An open window

“There is a small window of time upon returning to a place you know well. When your senses are keener, sharpened by absence. Soon enough you will begin to merge again with your surrounds, and myopia will creep back in.” – Dani Powell

That sense of myopia creeping back in, captured so well by Dani Powell in her novel ‘Return to Dust’, was also on my mind when returning to Melbourne. 

After spending such a large chunk of 2020 on the road, living differently, I was worried about slipping straight back into old familiar patterns. 

To my surprise and joy, that hasn’t been completely the case. Sometimes I feel the pressing weight of familiarity but most days I still feel that the window of exploration is well and truly open. 

Perhaps, following in the steps of Powell’s book, an imminent month-long trip to Alice Springs has played a role in shaping my time here. As a counter, I’m already looking forward to what the second half of 2021 in Melbourne might bring. 

Since I’ve been back in this big bustling city, I’ve really grown a level of appreciation for what that bustle means to this city’s identity. Being only a five-minute bike ride from the middle of the CBD has provided a few clues as to why Melbourne is a strong magnet for people from all over the world.

I’ve come to see this city as a real melting pot for different people with different backgrounds, world views, global stories and a plethora of preferences. And while the sheer time it takes to get around this metropolis is grating, there’s a distinct energy attached to this part of the world that has been incredibly helpful to tap into stimulating and challenging ideas. 

As someone very used to roaming, it’s been a new experience exploring contrasts without venturing too far outside of the city. It takes a bit of extra discipline but for as long as I keep that window open, there’s a rich tapestry out there which I hope comes through on my new podcast, ‘Imagining Australia’. 

The podcast launches on Friday 23 April with the first episode exploring the question, ‘what does a healthy Australia look like in 2031?’ All of the episodes investigate similarly ambitious questions and they’re all linked by that ten-year window. 

Even though the questions have tapped into topics that are so often politicised, I’ve been happily surprised by how frequently the guests’ answers have focused on how we interact as a community and ways that we could be thinking about the questions differently. 

Just like re:location, what I’ve enjoyed so much is creating a forum for people who find the idea of speaking into a microphone a real novelty. Let alone being asked for their views on key questions. They constantly remind me (as well as the various ‘experts’ also on the show), about the hopefulness the vast majority of Australians have for the future. 

Sure, people are unimpressed about how politicians are approaching the challenges we explore on the podcast, but they take a lot of heart and optimism from our ability to learn as a community. 

Coming back to the window of alertness where somewhere old can once again feel new, maybe one of the reasons why it still feels very open is that it’s lifted not just for return travellers but for the whole city.

Over the last six months, Melbourne has transformed from the shell of itself that I found on return, to a city now at its autumnal best. Wandering about town on a Comedy Festival Friday night, I had rarely been so happy to see so many lines and queues stemming outside bars, restaurants and pubs. Especially knowing that social distancing was only a miniscule factor behind that. 

This city ticks and hums along, and although it feels like our Federal Government has missed the mark to embrace the new perceptions and expectations that are emerging in this pandemic ridden world, don’t underestimate people’s capacity to do things differently. For imagination and reflection are often the greatest catalysts for change. 

(Photo: Melbourne, February 2021 – Evan Wallace)

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