Melbourne

Queen Victoria drew and painted all her life, recalling her visits to the opera and ballet in sketches and her surroundings in watercolours – the heather purples and mauves of her ‘dear Highland Hills’ around Balmoral, the green trees of Windsor or the golden haze over the Solent where she dabbled from the Alcove at Osborne in summer.

She would have felt at home in the State named after her.

Incidentally, Melbourne is named after Lord Melbourne, who was Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister and a wise counsel in guiding the teenage queen through the early years of her reign (she came to the throne at age 18).

Lord Melbourne wasn’t a mover and shaker in the reform department – he often was quoted as saying, “Why not leave it alone?”  As in, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  And doesn’t he have a kind face?

I mention this only to segue to a bit of Victorian trivia. Following Victoria’s coronation in 1838, the first act of the newly anointed queen, on her return to Buckingham Palace, was to bathe her dog.

Before moving into Melbourne’s attractions, a bit of housekeeping. There are a number of attractions outlined shortly that offer wheelchairs for loan or hire but if you would like to have a wheelchair for the duration of your stay, we can arrange that through Walk on Wheels – for a manual chair it is $40 a week and $100 per week for an electric wheelchair or mobility scooter.

Let’s hop a tram and see what Melbourne has to offer!

The 109 service from Box Hill to Port Melbourne via the city is a ‘low floor tram’ for wheelchairs and there are ‘superstops’ with roll on/roll off access in the CBD at Collins Street/Spencer Street; Melbourne Town Hall; Collins Street/Swanston Street; Parliament Railway Station, Spring Street; St Vincent’s Plaza, Brunswick Street/Victoria Parade; Melbourne University, Swanston Street.

The tram also has a small ramp that extends out if you get off at a wheelchair accessible stop/platform (not a superstop). You will need to press the wheelchair icon call button for this facility. There are no strap downs for chairs but there are poles/handrails for you to hold onto.

Melbourne is a stylish, multicultural city. In many ways it’s the antithesis of Sydney.

Sydney swaggers, brash and cheeky, with a harbour-induced smugness. Melbourne is reserved and cultured. Sydney is flash and Melbourne is grand. Sydney has convict origins; Melbourne sprang from wealthy settlers and the gold rush. Sydney sprawled into existence without any great plan; Melbourne is orderly and grid-like at its centre.

Perhaps this explains the friendly rivalry between the two cities.

Melbourne could be uplifted to Europe and feel at home. Sydney may have a hard time getting through Customs. There is a European ‘feel’ to the city in culture, architecture, restaurants, fashion and even the Yarra ‘canal’. And Melbourne is home to the largest Greek community outside Athens.

It’s a sophisticated city of theatre, music and art, with the serious side balanced by Australia’s best, and most original, stand-up comedy and a sports-mad population. Melbourne is home to the Melbourne Cup, the Formula 1 Grand Prix, the Australian Open Tennis and Australian Rules Football. And the Melbourne Storm are odds on favourites to win the 2012 National Rugby League Grand Final.

The city’s multicultural mix of people from more than 100 countries has created myriad cafes and restaurants. Shopping is a way of life and one thing that jumps out is the quantity and quality of the bookshops.  Most of the major attractions are on the borders of the city centre or near its southern border, the banks of the Yarra River.

For a fantastic photographic reflection on this wonderful city, drop in to a friend’s blog. Michael Blamey is Melbourne-based and is never out and about without his camera. Michael has two Melbourne blogs and they are both terrific places to discover the city through images that are worth thousands of words.

http://stkildatoday.blogspot.com/ and http://todaymelbourne.blogspot.com/

It’s an easy city to explore on foot, but if you are wheeling about, the city’s topography has a general fall from the north towards the south leading down to the Yarra River. The highest point is La Trobe Street and Russell Street and the lowest point along Flinders Street. Gradients in the main shopping and entertainment precincts around the Bourke Street Mall (the centre of the city) are not significant until you move outside the Mall, east or west along Bourke Street or north along Swanston Street.

Let’s head across the river to start the ‘tour’...

The Southgate complex, on the southern bank of the Yarra across from the city, is a major arts and leisure venue that is relaxed while feeling sophisticated and classy. On St Kilda Road is the massive bluestone National Gallery of Victoria about to re-open after massive renovations. Alongside, the Victorian Arts Centre with its massive spire is the hub of Melbourne’s music, dance and drama scene. The Melbourne Concert Hall and the Sunday Market are adjacent, along with the Performing Arts Museum, one of the world’s best theatre museums.

