewarded with a swampy grated walkway. It would have been unpleasant, except the views across to the South Yarra side were great, and I came across an outdoor rock climbing park under a freeway that I’d never realised was there. Around the bend at Yarra Boulevard and I was back at my starting point, 8 hours after having begun.

Lessons learned

  • Apply anti-chafing cream before setting out
  • Set a phone alarm to remind yourself to reapply sunscreen. Only idiots get sunburned.
  • Drink water. Lots of water. The best place to store it is in your body.
  • Provided adequate food and water, the human body can basically walk forever. Given our ancestral history of nomadism and migration, this makes a lot of sense.
  • Don’t leave home without a hat. I would never have made it without some sun protection
  • When fatigue and boredom are setting in, just keep putting one foot in front of another.
  • Pedestrianism triggers a strange magic – ordinary worries float away and repeated footfall becomes mesmerising. It’s almost easier to keep walking rather than stop.
  • The goal is not the goal. The goal is to enjoy the journey.
  • Walking allows you to see and enjoy the small things that are around you all the time.



Lawns are virtue signalling of the worst kind – where the owner can’t even remember what virtue is being signalled.

Lawns originated in ancien regime France as a way for aristocrats to demonstrate their wealth. In a time and place where subsistence farming was the majority occupation, what better way to show off than to use arable land to cultivate useless grass? And then to employ staff to maintain it!

The idea of the large lawn was transmitted from the formal European garden to the middle-class Anglosphere backyard. In this culture we worship the lawn, despite it being a great way to destroy soil quality and waste water. Neighbours compete with each other over their lawns by means of an arms race of herbicides and fertilisers.

When pressed we might defend our lawn on the grounds that it’s somewhere for the kids to play. But in our hearts we know full well that it’s a weak echo of the natural world that the kids actually want to spend time in. They want the bush, not a denatured paddock.

So here we are, virtue signalling using the language of ancient monarchs.

Give up. Let it grow wild. Plant vegetables and native plants. Abandon the monocrop fantasy.

Phillip Island

Phillip Island is nebulous and inchoate – both to itself and the hordes of visitors. A very driveable 90 minutes from Melbourne, 79 minutes of which seems to be spent getting out of Melbourne, it tries hard to be the complete holiday destination. Some days it succeeds.

You arrive at Phillip Island after a brief drive through the countryside of south Gippsland, passing such exotic attractions as the State Coal Mine and a deer abbatoir.

Surf Beach, looking towards Cape Woolamai

The trip would be shorter except road access to the island is via a causeway on the the eastern end, rather than the more conveniently located western side. It is unclear whether this is a failure of planning or just a cunning plan to ensure that visitors are forced to drive through the mudflat called Tooradin.

The Island, as the locals call it, was previously largely agricultural but that has definitively shifted in the direction of tourism. The main drawcard for most tourists, especially the international ones, is the Little Penguin sanctuary. Every night hundreds of birds the size of a hand come ashore on a handful of specific beaches and proceed to march up the dunes in search of their burrows. They’ve spent the day fishing in the sea, and I do wonder whether floodlights and human cooing is in their best interests. Regardless, they’re cute and the tourists lap it up.

It was the Japanese in the 1980s who really made the penguin parade a major attraction. Having a national fixation with all things cute, these tiny waddling birds were like catnip to the wealthy Japanese salarymen of the day. As Japan’s influence has faded and China’s has risen there has been a smooth transition from yen to yuan.

Acceptance of overseas visitors is variable, but it seems to me that the Chinese are less welcome. Lacking the over-the-top politeness of the Japanese, their habits of dress, behaviour, and rudeness (by Australian standards) are tolerated rather than endorsed. I was walking down the main street one afternoon when I saw a minibus disgorge a clot of Chinese passengers, who proceeded to wander up and down the street three abreast before being herded into a truly unsanitary looking Chinese restaurant. When in Rome, I suppose.

For many of the native Australian visitors, the main attraction is the Moto GP, a weekend of motorbike racing on the course in the centre of the island. It attracts a crowd of petrol-heads, motorsport enthusiasts and other Ostrogoths, and the town sells out of beer in short order. As I understand it this is a major event, but the world of loud engines generally leaves me cold and I haven’t sought to expand my knowledge.

