Melbourne (pronounced somewhere between Mel-Ben and Mel-Bun in American) was meant to be a short stop that turned into a ten-day stay. My hosts were another YMCA Camp Kern friend, Steve Hepworth, and his lovely parents. Stephen still remains one of my most beloved friends due to his unfiltered, honest and wildly funny personality. At the time of my visit we had just completed a season together at Kern, he was 19 and I was 21, and our relationship was very much (sometimes bossy) older sister and (sometimes annoying) younger brother. Stephen had grown up in the suburbs of Melbourne and in the time I spent there we visited a casino, and observation tower, watched Ocean’s 12 at the theater, and toured the local pubs. He took me to the Melbourne Museum (although much of the afternoon was lost because he was certain of the location which turned out to be the public library, and then we had to separate for a bit because he was giggling too loudly at anything depicting a naked person). On our last night together, we were startled by a giant Huntsman spider in the guest room. As I departed on the train the next day, in true Stephen form, he told me that the Huntsman was in my backpack and I spent the rest of the trip worrying that it would make it back to Ohio with me.
Excursions from Melbourne
From Melbourne I was able to explore other areas of Victoria. We spent one weekend at Stephen’s family’s vacation home near Geelong and visited a local hedge maze. I spent a night with the parents of another Camp Kern alum, Simon, in Garfield, Victoria. Their address name still remains one of my favorite names for a location, “Nar Nar Goon- Longwarry Road” where I met the also best family pet ever. I also booked a day trip with other backpackers to see the Great Ocean road, and also spotted my first (and only) wild koala along the way.
Royal Botanic Gardens
One of the first proper Botanical Gardens I ever visited was Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. Because I was with Stephen, it devolved into a very strange photo shoot.
In 2013, I was able to return the favor as a local tour guide when Stephen visited Norfolk for a work trip. Although currently living continents apart, we still Insta-message often as we lament the state of the world or laugh about any number of topics. One of his most recent messages was “I feel sorry for all the people who moved to places where they were like ‘the house mate sucks, but I’ll hardly be home anyways.’”