Things I’ll miss about Australia: part two

Posted by Ruth Brown on June 6th, 2010

Part two in my on-going celebration of all things Aussie. Here’s a few more things I’ll miss:

Pub rock

America has pubs and rock music, but there’s nothing quite like standing in a dark, dank, stinky, sticky-carpet Aussie pub, sinking a pot of Carlton Draught while watching a bunch of no frills blokes (and often chicks) with long hair, Bonds singlets and double-denim jump around on stage with a refreshing lack of irony or self-awareness, pulling out wailing guitar solos, skolling tinnies of beer and doing what the industry calls: “rocking the fuck out”.

I started hanging out in scungy Melbourne rock venues around the same time that whole “Garage rock revival” thing was taking place in the late ’90s/early ’00s, with the likes of Jet, The Vines and The Datsuns all over the radio. At the time, my friends and I rolled our eyes at all the bandwagon jumpers at our highschools who suddenly started wearing Ramones tshirts and denim vests covered in badges, and all the poser bands professing to be genuine garage rockers while appearing on Pepsi Live and Video Hits. But in retrospect, it was a golden era for Aussie rock.

Yes, the bands all sounded alike (and by that I mean: like AC/DC), but you could walk into the home (and heart) of Melbourne’s rock scene, The Tote Hotel, on any given night of the week, pay your $5 cover charge and be guaranteed to walk away sweaty and satisfied (and deaf) from an entertaining show put on by good musicians (because you just can’t pull off that sort of guitar screaming, drum smashing rock without some pretty solid chops). Ten-minute guitar solos, home-made pyrotechnics, slam dancing and having the lead singer spray mouthfulls of beer all over the crowd were pretty much assured.

photo by H4NUM4N

And it’s that consistency that I love: the rock revival has come and gone — the Vines are probably back working at McDonald’s again and Jet living off their parents’ trust funds — but basically nothing has changed. I go to the same venues I did at 14 and see the same people, with same haircuts, same Levis, same flannos, drinking the same beer (albeit at a much higher price), and seeing basically the same bands that have been tearing up Aussie pub stages since the ’70s.

photo by mugley - Fred Negro in full flight

I hope it never changes.

Melbourne brunch

photo by mike_valli

OK, this is more a Melbourne thing (but then, it’s really the only Australian city I like — and even then, there are maybe four suburbs in which I’d actually want to live), but travelling overseas, I’ve really come to appreciate the unique fusion cuisine that is the Australian/Melbourne brunch. Portland seems to pride itself on doing good brunch, and while there is certainly some fine AM fare to be eaten, it’s very… American: cheese, hash, home fries, “biscuits and gravy“, sausages, bagels, big scrambles…

photo by K Robison – Meet local Portland favourite the “Reggie Deluxe“: a fried egg, bacon, cheese, buttermilk fried chicken and gravy sandwiched between two buttermilk “biscuits” (scones)

Melbourne brunch fare, on the other hand, is a goor-met mutation of the traditional full English breakfast, with infusions from cuisines all over the world (or at least when it’s done well it is). You’ve got the classic “big breakie”: eggs, bacon, spinach, tomato, mushrooms, plus maybe some house-made baked beans or hash-browns on toast. Those house-made baked beans usually feature in their own solo act somewhere on the menu, and are nothing like the sugary slop SPC sell in a can.

photo by avlxyz

There’s the now ubiquitous “baked eggs”, a variation on the Israeli dish shakshouka, wherein eggs are slowly poached in a typically tomato-based sauce in the oven. Melbourne’s huge Greek population has donated haloumi and fetta cheeses to the mix, the latter is often married with avocado in the inexplicably popular dish “smashed avocado” (that’s smooshed up avocado on toast with a squeeze of lemon, for the yanks. It’s delicious, but not, in my humble opinion, something you need to pay a cook $9 to make for you).

From Spain, chorizo is a regular addition, and from Italy, prosciutto. It’s common to get your eggs sprinkled with Egyptian Dukkah, while Middle Eastern labneh is served with everything from muesli to eggs to fruit toast to smoked salmon. And you’re just as likely to find everything liberally smeared in basil pesto as you are chutney.

photo by majikshoe

But the Melbourne brunch is more than the sum of its multicultural parts. It’s spreading out the weekend Age and reading all the lifestyle supplements instead of the actual news; it’s a warm, buzzing cafe on a cold winter morning; the freshly-baked muffin or toasted banana bread you probably didn’t need but couldn’t resist; it’s not even having to think twice about whether the out-of-work actor/musician manning the espresso machine knows what they’re doing; it’s sniggering at all those middle aged cyclists “doing coffee” on Lygon St, their paunches protruding out of their ludicrous $500 yellow lycras; it’s menus that aren’t afraid to boast local brand names like Dench pastries, Baker D Chirico bread, and Meredith cheese; it’s this moment right here:

photo by avlxyz

(Just to balance out my nostalgia: when it goes wrong, Melbourne brunch can also be about battling obnoxious hipsters and mums with prams the size of Hummers for tables; frequently being served over-poached eggs; hungover and attitude-heavy wait staff; inflated prices; long waits; and loud noises)

To be continued…

  • Stewart Smith

    When Tool played at BDO a few years ago, Jet finished before a roadie wheeled out Danny's drum kit… to much applause. Much more applause than Jet got. Yes, Tool roadies and instruments get more props than Jet did for a whole set…..

    I was smiling for days.

  • James Turnbull

    Shout out to Bluebird – which quickly became my favourite place to eat in Collingwood all too shortly before we winged away.

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  • Ruth

    In retrospect, Jet did what they did OK, but at the time, it really stuck in my craw how they created this whole BS mythology about a band who'd “done the hard yards” in Melbourne's rock pubs for years before making it big, when no one had ever heard of them on the local scene until they showed up on a record label and on JJJ.

  • Ruth

    Yes, I will very much miss Chris's baked eggs, but shhh, stop telling people about it, or it will get filled with yuppies and their giant prams.