That said, I had my own encounter with the track itself a few years ago. A group of my work colleagues planned to do a Tough Mudder mud-run event a few years ago, which was located on the track. There were worse ways to spend a day, although it was neither as gruelling nor as rewarding as I’d been led to believe, ice-dunk notwithstanding. Although these races claim to be democratic in their appeal, our group learned early on that it helps having a heroically square-jawed, 6’2″ athlete on your team.

For many locals, and indeed for visitors like me, Phillip Island is mainly a beach holiday destination. This overlooks the fact that it’s cold and rainy for nine months of the year. But it has the distinct advantage of being driving distance from home and doesn’t require negotiating the horror of Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport.

As a coastal destination, The Island (as the locals call it) caters both to family beach holidays and also to surfers and other daredevils. The north coast is sheltered on three sides and has vast sandy beaches.

Exhibit A

The south coast is rugged and faces directly onto the Southern Ocean. The aptly named Surf Beach is one of several venues for what is reportedly some of the better surfing to be had in this end of the country. The local Island brand of surfboards attests to this, and is advertised by every second car on the streets. Some truly hideous boxy houses have been built by the wealthy on the more popular beachfronts, all the better for Felicity and Fiona to host their girlfriends during the school holidays.

Winter is tough though. Some hardy souls continue surfing in full wesuits but swimming is right out. The full blast of the Southern Ocean scours the island clean of tourists, petrol-heads and penguin-fanciers alike. Only the hardiest come to visit, despite the sleet and grey brutality.

If I were a local, it would be my favourite time of year.

Field Notes Chicago and Portland

Melbourne Field Notes

I love notebooks and related stationery, and for my purposes the premier supplier is Field Notes. I punch through one of their notebooks every couple of weeks, and ususally have two or three on the go at any one time.

One of the neat things that Field Notes do is that they have suggested usages of their books in the back cover, varying from notebook edition to edition. They make a couple of Chicago- and Portland-specific versions, with localised recommendations. I like this, but I feel that Melbourne could do with a version.

Field Notes Chicago and Portland
Chicago and Portland

Therefore, I present below my sugggestions for a Melbourne-based version of Field Notes notebooks.

  1. Collingwood Vs Carlton attendance numbers
  2. Smashed avo recipes
  3. Punt road avoidance strategies
  4. Bad coffee to be pilloried
  5. St Kilda Beach sunning positions
  6. Brighton Iceberger membership list
  7. “Four seasons in one day!”
  8. Sensory Lab vs Market Lane vs St Ali vs Proud Mary
  9. Corner Hotel setlist
  10. Moomba birdman trajectory calculations
  11. Northside/Southside arguments
  12. Floral clock planting arrangements
  13. Beach road lycra choices
  14. Cold brew coffee vs coconut water
  15. Cup Day – sunburn or hypothermia?
  16. Preferred Dandenongs tea venues
  17. Batmania? Bearbrass?
  18. Jokes about Adelaide/Hobart
  19. End-of-season boys’ trip plans
  20. Seasonal Affective Disorder avoidance plans
  21. “We should have installed aircon last year!”
  22. Australia day beer stockpile list
  23. Monash Carpark thoughts
  24. “There should always be a Victorian team in the Grand Final”


Things I’ve learned after a year of lifting at home

It’s been nearly a year since I set up my home gym in my garage. I was originally motivated by a desire to free up more time to attend the gym by removing the commute, assuming you don’t count walking across my overgrown backyard as a commute. I wasn’t originally able to have more equipment than a barbell and some weight plates, so that has limited the scope of what I can do. However as I’ll discuss that has turned out to be beneficial in some ways.

Very close to running out of collar space

Given that, here’s what I’ve learned after a year of barbell training in my garage gym, as a 30-something, somewhat sedentary person with a demanding family and work life.

