Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hobart, Tasmania

I spent Saturday afternoon exploring Hobart: a waterfront city, right on the Derwent River, with the central point being the docks. I ate chips on one of the piers, and admired the views: the whole city is situated within minutes of both mountains and beaches.

I also wandered along Salamanca Place, which is lined with old stone buildings, mainly now restaurants and bars. Hobart seems quite a sleepy city, especially after the busy-ness of Melbourne, but a cute one, too.

Saturday also happened to be Mel's birthday, so her lovely friends Brad and Matt took us out to dinner at a wonderful Indian restaurant in North Hobart, which served the best naan bread I have ever tasted.

Sunday was the third and final ODI, which meant a ride over the Trans-Tasman Bridge to the other side of the city, and more amazing views. The Bellerive Oval, where the matches this week have taken place, must surely be a candidate for Most Beautiful Cricket Ground In The World. It's nestled among suburbia, with a lovely beach just seconds away – and seriously, the views have to be seen to be believed.

The match itself was a tense affair: England looked a dead cert to retain the Ashes, with the Australians staging a spectacular fightback in the final 10 overs. I could barely watch (very unprofessional of me) – you can read about how tense it was in my piece for AOC.

Once that particular drama was over, Mel, Eliza and I went to Muir's for dinner, to eat some authentic Tassie seafood, including squid and scallops. Hobart is famous for its seafood, being right on the water, and it did not disappoint. In fact, the food I have had in Tasmania has been the best I have eaten anywhere in Australia (just starting to worry about getting on the scales when I get home!)

Monday was a very exciting day, as Brad and Matt were taking Mel cider-tasting in the Huan Valley, and I was invited along. This meant that I could see a little bit more of Tassie, and the drive (about a 3 hour round trip around the valley) threw up even more views that took your breath away.

With the stretches of water and the mountains, it reminded me a bit of Scotland – aside from the fact that it was a beautiful sunny day, over 30 degrees, and the likelihood is that the mountains near Stirling are currently covered in snow.

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the cider tasting; anyone who knows me knows that I am a big cider fan. Apparently cider is just getting big here in Tasmania, because they have had problems in recent years exporting their apples. So, we visited two apple orchards, both of which have just opened up recently to the public, and I ended up trying about 10 different types of cider, including cherry, which was a new one on me. It was delicious, although the one that was 8% alcohol was possibly a little bit strong for my tastes!

Other highlights included: the scallop pie we ate for lunch; and stopping at another one of those lovely Australian beaches which seem to stretch for miles, where the sea is refreshingly cool, rather than freezing cold. Oh, and of course Mel's adventure down a cliff to rescue her sandals...she did (eventually) make it back up safely!

In the evening, Brad and Matt had very generously invited me over to their place for an authentic Australian “barbie”, about which I was very excited. It turns out that all the stories about Australians doing barbecues a MILLION times better than Brits are 100% true. First of all, everything was perfectly cooked. Secondly, we could eat outside, even as it got darker, because of the lovely weather. Thirdly, everything was cooked on a Real Barbecue, rather than one of those disposable ones. I even had my first taste of kangaroo meat (which is actually quite common over here, and can be bought in any supermarket). Despite my initial objections, based on the cuteness of kangaroos, it's pretty delicious.

A couple of the BBC guys, Phil and Katie, who have been over here reporting on the women's series, also came along; and even more cider was consumed.

I also slightly fell in love with one of Brad and Matt's two border collies, Coco, who is brown and white and adorable.

All in all, a perfect Australia Day Holiday, one of the best days of my trip so far. Thanks so much, guys.

Tuesday was ridiculously hot – it must have been 40 degrees, and made worse by the fact that a hot wind was blowing, the like of which I have never experienced before. It was like being blown along a London street in the winter, but without the refreshing cool bit: more like a hairdryer constantly in your face. Horrible. The heat definitely seems to be following me around out here (not that I mind, most of the time!)

