Words by Maggie Zhou Art by Xiaoyang Pei
A $10 croissant. I brought a $10 croissant without batting an eyelid. That was the final (plastic-free) straw for me.
For you, it may have been an $8 chai or a $22 toastie (been there, eaten that). We’ve all had that lightbulb moment. The moment we realise that damn Melbourne, you’re pretty expensive.
In the world’s second most liveable city, do you really have to pay to play? Could you go an entire day exploring Melbourne without cash, card, taps or swipes? I took it on myself to embark on this mission. Or it could just be because I’m cheapskate.
We started the day with public transportation—the green, eco-friendly mode of transport (and because my Learners ass has no other options). Look, I’m not saying you should fare evade, but under special circumstances it may be necessary. Yes, I’m talking about the trauma inflicted from the gruelling month of bus replacements. So free transport? Tick.
Before heading straight into the concrete jungle, I made a pit stop at one of Sandringham lines’ white-sand, acai bowl suburbs. They’re all the same to me, so don’t ask which one it was. But lo and behold! I find myself stumbling towards the Bayside Farmers’ Market, the smell of eggs and bacon leading the way. I had to put on my most apologetic, poor uni student face for the volunteers shaking their donation tins, which I still feel guilty about.
Once inside, it was a free for all. Market tastings, glorious market tastings! I sampled cheese, bread, cider, jam, nuts, tea, chocolate and pastries. Who needs a full meal when you can have 1cm cubes of samples? Sure, my stomach was still growling but what can you do.
The beach was a stone’s throw away, so I wandered over, strolled along the sand and settled in with a borrowed library book. Heading into nature is one of the best possible free activities. Your local park or beach can provide hours of entertainment. Just pack a picnic, speakers, and games with a group of mates.
I then made my way into the city using—you guessed it, PTV. I’m a bit cocky; I think this will be pretty damn easy. Whatever happens, I tell myself I can resort to people watching. Flinders Street never fails to produce the goods and halfway down its steps I spot a man dressed as Spiderman on the bongos. I’m not even surprised.
Across the road is The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia and ACMI. No, they’re not just relics from past high school excursions, but they are cultural icons in Melbourne. NGV Australia often gets overlooked by its older brother NGV International, but the little guy holds a collection of fresh, free and ever-changing art collections. I went and saw Top Arts which holds some of the best works from VCE students who completed Art or Studio Art. In other words, I walked around with my jaw on the floor and marvelled at how talented these youngsters are. Heck, I bet some of them even have their P plates –overachievers.
Next, I hopped on a guilt-free tram within the free tram zone. Figured I wasn’t cut out for the rebel lifestyle. As I enjoyed the blissful transportation without the fear of PTV officers, snippets of buskers’ music serenaded me. As I got off somewhere on Collins St, I saw what is possibly my favourite busking act. A man literally entering a giant balloon. He kind of danced and the balloon slowly engulfed him. He and said balloon became one.
Curious? Confused? Me too. Surprised? Frankly, not really.
For you high browers out there who are still not convinced that wasn’t a performative art piece, here’s something else to check out. Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s free Secret Symphony series is what they describe as an “online treasure hunt leading you to a secret performance in a mysterious location”. Every couple of months, the MSO take their classical music to the streets of Melbourne, only announcing the location hours before. It’s super hush-hush and there’s limited availability. Past themes have included tango nights, Midnight Oil and David Bowie in iconic Melbourne venues such as the State Library, Melbourne Aquarium and Meat Market.
Today wasn’t one of those lucky days but fear not, because Melbourne’s got more up its sleeve. On Mondays, there’s free comedy at Spleen. On Tuesdays, it’s free at Lido Cinemas. Throughout the week, there are heaps of comedy clubs offering free seats for good laughs. Check out Highlander, The Comic’s Lounge, Big Mouth, Club Voltaire and The Butterfly Club. I waltzed into one of these clubs and sat down to watch the open mics. Let’s just say, five minutes of stage time can either feel like a snap of the fingers or it can feel like someone is slowly clawing at the back of your eyeballs.
With some hearty laughs, a half-empty belly and sand still in my shoes and other unmentionable areas, I head home illegally fare evading. Or if PTV inspectors are reading this, I allegedly did so.