Shortlisted for the Higher Education Category of the 2019 Melbourne Writers Festival's storytelling competition 'Love & Melbourne' .

Melbourne, you were not love at first sight

By Hayley Pitcher

I wish I could sit here and write that I’ve always dreamed of coming to Melbourne, but that would not be truthful. The truth is I fell in love with the Aussie boy who worked at the coffee shop next to my work – how predictable, right? It’s hard to know if it was him or his coffee skills I fell in love with. Either way, his working holiday visa ran out, I applied for my master’s degree at the University of Melbourne, and here we are. I am a proud Torontonian, and my partner’s constant insistence of how cool Melbourne is, made me even more confident that it was not.

I also wish I could sit here and write that I held nuanced and sophisticated views of Australia before I came here, but that also would not be truthful. The truth is, when I thought of Australia, I thought of deadly snakes and spiders – how predictable, right?

When I arrived in Australia, it first felt like a slightly off version of Canada to me. Instead of moose, brown bears and polar bears, there were kangaroos, koala bears and drop bears. Instead of maple syrup, vegemite.

Then, I started to notice the things that are just weird here in Melbourne. Like your transit. Why do you not tap off on trams but tap off on everything else? Why, if I am transiting from Flemington to Brunswick, do I have to go through the city? And how exactly does a hook turn work?

Hotels aren’t really hotels, they are bars. Cafés close before I am done with my caffeine fix for the day. I thought it was an exaggeration when I was told this, but your weather seriously does change every five minutes. And, your football (footy) is just bananas. You love abbreviating words so much it seems like a national hobby. You say ‘yeah, nah’ and ‘nah, yeah’ and I can never figure out what you are trying to tell me. This is all very strange to me. But learning the oddities of a city means you get to say, ‘Oh, that’s so Melbourne’.

Despite my scepticism at the beginning of our courtship, I love Melbourne. Why? If you can dream it, you can find it here. I’ve always wanted to learn how to disco and the next thing I know I am in a disco class with my favourite seventies attire on. And the festivals! In less than two weeks, I had watched Jack Sheppard’s powerful performance in the Honouring at the Yirramboi Festival, had listened to a diverse range of writers share what it means to them to be an emerging writer at the launch of the Emerging Writers’ Festival and saw a thought-provoking documentary at the Human Rights Film Festival called Risking Light. At each festival, my connection to the city grew more. At every turn, you can find people engaging in their passions and wanting to share them with you, and that’s so exciting to me. That’s the thing about Melbourne: if you can’t find your dream, you will find your people here to dream it with you.

I have never been in a city where you can just wander like Melbourne. You can end up in a tiny café in a Laneway sipping coffee (yes, your coffee really is so amazing, I can’t even handle in.); you can find yourself listening to a busker on a busy street corner making music as the time passes by; you can stop and read historical fiction (my genre of choice) at a second-hand book store that also happens to serves wine.

Dome of State Victoria Library

On Saturdays, I do my grocery shopping at the Queen Victoria Market. It’s always bustling (which gives me mild panic), and full of history. Originally a cemetery, the market has gone from a meeting place for the dead to a meeting place for the living (and possibly still the dead). So many buildings in Melbourne tell a story. Every time I step inside the oldest library in Australia – the State Victoria Library – to fill my brain with knowledge, I like to take a moment and feel the history it holds within its walls before the study tears arrive.

It may not have been love at first sight with Melbourne, but there is more than one way to fall in love. What can I say, Melbourne you’ve charmed me. I knew the feelings were real when I had the moment of realisation that I have become a fanatic North Melbourne Kangaroos barracker.

There is always something to discover, whether it’s food, music or history. Creative passion is the lifeblood of this city. Since being in Melbourne, I have explored my old passions and discovered new passions. That is the magic of Melbourne to me; the city is alive.

So, the truth is I came for the boy, but I stay for the city.