So, could you fall in love with a city where this ugly looking crustacean is the local and very seriously expensive, speciality? It’s called a Moreton Bay Bug. Although it doest actually taste a lot better than that other Melbourne speciality – flies…
Morton Bay Bug
You’ve all seen those comic Aussie hats with corks dangling from strings. Believe me they are no joke – they are essential survival. My hike along the stunningly beautiful Sorrento peninsula, en route checking out the tunnels and gun emplacements containing the cannon which fired the first Australian shot of World War Two, at a German warship, (it missed), was marred by swarms of flies – and I mean SWARMS – whole mouthfuls of them, buzzing around my face. By the time I got back I didn’t need lunch, I’d had my protein fix from swallowing several dozen of the things. Melbourne does flies, big time. But fortunately it does a lot other things as well, in particular some of the best food on the planet, fine architecture, incredibly friendly people – and it has a real positive energy vibe about it.
The darker side of Melbourne
Interestingly Melbourne has a surprisingly violent underbelly – and has been plagued for years with gang warfare – serious, grown-up gangs, with over thirty brutal gunshot murders in the past few years. Maybe that saying “the light can only shine in darkness” is true, and for a city to be truly “alive” it needs to have a dark side to it. That is what makes my home city, Brighton, so vibrant – its long history of being a haunt of criminals.
I was in Melbourne on a combination of research for my next Roy Grace novel, and book promotion, on the second leg of what has become known as the PJ World Tour! The first leg was in Thailand, where in Koh Samui I experienced my first ever New Year’s Day full-body hangover. The result of joining in a mad Swedish tradition of “jumping into the New Year.” Literally leaping off chairs, at midnight, into the New Year. Not wise when you are seriously drunk…. Nearly a month on I still have the bruises…. But back to Melbourne, and two strange but very happy coincidences:
I needed to visit the homicide division of the Melbourne police, but on the day I arrived in the city my contact who was to arrange everything, totally let me down. Then out of the blue I got an email from a fan, called Janet Vickers. Would I let her know if I was ever coming to Melbourne as she would love to come to a signing. When I emailed her back that I was actually in Melbourne (!) and if she would like to drop off the book at the hotel, I would happily sign it, she replied that she lived out of the city but her husband was a cop, and he would bring it to me. I emailed her back asking if he would speak to me. An hour later the phone rang, and Detective Senior Sergeant George Vickers was on the phone, kindly offering any help I wanted.
Melbourne CIU Officers
Next morning the absolutely charming George (second from left) picked me up with his colleague Troy Burg (third from left – can you believe this serious looking homicide detective plays the banjo at weddings as his relaxation???) and took me to the HQ of the Victoria Police CIU (the Criminal Intelligence Unit – their equivalent to our CID) where I met their team. Then they asked me what I needed to know for my book. I told them that as result of the drought (which has plagued Melbourne for six years) a river level drops and exposes the roof of a sunken car, in the boot of which is a corpse – which turns out to have a UK connection, and Roy Grace sends two officers over to investigate. Detective Senior Inspector Lucio Rovis, (on right) the head of the department, looked at me in amazement, and told me what I had described had just happened, a mere week before!!!!
George and his team were brilliantly helpful, taking me to the river where the car had been found, spending hours talking me through all the procedures my UK detectives would go through out there, then taking me to the forensic labs (where I saw this burnt-out wreck, in the boot of which a suspected local gang member had been found, shot dead, a week earlier) and then to the mortuary, where I met my hot date, Wilma. (she used to be called Wilfred, until a visiting forensic anthropologist corrected them… but hey, love is blind as they say…) It is a bizarre thing I’ve noticed in Australia – you don’t see any old people. I really mean it, you just don’t see any. Almost everyone is under 30. I don’t know what they do with old folk – maybe everyone over forty gets culled and ends up like Wilma… or perhaps they just have great plastic surgeons. I feel like an ancient relic there!
PJ’s hot date with Wilma in the morgue
So did I like Melbourne? I fell in love with it, totally. It has instantly become one of my favourite cities in the world – I liked even more than Sydney. It is not breathtakingly beautiful like some cities, but it is very easy on the eye, very humanly proportioned with lots of water and parks and a fine mix of old and new buildings. And it has so many great restaurants I don’t know where to begin with recommendations. But Longrain for amazingly good fusion food, Waterfront for seafood, Loquat (in Sorrento), upstairs at the Portsea Hotel, and Taxi are all, as the Michelin Guide would put it, “worthy of a detour”. So is the Little Creature beer from the Perth brewery – by far my favourite beer in the world now. Hunt down the bars that serve it. If you can’t find that, Boags is very good, too.
But of course you are in Oz, so you could go trade down, go native and be a real Bogan: All you need do is put on your best Dame Edna accent, hire a muscle-engined ute (pick-up truck), load it up with slabs of VB (Victoria Bitter) pick up a Sheila or two, fire up the barbie then settle back and spoil yerself. Just don’t forget your corked hat – or you’ll be dinner….