Living in a Marsupial World
 
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With the car sold and our Tasmania experience coming to a close, we were ready to complete our Australian year in the place where it all began: Melbourne. We had one month before we had to return to the States and wanted to take full advantage of this fabulous city that, up until this point, we had only visited in several day increments. We also were eager to finally get some quality time with Gareth, whose incredible work ethic and endless globetrotting makes him a tough man to wrangle. He was out-of-country once again when we arrived back on the mainland, so until his return we found ourselves once again adopted like abandoned kittens by some compassionate new friends. 


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Our Heroes: Jen and Alasdair!
First there was Suzanne, a really sweet woman we met through Lianne and Martyn who had only known us a couple of days before offering us her home to stay in for a night. She really helped us get back on our feet after landing in town. Then there was Jen and Alasdair, a couple we met while WWOOFing at Neville’s property up in the Kimberly. We really hit it off with them up in Udialla Springs and they had told us if we were ever in Melbourne to look them up. Hoping to see this great pair again we did just that, and within minutes of a phone call we had a home again! 


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There really are no words to adequately describe how overwhelmingly amazing Jen and Alasdair are as human beings. Their only previous interactions with us had been for a meager few days on the other side of the country months before. Nonetheless, they gave us an entire room in their house and treated us like family during our three-week stay. Not only that, but for a good portion of that time they were out of town and left us in charge of minding the house and the garden! We had trouble forming complete sentences most of the time; we were so overwhelmed with gratitude. It was strange for us to be in someone’s home without the stipulation of manual labor. For the first time in our Australian home-stay travels we weren’t WWOOFers, we were guests. This concept took some serious getting use to, and much of the time we felt so awkward about it that we kept asking them if they had projects we could do. We ended up cooking dinner a couple times and did dishes when we could as a small gesture of thanks.  


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A meager offering.
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Ben on the St. Kilda Boardwalk
With a stable place to call home, we were able to explore the parts of the greater Melbourne area we hadn’t seen before, and we did it the best way we know how: by walking everywhere. We finally made it down to the suburb of St. Kilda, Melbourne’s semi-grungy, artsy beach community. Immediately we understood why this place was so popular, and often referenced in songs by Aussie bands like The Cat Empire. It wasn’t very big, but it has a great alternative charm about it, not to mention a long stretch of sandy beach and boardwalk. The St. Kilda sands were a prime choice for residents to escape from the city in the city: for a coffee, for a beer, for a swim, for a read and a nap. We ended up spending our afternoon wandering up and down the waterfront and meandering into the suburb’s quaint shopping district for a nosh. Other than the intensive sun exposure, it was a great day.


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Ben's Hair: 100% Organic, Grass-Fed, Born and Raised in Australia
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A St. Kilda Icon Ready to Eat You
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Nothing better than tapas and local beer after a walk by the sea.
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Waiting for the Tram.
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Rrrawwrr...
We were also able to visit some museums that we had been meaning to see. We particularly liked the modern exhibits at the National Gallery of Victoria, and the delightfully interactive Australian Centre for the Moving Image, which featured an amazing exhibition called Screen Worlds that touched on early film, animation, video games, Australian cinema and the future of moving picture media. There was a great display celebrating the Aussie accent, where you stepped inside a white plastic dome and 360 degrees of screens and speakers played clips and sound bytes from iconic Australian films and advertisements. One of our favorites was from an older film where a backwater Aussie receives a cold beer and says, “Aw, thanks Cobba', I needed one of those – I was feeling dry as a dingo’s donga’!” Pure poetry.


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Fall along the Yarra
As we wandered through various parts of the city from day to day, the reality of our impending return to the states became clearer and our preliminary nostalgia for the great nation of Australia blossomed. The transition from summer to fall in Melbourne only sweetened the atmosphere. We began to pay closer attention to the subtle things we had grown accustomed to over the past year: gum trees, kookaburras, cockatoos, Aussie slang, jellyfish warnings, flat whites, overpriced food and beer, cheap sushi, pre-paid cell service and crappy mobile broadband, French and German backpackers, awesome public radio, new 80’s inspired music, beets. Even though we were still in the country we began to miss just about all of these things, except expensive beer – we couldn’t wait to get back to our home country of limitless, reasonably-priced microbrews. 


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A flat white from a trendy laneway cafe
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Walking along Port Phillip Bay
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A beautiful and rare sight, aside from the prices.
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Gareth and Phil at the Rainbow
We were lucky enough to spend our final week in the country with the man who started it all: Gareth! Having been an initial supporter of our move across the world and even housing us during our first few days in the country, GB (as he is so known) helped us close out our year in style. He and his fantastic housemates Freya and John let us crash at their flat and, along with Gareth’s lovely girlfriend Steph, joined us for some great nights of dinner, drinks, and conversation. 