At the National Gallery, wheelchairs are available free of charge from the Information Desk (best to book ahead). Wheelchair access is available in the Auditorium, Theatre, Studios and Education Theatres as well as throughout the gallery spaces. At the Arts Centre you can get to all of the theatres without climbing any stairs and wheelchairs can be booked via the Concierge. Access is easy and card-carrying companions are admitted free.

Alongside the Southgate riverside promenade are arty galleries, boutiques, cafes and quality restaurants and, of course, there’s the casino. The Crown Casino is huge and tinselly, but somehow avoids the tacky feeling of Star City in Sydney. There’s a good chance if you leave your machine or table for a restroom break or drink, you may not find your way back to the same one.

The casino caters to the Chinese gambling community, ensuring lucky numbers abound, even down to the registration plates on limousines and shuttle buses. For those not into gambling, it’s still worth a visit for the entertainment on offer, and meals are excellent value. There’s a free pick up shuttle service for groups of twenty or more, and it has been known to be used by young people to hop a free, safe lift to town without having to have a designated driver to stay within the strict drink-driving laws. Oops, have I given something away?

Let’s walk from Southgate into the CBD.

Southgate is connected to the city by a number of bridges. The Princes Bridge and the footbridge take you to either end of the wonderful Flinders Street Railway Station. Built in 1854, its 700-metre main platform is the longest in the country. It’s a wonderful spot just to hang about and observe and absorb the passing parade.

Across the road (on the corner of Swanston and Flinders) is St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral. It’s Gothic with a 96-metre central spire, one of the best cathedral organs in Australia and the choir sings an evensong daily. Livelier evensong can be heard from within Young & Jacksons hotel.

This is an excellent pub and home to Chloe, a nude painted by 19th century French artist, J.J. Lefevre. First exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1875, at the time, it was considered almost obscene.

Chloe is there in all her (modest by today’s standards) glory, upstairs, during pub hours.

There is wheelchair access to the ground floor from Swanston Street and there is a lift to the first level saloon to check out where Chloe hangs about.

Diagonally opposite is Federation Square, the contemporary focus for the city with its open spaces and modern art galleries.

Further along Swanston is the Town Hall and Collins Street. Turn left to the ANZ Banking Museum for the history of banking in Australia.

Don’t miss the Block Arcade for stylish shopping in the country’s oldest arcade – or just enjoy a stroll and soak in the old world charm.

The arcade was formerly known as “Carpenter’s Lane”, however the precinct was widely known as “The Block”. Once the works were complete, local shopkeepers successfully petitioned to have it changed to its present name. It was once THE place to be seen, just walking ‘the block’. I love simply being there – can’t put my finger on it but I just feel sort of special.  On the last visit indulged in a little Haig’s chocolate (they even have a block made especially from Vanuatu cocoa!

Little Bourke Street is home to Chinatown and, for me, by far the best selection of Chinese cuisine in the country. I once fluked being there on Chinese New Year and from the dragons to the party atmosphere and banquets I was transported to another country (with an Australian accent).

The Chinese Museum in Cohen Place traces the history of the Chinese who arrived in the wake of the 1850s gold rush and established Chinatown.

If it’s raining, you may want to take shelter in the Bureau of Meteorology at 150 Lonsdale Street. It’s a working ‘museum’ that covers 200 years of weather watching in Australia.

Little Lonsdale is home to Melbourne Central, a spectacular blend of ultra-modern architecture with a huge glass cone, the largest freestanding glass structure in the world, enveloping a historic shot tower. Shopping aside, it’s still worth a visit.

Across Swanston Street, the State Library of Victoria has the largest collection of reference material in the State, historical and current, from newspapers to books.

The library also has specialist collections such as children’s literature and theatre programs.

If you need wheelchair access to the Library, there’s a ramp from the main Swanston Street entrance. Lifts give access to all public places above ground level.

There are three car parks for drivers with a disability (two hour limit) and to arrange a courtesy wheelchair to use within the Library, ask one of the security staff in the Library foyer. (Staff aren’t available to push wheelchairs.)

The Old Melbourne Gaol (where Russell turns into Lygon Street) once dominated the Melbourne skyline. It was, of course, known as OMG way before the abbreviation became virally fashionable.

