A September 2005 trip
to Melbourne by actonsteve
Quote: Despite being Australias second city. Melbourne reaches for the sky and shies away from its roots in a torrent of glass and steel.
Ambitious, modern and determined to make its mark on the world, Melbourne ticks all the right boxes.
It is a "nice" city with cafe culture, good shopping, skyscrapers, clean streets and a beach in its backyard. Its a city determined to impress; money has been spent freely creating glittering skyscrapers, marble riverwalks and cutting-edge sport stadiums. It was a city built on the proceeds of the 1850s gold rush, and Victorian bombast pokes through occasionally amongst all the chrome and glass. Melbourne can be a hard city to define. Melbourne can be genteel and European but at the same time has a skyline that resembles Dallas or Los Angeles. Melbourne is a mixture of 19th-century civilisation and 21st-century get-up-and-go.
Melbourne keeps itself happily amused. You have everything you want here: blue skies in summer, the Melbourne Cup, cricket at the MCG, festivals in parks, ethnic quarters down Lygon street and an alternative beach scene at St Kilda (where the TV series The Secret Life of Us was filmed). It is one of the few cities in Australia not to be founded by convict labour and has a genteel, sophisticated air. It does put a lot of emphasis on art, culture and learning. It thinks itself deeper and more intellectual than its brasher sister city up in New South Wales. And the 19th-century trams are a pleasure to rattle around in.
Melbourne puts a lot of effort and money in wooing visitors. It wants you to come away with a favourable impression. It wants you to call it "the most livable city in the world."
Melbourne is a huge city perched on the banks of the Port Phillip Bay. Visitors generally gravitate to the CBD (Central Business District), which stands on the bank of the Yarra River. Nine streets running from Spencer Street in the west to Spring Street in the east compile the cities central fulcrum, and they are bisected by 10 other streets running from Flagstaff gardens in the north all the way down to the Yarra River. The river itself is rather memorable; it's called the "river that runs upside down" due to the yellow sediment being swept along. But the south bank of the Yarra is a gentrified river walk consisting of hotels, exhibition centres and a huge casino. This is reachable by numerous Yarra bridges, both historical and cutting edge.
Everything you will want to see is in the CBD, although trips to the beach at St Kilda and out to the Victorian countryside are recommended. The streets themselves are wide, spacious, and riddled with trams. This was one of the great metropolises of the 19th century, a city that grew from nothing to Victorian sophistication in a very short space of time. Here you will find monuments to a long-dead empire next to glass and steel skyscrapers, ornate shopping arcades are a stone throw from old convict gaols, and parks and gardens are next to futuristic cricket grounds. Unfortunately, sightseeing junkies may be a little disappointed, especially if you are used to European cities. I do, however, recommend Federation Square and The Immigration Museum. These are two superb attractions.
The advantage of being a modern city is that the travel infrastructure is very good. With an impressive rail network, wide motorways, two major stations and hundreds of trams, there is no excuse for not getting around in Melbourne.
The fulcrum of this public transport system seems to be Flinders Street station/Federation Square. The area outside the domed entrance is where trams arrive before heading into the far flung suburbs of South Yarra, Collingwood, Toorak or the beach at St Kilda. Special "greeters" are there to make sure you get on the right tram. And a journey costs about .70 within zone 1, punchable when you board the tram.
The airport, Tullarmarine, is quite a way from the centre. The Melbourne tourist board lay on a Skybus for . This will take you to Spencer Street rail/bus station, where they lay on a free doorstep minibus for those staying within the CBD. For those of us who had bookings farther afield, there is a taxi rank nearby. There is an extensive rail service connecting the suburbs with the CBD "loop." This also connects the two interstate stations, Spencer Street (currently being renovated for the Commonwealth games in 2006) and Flinders Street. The rail journey from Sydney to Melbourne takes 11 hours.
Hotel | "The Claremont Hotel - a piece of class in trendy South Yarra"
What would be your worst nightmare while staying at a hotel? Surely the fire alarm going off while you were in the shower would be close.
This happened at the Claremont while I was staying there. I was already dressed when the fire alarm went off, but others were not so lucky. The sight of bleary-eyed guests standing around reception in towels was not one I will forget in a while.
But it is a very good hotel. Without a doubt, it was one of the best things about my stay in Marvelous Melbourne. For starters, the location is brilliant, only a few steps west to the entrance to South Yarra train station. The entrance is simply a door on to the street--one, however, with Victorian wrought iron work, leading into a reception with a rich quilted carpet, portraiture on the walls and a grand staircase leading up. The staircase leads up to two floors of rooms. I had a single room without a bathroom, and it was tastefully decorated with pine floors, white linen, and a wrought iron bed and shelves.
