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Have Guide, will wander

Volume 7 Number 1 January 10 - February 13 2011

With the advent of 24/7 convenience stores the iconic Australian ‘milk bar’ is becoming a thing of the past, which may help ease that confusion for academic visitors to Melbourne, but for other unfamiliar conventions, the newly launched sixth edition of the Wandering Scholar’s Guide to Melbourne will come in handy. Katherine Smith revisits the Guide.

Written by now-retired historian Professor Charles Sowerwine with research support from Alice Garner and Sally Ford, the Guide includes information to help short-term visitors to the University understand its context and find the necessities of life, from public toilets to three hat restaurants and good coffee. The Guide was launched in its sixth edition by the Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis, and was initially published in 1996.

Professor Sowerwine, who originally came to Melbourne from the USA via France in 1974, explains that the booklet is the product of someone trying to orient themselves to new surroundings, and it will certainly help visitors sift quickly through Melbourne’s vast cultural, academic and gastronomic offerings.

For those long familiar with Melbourne it also provides an interesting insight into what the stranger must encounter on arrival.

 Professor Sowerwine observes that the left side is: “not only the side on which Australians drive, but at least in theory that on which they walk.”

Indicating perhaps a little frustration at the mayhem one can experience on foot in downtown Melbourne he suggests: “If there is any order on crowded City footpaths, it is often to be found by walking on the left.” And he adds just to keep things shipshape that lane swimming in pools is on the left too.

Another conundrum is the Australian habit of shortening words and terminating them with an ‘o’, as in arvo (afternoon) or ‘Chrissy prezzie’ (Christmas present), although Professor Sowerwine observes wistfully that terms connected with our working-class and rural heritage are “giving way under the pressures of globalisation and American entertainment”.

One of the benefits of this for locals, however, is that Australians tend to understand more American and British vocabulary than vice versa, so will comprehend that a reservation is the same as a ‘booking’ in a restaurant, for example, which may well still baffle the visitor, or that one ‘barracks’ for a team, instead of ‘rooting’ as in American usage, a term which Professor Sowerwine points out has “only its sexual meaning” Down Under.

Not out of keeping with a guide for visiting scholars, one of the best sections of the Wandering Scholar’s Guide to Melbourne is the section on bookshops. Information on academic suppliers is naturally provided, but locations of the best second-hand and antiquarian stores across the city are revealed, as well as details of the mass market and specialist suppliers to be found in the city and on Brunswick, Chapel and Gertrude Streets.

Of course no comprehensive guide to the scholarly life of the University of Melbourne could fail to mention Readings on Lygon Street, “a Melbourne institution” at which “browsing is a favourite pastime for University staff and students,” or the ‘alternative’ New International Bookshop at Trades Hall.

The Wandering Scholar’s Guide to Melbourne is available free from the Swanston Street Information Office and the Melbourne University Bookshop. Conference and event organisers may obtain multiple copies from the University’s Marketing and Communications Office.