Locked-out backpacker documents “amazing stories” of Melbourne’s city in new book

By Brendan Rees

When Jay Khan began his backpacking journey in Melbourne’s CBD just before the pandemic hit, he admits he felt like an “outcast” and a “misfit”, mainly because he was a “Pommie”.  

“I received a lot of hate, and a lot of hurt all at once for the first few months living there,” he said.

“When lockdown got a little less restricted, I remember I visited 10 cafes just to find one that didn’t treat me differently to an Aussie.”

But the 25-year-old writer from the UK said he slowly found his feet thanks to the inspiration of a homeless man named John, who sits on a milkcrate asking passers-by for change outside the Westpac branch on Bourke St.

“He was the man who changed my life and made me embrace my strangeness and taught me how to smile through hardship,” Mr Khan said, which led him to meet “various characters of the street” and to also publish a book about his experiences he “never expected” to achieve. 

As Mr Khan stumbled across more strangers, he said it “opened my eyes to a city full of amazing stories” and inspired him to write letters called “Dear stranger” which he posted on the walls across the city and documented on his Instagram account.

“I became a part of the street, as if I moulded into the alleyways limb by limb as time went on,” Mr Khan said in an interview with CBD News from England.

“My letters were written to share the wisdom and value my friends on the street had to offer to the world,” he said, adding he had hoped to make “somebody smile”.

“This project turned my life around. And turned Melbourne into an exciting fire-fuelled twisted playground full to the brim of true stories stranger than fiction, full of wisdom, philosophy, and pure unhindered magic!”

Mr Khan eventually met two young men named Robin Waldun and Jaidyn Attard, both writers in Melbourne. They traversed the streets together “to find out everything about everyone, hear any story, every story, and write everything into a notebook”.

Fast forward six months and the trio wrote a book titled There’s a Tale To This City, which explores how the three authors came together with completely different backgrounds to “find meaning hiding behind every street corner” of Melbourne. 

He said the reviews of the book so far had been “beyond my expectations” and was preparing to release a second book of Melbourne’s city covering the unrest of protests and “painting a picture with no bias, letting the reader decide what to think”.

Having arrived in the city a week before the pandemic hit Australia’s shores and its borders being locked out to the rest of the world, he said his year-and-a-half stay in Melbourne “taught me 10 years’ worth of school in one year”.  

“I couldn’t go home even if I wanted to,” he said. “At one point people told us to swim home because we were rats. England was hit heavily affected with the virus at that point, hence why we were called rats.”

“We couldn’t go anywhere. Flights were too expensive and constantly cancelled. I applied for every job under the sun until I found a construction job.”

Overall, Mr Khan, who is now opening a book publishing company back home, said he was “forever grateful” for his experiences in Melbourne despite his rocky start of having found himself feeling like an “unwanted stranger” because of his accent.  

Mr Khan said he also “thrived” in the city’s gruelling lockdowns, saying he “embraced the madness and spilled it out on paper”.

“It was truly an inspiring time”, he said, adding his letter writing project “introduced me to the kind, empathetic, and beautiful people of the city”.  

“I love Melbourne. It feels like a home I will forever miss.” 

There’s a Tale To This City is available at online bookstores. To follow Mr Khan’s journey on Instagram visit @jaytheauthor

Caption: Jay Khan, centre, with co-authors Robin Waldun and Jaidyn Attard. 

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