The bathroom across the hall is clean and well looked after. Downstairs is a very helpful reception where tours to the "Twelve Apostles" and Phillip Island can be made. The staff is very helpful and a security code is given for the door at night. Due to its modest rates, it has a lot of families or school parties, and these can be encountered in the restaurant area. Breakfast is part of the deal and consists of cereal, orange and toast, which you can spread with the very Australian vegemite. There is also a webcafe, small library and reading area.
But the main attraction is the location--smack bang in the middle of trendy South Yarra. This is one of the most expensive and hippest parts of Melbourne, and the Claremont looks out onto the boutiques and restaurants of the Toorak Road. The Toorak Road is sprinkled with beauty salons, designer shopping and expensive restaurants. A couple of steps to the west is the train station, which whisks you into the Melbourne CBD, and a 5-minute walk to the east is the trendy Chapel Street, which is the address to be seen at. Chapel Street is full of Australian fashion "names" and the uber-trendy Jam Factory, with its boutiques and one-off shops.
The Claremont is in the heart of the action. I was very impressed.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 17, 2005
Claremont Bed & Breakfast
189 Toorak Rd.
(03) 9826 8000
Attraction | "Queen Victoria Market - "just how much is that slab of kangaroo?""
One of the best places to take a tram to is Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne's premier mercado. The easiest way to get there is via the CBD loop and the station at Flagstaff. When you take the escalator up (incidentally they stand on the left in Australia), you emerge at La Trobe Street on the edge of the business district. The place is full of businessmen scurrying around, but across the street is Flagstaff Gardens. If you follow the tram tracks north, you come to a 100-foot-long shed with the words VICTORIA MARKET emblazoned across its roof. As Rolf Harris would say, "Have you guessed what it is yet?" And to think I was worried about not being able to find it.Inside is an aircraft hangar with rows and rows of stalls, like a mini-city selling everything you could possible conceive. It was a mixture of ordinary clothes (ie socks for $5--I love a bargain!) and the worse kind of tourist pap--"Melbourne: Australia" T-shirts, cork hats, fluffy koalas, boomerang key rings, Opera House bookmarks--they do their best to shoot Melbourne for calendars, but how many times can you shoot skyscrapers at sunset. But at the same time there is plenty there that can only be found in Australia: Billabong T-shirts, Uggs and as much surfing gear as you can carry.
But the food halls are the best feature. The fresh food was exceptional, with everything freshly "plucked" that morning. Huge great steaks of emu, camel, crocodile and kangaroo were on sale. The fruit and veg stalls were impressively piled high with melons, courgettes and the biggest green peppers I have ever seen. There was also a number of fruits we don't get in Europe: papaya, lychees, green bananas and, of course, coconuts. The fish stalls were at the back, and Australia has its own version of cod and trout. Yabbies, a kind of blue freshwater crayfish scrabbled in a tank and the cold eyes of a barramundi, looked back at me from a slab. Victoria Market looks like it gets the best produce; I could see vans from numerous restaurants arrive and stock up for the day.
Afterwards it is worth a wander around the Central Business district. Skyscrapers dominate to create an almost American cityscape, but once in a while a bit of Europe breaks through: schoolkids in uniform, a Victorian church or an ornate department store. The best shopping is on Collins Street, which is thronged with crowds. Australia on Collins is a superior mall with a superb food court. And I thoroughly recommend Dymocks bookshop, with its superb travel section.
I'm an IgoUgo veteran--how can I pass by a good bookshop?
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 17, 2005
Queen Victoria Market
513 Elizabeth St
Melbourne, Australia 3000
+61 (0)3 9320 5822
"Please do not feed the possums..."
This is a sign in Fitzroy Gardens. For sheer novelty value, you can't beat wild possums infesting your local park, and it is one of those exotic touches which make Australia, well, Australia I suppose.
Fitzroy Gardens is one the edge of the CBD. Your main point of arrival in the Central Business District will be Flinders Street Station and Federation Square. Flinders Street Station, I would say, is the most distinctive building in Melbourne. A major rail termini dating from Victorian times and the expression of meeting "under the clocks" is a Melbourne legend. The frontage of the railway station itself overlooks where Flinders and Swanston streets meet. Its facade is neoclassical and topped with a dome, but the entire thing is a mixture of light brown and yellow--it shouldn't work, but it does (see photo). It's a very impressive building.
Snapping on its heels is the young whippersnapper across the St Kilda Road--Federation Square.
It's an ambitious set of buildings designed to give Melbourne a focus. I liked it, in fact I would say it was my favourite thing in Melbourne. It is modern architecture at its most adventurous. A whole city block between Flinders Street itself, the station and the Yarra river has been transformed. It resembles a puzzle made out of titanium housing buildings with weird angles covered in zinc or sandstone. The floor is actually covered in ochre or iron and rises into a horseshoe-shaped space hemmed in by buildings. A huge television screen oversees everything and people mill about trying to decide whether they like it or not. I think it is a real distinctive hodgepodge of everything: strange angles, glass facades and zinc coverings. The place actually glistens in the rain.