  1. It’s easy to squeeze in a quick session.. but sometimes I don’t. Although the commute is pretty straightforward, I should be able to punch out a quick 30-minute session on a regular basis. It doesn’t always work like that though. Often the only time I have available to me is at 8:30 in the evening when the kids are in bed, and my general lack of mental organisation at the end of the day means that I often seem to stretch these sessions out. Some days it’s super hard to even put on my training clothes and I collapse into the sofa. I should probably be more diligent, but I’m prepared to accept 2-3 times per week.
  2. The quick lifts seem to be the most beneficial. In the past I’ve mostly trained the powerlifts, but without a bench or squat rack I can now only deadlift. However I’ve not found that to be a problem. I seem to get a lot of benefit from the quick lifts from the floor – clean and jerk, and the power snatch. Something about the opening out and stretching of the snatch in particular seems to refresh me physically and psychologically.
  3. Forced simplicity delivers results. The limitation of my equipment means that I can’t waste time doing things that aren’t contributing to my improvement. My snatch, press, clean and jerk and front squat have all come up because… there’s nothing else that I can train. No doubt there’s a synergistic effect as well – a better clean is likely to translate to a better front squat.
  4. I’ve fallen in love with the overhead squat. Snatch a weight, then squat with it held overhead. I could never do these in the past, but I’ve had some time to fill and I find them very satisfying. They’re a great balance of strength, balance, power and core stability, but are nowhere near as fatiguing as normal back squats.
  5. Cardio still sucks. It just does.
  6. Sometimes I have to train in shitty weather. My garage is cold in winter, very hot in summer, and stinks all year round. It’s far from the optimum training environment, but in many ways that makes it perfect. Life isn’t an optimum training environment and I’m happy to sacrifice a few gold medal performances if it makes me generally tougher and more resilient.
  7. Guinea pigs make bad training partners. George, my kids’ pet, lives in the garage in cold weather. He’s bad conversation, can’t lift for shit, and is terrified by the sound of me dropping weights.

    World’s shittest training partner

After a year, I can wholeheartedly recommend a simple garage gym. I haven’t missed having a rack of dumbbells or cable-based machines even a little bit. If I were going to add anything, it would probably be a squat rack and a bench, but I’m in no particular hurry.

Simple works.

The Gold Coast

I came to the Gold Coast like everyone does – because I had some business to attend to and it seemed like a pleasant escape from the gloom of the southern states. “Australia’s Gold Coast” is the claim, a somewhat redundant effort to differentiate between Queensland and Ghana. Actually it’s Queensland’s Gold Coast, judging from the self-promoting hoarding slapped up everywhere. If you can’t advertise to the tourists, advertise to the locals I suppose.

Not that there are too many locals. The GC was always where pallid Victorians escaped to in the 80s and 90s. The goal was economic development and melanin under the rule of a square-jawed fascist. My childhood memories of the place are full of leather-brown men in budgie smugglers and implausibly blonde women who spent their time paying for people’s parking. Everyone is a recent migrant, whether drawn by the climate or repelled by the crush and grind of the big cities.

The 80s were a long time ago though. The relicts from that period are still there, but they’re painted over. A veneer of self-serving “pampering” is overlaid on the beer ads and gold chains. Chinese characters replace Japanese on the street signs. The newer developments are self-contained holiday apartments rather than beige-and-salmon hotel rooms.

Surfer’s Paradise is the epicentre of the “old” Gold Coast. A long, highly surfable beach, high-rise hotel towers, drinking venues with doors and balconies open to the street. The towers create a microclimate where the sweat and beer fumes fester. Young people march around in packs in the evening. The boys wear “casual” beach attire, the girls dressed as if they’re going to a particularly tacky wedding. They are intense and driven, like drunken and confused wolves searching for something to mate with. Partying looks like hard work.

“Hollywood on the Gold Coast!” was the rallying cry for families twenty years ago, and doesn’t seem to have changed. There are four major theme parks in the area, including the aquatically-focused Sea World within the city itself. Well-trained dolphins will entertain visitors at 11:30 and 3:15 daily, along with their psychotically grinning handlers. Well-meaning platitudes about caring for marine life are mouthed from a loudspeaker by a local worthy, but everyone is waiting for the dolphins to do tricks.

 At a different theme park, the catastrophic failure of a ride resulted in several deaths. Business has been, unsurprisingly, slow. The main car park, visible from the highway, is mostly empty.  I have no insight into the other parks, but I wonder about their long-term viability. Maintenance has been neglected, even allowing for the climate. The usual price-gouging is blatant. Nonetheless, the kids love it, right up until their energy gives out after lunch.

Five minutes’ drive out of town and you’re in a different world, a subtropical suburbia. Palm trees and buffalo grass. Electricians’ utes parked on the street. Queenslander houses with boarded-in lower levels. Community centres only accessible by car. Backyard pools and barbeques. Everything is low-rise, casual and narcotic. To the West, some low green hills. To the East, the high-rise towers.