Between 1842 and its closure in 1929 it was the scene of 135 hangings, including bushranger Ned Kelly. This is the main reason that ghost tours of the gaol are popular.  There are night tours and for more info, ring (03) 8663 7228.

The gaol was used as a US military prison during World War II. Displays include death masks and histories of famous bushrangers and convicts.

The Old Melbourne Gaol isn’t particularly wheelchair-friendly.

The Royal Exhibition Building and the Carlton Gardens can be found at the northeastern corner of the city. The main building has a dome higher than London’s St Paul’s Cathedral. The Australian Parliament sat here from 1901 until its move to Canberra in 1927.

The Imax Theatre also lives here, as does the Melbourne Museum with its excellent social and natural history exhibits and one of the finest Aboriginal history collections in Australia. At the northwest corner of the city is the Royal Mint (William Street). It houses collections owned by the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, including a library of Victorian history, historical manuscripts and photographs. Across the road is Flagstaff Gardens. Small at seven hectares, it has views of the city and Port Phillip Bay, and some of Melbourne’s early settlers are buried there.

The Queen Victoria Market (corner of Elizabeth and Victoria streets) is the largest outdoor market in the world and draws more visitors than any other attraction in the State.

Opened in 1878, it has more than 1000 stalls selling craft, shoes, clothes, souvenirs, plants and food.

The market is closed Monday and Wednesday, except in summer when part of the market opens on Wednesday nights for the Gaslight Night Market.

Wine tastings are held on Sunday afternoons.

To the east of the city, Parliament House (Spring Street) is an imposing building with a wide sweep of stairs leading to the street. Tours run several times a day on weekdays and the public galleries open when parliament is in session. Behind, St Patrick’s Cathedral, built between 1858 and 1897, is a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture and the largest church in Australia.

The nearby Fire Services Museum traces the early history of fire fighting, including exhibits of fire engines, helmets, uniforms, medals and photos. The Old Treasury Building (corner of Spring and Collins) was designed by 19-year-old John James Clark and is regarded as one of the finest buildings in Australia. Fully restored, it houses The Melbourne Exhibition tracing the city’s social history and architectural heritage.

East from here are the Treasury Gardens and Fitzroy Gardens with a conservatory of floral displays, a model Tudor village and avenues of large elm trees.

Captain Cook’s Cottage lives here and is appealing to all ages. It must be, as it’s the first ‘historical attraction’ in my memory.

I must have been under five as I can’t remember a sister in a pram, but I do recall it being a largish house and wondered why they lived with little velvet ropes across the entrance to the bedrooms. On a more recent visit it was, in fact, a tiny cottage and you still couldn’t jump on the beds. It was built for Cook’s parents in 1755 at Great Ayton in England, bought by Sir Russell Grimwade in 1933, dismantled and rebuilt in Melbourne in 1934.

Nearby Yarra Park is home to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (the MCG), the city’s second most visited attraction. Built in 1853 it has been constantly improved, and can hold 100 000 spectators. The MCG was for many years the home of Australian Rules football and is a hallowed ground for cricket fans. Guided tours run hourly except on match days.

The Australian Football League has developed a new Australian Rules headquarters at the Colonial Stadium (Docklands). The league also conducts tours of this complex. South, on the bank of the Yarra River, is the Olympic Park complex used in the 1956 Olympic Games, and the very modern Melbourne Park which hosts the Australian Open tennis in January.

Across the Yarra, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in the Kings Domain is used in summer for outdoor concerts. Government House and Latrobe’s Cottage, the first government house, are at the corner of Birdwood Avenue and Dallas Brooks Drive. Government House, built in 1872, is still the official residence of the Governor of Victoria and entry is restricted to tours. The Domain is also home to the Shrine of Remembrance and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.

Adjacent are the Royal Botanic Gardens. Beautifully kept sweeping lawns surround large ornamental lakes, and there are tearooms, restaurant, kiosk and picnic areas. Observatory Gate is the formal entry to the gardens, where you’ll find the Observatory cafe, shop and Visitors Centre. Tours include garden highlights, special interest, audioguide or Aboriginal heritage walk.

You can hire a wheelchair (deposit may be required) and there is an accessible unisex toilet inside the visitors centre and another beside the building, off the pathway leading into the gardens.