A nice walk is along posh Collins Street to Fitzroy Gardens. From Federation Square, cross Flinders Street and head north on Swanston Street; Collins is the first on the right. Collins is the smart address in Melbourne. Where it collides with Spring Street is called the "the Paris End," and while I didn't notice any plane trees, cafes or Citroen "2CV's" dotted about, it is undeniably stylish. This is where Gucci and Chanel hold court, the trees are bedecked in fairy lights and the whole street reeks of old money.At the end of Collins is Spring Street and several heavy Victorian-era buildings. St Andrews Cathedral overlooks a delightful square with a gushing fountain. Fitzroy Gardens begin here. Melbourne is very proud of its numerous parks. It gives credence to the tag of it being "the most livable city in the world." This one is very English, with great sweeping lawns being broken up by lines of trees. But as you get closer, you notice the trees are palms and cycads and the bird songs--cockatoos and lorikeets inhabit the park. The main attraction is Captain Cooks cottage, the boyhood home of the "discoverer" of Australia. It was imported brick by brick from Yorkshire and I must say looking very at home on a rainy Melbourne day.
And where were the possums? Shopping down Collins Street I expect, the "Paris End" of course.
You have to fight the temptation to gamble in Melbourne. One of the things I did not expect was a full-scale Vegas-style casino in the city centre within a stone's throw of the Yarra river. One evening I sat perched on a stool while the croupier spun the roulette wheel. Without knowing it, $30 was quickly up in smoke. But I enjoyed myself at the Crown Casino Complex. It brought back memories of Las Vegas. Melbourne and Las Vegas? Surely two different cities? Well, yes and no, just take a look at the CBD skyline from the riverwalk. It certainly looks like an American city.
And the best place to see the skyline (see photos) is the riverwalk, which stretches from the Melbourne Exhibition centre to Princes Bridge. The Southgate centre is its focal point and is a upmarket shopping complex with lots of attractions, such as smart cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries, all overlooking the Yarra river. I rather liked the Yarra river with its mustard-coloured water. It was a dirty silty river that reminds me of the Thames. It stands in wonderful contrast to the chrome and steel of 21st-century Melbourne. The one remaining thing in the city outside their reach of gentrification.
The riverwalk can be reached through numerous ways. Buses and trams up from St Kilda pass over Princes Bridge, which has staircase access to the river. And there are numerous bridges across from the CBD. My favourite was the pedestrian bridge from beneath Flinders Street station, which is a modern piece of art (see photo). This was where they wheeled their bikes across the river to take advantage of the cycle paths along the South Bank promenade. And the views here are extraordinary, the long sweep of the river with the skyscrapers as a backdrop. If you look to the west, there stands the 55 floors of the Rialto Towers, which is quite a sight when the sun catches it on a cold spring day.
The promenade itself is impressive. Millions of dollars have been spent to create a pleasant recreational area. Marble and polished stone has been laid out and made an impressive walkway decked with potted plants, arc lights and modernist statues. From here you can take boat trips down the Yarra or most likely find your legs propelling you to the Crown Casino Complex. Escalators will whisk you up to a huge entertainment room with a waterfall, strobe lighting and a Lamborghini revolving on a podium. It's a rule around the world that a casino must try for class but end up as kitsch, and this was no exception. The purple decor was blinding and the carpet was so deep you were in danger of losing your feet. Golden globes dangled from the ceiling, and there were rows and rows of gambling machines all standing to attention like an army of soldiers.
The plasma-screened one-armed bandits looked too complicated for this novice, but I do know my roulette. I sat down to a game surrounded by a lot of enthusiastic Chinese. An old Australian lady and I formed a syndicate to try and stay in the game. No luck! The casino took our wallets--oh well!
"Neighbours is recorded in a studio the size of a Lilliputian telephone box, with furniture that looks like MFI rejects, and walls that wobble whenever an actor picks up the phone. The designs may be cheap and wooden but not as wooden as the acting and the dialogue; it soon becomes clear that the most moving thing on the show is the scenery."
Victor Lewis-Smith, Evening Standard, 1993
Australia doesn't have the monopoly on awful soap operas (Britain and Brazil have a good showing as well--by its very nature, soap opera is ridiculous). And there is a lot more to the Melbourne Museum than the exhibits featuring the above programme. For starters, it is has won a basketful of awards for its design and content. There is plenty to see, and you need a morning to do it justice and can combine it with a visit to the the Royal Exhibition Hall and Carlton Gardens, which are some of the most elegant parts of Melbourne.
