Damp and Cultured in Melbourne

We tried to be fancy. It was our last full day in Australia and Kirsten and I wanted to savor the occasion. We didn’t end up exactly where we planned. The clinking of dozens of tea cups and the constant whoosh of the passing waiters wasn’t exactly the setting we were hoping for, but we were satisfied nonetheless.

The video game section of the ACMI.
The video game section of the ACMI.

It was raining. Again. But we knew it would. We had planned for it. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image was our first stop. This free museum detailing the history of the moving image around the world (with particular focus on Australia) was a maze of colorful lights, interactive displays, and video screens with sounds and images blending together to create a small but multilayered technological wonderland. Video games attracted crowds in one corner. Classic Hollywood starlets simpered along one wall. Brief spotlights on Australian filmmakers lived in one section. Interactive exhibits exploring the elements of film hummed in various rooms around one bend. Being the film nerd that I am, I was entranced.

Noon quickly came and we departed those glimmering halls of media for grander pastures. It was short walk in the rain before we finally arrived. The tall Greco-Roman pillars loamed above us in the grey light. A function was going on at Parliament House, so the early afternoon tours were cancelled. But we didn’t care. That was not why we were there.

I had found out about the high tea in Parliament while doing research about what to do in Melbourne. When I told Kirsten, her eyes lit up, and she insisted that we simply had to do it. And here we were, wet and slightly tired but excited. Security was questioning and not all together obliging, and when we finally arrived at the front desk we were informed that we needed a booking, a fact that wasn’t immediately clear on their website. No booking. No high tea.

6 o'clock nightly news in the 1850s on display in the gold vaults of the Old Treasury Building Museum.
6 o’clock nightly news in the 1850s on display in the Old Treasury Building Museum.

So back out into the rain, hungry and disappointed. Kirsten took it in stride, but I wanted to make it up to her. There had to be somewhere else we could get good tea. I just needed Wi-Fi to look for something. We tried the Old Treasury Building Museum next door, where before we had a chance to check on our phones for an internet signal, a volunteer warmly welcomed us in and gave us brief and lively overview of the simple museum. Even though we quickly found out that there was no Wi-Fi, because of that introduction we felt obligated to at least look around.

After learning about a failed land scheme to help returning Australian WWI vets, we headed down to the gold vaults. It was here that they stored all the gold in the area during the gold rush of the 1850s, which briefly made Melbourne the richest city in the world (and explains the presence of all the Victorian architecture that still populates the city). Each vault had a different multimedia display detailing different aspects of the gold rush, from fake news reports that translated the headlines of the era into a nightly newscast to reenacted gold trades between two characters on two television screen. It was all very clever.

We finally managed to find some Wi-Fi and tracked down a tea house in one of the arcades we had visited early in the week. Hopetoun Tea Rooms were crowded with people, mostly Asian tourists, but as we waited in line and peered in to look at the food being served, we knew we had made a good choice. And there we were, being fancy with our pot of tea and extravagant cakes, listening to the clink of the other tourists’ tea cups and feeling the rush of the waiters serving them. Not exactly high tea in Parliament, but still a great way to spend a rainy day.

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