I escaped the heat by catching the ferry across to MONA (the Museum of New Art), which everyone said was the Thing To Do while in Hobart. It is an incredibly bizarre place. Owned by some multi-millionaire who buys up old art and also commissions new stuff specifically for MONA, it's on an island a 30-minute ferry ride away. This meant I could take some photographs to try and give some indication of just how beautiful Hobart and its surroundings really are:

MONA is unlike any other art gallery I've ever been to, and probably unlike any other art gallery in the world. For one, none of the exhibits are labelled, which means that without your audio guide you would have no idea what they were or what the “meaning” behind them was (but I guess that might be the point). And instead of dividing the art neatly into categories in separate rooms, everything is intermingled: so one minute you'll be looking at a lump of twisted metal, and the next minute there will be some ancient Aboriginal artwork, or an Egyptian mummy.

Some of the exhibits include: a room full of nothing but blinking light bulbs; a room full of old television screens; and a machine which is sort of like a model of the human digestive system, with various clear containers connected by wires, in which you can see “food” going round and round, and if you hang around long enough, watch it do a “poo”. There is also a new “death gallery”, with nothing in it but a hangman's noose in the middle. And most of the time, you are wandering around in near-darkness. Emerging at the top and out again into the heat was like emerging from some sort of nightmare horror movie. I'm glad I went though.

Tuesday night was fun. I was invited out by Mel to join some other local journalists: apparently Jesse Hogan lost a bet relating to the Big Bash, and promised Alex Johnston dinner, and the rest of us were beneficiaries. We went to this AMAZING Chinese dumpling place in Sandy Bay, with, in Alex's words, “better chicken than KFC” (it's true!) Then on into the city, to a bar in Salamanca Place, with the night ending in some questionable dance moves as classic rock tunes were played (hi Jesse!) ;-)

Yesterday was, perhaps, the best day I'm likely to experience as an English cricket journalist. As you'll no doubt be aware, England won the T20 game by 9 wickets, and in some style, with Charlotte Edwards making 92*. With that victory, England have retained the Ashes, for only the third time ever on Australian soil.

It was amazing to see the players running onto the pitch, and the attention lavished on them after the match ended: the guys from Sky and the BBC were all crowded around, at last giving the players some of the credit they deserve for the way they have played these last few weeks. Meanwhile I sat up in the press box frantically typing, as I tried to take it all in.

I still cannot believe that I was lucky enough to be here, 10,000 miles away from home, to see it. Any minute now I'm going to wake up and find out that this whole incredible trip has been a dream.

I left Hobart this morning feeling a bit sad that I spent so little time in Tasmania. I don't even feel like I got to know the city properly, let alone the island itself. Hopefully I will return at some stage. I was there long enough to learn this much, though: Tasmania is indescribably beautiful.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Melbourne to Hobart

These part few days have been the most incredible I have spent here in Australia, and that is saying something.

On Monday I caught the tram to St Kilda, which is a seaside town a few kilometres out of Melbourne. It's lovely, reminiscent of seaside towns back home, with cutesy shops (including some amazing cake shops!) and a funfair. What seemed incredible was being at a beach so close to the big city – you could see the skyline from the beach, and it made me feel both very near and very far from Melbourne.

While in St Kilda, I went to the supermarket and bought some cereal bars, which ensures that I am no longer reduced to eating TimTams (the Aussie version of the Penguin biscuit) for breakfast, as I did before Sunday's ODI. I find it funny that here in Australia, one of the biggest supermarket chains is Woolworths. I'm not sure how it came about that in Britain Mr Woolworth decided he wanted to sell socks, toys and pick 'n' mix, whereas 10,000 miles away it was decided that Woolworths would be a supermarket, but one business strategy has certainly worked better than the other.

