And although people-watching is entertaining, if you stare at strangers for three days in any city you’re going to get arrested!
In order to avoid this eventuality I have devised a weekend-long fiesta of fresh and fun, but most importantly FREE, things to do and enjoy in Melbourne… people-watching optional.
While every city has its heart, Melbourne has its triangle. Since opening in 2002, Federation Square, a public space of triangular design, has defined Melbourne’s social community.
It’s fashionable, fun and festive. On the three separate occasions that I visited the square (one being a Wednesday afternoon), loudspeakers, Thai boxing rings, palm readers and L’Oreal sponsored fashion shows entertained the crowds – all FREE OF CHARGE! It was my kind of place.
So on Saturday morning, I perched on the square’s kaleidoscopic sandstone steps and watched the show. Protestors skirted the fashion show, circus folk with glowing Rudolf noses entertained a gaggle of kids and weary pavement-pounders melted beneath the skilled fingers of 20-minute masseurs. I, meanwhile, was melting in the sun so I decided to explore.
The Australian Centre for the Moving Image, also located in Federation Square, is a must-see for anyone with an interest in cinema. But be warned, the ACMI is so chock-full of games and movies (all free) that you may need to devote an entire weekend to this one building.
If one morning’s exploring is all you can spare then divide and focus. The ACMI has two exhibitions that are really worth your time. Firstly, Screen Worlds: The Story of Film, Television and Digital Culture, which is a permanent FREE exhibition with a fantastic interactive section that explores the power of our senses in film.
Ever want to be in The Matrix? Well, at ACMI you can dance inside a pod of motion-sensing cameras and a replay of you moving in slow motion can be viewed afterwards – they even send the video to your email.
Option two is more sedate and can be enjoyed from the comfort of a black leather couch. Australian Mediatheque is an immediate archive of classic Australian movies, historical footage, funny old adverts, award-winning animation and a Mary Poppins bag more.
I watched Aussie classic Crocodile Dundee and swaggered out like I was Paul Hogan. But you could also have easily been spirited into Dreamtime in Rolf de Heer’s movie Ten Canoes. If you love the Australian moving image but you’re too poor to even afford Cheap Arse Tuesday, Australian Mediatheque is for you. Did I mention that it’s free?
Anyway, moving on (gettit?) from the ACMI, maybe it’s not the moving image you’re into – perhaps it is the still image that moves you. If that’s the case and you want to take some psychedelic street shots, or have them taken of you, the graffiti alley forking off Grand Parade is just the spot.
A glorious escape for self-expression and spray painting, I was in my element here. It felt as though I was in a very hip art museum… with rubbish bins and milk crates. My advice is to pretend you’re one of Melbourne’s famous artistic exports – Cate Blanchett anyone? Nick Cave if you prefer – and photo-shoot yourself to stardom.
After all that dazzling attention you’ll probably be looking for some understated Saturday evening activities, or maybe you’re in search of romance in Melbourne?
Well, nothing says Jane Austen like a home-packed picnic eaten in the Royal Botanic Gardens – check the sell-by date on evening supermarket food for a cheap starry-eyed dinner. At dusk, find a spot on the banks of the Yarra River to enjoy the sparkling lights of the city and the gleaming reflection of a spinning ferris wheel across the water.
But never fear you sexy socialites, if crowds are more your thing check out Melbourne’s local mag Beat for the city’s free gig listings to discover where to head to party the night away.
Spend a penny
For a country that considers a 100-year-old house a museum, a market that has been operating since 1878 is historic. So for your final cheap day in Melbourne, combine the history and the gastronomic goodness of the city and head to Queen Victoria Market.
Soothe your beer-battered belly with the open air market’s abundance of fresh produce. And don’t be afraid to stock up on the competitive stallholder’s cheap fare for lunch, or take advantage of car-free Queen Street, which is converted into an outdoor café on Sundays.
Post-market, nothing re-builds an appetite like trawling through a museum (flashing a youth travel card got me free entry). If a bloody big dinosaur isn’t your thing, then how about an 80-year-old horse corpse!
I hadn’t heard of Melbourne’s Depression-era racehorse until I was already walking around Melbourne Museum, but apparently he’s their biggest seller. More people visit Phar Lap than any other museum attraction. But can you blame them? He’s got a heart twice as big as any other horse – literally. Apparently that’s why he won so many races, but like Marilyn Monroe, or James Dean, Phar Lap also died young, and under mysterious circumstances.
The poverty-stricken punters of the 1930s, who had seen Phar Lap as a beacon of hope during the Depression, never forgot him though and his bones were shipped home from America for clueless tourists like me to enjoy 80 years on! Pity he’s still not winning races – I’ve heard he was a sure thing!
The sun was sighing by the time I came out of the museum: a golden opportunity for photographs of the city, but where to take them? Here’s a free toilet tip: Ladies and mens bathrooms, 35th Floor, Sofitel Hotel, Collins St. Standing in front of the floor-to-ceiling glass wall feels like you’re floating over Melbourne. And boys, you can enjoy all this with your pants down!
Golden vistas of Melbourne’s Cricket Ground and the city’s river meandering through the lush Botanical Gardens aren’t exactly advertised (I was escorted by a local), but if you don’t fancy paying for the view then take your photos from the loo!
And of course if you’re not too pooped by the end of your free weekend in Melbourne, then simply grab a copy of your fave free travel magazine, ahem, TNT, and see what else is happening!
Photos: Getty, Thinkstock