The number 64 tram rattles its way along the tracks into Melbourne City centre as people onboard adopt familiar public transport postures. It’s my first full day in Australia and I’m heading into central Melbourne to run a few errands and to re-introduce myself to the city.

Passengers hide in the pages of their books or in the solitude of their iPods, while others avoid actual human contact in favor of more sanitized digital connections made through devices that occasionally squawk like a pet demanding attention.

This could be the London Underground, the Portland Max, the Tokyo Metro, or indeed any other public transport you care to mention. We’re just people going somewhere alone together.

There’s a fairly standard mix of people on the tram from a few pencil pushing office types making a late start, to tourists talking in foreign languages clutching maps and cameras. I look around for someone reading something odd like the woman I saw on the London Tube reading Even God is Single: (So Stop Giving ME a Hard Time), but there’s nothing that noteworthy this morning.

A woman sits across from me dressed in a black top with a polka dot skirt that fans out across the seat like it was designed for just that purpose. She sits motionless wearing big black glasses behind which she could be staring into space, sleeping, or looking at me as I look at her. I move my eyes quickly to the window where sometimes you can furtively use the reflections to spy on fellow passengers, but not today, it’s too bright outside as we pass the National Gallery. I make a note to go there — see some art — get some culture.

Federation Square; my stop. I jump off and cross the road to Flinders Street station to buy a MyKi card, a smart card ticket that allows me to use the trams, trains and buses with just one rechargeable ticket. As silly as it seems I feel rather pleased with myself as I slide it into my wallet. Something about having this makes me feel more like a resident of Melbourne and not just another fumbling tourist who stands in front of the ticket machines looking somewhat confused. Of course, the MyKi doesn’t grant me immediate intimate knowledge of the city and its public transport network, but I’m going to fake it ’till I make it.

I’m on my way to an appointment at a local bank to finalize my new account here. The streets are busy, filled with Christmas shoppers wearing summer clothes which is something of a head trip for me. Shop windows have decorated Christmas trees, Santa’s, and summer holiday special offers. A group of young musicians are playing carols on the sidewalk collecting money for the Salvation Army just a few steps away from two pretty blonde girls with clip boards who are trying to stop pedestrians with their bright smiles.

At the bank an Asian woman called Xu helps me finalize my account. “How do you pronounce that?” I ask her. “Zoo.” She says. “Oh like with the animals?” I reply. “No, Zoooo.” She says prolonging the word in a way that makes it no less clear how this isn’t the same as zoo with the animals. “Ah right, I see.” But really I don’t.

She explains to me the limitations with my new account. I can’t use it here, and there, and at this place and that, or even over the counter at the banks gazzilion branches all over Australia. “Is there anywhere I can use this card?” I inquire with a little humor in my voice. “Oh yes.” She says with a very endearing smile. I wait for the rest of the answer, but quickly realize that was it.

“Right. Well good then.” I say, deciding that perhaps this is something I’ll be able to learn from the literature. Xu smiles at me again and continues to tap her keyboard while clicking the mouse and moving complicated windows around the screen in front of her. Eventually she hands me my new bank card and some paperwork, the account is set up. “Thank you and I hope you will be having a good time here.” She says as she stands to her feet. “I plan to.” I tell her as we shake hands, and that’s it, I now have a bank account.

I leave the bank through its huge glass doors and stand at the top of its wide stairs. “I live here.” I say to myself as I watch people going about their business on the busy tree-lined street before me. My bank account and ‘MyKi’ card seem to somehow validate this truth.

Walking into the flow of foot traffic I blend into this city that I’ll be calling home for a while. I’m not really going anywhere now, just allowing myself to be carried along in a current of people that swirl around lamp posts, trees, and trash cans like flood water.

Jenny Biddle busking on the streets of Melbourne, Australia

Turning a corner there’s a busker playing guitar and singing to her moving audience. It’s a pleasant afternoon, the sun is shining and I’m on no hurry to be anywhere so I sit on the steps of a large building to listen to her.

She introduces herself to the people sitting around. Her name is Jenny Biddle. “Like piddle only with a B.” She says with a smile. I like her, she looks like someone who is enjoying life, like she’s doing something she truly loves to do.

Singing into a microphone, she smiles a lot and is good at engaging the crowd. I have no idea how lucrative busking is, but a few people toss money into the open guitar case next to her and she nods to thank them for their contribution. Between songs she tells stories while returning her guitar. “My CD’s are on sale today folks. Just twenty dollars.” She says pointing to a small stack on CD’s upon the speaker next to her.

Twenty bucks isn’t much, and I liked her music so I waited for a gap between songs to buy one from her. I thought about asking her to sign it, after all she might be famous one day and I could then say “I met Jenny Biddle. You know like piddle only with a B.” I didn’t though, maybe if we meet again I will.

I step back into the current of people and get carried off down the road as her singing fades behind me into the sound of the city. On a street corner a grey haired man is preaching to everyone and nobody. Above his head he’s waving a big black Bible with gold-edged pages while speaking in a loud voice about “the Holy name of Jesus” and the real meaning of Christmas.

Ah yes, it’s Christmas, I forgot about that. Back in the UK it’s snowing and cold. But hey, I’m on the other side of the world in Melbourne, and I live here now.

Jenny Biddle
The Melbourne Identity
Melbourne Graffiti Art
Even God Is Single, So Stop Giving Me A Hard Time