Living Skint in Melbourne
Melbourne is a city rife with opportunity for the global hobo to exercise their hoboish initiative. Last summer, three friends and I decided to forgo the typical kiwi New Year’s ritual of steady self-annihilation at R ‘n’ V and chose instead to try our luck over the ditch. I think we had naïve dreams of all working in alleyway cafes, discovering a latent skill for art and each finding summer love with an indie goddess. Needless to say, none of these things happened, but we still had one of our best summers yet and even managed to not spend our entire life savings. In the beginning, we unanimously agreed to live as skint as possible, but to balance this with making the most of our trip. What follows are a few lessons we learned which helped us find this equilibrium and the stories which drove these lessons home.
Lesson #1: Finding a good job is easy… if you put in effort.
In retrospect, our job-hunting efforts were poor at best and our experiences in this regard mainly taught us what not to do. We first looked on Gumtree, where we saw an ad for “Positive, social people who are great at communicating!”, “Base Pay of $800pw” and “Opportunity to explore the vibrant parts of Melbourne!” Upon turning up to the group interview, we found the “base pay” was actually $500 and, as we were to later find out, “base” was a very subjective term (meaning that it did not exist). Unaware of this, we signed our names on the dotted line and were whisked away to sell energy in Australia’s most “vibrant” suburbs. I’m not sure if it’s because we had the typical kiwi reserved temperament, but this was a job in which we did not excel. For some reason, going out to Melbourne’s shittiest suburbs on the hottest days of the year and having dole bludgers tell you to go fuck yourself just didn’t really resonate with us. Adding this to the fact that we sucked at the job and thus were not making any money meant we lasted a full week before seeking greener pastures. We had a few one-day trials at cafés, but our lack of experience was obviously quite obvious, so we were back to square one. We eventually bought skateboards and, looking back, this was one of the best decisions we made the whole trip, as Melbs is a pretty gr8 place to sk8, m8.The smooth concrete and abundant three-stairs make it perfect to coast through, and in doing so, we inadvertently ended up covering most of the city. Main piece of advice I can give would be to get an RSA as soon as you get in and apply at every bar/restaurant/café in the city and leave the gumtree get-rich-quick schemes to the other novices.
Lesson #2: Learn how to eat cheap.
It was after one massive night when we were sitting around feeling awful and incapacitated that one of our friends asked us if we wanted to go to a Hare Krishna place that did cheap meals. At this point, we were slowly coming to realise that our current lifestyle wasn’t exactly economically sustainable (due to the zero income), so we mustered the effort to stand up and shuffle down to the tram stop. The tram took us to Abbotsford, where the streets were dimly lit by sunlight filtering through leafy trees. The gentle atmosphere this created was offset slightly by the occasional second-hand hypodermic needle lying neglected on the streets. As such, Abbotsford struck a balance between pleasant suburbia and junkie haven and was the perfect place for Lentils. Lentils is a wondrous establishment that caters to people from all walks of life. Their payment policy is “pay as you feel”, meaning that after your meal you put however much you felt the meal was worth into a donation box. Considering this payment scheme and the fact that all of the workers were volunteers, the meals were fantastic. Pancakes, bean fritters and sweet potato rostis were part of the breakfast menu and the lunch and dinner services consisted of a smorgasbord of different vegetarian options. The clientele were an eclectic mix of business-folk enjoying a healthy option, home-grown hippies luxuriating in the organicness of the whole experience, hobos and junkies stocking up on their nutrients and us – hilariously hung-over backpackers whose grip on their finances was tenuous at best. After discovering this mecca, we quickly became regulars, as at the time we were living about 15 minutes up the road. As we continued to go and pick the fruits of honest people’s labour, our moral compasses slowly began to kick in. It didn’t stop us of course, but our heads would hang with a little more shame as we shuffled past the donation box dropping our meagre offerings. It even got to the point where we would swap one dollar coins for a set of ten 10c coins, just so we at least sounded like decent human beings, but the smiles given to us by the serving staff gradually became wearier and forced. We knew we were pushing our welcome, especially when asking for thirds.
Lesson #3: Going out in Melbourne can be very cheap if done right.
A lot of bars charge entry fees, and while the $20 ticket to a depraved three-day session at Revolver can be worth it if done right, we found it best to avoid door fees entirely. Some bars like Carlton Club, Ding Dongs and Workers don’t charge (or when they do, it’s pocket change) and still go off most nights. Our ritual once we got into the bars started with us dispersing and then minesweeping, later meeting up outside on the smoky deck. This was a pretty easy spot to meet new people, introducing ourselves with the classic “got a spare ciggy bro?” The pre-drinks were also a good opportunity to hobify our experiences and get rid of the unnecessary frills, such as taste and quality. After walking down Smith Street one afternoon, we found the Australian Cleanskin Group. Now at this point, we thought the $3.50 Precious Earth Sauv from Aldi was a ripper deal, but these guys blew it out of the water. A six-pack of Sauv Blanc or Chardonnay for $12? We had struck gold. So after paying $4 each, we went straight to Aldi, as we correctly assumed that this potent drop would be made thoroughly more enjoyable by adding lemonade. What we failed to realise, however, was that what you didn’t pay for in money you made up for in a hangover. After waking up the next morning, my throat and mouth felt as if I had inhaled saw dust, my head was throbbing with the intensity of someone hitting a Chinese gong and standing up, I quickly realised, was more than I was capable of. Without elaborating anymore into our abysmal day, I’ll just say that our half-muttered promises of “…never drinking that shit again…” lasted a full day and a half before we bought another six-pack.
There are a shit-tonne more lessons I could give, but it’s really just best to learn them yourselves. The lessons we did learn will stick for life though, and living there again is definitely on the cards.