The nest of towers are surrounded by low rise houses on all sides except the beach. There is nothing between two and thirty storeys tall. It feels like a science fiction film where the elite live in the sky and the commoners inhabit the fringes. Maybe the big flood is coming which will sweep away the humidity and decayed concrete. All that will be left is the towers, with their air-conditioned residents and artfully designed succulent beds on their roof gardens.


Melbourne, I love you, but you’re hopeless at winter

Melbourne, we need to talk. Not about your tedious obsession with sport or your own perceived cultural superiority (whatever that is). No, we need to chat about the elephant in the room, the thing that people from other parts of Australia make fun of. Your utterly hopeless approach to winter.

Stop, stop. Don’t argue or protest, you know it’s true. I know Melbourne summers are far worse than the winters in terms of climatic extremes. And I also know that winter in Melbourne is nowhere near as cold as North America, Europe or that big village in the island south of Sorrento. But there’s an issue and we need to tackle it. Admitting you have a problem is the first step.

First thing’s first. Accept the fact that although we’re not in Toronto, winter is cold. It’s rarely freezing, but it’s often that shitty kind of cold weather that makes you perpetually chilly, inside or out. You’re always either under-dressed or over-dressed. Despite the plethora of arctic-grade puffer jackets out on the streets it’s just annoyingly cold rather than actually dangerous. A hundred and fifty ducks worth of coat is one thing, but you’re kidding yourself when you can pair it with black lycra leggings. It’s cold, but it’s not proper cold, so stop whining.

That said, proper building design is a problem. You know the difference between Melbourne and Stockholm? In Stockholm they build for the weather. Everything is double and triple glazed, heating is built in rather than tacked on as an afterthought, and weatherboard will never be an acceptable building material. Build your houses better and they’ll be much nicer to live in, winter or summer. Canada has miles of underground shopping centres because it is simply too inhospitable above ground in winter.

And yes, before you ask, I am sitting here shivering as I write this in a weatherboard house.

The other thing we could learn from the Europeans about winter is that getting the temperature right is only half the problem. The other issue is addressing the perpetual greyness. The gloom of a Melbourne winter is a legitimate downer, and comparable to England. Sure, it doesn’t go on as long, and we’re not sitting in a lukewarm bath cutting ourselves, but months of grey skies and asphalt is bad for the soul. There’s a reason that Scandinavia have high rates of depression, and it’s not because they’ve run out of things to do after designing a just social security system. It’s the grey.

How to fix it? If you’re the kind of person who reads interior design magazines you’ll be familiar with the Danish word hygge. This is loosely translated as “cosiness”, but is probably more accurately described as “how not to kill yourself and others between October and March”. We need to inject a bit of hygge, a bit of winter culture, into how we live our lives. I’m talking candles, blankets, open fires, big pots of stew, whisky, and cuddling. See if you can get lucky too, that’ll help with the endorphins.

Legitimate therapy

The idea of hygge basically accepts that humans are essentially bald tropical monkeys, and that we need to be kind to ourselves during the cold months. Even Melbourne with it’s scorching, brain-melting summers is cold compared to the cradle of the human species in Africa. Winter hardly bears thinking about. We need to do a better job of acknowledging that winter basically sucks arse and built in some psychological support.

So there you have it Melbourne. I’m not judging you. But you need to get with the program, this has gone on long enough. I’m here to help.

Why people in cities can’t walk properly

Do you ever get frustrated with people around you in the city who don’t seem to pay attention? People who can’t walk? People with no apparent peripheral vision? This concept from wild navigator Tristan Gooley may illuminate this problem.

“A study by the US Military found that soldiers of equal military experience did not see the world in the same way. Most criticallt, some soldeiers were markedly better at spotting dangers, like improvised explosive devices and other ambushes. The two groups that stood out in this research were those with a hunting background and those who came from tough urban neighbourhood.”

Tristan Gooley, How to Connect with Nature

The hypothesis that he draws is that these soldiers are practiced at paying attention to their environment because their life or next meal may depend on it.