I lay on the beach for a while, reading the Agatha Christie which I had picked up from the hostel bookshelf, but away from the wind it was such nice weather that I fell asleep. This happened to coincide with the hottest part of the day (about 2pm or so) and, while I can't have been asleep for more than about 20 minutes, when I woke up one half of my leg was extremely red. I didn't realise quite how bad it was at the time, but it got more painful as the day went on and I realise that I had made the stereotypical mistake of the Brit abroad in Oz and been rather badly sunburned. Oh dear!

Many layers of after-sun and factor 50 and several days later, it seems to be better. It was certainly a cautionary experience.

I really liked St Kilda and I can't help thinking that there's a trend developing here: I enjoy the cities, but it's the little suburb-y type places (St Kilda, Fremantle) where I really feel at home. I guess growing up in the suburbs of London has made its mark.

On Tuesday I decided to book to do a day-long Phillip Island tour. Phillip Island is about two hours drive away from Melbourne and is fairly small, about 100 square kilometres in total. It is quite a bizarre place, featuring everything from a Vietnam War Veterans Museum to a chocolate factory, but it is also an amazing site of natural beauty, with its main focus nowadays being the conservation of the penguins which have their home there.

The tour I did was not cheap (coming in at $109), but ended up being worth every penny. There were about 20 of us who were taken to the island on a minibus. The first stop of the day, though, was at a place called the Moonlit Sanctuary, only a little way outside of the city. This is a small wildlife reserve which looks after many native species. We were given animal feed and told we could handfeed some of the animals. I started off with the emus, but quickly stopped after feeling like my hand was about to get pecked off!

But then we found some beautiful wallabies and kangaroos, who basically have free rein of the place and are very tame. Kneeling down to feed and stroke them and being so close to them was absolutely incredible. They are sooo cute, especially the wallabies.

Lastly, we got to meet a koala, which may have been my favourite moment of the whole day. Firstly, the handler bribed him up onto a branch with his favourite eucalyptus leaves. Then, one by one, we could go in and stroke and cuddle him. It's forbidden nowadays to pick up koalas in the state of Victoria, because they are so heavy that you can damage them very easily if you do it wrongly, but getting up this close was enough by itself. His fur was so soft!

Back on the bus, we travelled on to Phillip Island, where we made several stops, including at some of the beaches, and to a place where we could see an Aussie sheep-shearer in action. At one point, having been asked by some of the others in the group why I was in Australia, I found myself attempting to explain cricket to a couple of Americans. This is a difficult business at the best of times, but the lady in front of me kept chipping in with “helpful” comments.

American Man: “So how many “outs” are there in an inning?”
Me: “10. 10 batsman are out in an innings.”
Woman: “Except if the captain declares.”
Me: *Unsuccessfully attempts to explain the concept of declaration cricket*

Pretty much the real reason we were all on the tour, though, came right at the end of the day. Every night, as it gets dark, the Phillip Island penguins swim in from the sea and waddle up the beach into their homes around the island, and every night, hundreds of people go to watch. The whole thing has been set up very well: yes, in one way it is very touristy – there are rows and rows of bleachers on the beach for people to gawp at the penguins – but it also pays for the conservationists to keep the penguins' natural environment intact, and for the penguin homes which have been built and stationed around the island for the penguins to sleep in at night.

The penguins are fairy penguins, the smallest type of penguin that exists, and they really are tiny. You therefore really had to strain your eyes to see them as they gradually emerged from the water, but once the first ones were out, hundreds more followed. It was actually very funny, as you could see a few come out first, then swim back in to get their friends, and then whole groups would emerge, waddle along the beach for a few metres, pause, wait for more friends to join them, and carry on going until they were about halfway up – then finally race away until they were safely off the beach and away from the dangerous seagulls.

Walking back towards the minibus, along a wooden walkway, you could see them running beside you. At one point we even got stopped by the rangers, as a group of penguins decided they wanted to cross over in front of us!

I took some photographs, to give an idea of what the experience was like:

Just kidding!! Unfortunately but understandably, photography is officially forbidden while on the beach. There are some great photos if you google “Phillip Island penguins” but I couldn't take any myself.