A few other attractions worth noting … The Victoria Police Museum, at the Docklands end of Flinders Street, covers the history of the State’s police force. Exhibits include armour worn by one of the Kelly gang. Near Kings Bridge, opposite the casino, is the Melbourne Aquarium and, over Spencer Street Bridge is the Polly Woodside Maritime Museum, which traces Australia’s maritime history. Built in 1885, the vessel was bought by the National Trust and restored by volunteers. Those still willing to take high-flying lifts are rewarded with a 360-degree view over the city with powerful binoculars and television monitors at the Rialto Towers Observation Deck in Collins Street.

The Yarra River is, in some ways, the heart of Melbourne. Forget the jokes about it flowing upside down – it may look a bit muddy, but is actually a habitat for many fish, and gives the city a reflective personality, day and night. There are cruises, water taxis and ferries for a relaxing look at the city. Melbourne was slow to recognise and exploit its water frontages, but now riverside and bayside suburbs are booming.

River cruises leave from Princes Walk and Southgate every half hour, cruising upriver to Herring Island, or downriver towards historic Port Melbourne. Each cruise lasts an hour. Williamstown Bay and River Cruises has a regular 1-hour Southgate-Williamstown ferry service calling at Crown Casino, Polly Woodside Museum and Scienceworks/Melbourne Planetarium. This trip to the western side of Port Phillip across Hobsons Bay is a pleasant cruise, as is the 30-minute crossing from St Kilda Pier.

St Kilda, once Melbourne’s red-light area, is now awash with trendy cafes and bars.  Adjacent to St Kilda beach is Luna Park, modelled on New York’s Coney Island and opened in 1912. With traditional rides and sideshows, it’s a simple family fun park as well as a slice of history. Wander from there for an al fresco snack (great cake shops) or a meal in Acland St and watch the fascinating passing parade.

The bayside suburb of Albert Park is a major community sports centre.  Despite protests from locals, the Victorian Government built a racetrack in the park to host the Australian Grand Prix as part of the international Formula 1 car racing championship. Victoria ‘stole’ the race from South Australia, but are the good-natured people of Adelaide bitter? Absolutely!

If you fancy zoos, Melbourne Zoo is Australia’s oldest and is regarded by experts as one of the world’s best. It’s just 4 kilometres from the city centre. The zoo has preserved some buildings and exhibits from the early 1900s to show just how much zoos have changed. Allow around four hours.

The photo is Yakini, a handsome 11-year-old gorilla who used a frond to climb out of his enclosure in 2009 and go for a wander.

An open-range zoo can be found at Werribee Park, about 30 kilometres south-west of the city on the way to Geelong. It’s home to groups of Australian, Asian and African plains animals. Werribee Park covers 10 hectares, mostly gardens, and was once a family estate. The Italianate-style Chirnside family mansion (1877) was the largest in Victoria. Faithfully restored with period paintings and furniture, it shows just how wealthy some wealthy families were.

Just a couple of things…

Driving in central Melbourne can take a bit of getting used to. There’s a thing called the ‘hook turn’, where you have to pull over to the left before turning right, you can only overtake trams on the left (overtaking on the right will see commuters scatter like pigeons) and cars have to stop when the tram stops to let off passengers if there is no central pedestrian island. It’s not as daunting as it sounds and the blast of a horn if you make a mistake is more likely to be a jeer about being a non-local than road rage. I’ll own up. I have driven in Melbourne many, many times and have somehow used driving around blocks to avoid having to make a hook turn.

And a quick tip – there’s no such thing as ‘free’ on a freeway. Technology has allowed tollways to exist without tollbooths. To use these you either pre-purchase tickets or buy them within 24 hours of using the tollways. Don’t think, like me, that you’re just lucky to have taken an exit before having to confront the tollbooth! If they have to chase the fee, there will be a penalty.

THEATRES

Forum Theatre

154 Flinders Street

Phone: 9299 9800

The Forum Theatre was originally known as the State Theatre, a 4,000 seat picture palace complete with artificial sky, stars, clouds and statuary for the Union Theatre Chain in 1929. The exotic exterior and interior were designed to reflect Hollywood’s first golden age. Today the Forum is a music and cabaret venue seating about 800 people, which still retains much of its original detail.

Access: Access from Flinders Street is mostly level near Russell Street. A ramp is available during performances. An accessible unisex toilet is located up a short grade near the Russell Street exit.

