An Ode to Melbourne

Words by: Maggie Zhou
Art by: Emma Lucas

On an unassuming Thursday afternoon in October last year, I boarded a train heading to Frankston.

A middle-aged man put on his best radio presenter voice and held a quiz for all of us lucky train riders. He was singing very loudly and very confidently and we, the few solitary folks trying to get from A to B, had to guess what he was singing. I made eye contact with the woman sitting diagonally from me, we giggled over my magazine. 

“Who wrote this 1978 smash-hit song that topped the charts in America?” he queried. “Billy Joel?” a woman meekly offered. “Wrong,” he laughed and continued onto the next track. 

So many whispers, so many stories and so many moments shared in the suspiciously stained carriages of our train network. From the time I found a neat pile of pubes on the seat next to me, to watching dads explain the magic of trains to their little ones, to finessing the art of balancing in the centre of a carriage — look mum, no hands. 

These squeaky wheels and sudden jolts of machinery are quintessential to my experience of this beloved city. They’ve taken me from patting cavoodles in Brighton to waving at greyhounds wearing turtlenecks in Footscray. 

It’s not footy, brunch culture or our partiality to all black ensembles that makes me love Melbourne. 

It’s the fact that lining up for hours for expensive croissants or Asian-fusion in Flinders Lane is completely acceptable.That heated discussions debating whether Messina or Pidapipo holds the gelato crown are part of our vernacular.

From the sticky floors of ABC, to an 18-year-old’s initiation into Billboards, to the realisation that you haven’t specified which Shanghai dumplings you’re meeting at (Shanghai Dumpling House, Shanghai Street or Shanghai Village?), this city is built on greasy food, loud music and a shared disdain for ticket inspectors. 

Boxed into my local suburb for the past few months, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the hints of Melbourne scattered around. I’ve seen two taxi drivers gleefully sharing a Domino’s pizza in the front seats of a car together. A local vintage camera store putting out a sign in their front window that reads, “a not-for-profit business (not by choice).” There are generous street libraries popping up in my neighbourhood filled with games, toys and DVDs for the taking. Strangers are borrowing books from each other, organised in our community Facebook page. There’s a weekly hunt for the fluorescent ice-cream truck that blares its tinny tune for kids, young and old. 

You see, what makes Melbourne Melbourne isn’t a postcode, a building or even a deep-rooted sense of coffee snobbery. It’s the people who make it a city that’s so beloved. It’s my childhood Greek landlord Jim who would trim our hedges and shake his head when we used to cover our driveways in chalk. It’s the seafood guy at my local Asian grocery that always gives my mum a knowing wink and the freshest slice of whatever he’s got. It’s my boyfriend’s grandfather Uri, who escaped World War II when he was a baby in Austria, and now walks over
and drops off fresh bagels every Sunday morning. 

I guess this isn’t really an ode to Melbourne. It’s an ode to you and me and anyone else who dares pipe up about Billy Joel.

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