Anyway, it was a magical experience, and a magical day.

Wednesday couldn't have been more different! It began with another tour: the Neighbours experience. I know that going on this tour was incredibly cheesy / studenty / British of me but I couldn't come all the way here and not see Ramsay Street, could I? (The answer is no.) The studios where much of the soap is now filmed are only about 30 minutes drive from the city centre, so we went there first, and had a bit of a look round the bits which weren't being used for filming. Our guide was clearly a Neighbours fanatic himself, and was hilarious: he spent most of the time pointing out all the inconsistencies to us and explaining that Neighbours is “all lies”, in a way that was reminiscent of a parent telling his kids that Father Christmas isn't real.

But of course, when we got to “Ramsay Street”, which is a real street only a few minutes away from the studios where they film all the outside shots, it was quickly apparent that the whole thing is edited very cleverly. The street is a tiny cul-de-sac, whereas in the show they make it look huge! Anyway, Susan and Karl's house is actually a real house, with real people living there (as are all th others). I can't help thinking that, although in one way it must be totally awesome to live in Ramsay Street, it must also be flipping annoying to have coachloads of tourists crowd into your cul-de-sac every day (hiya!) and take photos of you / your house.

Part of the experience was getting to meet one of the Neighbours actors, and today we got James Mason, who plays Chris. He was really lovely, very funny and willing to have loads of photos taken. I asked him what was going to happen this year in the show but he refused to tell me. The ironic thing is that since I've been in Australia, I haven't seen a single episode of Neighbours, and have no idea what's happened since Christmas.

So, in the last few days I've seen kangaroos, wallabies, penguins, koalas, and Ramsay Street. I can now go home happy ;-)

I spent Wednesday afternoon exploring Melbourne's South Bank, next to the Yarra River, which is similar to London's South Bank in that there are a ton of cool restaurants and bars, some interesting artwork and architecture, and many street artists at work. Then I walked to the Botanic Gardens, which are really beautiful. Sort of like Bushy Park back home I guess, only with amazing different types of wildlife, and a gorgeous lake in the middle.

In the evening, I went over to the Queen Victoria Market on the north side of the city. Normally this is open in the day, like a normal market, but in summertime they open it up every Wednesday evening from 5 to 10pm and it has a totally different vibe. It felt sort of like a music festival, with delicious street food being sold all the way along (I limited myself to a white chocolate gelato cone, as I'd already had dinner at the hostel), the most beautiful hand-crafted goods on sale (including miniature wooden animals which I did my utmost to resist buying), and live music playing everywhere, the highlight being a guy doing beat box didgeridoo. Everyone says Melbourne is cool and individual, and I suddenly understood why. I'm pretty sure that if I lived here, this is where I'd spend every single Wednesday evening come summer.

Thursday was the second ODI, so I was back up in the press box at the G. But, as it was a day-nighter, I decided to visit the National Sports Museum beforehand. I'm glad I did. They have some great stuff there, including some of Betty Wilson's old cricket gear, a list of all the members of the Australia Cricket Hall of Fame (featuring Belinda Clark), a lot of baggy greens, and a little section entirely dedicated to women's cricket. The Melbourne Cricket Club Museum also has some great stuff, including lots of artefacts relating to the centenary Test match at Melbourne in 1977. I hadn't realised before that they flew out every single player who had ever played in England-Australia Tests to be there; the mind boggles. Once again, Dad would LOVE all this.

Australia won the second ODI, and you can read my account of the match here. The star of the day was clearly debutant centurion Nicole Bolton and it was great to be there to see her innings.

I ended up spending most of Friday at the Melbourne Cricket Club Library, which was certainly time well spent. I've been to a fair few libraries in my time, but these guys were the most incredibly welcoming people ever, especially David Studham. I was treated to free lunch, tea and cake. And I was taken down into the depths of the MCG to the archives, which are huge, and shown the collections they have relating to women's cricket: including all the minutes of the Australian Women's Cricket Council and the Victoria Women's Cricket Association. I was practically drooling. It will take months, but I very much hope I can spend some time at some point going through the AWCC and VWCA collections with a fine toothcomb. Watch this space...

