Touchdown in Melbourne

I’m writing this blog on train from Melbourne to Sydney which has given me time to reflect on the first week of my Churchill Fellowship and what a week it’s been! I’ve managed to cram a lot into a week which has flown by. I feel like I’m leaving Melbourne without seeing everything it has to offer but the road is calling me.

I found myself meeting people working on such a wide range of initiatives in the disabillity innovations space and connecting with people who I already know which added a sense of personal refelction on where I am in life and how I got here to my time in Melbourne.

From the moment I arrived in Melbourne, I’ve been met with friendly people and a chilled vibe. I’m not sure whether that is in comparison to the hectic environment I’ve been accumtomed to in London but I’ve really enjoyed my time here.

Getting around the city has been very easy, in part because of my TriRide power assist which meant that hills, rough terrain, longer distances and dragging a suitcase with a missing wheel wasn’t an issue. The other reason that getting round the city has been easy is because of the transport system. Every train, bus and tram I’ve used have been very accessible, the difference between platform and train height are much smaller than back home if they are there at all. There are still some old style, inaccessible trams that are servicing the city but these seem to be in the minority and not something that has stopped me from getting to where I need to be.

Melbourne prides itself on its coffee and with good reason. A couple of my meetings have involved frequenting the city’s coffee shops and most mornings started there with a coffee and getting breakfast to ensure a strong start to the day.

Two of the hotels I stayed at were based close to the river, one in the CBD and one just off Southbank, so I spent a lot of my time around this area. It is a nice space, with a constant flow of people and quite a buzz that makes it feel alive without being overwhelmingly busy.

The reason that I chose to visit Australia and Melbourne for my Churchill Fellowship was both because of the people/initiatives there and also the cultural similarities they have with the UK. The people I’ve connected with in Melbourne have confirmed that I made the correct choice. It’s been fantastic to not only talk about the innovation space but broader topics around disability inclusion and disability rights. Every conversation has highlighted just how much crossover there is in our views on disabilty and the barriers faced by disabled people in our respective countries.

Once I landed in Melbourne, my research for the Churchill Fellowship was off to an almost immediate start. Checking into my hotel around 11pm on Wednesday night, I had my first meeting at lunchtime the following day, then 24 hours later I was giving key note speech at a MedTechVic event at Swinburne University.

It was five days in before I took a day off and decided to head to Melbourn Cable Park for a wakeboard session, a lot earlier in the year than I would be doing so back home. It was so much fun to get on the water and hit some jumps. It’s the first integrated wakeboard session I’ve seen at a cable park and have to say how impressed I was at the way it was run.

Just as I hit the wall and felt myself running out of energy, the cable operator spotted some lightning in the distance from an incoming storm so we were all told to leave the water and head inside. The storm passed quite quickly but before we could get back on the water, there was a second storm that was about to hit so they called it for the day as being near the water with all the metal sticking up from the cable frame was too risky.

As I got out of the changing room, they were closing the shutters to the main building and I was ushered inside. Almost immediately after entering the building the wind picked up and there was a downpour. It was the heaviest storm that some of the staff members there had seen and my most direct experience of global warming.

Uber seemed like the most sensible option to get back to the train station with the weather and there was no surprise to see that the surcharge had jumped up. What was a surprise, and doesn’t happen back home, is that the driver messaged me to negotiate another price. When I didn’t engage, they cancelled the ride.

The storm broke and I went to the owner who was standing at the entrance to ask it was over. He showed me the weather map of another front coming in. I asked about the best way to get to the train station and he suggested a different route than I had taken getting there. I would be heading in the opposite direction of the storm so had a good chance of making it to the station before the storm caught up to me.

The gravel path was a little wet from the earlier storm but nothing that slowed me down too much. I was at full speed for the mile or two back to the coast then the train station was visible from that. All quite an exciting exit from a wakeboard session!

I’ve not been travelling in a little while and my ability to pack like a traveller has been seriously impeded. I’ve brought far too much gear with me on this trip which is making it more difficult to move my bag around. More frustratingly, on the flight over one of my suitcase wheels was damaged (broken off is a more accurate discription) and I’ve been dragging the suitcase between hotels on one wheel, slowly eroding the other side of the case.

Weighing up my options, I decided that there were a couple of things I could do. 

  • Get a new (giant) suitcase to continue the journey with
  • Send some of the items home
  • Try and repair the suitcase

The problem with getting another giant suitcase is that it will encourage me to take more than I need in the future. Sending things home could prove costly but still a viable option. I’m the first instance, a repair seemed like the best option. 

I found some casters on the Bunnings (B&Q equivalent) website and asked my friend Russell who lives over here to collect them for me. Then another connection, Grant, who is a US biomedical engineer (funnily it was his experience in soapbox car racing that was more useful for this) offered to help with the labour. And just like that, the temporary fix was sorted. Fingers crossed that it’ll last. 

The week is over in a flash and this morning I boarded an 11 hour train from Melbourne to Sydney with the promise of more adventures ahead.