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Two particularly epic nights were had in Melbs that month. The first was with GB’s former housemate and NZ Sauvignon Blanc connoisseur, Bec; hot damn, can that woman drink. The second was with GB and crew on our final Friday. I think it’s fair to say that after surviving these two events, the Australian government should grant us our citizenship. One might go so far as to say that these tests of character are probably worth far more than anything immigration officials throw at you in an interview. Perhaps citizenship questions should even include such gems as: “How many hours were you able remain upright while drinking with an Australian?” or “How many beers and/or glasses of wine and/or ‘skittle bombs’ were you able to consume while retaining the ability to form logical sentences?” or “What was the ratio of rounds purchased by you versus rounds purchased by generous new acquaintances?” or “While out Friday the 29th of April, were you more concerned with watching the footie game or commenting on Kate Middleton’s wedding dress?” (This last one’s a trick question, as we witnessed both done simultaneously).  


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Death by Duck at the Old Kingdom
Big thanks go out to Bec for our first evening out. The month of April was officially initiated with that night out in Port Melbourne. She is a genuine Aussie through and through and treated us to a wonderful time. We only hope we can return the favor when she comes out to the states! 

Our final weekend was far more than we could’ve hoped for as sendoffs go. On Friday the 29th or, as more people would probably qualify it, the day of the Royal Wedding, we gathered together with Aussie friends old and new for a night on the town in Fitzroy. It began with dinner at a Melbourne institution, the Old Kingdom, a traditional Chinese restaurant that serves you three courses family style, all of which are duck. The place is BYO, so we came armed with beer and wine to begin the night in style. After sufficiently stuffing ourselves full of Peking goodness, we waddled over to the Rainbow Room, the very first place we set foot in after entering the country almost 12 months prior! 


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The Rainbow Room is another Melbourne institution. Bar, music venue, and beer garden all in one, it’s a truly fantastic spot to spend a warm fall evening. In the great tradition of Australian drinking, the night progressed with a continuous buying of rounds, whether it was beer (in a pot or a pint) or tequila, it all was bought for the greater good and to strengthen the bonds between old mates and new connections. Needless to say, after a few rounds camaraderie was high and our group broke out into a moving rendition of, from what I vaguely recall, Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin.’’ Some feisty games of pool were had out in the beer garden while the TV alternated between Aussie Rules and the Royal Wedding. It was agreed upon by several of us that the wedding’s classiness would’ve greatly benefited from a Unity Sombrero. Dancing ensued as the hours got later and the band brought the house down. The lead singer had a great voice and the vibe was classically funk rock. 


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"you got...that loooovin feeeeelin'....WHOAAA that looooovin feeeeeeelin"
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Men of the Evening: GB, John, and "The Wombat"
Everyone got home safely that night, though the means by which John made it back to the flat still bears an air of mystery. We then began what became for most of us a three-day recovery. Luckily, Steph and Gareth graciously invited us to join them for a relaxing rest of the weekend at her parent’s place in Ocean Grove (near the start of the Great Ocean Road) to recuperate. 


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Steph and Gareth point the way at Point Lonsdale
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At Steph's family's place in Ocean Grove
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Thank you dear boots for all your loyal service
The bittersweet feeling really kicked in when we started doing final sweeps for belongings as we packed up for our flights back to the states. We were leaving our home of 12 incredible months, and we each had a really long day ahead of us, full of of stale airports, sore necks and recycled air. Burning our passports and disappearing into the outback was sounding a little appealing at that moment. There is so much to love about Australia - the people, the animals, the land...the accent! Sure, it has some seriously rough patches in its history, as well as some social and environmental issues that need immediate attention, but the same can be said for any country. What makes Australia great is the fact that its people are constantly striving to make their country better - and not necessarily for the eyes of the rest of the world, but in their own eyes. If an Aussie isn't completely loving his/her lot in life, there is a good chance he/she is going to do something about it, right after this next round of beer.

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There are far too many people to thank for helping us along the way. We would not have had such an amazing time were it not for all the characters we met. To all those who took us in when we had few to no other options, we wish you the best of the best that life can offer. You are champions of the human race, beacons to which all others should aspire. Hopefully you know who you are. We will never forget you, and will do our damndest to stay in touch as we go on to other adventures. Gareth, you superman you - we don't think you need any more wellwishes, because there ain't no mountain high or valley low enough that will keep you from accomplishing anything you set out to do. We'll do it anyway - best of luck to you (and Steph!) and never stop a rockin. As far as we're concerned, you're family now, so if you ever need to mooch anything from us, don't hesitate to ask, or better yet, just show up at our doorstep some day. We'll throw something on the barbecue.

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Au revoir l'Australie, nous vous aimons!
* Keep tuning in to our blog in the coming weeks and months - we'll be updating with posts about our Australia Top 10s, Aussie Beer Reviews, and Tips for Backpackers! We may even extend our content to post-Australia adventures back in the States... 

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