I had decided a while ago to travel from Melbourne to Tasmania by ferry, instead of flying, and had got mixed reactions when I told people what I had planned. Given that the journey is about an hour by plane, and a 9 hour ferry ride plus 3 hour coach journey, most people obviously choose to fly across. But I thought getting the ferry would be fun and exciting, and so it proved. The boat was huge, with 10 decks, and I have never slept on board a ship before, so that was exciting in itself. I had a really cute cabin:

I had gone for the cheap option of a 4-bed shared cabin, but lucked out and ended up with the cabin all to myself. This was absolute luxury after sleeping in a hostel room with 11 other people for the last week!

The ship sailed from Port Melbourne at 7.30pm, and I stood at the stern and watched it depart:

For the rest of the evening, there was cricket and tennis on TV, live music, and a bar. I felt a bit queasy by 11pm, as we sailed further towards Tasmania and the waters got rougher, but when I went back to my cabin and got into my bunk, and lay there with the rolling and pitching of the ship, I got to sleep quite easily.

Unfortunately the wake-up call this morning came at 6am (zzzzz) as the boat docked at 6.30. I left the ship (after being sniffed by a sniffer-dog!) and boarded the bus which would take me to Hobart. Sadly, I slept for most of the journey, but what I did see of Tasmania – glorious countryside, rolling hills, mountains and farms – looked beautiful.

And now here I am at my hostel, having just arrived in Hobart. I'm looking forward to spending some time getting to know the city.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Melbourne part 2

I've been in Melbourne a few days now and I'm gradually getting used to the clatter of trams past the window at night, and having to look out for them whenever you cross the street. The best tram is of course the FREE City Circle one, which basically does a loop of the city every 10 minutes or so and makes getting around very easy.

The hostel I'm staying in feels much nicer now that the heatwave has dissipated and we are back down to temperatures in the mid-20s. In fact I was actually COLD yesterday, which seems strange to report. I also like the fact that I am located right next to a road called Nicholson Street.

I spent Friday wandering around Melbourne's laneways. These are apparently a city institution, basically like little alleyways with totally random and quirky shops, cafes and restaurants dotted around.

I ended up at Federation Square, which is sort of like the hub of the city. There are bars, restaurants, art galleries etc surrounding it, and a big space in the middle, which is currently filled with deckchairs and a big screen showing the Melbourne Open tennis. I had a wander, and went to see some Australian art at the NGV Australia.

Possibly the best thing about this was that, after a few hours in 40-degree heat, the art gallery was air-conditioned.

It got to about 5pm and I suddenly realised that I hadn't actually eaten for the entire day, so I went to a restaurant on Fed Square called the Chocolate Buddha (recommended by a friend). You could sit inside with air-con but also keep an eye on the tennis through the window, and look out over the city. Lovely.

I went outside after I'd finished and watched the tennis (and possibly fell asleep for a bit, ahem) in the twilight. Then off to a pub opposite Flinders Street station to meet Mel Jones. We've spoken a bit via twitter, and it was great to finally meet up in person. I absolutely loved hearing stories about what it was like to play women's cricket in the legendary Aussie team of the 1990s/early 2000s featuring Jones, as well as Karen Rolton, Cathryn Fitzpatrick and of course Belinda Clark. The historian in me goes a bit crazy whenever I meet ex-international cricketers!

The worst part of the evening was that the men's ODI was on TV in the pub, and somewhere towards the end of the game (keeping half an eye on it while chatting to Mel), I realised that the Aussies around me were starting to pay more attention to the game. Somehow, England were managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and everyone around me was cheering like mad, while I sat, head in hands. Just a small taste, I suppose, of what it must have been like to be over here during the men's Ashes.

