From Sydney To Melbourne: 10 Years On…

Today, October 3rd 2015, marks 10 years since I hopped on a plane at Sydney Airport with two large suitcases, ready to fly south to Melbourne to start a new life. So much has happened in those 10 years that it is not easy to know where to start. Alas, the best place to start would be back in Sydney…

When I was in my early 20s, I was working as a call centre operator for a global loyalty marketing company. I was also studying at uni part-time and living with my mum and stepfather in Woolloomooloo. At this point in time, I had no idea about Aspergers or anything like that – I was just different and quite quirky.

Anybody who lived in Sydney during the 2000 Olympics will tell you that those 15 days were the best time ever to be a Sydneysider. I can guarantee that you will never see Sydney as alive and happening in our lifetimes as it was during that fortnight. Party central everywhere!

But then came the early 2000s. This marked the start of the downturn in the city’s fortunes, particularly on a quality-of-life scale. It’s comparable to the timeline of a pill of ecstasy, where the Olympics marked the highs of the drug life cycle in the brain and bloodstream. But then, as with all recreational drugs, there comes the downer – and the years immediately following the Olympics were the downer for Sydney.

Cost of living had exploded, the city had lost its identity, its culture, its soul. All that was left were people going about their daily lives, travelling from point A to point B with nothing in between. Pure routine, with no sense of excitement or deviation from the “norm”. You would think that for someone like myself, it would be perfect. But I was bored shitless, and I was just not feeling Sydney anymore.

The great thing about working as a call centre operator at the time was the money I was earning and saving. And due to my incessant boredom, I took the opportunity to start exploring outside of Sydney.

Prior to this, the only time I could recall being out of Sydney proper and going to another capital city was the seemingly obligatory school excursion to Canberra in high school. As an old school friend once said to me, “it’s a hole, but a well-designed hole” (apologies to any of my Canberran friends reading this).

So I decided to expand my horizons a little. Being the adventurer that I was, I took the XPT on Easter Weekend 2004 up to Brisbane (or Brisvegas as it is affectionately known). I spent the weekend there just having a look around and catching up with some friends that I had been chatting to online.

As much as I liked Brisbane, it was way too quiet for me. At the risk of offending any of my Brissy friends reading this, the words “glorified country town” spring to mind. So I decided to do another trip elsewhere, and this time, it would end up changing my life course forever.

The beauty of 2004 was that the Easter long weekend was only two weeks earlier than the Anzac long weekend. So I took advantage of it and decided to catch the XPT again, but this time south of the border…

I recall getting the overnight XPT from Sydney Central station at around 8.30 on the Thursday evening, not knowing what to expect about Melbourne. Everything I heard about Melbourne in my prior years revolved around the “rivalry” with Sydney, so basically “Sydney is great, Melbourne is crap”, etc etc. They could not have been more wrong.

The train trip itself was non-eventful, but a couple of things stood out for me on that trip down. The first time I was aware of having crossed the border into Victoria was just after we had departed Albury (it was the middle of the night), and I remember seeing a large lit-up sign that said “SAFEWAY”, which closely resembled the Woolworths signage that I was more familiar with in Sydney. At that point, I realised that we were passing through Wodonga and were now officially on Victorian territory. For some reason, that excited me more than anything else on that train ride.

Approaching the Melbourne CBD the following morning, I had been listening to my early generation iPod (iPhones were not invented back then), and I had The Cars playing “It’s All I Can Do” as we were slowly making our way into Spencer Street Station. At that time, the Southern Cross Station rebuild was in full swing, so the whole station was a complete construction zone.

But it was when I got off the train that I knew things were about to change in a big way. The moment I stepped foot onto Platform 1, a great sense of belonging overcame me. 

I felt like I was home.

I stayed at the Victoria Hotel on Little Collins Street. A very nice hotel, I might add. But it was going out and about to explore the nightlife that I would discover my future home.

Back in 2004, Commercial Road in South Yarra was still a buzzing destination for the Melbourne gay community. No less than 3 popular clubs all within doors of each other, catering to different crowds. There was the Xchange, which was somewhat the equivalent (in my eyes) of Stonewall in Sydney. There was also the Market, a lesser version of ARQ. But the little club that caught my heart at the time was Diva Bar.

It was a very small and cramped place, which was a massive fire hazard waiting to happen. But the crowd were down-to-earth, the music was just my type, and I spent hours just dancing the night away. One of my big memories of that night was failing to find any taxis whatsoever on Commercial Rd at 4am, resulting in my walking up Chapel Street, Toorak Rd and St Kilda Rd all the way back to my hotel. It was a night I would never forget, and the walk itself opened my eyes to how awesome South Yarra and Prahran were.

When I got back to Sydney, I started missing Melbourne instantly. I had to go back and explore some more. So I booked a week around the Queens Birthday weekend to spend some more time down there. This time, I stayed at the Claremont Hotel in South Yarra. Very boutique guesthouse close to everything – including Commercial Road. It was that week that I realised that I could possibly live in South Yarra. I then proceeded to make another two trips to Melbourne in 2004 – one in October, and one for NYE. I just couldn’t get enough of the place.

New Years Day 2005 was a funny one in Melbourne, and one which demonstrated the concept of 4 seasons in one day. It had started out as a balmy and sunny 35 degrees, and within 15 minutes had plummeted to 17 degrees with storms. None of that was going to deter me from my ultimate goal…

By that point, there was no denying it. Melbourne was more home to me than Sydney could ever be. It was where I could feel more myself without anyone pushing expectations on me. So I made a New Years resolution that I would move to Melbourne by the end of 2005.

And I kept it.

In the lead-up to the move, I made one more trip in June 2005 to suss out job opportunities, and then the big move came. All my stuff was already packed at my parent’s house, but for now I just needed two suitcases of clothes to get me by. After two initial weeks of house-hopping with friends, I eventually found what would be my home in South Yarra. I have lived in that same place to this day (yes, ten years in the same place!!!).

Moving to Melbourne also served to open a lot of doors and opportunities, but brought with it some character-building experiences. The big things are below:

  • I discovered group fitness. It would later lead me to one of the best things I have ever done with my life – becoming a group fitness instructor;
  • I experienced what it was like to be at rock bottom financially, and having to fight my way from the brink to get back to a position of financial stability – it helped me believe that I could get myself out of any bleak situation if I put my mind to it, and allowed me to appreciate those silver linings that much more;
  • The ultimate discovery of my having Aspergers – this, more than anything else, has helped me let go of so many demons in my life and allowed me to be more assertive and confident about who I am and what I want out of the life ahead;
  • Stumbling across people who have embraced my quirks and idiosyncracies and love me for the person that I am (even pre-Aspergers). You know who you are if you’re reading this;
  • Finally confirming my dual national status and getting the relevant passports. There will be a lot of travel on the horizon for 2016; and
  • Gaining the confidence to start this blog 🙂

One thing I get asked a lot by people is “why Melbourne over Sydney?”. Put simply, Melbourne has the big city feel, but without the prententiousness of Sydney. It suits my personality a lot better. Much less hustle and bustle, and more time and headspace to just chill and relax.

The past 10 years in Melbourne have been such an amazing journey for me. Thank you to everyone who has supported me all the way and come across my path during the last decade. You all have played a part in my life thus far, no matter how big or small.

The journey continues henceforth, and I look forward to sharing more general and random thoughts with you in the coming months and years. Enjoy the read and feel free to comment 🙂