Mr Moon’s laughing face at the Great Scenic Railway (rollercoaster) at Luna Park has been creepily beaming down on St Kilda in Melbourne since 1912 and is now the oldest continually operating rollercoaster in the world. There’s a slightly younger and happier looking version in Sydney built in 1936, both of them designed and built by the Phillips brothers from Los Angeles – with the very first Luna Park opening in New York’s Coney Island in 1903. I’ve never been one for fun rides but I’ve always been attracted to their gaudy colours and graphics and, in Luna Park’s case, their unique architecture and sense of place.
We stayed at the recently refurbished Prince Hotel in St Kilda, one of our favourite haunts when in Melbourne. The old Prince of Wales Hotel was the embodiment of St Kilda’s character – eclectic, eccentric, rather shabby if not ‘shabby chic’ and a bit wild at heart. St Kilda is an inner-city beach-side ‘burb that’s packed full of character with Luna Park at its core and the waterfront pier and promenade one of Melbourne’s favourite cycling and walking spots. St Kilda seems to me to capture the spirit of Melbourne with a strong egalitarian ethos – the cafés and bars of Acland Steet always heaving, the music pumping and the ‘colourful’ locals always on hand to turn a head.
We had two brief days in town before heading off on the road again. The heavy rain that had been threatening the whole east coast of Australia finally caught up with us here with massively heavy falls whilst out and about, but we were able to take refuge in the fabulous food market at Prahran, the deliciously naughty cake shops along Acland Street, with a special nod to Monarch (since 1934) with its mouth-watering window display and the ever optimistic (given how cool and wet things are), St Kilda Sea Baths.