On Saturday, I walked over to the MCG, through Fitzroy Gardens – a beautiful park reminiscent of London parks in summer. It's an odd mixture of English trees, brought over here by Brits and planted a long time ago, and native species – I'm not used to seeing English elms right next to palm trees.

Approaching the MCG, through the trees, was incredibly exciting. Here I was, finally at the home of Australian cricket, and just as there always is when you walk through the Grace Gates at Lord's, there was a certain magic about seeing it in the flesh.

Two things in particular stood out:
  1. It's huge.
  2. Seriously, it's HUGE. (Capacity of 100,000.)

I did one of the official tours, conducted by a Melbourne Cricket Club member, which involved going down onto the edge of the pitch, right up to the top (spectacular views), and into the media centre. Our guide told us that he found it hilarious when he found out recently that each of the desks in the media centre has a label on, which dictates where each journalist sits: the positioning is determined according to seniority. I didn't like to admit to being a member of the press corps, but I did find the desk that, right now, feels like it belongs to me:

At one point we were taken to see the indoor nets, and some of the Southern Stars (the Aussie women's side) were there practising. I couldn't help pointing out who they all were, and I think the tour guide was a bit like “who IS this girl?”

Fun fact I learned on the tour: there are 64 bars at the MCG. That is a LOT of drinking at one cricket ground.

We also got to see the members area: there is a Long Room, named of course after the Long Room at Lord's, and old photographs and memorabilia everywhere, including an amazing photograph of Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar, taken not long before the Don passed away. There are only 3 copies of this photograph in existence, and the Don requested that the negatives be destroyed, so it was cool to see one of the prints.

All I kept thinking throughout was that Dad would've absolutely loved being there with me, and wishing he was.

I stayed behind after the tour, to put on my Journalist hat and watch England train for a bit, out in the middle.

Then switched back to Tourist Mode, walking back into the city over the William Barak Bridge, where a plethora of voices talk at you through speakers as you wander over; and into the Immigration Museum for a while. This is housed in the building which used to be the Customs House, where immigrants were processed on arrival into Melbourne. There is an exhibition detailing the history of immigration to Australia, and many of the question posed as to exactly how the immigration process should work in modern-day Oz struck me as also being potent for the UK right now. How do you decide who is part of the nation, and who isn't? And who gets to decide?

Saturday night was lots of fun. Mel had got tickets to the Big Bash match, Melbourne Renegades vs Sydney Sixers, played at the Etihad Stadium across town. I haven't really followed the Big Bash much, being a bit of a cricket purist, but it was really exciting to be there. Cricket aside (Sydney won the match and the home fans left disappointed), the Aussies really know how to make Twenty20 work. The stadium was packed out, probably about 20,000 people there, including many families. Seeing the stumps light up each time the bails are removed is pretty cool, and I nearly had a heart attack at half-time when they covered up some of the pitch and set up a huge jump, with motorbikes zooming round and round. They play rock music loudly between overs and after wickets fall, and have air guitar competitions, and there is always a Z-list celebrity sitting in a box at the side of the pitch, who can win money for viewers at home if he catches a six. Basically, it's incredibly gimmicky, and my dad would probably hate it, but I loved every minute.

Yesterday was, of course, the first one-dayer of the women's Ashes series, at the G. So I turned up bright and early, at 8.30am, at gate 3, where the media had been told they could gain access. I found Gate 3 locked. The whole thing was, in fact, completely shambolic, with most of those who were covering the match wandering around trying to find a way in, and once we managed to gain entry, getting lost in the maze of corridors inside.

Apparently security decided they weren't going to open up the gates until 9.30, for a match that began at 10am. Why on earth they decided that no media could possibly need to get in earlier than start time (for things like, you know, the toss or the team announcements), I cannot for the life of me work out, but it seems very much like it might be a case of thinking “ah well, it's only women's cricket, why would anyone be bothered?” The MCG is a wonderful ground, but whoever made that call needs to seriously reassess things. If this happened to the media before a men's Test or ODI, you can bet there'd be a bollocking somewhere along the line – so I expect someone to get one for this. Here's looking at you, Cricket Australia!

