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Bicentennial Melbourne

November 01, 1987|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

MELBOURNE, Australia — It was a heritage walk that began with Bobby Burns, Capt. Cook and John F. Kennedy. Six hours later it ended with Queen Victoria.

Along the way it rambled through a 21st-Century center of the arts, the gold rush of the early 1850s, an Australian Chinatown, parks where young couples strolled, beside a mountain river and through a garden shared by a Canary Islands date palm and an Empress of India rhododendron.

Of all the long walks I've been privileged to take through major cities of the world, this Melbourne heritage walk will always be one of the most memorable, timed for Australia's 1988 Bicentennial Year.

"Start the bicentennial with a heritage walk in Melbourne" is the message being sent out to visitors by Melbournians. My wife and I heard it first from a gifted woman who has been declared one of her city's and state's Living Treasures.

Historian and raconteur Maxine Wood is a very much a live treasure featured in the state of Victoria's Tourist Commission Calendar for 1987.

She came here from the rival city of Sydney in the late 1950s. When her three children were grown enough she became what she casually describes as a student of mature age at the University of Melbourne, where she majored in history and visual arts.

The two majors fueled her interest in Gothic revival architecture, and she was soon convinced that Melbourne "has some of the finest Gothic revival architecture in the world and also some of the great human interest stories associated with these historic buildings."

Wood quickly became one of those human interest stories when she decided that heritage walks were the best ways to step into the heritage of her adopted city.

Pleasure in Heritage Walks

Heritage walking has meant physical as well as mental fitness for a woman who continues to be a student of mature age. For personal pleasure far more than profit, she directs Melbourne's Heritage Walks and leads as many as possible, keeping each walk about 90 minutes and the number in each group to 12. She also conducts tram tours with the same insights.

After we had taken one of Wood's fascinating heritage tours around Melbourne and another into a historic suburb, I tried a longer walking tour on my own.

Treasury Gardens beside the Treasury Building was scarcely a five-minute walk up Collins Street from our hotel room. At the edge of the gardens is a lifelike statue of Scottish poet Bobby Burns, placed here in 1904 by members of the city's Caledonian Society as a memorial to their roots in Scotland.

The shaded paths of Treasury Gardens lead to the Capt. Cook cottage in Fitzroy Gardens. Born in Yorkshire, England, on Oct. 27, 1728, Cook sighted the east coast of Australia during his exploration voyage of 1770.

The Yorkshire cottage built by his father was carefully taken apart and shipped to Australia in 253 cartons and 40 barrels, to be re-erected on this Fitzroy Gardens site for the state of Victoria's centenary in 1934. In the cottage, furnished to re-create his boyhood years, the story of Cook's voyages of discovery is told with words and works of art.

Next to the cottage the Fitzroy Gardens Conservatory is fragrant with the flowering plants of Southeast Australia. Entry is free, but a sign does ask that no wedding parties be held in this popular attraction.

Memorial to U.S. President

A few moments away along a walking path is a memorial of special poignance to U.S. visitors. Surrounded by ponds, a fountain and flowering trees, a lifelike sculpture of the head of John F. Kennedy has been set into a massive stone as a tribute from the people of Melbourne to the U.S. President whose life ended so tragically at age 46. The memorial is a reminder that the 25th anniversary of his death will come during Australia's bicentennial year.

The Treasury Building was completed between 1858 and 1862 when it was the controversial creation of a 19-year-old architect. Now it is an Australian heritage treasure. Next to it is the grand Parliament House, built between 1856 and 1892.

Across Spring Street from Parliament House the Windsor Hotel, built in the late 19th Century, has been restored to glory for bicentennial visitors.

Collins Street leading up to Spring Street begins with what could be the charm of 19th-Century Paris and leads into Maxine Wood's cherished arcades and lanes of Gothic Revival architecture.

Some of the early homes of doctors and merchants remain as clubs, shops, offices and banks. Nauru House with its white tower was built as an investment by the Republic of Nauru.

The story of any heritage walk in Melbourne becomes richer in texture when you relate it to the aboriginal peoples who lived around here for so many centuries before the arrival of the Europeans.

Birth of Melbourne

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