Melbored? – The University of Melbourne

This article first appeared in Farrago (Issue 8, 2013).

In a decade or two’s time, when my son asks me how I became a C-grade comedian, part-time tutor, and freelance writer, I will proudly tell him I attended the University of Melbourne.

The Spot

The Spot

I’ll get so excited by his question that I’ll arrange a Sunday afternoon father-son trip to Parkville. We’ll gaze up at the roof of The Spot, play hide and seek in Old Quad, and race up the stairs of Redmond Barry to admire the city skyline. If he doesn’t think Unimelb is an A-grade tourist attraction by the day’s end, I would’ve failed my role as a father.

While Melbourne Uni is to some just an educational institution, such an assessment belittles its stature. Where else in Melbourne can you find buildings so eco-friendly that vines grow from the walls? And where else can you find a brothel so clean you can study Biomedicine in it?

Image: Melbourne Fresh Daily

Image: Melbourne Fresh Daily

Many of Melbourne’s hidden gems are displayed in its smorgasbord of libraries and museums, which seldom get the attention they deserve. Only a handful of non-music students would be aware their campus contains the Grainger Museum, one of Australia’s only autobiographical galleries. The exhibition is fascinating, not least for Grainger’s secret collection of whips, all of which were once used by the famous composer/sadomasochist.

Then there’s the Medical History Museum. While not as gory as its Anatomy museum counterpart, this collection is essential viewing, if only for the taxidermy model of a cobra fighting a mongoose. Back when Union House housed Melbourne’s only museum, the Uni owned a taxidermy rhino as well. It’s anyone’s guess where that rhino stands today, but one suspects he could live in the Zoology Building’s secret underground animal farm (B112, for those playing at home).

Union House used to house Melbourne's only museum. And it had a rhino.

Union House used to house Melbourne’s only museum. And it had a rhino (click to expand).

Elsewhere on campus, the Dax Centre features the artwork of people with mental illness. With no disrespect to the Experimental Art Space on the second floor of Union House or the starkers Poseidon cast in Elizabeth Murdoch, Dax is where you’ll find the best art on campus.

For those less in touch with high culture, Melbourne Uni also has its fair share of pop culture. South Lawn, for instance, derives its popularity exclusively from the fact Nicholas Cage walked through it in 2009’s Knowing (see below). A few metres below, the National Trust-listed car park is apparently not just useful for avoiding student campaigners; it was also a set for 1979 Mel Gibson classic Mad Max.

Mel Gibson at Melbourne Uni

Mel Gibson at Melbourne Uni

It’s taken me a whole degree to uncover these fun facts and artefacts, but I suspect I’ve only just scratched the surface. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. With some exceptions, Parkville is an open-range zoo, holding secrets just waiting to be unhidden. The only thing stopping me from becoming an expert is a little curiosity. That’s all it takes to read one of those ubiquitous blue walking-tour signs, or to try an alternate route when walking between classes.

With Abbott in power, it’s only a matter of time before he scraps the Dax, ends the waste-disposal system, and stops the South Lawn moat. Now more than ever it’s important we appreciate the underrated wonders behind our daily meeting place. Besides, the more we learn now, the more our kids will thank us in twenty years time.

Nicholas Cage on South Lawn, Knowing (2009)

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