For all that, it was absolutely awesome being up in the media centre. Highlights included: seeing the lovely Eliza again; a bird flying into the press box; meeting former Australian women's cricket captains Margaret Jennings and Raelee Thompson in the innings break; and of course, England winning. My match report is up on cricinfo, if the cricket interests you.

I'll end by saying that as I start to get to know Melbourne a little, I'm finding myself liking it more and more. It's a quirky, interesting city, and I don't think you could ever get bored here.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Perth to Melbourne

It's been a very busy few days, reporting on the Test match at the WACA. My reports have been going up on cricinfo (day four's report is here) and I've also been doing a daily piece for All Out Cricket.

Suffice it to say that this has been some of the most exciting Test cricket I've ever seen, and it's been a real privilege to be in Australia watching and reporting on it. I'm so glad I came.

One exciting thing which did happen during the Test was being interviewed during the day three lunch break, on ABC radio. This was arranged at the last minute, and I spent the hour beforehand getting gradually more and more nervous about it (my first live radio interview, back in the UK a long time ago, was a terrifying experience). I had no idea what I was going to be asked. In the end, though, it was fine – so much so that I almost forgot I was on air for some of the time and just chatted like we were having a normal conversation. We talked a bit about the first ever women's Test in 1934 at Brisbane, and also about the contemporary women's game in England, and what the best way to increase the profile of the sport might be. And then there was the compulsory gloating section of the interview which involved talking about the men's Ashes, and precisely how miserable it has been to be a cricket fan in the UK this winter ;-) I repeated a comment which my mum made recently, about Alastair Cook not knowing the damage his team had done to family life across England during this series!

He also asked me what I made of Perth. Basically, I loved every minute I spent there. The one negative so far has been getting covered in mozzie bites on the first evening of the Test, when we rushed down at close of play to get quotes from two of the players and I didn't even think to put on insect repellent. I have since rectified that, and the bites are getting better. I'm not sure if this was due to rubbing banana skin on them, a herbal remedy which I decided to try on Monday, but it certainly seemed to help!

My last day in Perth (Amy flew to Brisbane on Tuesday morning) was lots of fun. I caught a ferry over to Fremantle, across the Swan River from Perth, with glorious views on either side as we travelled along in the sunshine (it takes about an hour and 15 minutes each way to get there). There are hundreds of mansions lining the edges of the river, many with private beaches attached; it must be amazing to live in one. We were also given some fun facts about Perth en route, such as: it is the most isolated capital city in the world.

As we docked at Fremantle, all I could think about was that this was where, in December 1934, the first ever English women cricketers had docked on arrival in Australia. The account from Myrtle Maclagan's diary is as follows:

“We were driven straight from the decks to the Town Hall at Fremantle where...eight score or so of the interested inhabitants of the place sat below and gaped up at us. The Mayor and some of his colleagues welcomed us officially and told us they hoped we would play the game in the same old way and that the better side would win.”

Here I was, all these years later, right in the same place they had started out their Australian adventure. It was poignant moment for me.

I had about three hours in Fremantle before the return ferry, so I wandered around for a while. It didn't take me long to fall in love with the place. The only word for it, really, is “cute”.

One place which is far from cute, though, is Fremantle Prison, which is a world heritage sight. It was built by convict labour in the 1850s, constructed from limestone which was quarried on sight, then after penal transportation to Australia ended in 1868 it became a maximum-security prison. What I didn't realise until I arrived is that it only closed in 1991. In fact, what really stood out to me while taking the tour was the continuity between the convict experience and the experiences of those who were there just a few decades ago.

