I’ve recently touched down in England after a trip to Melbourne, Australia. The visit was part-conference, part holiday. I must say, that having worked almost solidly since my Ph.D. viva last March, I was very, very, much looking forward to the holiday component. However, it had also been a very long time since I had been to a conference of this scale, so I was also happily anticipating the opportunity to meet a bunch of medievalists from down under. Conferences in the UK, especially specialist ones, tend to be an opportunity to see familiar faces, plus a few new ones, have a jolly old catch up, and update and congratulate each other on our most recent achievements. In contrast, the majority of the attendees at the ANZAMEMS conference would be people who had never met before and so it was a good chance to meet some new people. This was also the first conference that I was able to go in to with the boost in confidence that comes from no longer being a postgraduate student, and having had some good fortune in my early career. In the months and weeks leading up to my flight, I had not given the conference much thought, as I’d been marking many student essays as well as doing my research job, so it was only really as I got on the bus to the airport that I began to get excited.
Conferences generally tend to be exhausting and exhilarating experiences. Scanning through the conference programme, I knew that this one would be especially so, with so many exciting sessions to choose from, as well as numerous social events aimed at postgraduates and early career researchers. Also, the jet lag. However, my jet lag was minimal, and I had the luck of staying in a really wonderful area of Melbourne, called Fitzroy, at a hostel called ‘The Nunnery’, which was indeed a converted nunnery!
The Nunnery was a hub of activity, only minutes walk from restaurants serving mouth-wateringly delicious Yum Cha and an amazing veggie restaurant that gave us probably the most amazing milkshake ever – with carob and banana! Melbourne is such a leafy, hipster, foody, historic, city, and I think that the Fitzroy area captures this spirit beautifully. Plus, there’s nothing better than being able to walk back to your bed through the wonderful museum gardens, watching the bats wheeling over your head, after a long day’s conferencing!
And about the conference? Well, it was held at the Caulfield campus of Monash University, which is about 25 minutes on the train from central Melbourne, and is a showpiece, with lovely, clean, technologically-effective lecture theatres and seminar rooms (which is in itself a luxury compared to most UK campuses). Importantly, for me, the food was very good. At one point there were scones and jam and cream between conference papers, which I took the liberty to shovel into my mouth whilst talking to a sympathetic friend, who was also shoveling scones into her mouth.
The people were top notch, with so many talented scholars and a sea of friendly faces. I even saw many familiar faces, after all: many attendees had a connection with my home university, York, and others I had met at the University of Western Australia at the Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions conference in 2011. Importantly, SO many graduate students were there – including many undergraduates and masters’ students, which are a rarity at many UK conferences. I certainly never attended a big conference at that stage in my studies, and I think it would have been a boost to have done so. Monash University came out of this glowing – it was clear that the University’s research community in the humanities, and medieval studies especially, is thriving and pulsating with potential. Its graduate students were clearly excited to be studying there. In fact, the general sense that I got from the conference was a buzz about Australian scholarship. I certainly would not turn down a job down under, especially in Melbourne – did I mention the Yum Cha?
I really did enjoy the holiday section after the conference. I’d talked myself almost to death and it was wonderful to have some time to unwind. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the trip for me was a brief trip to Ocean Grove, which is about two hours away from Melbourne by train and bus, but a million miles away in terms of headspace. The ocean seems so big there. The coffee is so good. The calamari is amazing. Shivering in London, I wish I could be back there. But holidays would not be holidays if you did not have to go back to work afterwards. I’m going back to work with some inspiration and even the smallest trace of a sun tan. If I breathe in really deeply, I can almost still smell the seaweed… Ahhh-stralia!