It was a perfect cloudless day in Melbourne: mid twenties and just a slight breeze for most of the day.
We spent the morning and the early afternoon at the Royal Botanic Gardens and what a treat it was. Despite being a busy Saturday, there is plenty of room in the 38 hectares for even big crowds. After a cuppa at the cafe near the entrance, we wandered down to the Oak Lawn and got an overview during the next 45 minutes on the Garden Explorer. An electric vehicle which seats only ten, for $15, it was great value. Our guide had a pretty good grasp of the vegetation and bird life and shared lots of information about the social and geographical history of the gardens.
The RBG has eleven separate lawns and at least five specialist gardens and many other subsidiaries. It was established from an area of low lying swamp through which the Yarra used to flow, by the then Govenor Charles La Trobe in 1846 but it wasn't until Ferdinand von Mueller was chosen as its first director in 1857, that the gardens started to leap forward. He created the National Herbatorium of Victoria and bought in many species from across the world. The Herbatorium now has 1.4 million plant species and a seed bank of rare and endangered species which rivals many of the great public gardens of the world, including Kew Gardens in London. Appointed as the first government botanist of Victoria, he established the first of the lawns - the Oak Lawn - in 1862.
However, it was the appointment of William Guilfoyle in 1873 which "modernised" the gardens and shaped them into the style which we still see today. His major developments were the changing of the course of Yarra River in 1890, the creation of the Ornamental Lake, the adding of temperate and tropical plants and the creation of a watering system which includes the famous "volcano" storage tank. There are a number of buildings which still retain their slate roofs and up at the main entrance the buildings of the original Melbourne Observatory still stand.
Australia's first Prime Minister was married here but these days, the rich and famous run around the boundary of the park along The Tan, a running track of slightly less than four kilometres. It's where celebrities go for a jog when they are in town.
We had lunch above the Ornamental Lake, with its backdrop of the city skyline, with Eureka Tower and the Government House juxdiposed. The latter is the official residence of the Governor of Victoria but when the seat of the Federal Government was in Melbourne, the Govenor General of Australia had lived there between 1901 and 1927.
After lunch, we walked through Fern Gully, a beautiful rainforest gully which has been created to replicate what we have seen in various spots across eastern Australia.
We left the garden mid afternoon and paid a short visit to the Shrine of Remembrance. It's has a number of very moving sculptured figures, the best of which are the image of a mother with arms draped around a son and daughter, looking up at the shrine from the end of a garden of red poppies. The son is holding a wreath.
Returning to the Melbourne Vistor Shuttle bus, we went north to the University of Melbourne in Carlton, looking for the Ian Pottery Art Museum. Our stop, aided by imprecise directions from our driver, meant that we traipsed unnecessarily through the university ... however, it had its compensations. We walked through the Old Arts and Law precincts, the buildings of which are some of the oldest at the university and in the process, discovered a brush-tailed possum in one of the forecourts of the law courts. Eventually, we managed to bump into a Uni old boy, who directed us to the Swanston St side of the campus.
The museum, once found, was fantastic. The feature exhibition was a series of ink sketches and linoprints by William Kentridge, a South African born in the mid 1950's to parents whose activism was steeped in the anti-apartheid movement. His images are powerful expositions of the social and political tensions of his homeland in the days before the release of Nelson Mandela and the reunification. They are powerful, portraying characters in stark black and white.
In the floors below, there was an exhibition which explored mummification and another which displayed objects used in various teaching faculties of the university. There were dental instruments and sets of teeth; oversized papier mache flowers and blocks of wood from different tree types; even models of molecules. Odd but very interesting.
A couple of bus rides and we were back at our digs after a fullfilling day.