For example, we were shown a metal bucket, kept in the cells, which remained the toilet for prisoners right up until the 1980s. (They briefly introduced chemical toilets in the 1960s, but the prisoners kept drinking the chemicals to get high.) Many of the punishments – flogging, solitary confinement in tiny dark cells – remained in place until incredibly recently. And we also saw the gallows, the same gallows which were used throughout the prison's history, right up until the death penalty was abolished in Australia in 1967. Apparently conditions remained so horrible, with the system still modelled on the British Victorian penal system, that the prisoners famously rioted in 1988, taking several guards hostage and setting a section of the prison on fire. This was, largely, the catalyst for its closure a few years later.

The creepy thing is that the tour guide said that she often has ex-prisoners come back to do the tour; and that the prison's chapel, which is still a functioning place of worship, often plays host to the weddings of ex-prisoners. Bizarre really.

I was so absorbed in the tour that when it ended, I had to peg it all the way back to the ferry, and only just made it.

Back in Perth, having checked in to my hostel, I wandered out into Northbridge, which is where a lot of the good bars and restaurants are. I found somewhere called the Brass Monkey, with live music playing, and ordered food. This was my first time wandering into an Aussie bar on my own, so I was trying hard to look casual and relaxed, and picked up one of the free magazines lying around to have a flick through before my food arrived. I suddenly realised that the one I'd chosen – entitled “Out in Perth” - didn't have the innocent meaning I'd assumed for it, but was in fact a gay magazine. Unbeknownst to me, I'd just announced myself to the whole bar as a lesbian without intending to.

I ate quickly, and left.

My only sadness on leaving Perth is that I never made it up the hill to Kings Park (I did see some of it from the ferry though). There is always sadness in leaving somewhere, especially a city I have so enjoyed, but hopefully I will make it back to Australia, and Perth, at some point.

I caught the bus to Perth airport from the city, which was an interesting journey, riding through a couple of suburbs, with the main thought in my mind being (sorry to revert to British stereotypes): “it's just like Neighbours!” I think it's the rows of bungalows, the wide cul-de-sacs, and the red slate roofs, all of which are very distinctly Australian.

The flight to Melbourne was interesting. I lucked out with a window seat, and as we took off over Perth, you could see vast expanses of open space, the like of which you will never see in the UK.
Oh: and I rewatched Blue Jasmine. It's actually really good! I must've just been knackered on the flight out here.

As we landed in Melbourne, there was a storm taking place, and every few minutes there were huge flashes of forked lightening, which was a bit scary, to be honest. I'm getting better at flying by myself though!

I caught a shuttle bus from the airport to Southern Cross station, then a taxi to my Melbourne hostel. I learned a valuable lesson when I arrived at 1am: don't arrive at a shared room in the middle of the night. Everyone else was in bed asleep, so I had to shove my bag in a corner and make my bed in the dark, while trying not to wake anyone. The main problem with this place (which is actually very nice otherwise) is that there is NO air-conditioning. This coincides with the ridiculous heat-wave taking place in Melbourne (44 degrees at the moment, and horribly humid to go along with it), which has made sleeping for the last two nights in a room with 11 other people almost impossible. I think that was my lowest moment of the trip so far. Fortunately, temperatures are due to come down this afternoon.

Yesterday was the nicest day. I caught a train out to the suburbs to meet the wonderful Mel Farrell. She drove us to a beach about 90 minutes away, called Torquay (no Basil Fawlty in sight though). My first sight of an Aussie beach, and it really was beautiful.

Very different from Pembrokeshire, with the palm trees and greenery lining the shore.

We had the best, chilled-out afternoon, away from the heat of the city, and went swimming in the calm turquoise ocean. (Don't worry, I made sure to apply huge amounts of sun cream before and after!)

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And then, another new experience: my first ever taste of oysters. These ones came with bacon, and they tasted exquisite. It's official – I'm an oyster convert!

Looking forward to getting stuck in to some serious city sightseeing for the rest of the day, before more journalism at the weekend.