It perches on the northeast edge of the CBD, a short walk north of Parliament House and Collins Street. City trams pass along Victoria Parade, where it bends into La Trobe Street, or it is a simple 7-block walk up from Federation Square. Before it is Carlton Gardens, which are verdantly green and lined with flowerbeds. The Royal Exhibition building dominates here; built in 1880, it is icing white and suitably grandiose, with a classical facade topped by a dome. In front of it was an ivory fountain surrounded by pines. Behind it was more interesting: a grey concrete concourse leads to the glass and steel of the Melbourne Museum. If you are there during the week, the concourse is packed out with schoolkids waiting to get into the IMAX theatre, which boasts to be the biggest in the world. But didn't the Sydney one say the same thing.
The museum costs $6 and is pretty big, so it is worth deciding what you want to see most first. I thoroughly recommend the Forest Exhibition; a gigantic Australian temperate forest is recreated within the museum confines. Glass ceilings throw light onto soaring trees, gurgling streams and loamy black earth. The whole thing is environmentally controlled and tunnels led under the stream beds, allowing you to view what lives there. And every couple of yards were small tanks containing indigenous snakes and creeping hairy spiders.
But it was the second level that interested me. Most interestingly were the media and newspapers that Melbournians subscribed to in the 20th century. I personally liked the record produced by Barry Humphries during the 1956 Olympics. The government asked people to put up foreigners in their homes. Humphries asked if you could choose? And if so, could he have a red Indian? But the museum seemed to celebrate the cities suburbia with the Neighbours kitchen set on lone from Grundy Television. They had a copy of the script, not a wise move, because all those pauses and verbal contractions you see during the show are actually written into the script. And I thought it was just bad acting.
Phar Lap is a very famous Australian racehorse and was stuffed on a podium for all to see. This is the museum's pride and gets more visitors then any other exhibit. But I was interested in the history and growth of Melbourne and what has made it the city it is today. And the museum was very sketchy on this. There were a couple of items on the Gold Rush and and Chinese immigration, but I didn't really discover how the city evolved. Melbourne needs a really good history museum.
Talking of the Chinese, they used to call Australia "Big Golden Mountain" and have their own Chinatown on Little Bourke Street. Once you have finished the museum, why not hop down there--the Crab won ton is to die for.
I got used to the "newness" of Australia.
You know the feel and smell of something when the wrapping has just been taken off--that was the feeling I got with this country. Everything is new and unused. This is made evident in the excellent Immigration Museum, which charts the movement of the worlds peoples to the blank page of Australia since its discovery in 1770. And since many people visit Australia and then decide to move here, it is one of the world's most relevant museums, its recent history given poignancy in the thousands who make this country their home each year.
Opened only in 2000 and given the thumbs up from Bill Bryson in his "Down Under" bestseller, I have to join the chorus of appreciation. To get there, take the train to Spencer Street station, step outside onto the aforementioned street and head right to the Yarra river. There on Flinders Street 2 blocks east is a colonial building, just opposite Melbourne Aquarium. Opening times are 9:30am to 5pm; cost is $6 (www.immigration.museum.vic.gov.au). Inside is a grand staircase connecting three floors of exhibits and on-site is a gift shop, cafeteria, and small cinema.
Australian cities are so new that the history is actually here and now. But the museum starts at the founding of Melbourne in about 1820 or so with Bradman and Hawkmen who traded shells with the nearby aborigines. But it was only from about 1830 onwards that immigration really took off. The British government would give you "assisted passage," paying for your trip around the world, with the promise of land at the end of it. A reconstructed ship showed conditions aboard ship in the 1830s (hammocks and oil lamps), the 1910s (overcrowded and mainly Irish) or the 1950s (spotless bunk beds and pyjamas). But the story of hope, expectation and nervousness applied to each experience.
As the decades progressed, it became obvious that some immigrants were more welcome than others. Fear of being swamped by the Chinese after "the gold rush" led to a "white Australia" policy that lasted until the 1950s. The experience of those who had arrived since the Second World War was still recent, and there were many photographs and testimonies from those people. You got a sense of adventure as they stopped off at Cape Town, Aden or Bombay and experienced a foreign culture for the first time. I was struck by the photos of those who came down the gangway on arrival and the expressions on their faces. Several showed worry, wondering if swapping their old life for a new one was such a good idea.
Melbourne got the majority of ship landings, as it was that little bit closer than Sydney. Station Pier was the main area of disembarkation and the exhibits showed its 150-year history. The colour photos from the '60s and '70s made those decades just seem like yesterday. A couple of my mum's relatives came over in the '50s (the blonde side of the family), and I found myself putting myself in their position. Could I live in Australia? What would it take for me to immigrate? The power of this museum makes you question things. Could Australia be your home? Could you immigrate?
London, United Kingdom