Up until earlier this year, I had always thought that no mater how far I roam, I will always come back to Melbourne, my home. This year has changed that view however. Nothing drastic or horrible has happened, I just saw more the dark, drab side of the city that I did the creative, positive and passionate. As with everywhere, Melbourne has two contracting personalities and I found myself stuck in one, without access to the other. I was stuck in the daily grind of a local, unable to see past the pile of paperwork on my desk and to the outside world. I was unable to really connect with the city that I used to love, and it made me forget why I loved it.
Since October, I have found myself surrounded daily with international travelers, having stepped out of the 9 to 5 world and back into hospitality. That combined with my attempts to learn Spanish and Anai’s Latino friendship circle, keep a fairly constant flow of diverse individuals of differing countries of birth in my life. This renewed engagement with new arrivals to Melbourne has led me to rediscover what I love about this city. It is the one common notion that everyone has to say about Melbourne when they first arrive and I remember my Canadian housemates back in 2004/05 feeling the same way. You can be whoever you want to be in Melbourne.
You can walk around wearing a plastic bag with a chain as a belt and no one will abuse you on the streets. You can be a hippie, you can be a punk, you can be covered in tattoos and still get a respectable job, you can have dyed Mohawk haircut and piercings in your face and not be classed as a criminal, out to make trouble. You can feel free to attend gay bars and cult clubs without fear that you will be beaten up or photographed on the way out. You can be free to be who you want to be, so long as it’s non-violent and you don’t preach your way of life to anyone else.
It is probably because most of the people that I meet are misfits back home that this notion is so prevalent in our conversations. I’m finding myself an increasing misfit also, hence the magnetism I guess. Non-conformists or varying degrees that have found it hard to blend in with the crowd in their own countries yet can do so with ease in Melbourne. It’s the kid who wears only black, the young woman who does not want a career or family but instead to travel or the artists and free spirits who wish to live outside of the system. They have all found peace of mind in Melbourne’s laneways, parks, bars and restaurants, arts scene and freelance world.
Having told my story to a few different people, I have seen the reactions from varying viewpoints. Some internationals are impressed that anyone can quit their office job and take what would be considered to be a huge backwards step in their home country, however most just celebrate the fact that in Melbourne you can work in hospitality and make enough to live off. They compare it to back home where everyone is striving for more, to buy a house, to get married and have kids all before they turn 30, for fear that they will miss out, be left behind. Locals place an emphasis on happiness and are glad that I have found it, seeming to not really notice the career change… and that suits me perfectly.
I’m unsure why it is that Melbourne has this calming ability to house the world’s misfits. It’s possibly because the city draws in those who found themselves too creative, loud or large for other Australian cities such as Perth, Brisbane and Darwin. It also houses many of the non-conformists who started life in Sydney. There is no doubt that these people who have escaped other Australian cities are less likely to judge newcomers who are escaping theirs. However what of the locals, Melbourne has booming commerce and financial industries also, so why is it that in Melbourne I can get hired with tattoos and piercings whereas I cannot in other cities? I know of social workers who have more inked skin than natural, government officials and school-teachers with tattoos on their necks. I’ve seen bank tellers with radical haircuts and doctors in gothic clothing. Where does this relaxed attitude come from?
I don’t know what the answer is, and to be honest I hope nobody ever discovers it. I can’t help but feel that once we know what makes the city so accepting, it can easily be taken away. I’ve seen the dark side of the city and it’s completely different to the vibrancy of this open and inviting Melbourne. So lets just celebrate that Melbourne is what it is, a great place to live and work, to explore yourself, to grow up in, to travel to and to roam. If you ever find yourself forgetting that, just open up your computer and see what is happening in the rest of the world, take a walk in the park in the middle of the day and talk to some tourists, or head out to a side of town you have never been to before. Anything to reconnect with the city, its people and the endless possibilities of careers, expression and lifestyles that are open to anyone here.