My complementary theory is this: We live in a world that is utterly overloaded with high intensity but low consequence stimulus, and this similarly shapes our behaviour. The problem in a big city is not paying attention, it’s how to filter out all the extraneous information. The car horn two blocks away, thousands of nearby conversations, advertisements, street signs – it all takes cognitive effort to understand. Perhaps the reason that many people seem oblivious in large cities is that it takes all their efforts to stay focussed on what they’re trying to do. Paying attention to and anticipating another person’s needs may be a bridge too far.

I’d even go a step further and say that this may be one reason why so many people wear headphones in the city. They may unconsciously be trying to block out the random, intrusive noise of the city and replacing it with predictable, familiar noise (music that you already know). This reduction of stimulus is also the reason why you turn down the radio in the car when you’re trying to find your way in an unfamiliar neighbourhood.

The human brain can only take so much input. I suspect that the challenge for most people isn’t in the seeing, it’s in the discerning. After all, there’s a lot of worthless input out there, just waiting to distract you and sell you something.

Oh-No Bikes

It’s hard to be opposed to the idea of people cycling more, especially for ordinary urban chores. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for health, it’s good for communities, it helps reduce dependence on cars and it’s generally a virtuous thing to do. So I viewed with interest the appearance on Melbourne’s streets of hundreds of bright yellow shared “O-Bikes”.

O-Bike is a bike-share program originating in Singapore. It’s a competitor to Melbourne’s indigenous blue-painted share program which has been plagued with problems and, I suspect, low utilisation. O-Bike is up and running in several cities around the world and claims impressive utilisation in Singapore itself.

The main selling point of O-Bike is that the bikes self-lock and that you can leave them basically anywhere. There’s no need to find a docking station – just unlock one with your phone, ride it, and then lock it again when you get where you’re going. It saves on infrastructure, and the bikes will tend to follow the movements of the people they are meant to serve.

Naturally I was interested, so I thought I’d give it a try. One day last week I happened to be at one end of the CBD and I needed to get to another. Ten minutes of cycling for $1.99 seemed pretty reasonable. So I downloaded the app and looked for a ride.

I didn’t have to go far. These things are like locusts, but they consume footpaths rather than crops. I didn’t even need to fire up the app to find one because I could see about a dozen from where I stood on a street corner.

Wheely attractive location

The first one didn’t have a helmet. Victorian law mandates helmet use, and given that I work in emergency medicine, this seems very sensible. The blue bikes have a complicated system where you have to buy a helmet from a shop, but O-Bike have just given up and attached helmets to each bike’s locking mechanism. But not this one – whether someone forgot, or just pinched it, I don’t know.

So I found another. This one seemed to have all the bits intact, so I unlocked it, put on my helmet and prepared to ride.

Melbourne is a fairly flat city, and so should be perfect for cycling. That’s been my experience riding my own bikes – you can get around pretty easily without working too hard.

Sadly O-Bike seem to have done everything in their power to make these bikes difficult to use. I don’t know whether it’s poor quality components, or whether each bike has to be extra robust, or whether there’s a stonking great dynamo inside the frame, but this bike was an absolute nightmare to ride. After one block up a modest hill I was puffing and panting. After two I was ready to take a break. I’m not unfit, and I’m not inexperienced bike-wise, so this seemed very hard.


When your handlebar doesn’t point the same way as your wheels… that’s a problem.

I tried to adjust the seat to give myself a more advantageous riding position. I yanked the quick-release lever. Nothing. Sticky? Welded shut? rusted? I dunno, but I couldn’t shift it. I also confirmed what I’d noticed while riding – that the handlebar was wonky relative to the wheels. I had to turn the handlebar about 15 degrees to the side to go in a straight line. I couldn’t straighten that up either, despite my best efforts.

Is this a dynamo? A lock? Half a ton of bricks?

I got back on my horribly munted steed and suffered for a few more blocks. By the time I got where I was going, I couldn’t even be bothered crossing the road to get to my destination, so I just locked it and walked away.

I wanted to like O-Bike, I really did. The concept is great and the intention is impeccable. But my god the bikes are shit. There is no way they’re going to attract the casual cyclist looking to run a few errands, they’re just way too hard to ride. And as for getting non-cyclists on board? Forget about it. How on earth do people do this in humid Singapore? They’d combust from the effort inside a block, surely?

Finished, thank Christ.

I hope O-Bike can improve their gear, because I think their model definitely has promise. Bikes are great, and more people should be riding. But this over-engineered monstrosity isn’t the way.