Enlightenment On a Dime

After feeling a bit lost and unsure about how I was spending my days, I turned to my old friend Google to try and find some fun, free things to do in the most expensive most livable city in the world. This search resulted in a trip to the Australian Centre of Contemporary Art (ACCA) and the Royal Botanic Gardens — both of which are free to enter.

The ACCA is located slightly off the beaten track and so I hadn’t heard of it before. When I arrived on a sunny February afternoon, I found the rusted steel exterior to be harsh and uninviting. I would not have thought to enter had I not first read about it online. There was one exhibition on display at the time called Sovereignty, a collection of contemporary art by First Nations peoples that explores Australia’s history of colonization and Aboriginal identity, self-determination and resistance.

As a newcomer, I am largely ignorant of this history, and so, was unable to fully appreciate the complexity and meaning of some of the pieces. However, I saw a commonality with the plight of the Aboriginal people in Australia and the increasing distrust, exclusion and alienation felt by many others with darker skin around the world. We just can’t seem to get along for any sustained period of time with those we perceive to be different from us, can we?

The one piece I was particularly drawn to was a set of traditional cloaks made up of dozens of infringement notices stitched together. I have some opinions on what it represents but I’ll leave it open for interpretation.

Photo courtesy Andrew Curtis

Following my visit to the ACCA, I took a nice stroll along St Kilda Road to the Royal Botanic Gardens. The grounds are huge and a wonderful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. If you venture far enough in, the tops of the city’s skyscrapers disappear behind a canopy of trees and it’s easy to forget that the CBD (Central Business District) is just a few minutes away.

Tree Fern
One of the many weird and unusual fern trees at Fern Gully.

I quickly got lost in this other world. As I wandered, I came across a narrow passageway lined with tall bamboo, which felt like a secret retreat within a retreat. A sign pointing to “Fern Gully” led me to a real life version of one my favourite childhood movies. There, I found the strangest trees I’ve ever seen in this beautiful lush gully.

It’s easy to walk through a space like this without really seeing what’s around you, but on this particular day, I was in the right mindset to really observe and marvel at the intricacies and beauty of nature. It was calming and therapeutic. After several hours of exploring, I left the gardens with both my energy levels and spirits lifted. I was refreshed, recharged and ready to take on Melbourne with renewed focus and vigour.