My Trusted Travelling Companion

The response was not entirely unexpected.

‘You want what? Dad, have you heard of the 21st century? Nobody uses those old things any more.  They’re a waste of resources. Just download the Google Maps app to your phone.’

I gently reminded my daughter that for some arcane reason, neither I nor her mother owned a smart phone. Our portable communication devices are ancient 2G Nokia pieces, attractive in a retro way, but only capable of basic calls and texts, and only used to make a few calls while away from home, to reply to rarely received texts, to ring the RACV if broken down, and to find each other when separated at the footy, tennis , supermarket etc..

The occasion of this lively conversation was last December, when I idly mentioned to my daughter that the item I would like for Christmas was a hard copy 2017 Melways street directory, approximate cost $60, available from all good newsagents.

‘But if you don’t want to buy me that, and if you want me to reside in the current century, how about you shout me a new I Phone 7, approximate cost $990, available from all good Apple stores.’

‘Hmm, OK you’ve convinced me, I’ll buy you the Melways.’

Accordingly, two days before Christmas, a neatly wrapped parcel arrived at the front door, containing my eagerly anticipated present. Bought on line of course.

Why a Melways? I can’t really explain. Some items simply appeal to some people. All I know is that ever since my first car in 1968, I have always had a Melways in the seat pocket to navigate around Melbourne. I find the fine detail fascinating, I like the way different types of streets are marked in contrasting colours and line widths. Rather than staring at a small screen, I prefer scanning a double page spread, plotting out my journey in my own way. The touring maps are handy for day trips, and the freeway interchanges are clear. Best of all, Melways have always been the most accurate in setting out bike trails around the metropolitan area. You can buy expensive books showing Melbourne bike trails, but they are not nearly up to date as the ever reliable Melways, nor do they show fine detail. My first lookup when I buy a new one is to check for any new trails that the cycling group can try, and to check the progress of trails under construction. This is why my Melways is my favourite travelling companion.

Melways was conceived by Merv Godfrey and Iven Mackay in the 1950s, the name a combination of “Mel” of Melbourne and “Way” from find your way. The first edition was released in 1966. The original 106 maps were hand drawn by Godfrey, while Mackay spent four years driving 274,000 kilometres in a second hand Morris Minor around every metropolitan street painstakingly checking street and landmark details. Godfrey’s wife got the books, selling for $2.50 onto the market by visiting a few newsagents each day touting the product, a process taking six months. All a far cry from today’s marketing methods.

The first Melways design was groundbreaking compared to the competitors. The concept was to produce a multi – coloured high quality directory printed on a good quality paper. By the 1980s Melways was the most popular street directory in Melbourne, holding 80 per cent of the market. The term “Melway” began to be used as a generic name for any street directory. Melway is still used today by Police and other Emergency Services as the most up to date mapping system.

Those early Melway users couldn’t have imagined that future generations would be using tiny mobile devices to get around. Nor would they have believed that we’d be trusting enough to let these satellite navigation systems send us on absurd detours or up one-way streets in the wrong direction. Or that we’d let ourselves be talked into driving into forests, creeks and onto train tracks. They also would not have anticipated the emergence of what physiotherapists call “Melways arm”, which according to urban myth is a strain developed by reaching over to the back of the car to get a Melways off the seat.

The Melways has been an ongoing insight into the growth of Melbourne’s suburbs. We read about the suburban population growth, but it is fascinating actually seeing this on a map. It’s possible to look online at Melway maps for various suburbs, comparing today with the layout thirty years ago. Then, in today’s newer suburbs, there were generally main and connecting roads with nothing in between. Now the maps are full of roads and suburban streets and courts. It’s startling to see the populous Eltham of today compared to the rural country area the potters and painters moved to.

Which brings me to my experience last week. Our cycling group sometimes ride along the trail from Williamstown to Altona. It’s a pleasant ride. The track follows the foreshore, with borders of native grasses, and sea views. We generally train to the city, ride through Williamstown and continue to Altona for lunch. The last stage is a ride further around the coast, finally reaching Laverton railway station for the train ride back to the city. It’s a smooth easy ride, all on good gravel and concrete surfaces.

This time was different. Nick had the bright idea of going even further around the coast, via the Point Cook wetlands, and making for the Werribee station. He produced a page from Google Maps showing a faint line which looked like it might be the trail to lead us to our destination. I had my doubts. Being used to detailed Melway maps, this faded A4 page in a large scale, only showing main roads, did not inspire my confidence.

Naturally we got lost. The map was not detailed enough to clearly show the new trail, and instead of cheerfully riding around the foreshore on a gravel track, we finished up dolefully pedalling along smooth bitumen through the densely populated streets of Point Cook and Santuary Lakes. Nick kept checking his map, to no avail; Steve tried to navigate with his phone GPS, but beautifully spoken “UK Carol” could only regularly proclaim that she was “recalculating” every two kilometres. Lou had Google Maps on his phone, but having forgotten his glasses, it was not much use.  Bill and Bruce just kept stoically pedalling, following the herd. I thought of King Richard’s saying of “a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.” I would have given my bike for a Melways.

Anyway, we finally made it to the Hoppers Crossing Station, hot and tired and appreciating the cool and comfortable train ride home to the suburbs of Eltham, Greensborough and Diamond Creek. We all agreed that these areas are not too bad a place to live. Out here we still have hills, trees and interesting houses, compared to the depressing uniformity of some new suburbs. I now understand the meaning of Pete Seeger’s song “Little Boxes.”

My first action upon arriving home was to eagerly open my Melways. Yes, as expected maps 207 and 208 showed exactly where we should have gone. Later I copied the pages of the area, and carefully aligning the overlapping margins, cleverly crafted a hard copy map of the area to be placed in my bike rack. The next time we decide to visit the West I can confidently take the lead, yelling “follow me boys, I’m the Melways man.”

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4 thoughts on “My Trusted Travelling Companion

  1. So true Bruce – sometimes the ‘old(er)’ ways are the best – definitely maps 207 & 208 next time! I think you might just have earned the monika – Mel McCorkill 🙂

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  2. Nothing quite like getting lost on your bike! Much easier to get around to explore all the possible ways out of the maze. sounds like a great day Bruce

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  3. We were not lost we just found a more adventurous way home. My google maps voice would have got us there quicker if those who thought they knew better chose Werribee station so the lovely voice kept trying to get us there. But in the spirit of adventure we kept on til we could recognise the way home.

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  4. We have a fancy HEMA and a supposedly “smart phone” but they always require “recalculation” whereas my Melways provides stimulating “banter” between my human navigator (wife) and me. OK the technology wins!!!

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