Melbourne's Expo House and Royal Gardens

I am writing this post while the entire Luzon was on an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). It is the 7th day since the ECQ and right now, Barangay UP Campus (and the entire academic town of the University of the Philippines Diliman) is on lock down. This COVID-19 situation is really so scary and so frightening.

I never felt so scared and so insecure until this pandemic.

But this is a better time for me, I guess, to go back to writing whether scholarly or blogpost such as my travel kultura page. The last time I click a single word from my notebook was several months ago. I have so many things to share since the last time. One of them is my first exposure to the ati-atihan of the Kalibonons in Aklan. I was invited to be one of the judges of this year’s festival. It was a wonderful opportunity for having seen the mother of all Santo Niño-inspired festivals. I am thankful to my good friend, an associate professor of dance studies at the York University in Canada for this chance. Then, there was also the Pathways to Philippine Performance Practices and Creative Industries Program, which started on 11 January and lasted for two weeks.

What I am going to share here is a glimpse of my Melbourne encounter. The first and so far the only travel of my year was Australia. It was part of the COOPERATE Program of the University. My student and I received a financial assistance to finish a research, which actually is the student’s master’s thesis. Chunk of the grant is an opportunity for the student to finish his writing in a foreign university as long as someone from that university agreed to be a research collaborator. To cut the story short, we ended up having a collaborator at the Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia. On 8 February, both me and my student traveled to South Australia and part of the trip was for me to see some friends and colleagues in Melbourne.

Melbourne is such a cosmopolitan city in the literal sense of the term. It is a city where global is the local. It is a diverse city, and I do not think tolerance is even the appropriate term to describe the sense of harmony and order in this multi-cultural space. I believe it was more of a recognition of difference without being communitarian.

A network of trees leading to the Main Building (Photo: SAPT)
One of the grand fountains, and that’s surely me! (Photo: SAPT)
A view from the Nicholson Street Entrance (Photo: SAPT)

As an avid World Heritage Site explorer, I knew very well that this city has a hidden gem: The Royal Exhibition Building and the Carton Gardens. The property was bulit in 1879, with the intention of hosting an international exposition similar to the world fairs held in Europe and the New World beginning 1851 in London (The Great Exhibition London). Normally, the centerpieces of these types of exposition were magnificent buildings or structures that somehow represented the “spirit” and the symbol of the host city. During the first exposition in London, there was the Crystal Palace, the only cast-iron and plate-glass structure at that time, representing the technology developed by the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom. Another good example is the Eiffel Tower in Paris, created for the Paris World’s Fair in 1889.

Melbourne’s Royal Exposition Building is located in the 64-hectares Carlton Gardens, which is surrounded by four city streets: Carlton Street, Nicholson Street, Rathdowne Street, and Victoria Street. The good thing about the location: it is significantly close to various important areas of the city life. A few blocks away up-north is the central business district. A few yards traversing Rathdowne is the University of Melbourne. The tourist area is also a few years away up-north.

The building was built for the Melbourne International Exposition 1881, and then hosted the even larger exposition in 1888. It was also used during the formal opening of the first Australian Parliament in 1901. Throughout the 20th century smaller sections and wings of the building were subject to demolition and fire. Nonetheless, the main building, known as the Great Hall, survived. Today, this building is used for official functions and other events of the State of Victoria. It is also the venue for the general commencement exercises of the University of Melbourne.

The entire garden complex is housed to two other buildings: the Melbourne Museum and the IMAX Cinema. Behind the museum is a tennis court and a children’s playground.

The gardens are an example of Victorian landscape design with sweeping lawns and varied European and Australian trees: oaks, white poplar, elms, conifers, cedars evergreens to name a few. Then the bed of flowers sprawling around the complex magnifies the grandiosity of the complex. Then a network of tree-lined paths provides formal avenues for highlighting the fountains and architecture of the Exhibition building. The gardens contain three important fountains: the Exhibition Fountain, designed for the 1880 Exhibition by sculptor Joseph Hochgurtel; the French Fountain; and the Westgarth Drinking Fountain.

On the day of my visit, there was an ongoing renovation.

I guess it would be a bit longer before I would be able to see its splendid glory again. I was hoping to travel to Australia again sometime in June or in December, but at this point, everything seems uncertain.

It’s still the lockdown period. The virus COVID-19 is still producing terror all over the world. I pray for the safety of everyone. I pray for a safer world in the future.

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