a tribute to melbourne
Photo by Melanie Shires

The promise of a beautiful spring day in Melbourne, mid-week…two seniors, who can do this sort of thing, decide to take a picnic lunch to the Royal Botanic Gardens…down to the local station to take a train to the city. On our line always something to see as we go: fishing boats on the Bay, a yacht or two, and on the skyline several container ships waiting to unload. Further along, gardens, fruit trees, a skateboard track, children’s playground area, and the spires of several churches rising about suburban homes and shops…pass by a historic school, well-cared-for oval and buildings on the rise. We cross the Yarra. Today a single sculler is making his way upriver, perfect timing…so peaceful upstream.

But our trip is somewhat spoiled on the inside. Scratches on the carriage windows, a soiled seat, an empty coffee cup under one, and further up a Coke bottle rolls around. Someone with feet on a seat… furiously texting…also noted on our way – ugly patches of graffiti and strange initials on walls. It all adds up to lack of respect for others, property, and the things we use and share in community.

And so we journey on via the Loop to Flinders Street. Of course, our city has its problems too, yet there is much to admire and be grateful for in Marvellous Melbourne. To greet us outside are the brightly dressed City Ambassadors, eager to provide information and show the way to visitors.

We cross to St Paul’s, a haven of peace and quiet, and down the aisle to the little chapel of the Ascension, a place for reflection. On Princes Bridge, there is our City of Melbourne Coat of Arms, underneath the Latin motto, Vires acquirit eundo; we gather strength as we go, the message of our city fathers left long ago. Looking down there are boat sheds, a family picnicking on the lawn, a ferry on the turn about to unload and pick up, and a rowing eight pushing out from the staging.

Admiring the trees and well-ordered Alexandra Gardens, the beautiful Floral Clock and the Fountain, we come to special signs and symbols of our history and heritage as Australians, too many and too precious to take in one journey. Simply to mention some: the moving monument of remembrance for our police who died in the line of duty, the towering figure of Sir Edward (Weary) Dunlop, the Christ-like healer of the Thai-Burma Railway, the trees sentinel-like leading up to the Shrine, with plaques at each base, naming the units of our services to whom we owe so much from the Boer war on. And next the statue of Private John Simpson (Kirkpatrick) with his little donkey, who saved so many lives and who gave his own in the line of duty. Monuments for Korea, Vietnam and the Women’s Services are there too, and the recent tribute to the forgotten heroes of Fromelles, that tragic story from WWI, still unfolding.

The Remembrance and Legacy Gardens remind us of the lasting effects of war on families.

On to the Botanic Gardens, we pass the Children’s Garden down a winding path. Green, well-cared-for grassed lawn, garden beds, plenty of colour, towering trees (would that they could speak of the past to us) watch over as we finally reach the beautiful lake. What a place for a picnic. We settle down.

A mother duck and her family sail by, in perfect precision, safe and secure in their home of garden and lake. It was then that the day’s journey came into focus. To mind came the unforgettable phrase of Albert Schweitzer, a doctor in four disciplines, founder of a hospital in Lambaréné, now Gabon, West Africa, whose philosophy ‘Reverence for Life’ has so influenced ethical thought. Simply for him, this meant living life in the service of other people, and every living creature. Respect and Reverence are key attitudes. Herein is a challenge for us in Marvellous Melbourne to respect and reverence things we hold in trust, all creatures and all people, as we journey on.

Bill Pugh retired Uniting Church minister.