After living here for almost two years, I’d like to think that I know this place well enough but there are a couple of things that still trip me up.  So, as a public service announcement, here are a few things you should know before you come here.  (Some apply to Australia in general, others are Melbourne-specific)

Don’t bring raw products into the country – that includes food, wood, bee and dairy products, and soil (Check the bottom of your shoes before you leave home if you’re a hiker). Packaged stuff is usually ok, like candy (lollies) or granola (muesli) bars but need to be declared anyways.  It’s safer to declare everything that might be on the list (Or just wait until you get here to buy travel snacks, they pretty much have everything we have. It is a mostly civilized country) My cousin picked up some wooden trinkets in Malaysia before flying over to visit me, and was yelled at by customs “You speak English, you should know better!” Also, you can’t hide it, it’ll be picked up by the sniffer beagles and you’ll end up on “Border Security/Border Patrol”.  When I first arrived, the beagle sniffed out bananas that had been in a woman’s bag three days earlier.  Check online for more information.  It also applies if you’re travelling interstate, something I didn’t know when I went to the Northern Territory to see Uluru (but quarantine was less strict as there was no one searching my bag) because nothing happened when I went to New South Wales or Queensland.

Australia is made of up of states – Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania – and territories – Northern and Australian Capital.  Then each region is subdivided into suburbs in the urban areas and shires in the rural areas.  No hobbits.

The true city of Melbourne is actually a rectangle, known as the Central Business District (CBD).  The CBD itself is quite small but the surrounding suburbs are expanding fairly quickly.  Like any metropolitan area, it has cultural/ethnic neighbourhoods.  My suburb of Carlton is the Italian quarter, Richmond has a large Vietnamese population, South Yarra, St.Kilda and Windsor are part of the gay district, Fitzroy is full of hippies, etc.

A lot of Melbourne looks pretty dodgy from the outside but once you get in, it’s actually quite hip and modern (and expensive).

Bring lots of sunscreen.  The sun is a lot stronger down here. A burn in my first few days was an early (and lasting) lesson.  Slip Slop Slap! (and Seek and Slide too)

The seasons are reversed.  Summer in the Southern Hemisphere is Winter in the Northern Hemisphere (and vice versa).  Keep that in mind if you’re coming down in March – it’s the end of summer but it still can get extremely hot.  However, many locals say that Melbourne experiences four seasons in one day.  I laugh and say it’s only three as the city doesn’t get snow in winter.  It may start raining at any time, even when the sun is shining.  Every weather cliché applies here – if you don’t like it, wait five minutes.

The country is in a drought.  A very bad, very long drought.  Please don’t use more water than you have to, as recent rainy days barely added to the dams.  And we can get really terrible bushfires.  We’re headed into another fire season and they still haven’t recovered from the Black Saturday catastrophe.  How bad was Black Saturday?  A major concert was held to raise money, and Peter Garrett (Federal Environment Minister) sang again with Midnight Oil.

The Labor party is run by Kevin Rudd (or as I like to call him, K.Rudd).  Labor is equivalent to the Democratic Party in the US or the Liberal Party in Canada (and quite dumbly, misspelled without the “u” to be more like the Americans).  The Australian Liberal Party is equivalent to the Republicans or the Canadian Conservatives, formerly run by John Howard but now, no one really runs it.  The Victorian premier is John Brumby.  Lord Mayor of Melbourne is Robert Doyle. Are any of them any good? Not really.

This is the first in a series about Melbourne and Australia.  I want to everyone to enjoy the city as much as I do.  While half of the fun is exploring on your own, I figured a few tips can help.