Regent Theatre

191 Collins Street

Phone: 9299 9800

The Regent was opened in 1929 and was one of Victoria’s largest cinemas during the inter-war period. The Regent is regarded as perhaps the best example of the combined Spanish Gothic and French Renaissance revival styles in Melbourne. Lavish and opulent, it was built as two entertainment venues. The Regent Theatre upstairs catered for 3,500 patrons while the Plaza Ballroom was designed for dining and dancing. However, it was soon converted to a cinema creating Australia’s first duplex. Disused since closing in 1969, it was renovated and reopened in 1996.

Access: On arrival you will be welcomed by the venue concierge, and directed to the accessible entrance. Accessible seating is allocated in the stalls where up to eight wheelchair users can be accommodated. An accessible unisex toilet is available in the stalls foyer. Access to the Plaza Ballroom is from Collins Street via a door which is staffed during functions. A lift is available to the Plaza Ballroom level where ramps lead to the ballroom area. Two accessible toilets are available in the Ballroom.

Comedy Theatre

240 Exhibition Street

Phone: 9299 9800

This site was occupied by Rowe’s Circus for two years and its theatrical connections date back to 1854, when a prefabricated iron theatre was imported from England and installed onsite. It became known as the “Iron Pot”. In the 1890s, the Australian Hippodrome operated on the site. The Comedy Theatre was constructed in 1927-28 for theatrical entrepreneurs JC Williamson Ltd, who dominated the theatre scene during the early 20th century. The Comedy Theatre belongs both to the early development of Melbourne’s entertainment precinct and to the boom period of theatre-going in the 1920s – resulting from the popularity of the American musical and helped to counter some of the effects of cinema which saw the demise of the State and Regent Theatres. The theatre’s design has been described as having a “Spanish Mission” flavour and a “Florentine” feel, with its main facade constructed in tapestry brickwork and stucco dressings, including columns, arches and wrought iron balconies.

The photo is 1953 and the show is ‘Night of the Kiwis’.

Access: Access is via a step up from the street, but if you book ahead staff will put out a portable ramp. There are no accessible toilets. Aisle seating is available for wheelchairs. Make sure you advise the theatre in advance of your accessibility requirements.

Princess Theatre

163 Spring Street

Phone: 9299 9800

The Princess Theatre occupies the original site where a corrugated iron shed was called Astley’s Amphitheatre was erected in 1853. The theatre itself was designed in 1886 by architect William Pitt for a partnership that included JC Williamsons. It is a decorative and ornate design with boom Classical period features and it even had an opening roof at one stage. The theatre cafe, Frederici’s (phone: 9299 9823) is named after the theatre’s own ghost who, while playing a part, fell through a trap door and died of a heart attack. The theatre was refurbished and changed character twice up to 1986, when it was brought back to life with a refurbishment to its 1922 grandeur.

Access: Access is available via a small ramp that management makes available two hours before performances. Limited aisle seating is available, but it does allow patrons to sit with their companions. An accessible unisex toilet is available in the lower foyer. There are some audio-described performances, and audio loops are available in the stalls and dress circle. Direct all access enquires to the theatre.

Athenaeum Theatre

188 Collins Street

Phone: 9650 1500

Commenced in 1842, the Athenaeum was originally a two-storey rendered brick structure behind a cast iron fence. It contained a library, reading room and a hall, where the Municipal Council met. Two single-storey wings were added by 1857 and, in 1872, a new hall was opened by the Governor. In 1924 the hall was converted into a theatre. The Athenaeum was the first Australian theatre to screen talking films in 1929. Today it is a three storey brick building with a Classical stucco facade in “boom” style architecture. It also houses Melbourne’s only subscription library on the first floor, access via the lift.

Access: Access from Collins Street is almost flat as the street rises heading east. From the foyer, entry to the dedicated seating at the rear of the stalls is flat. An accessible toilet is behind the box office between the male and female toilets; you may need to ask for directions. An old lift provides access to the Art Gallery level and Theatre 2.

Her Majesty’s Theatre

219 Exhibition Street

Phone: 9663 3211

Her Majesty’s Theatre is often described as “the most important theatre still standing in terms of its contribution to Australian theatre”. Architecturally, it is an amalgam of English and French influences. It opened in 1886 as the Alexandra Theatre, in honour of the Princess of Wales. The name changed to Her Majesty’s in 1900 when taken over by theatre group, JC Williamson’s. A fire in 1929 destroyed the auditorium, but the theatre reopened in 1934 as a modern, technologically advanced theatre. An acoustic consultant was even engaged – a first in Australia. Over its life, Her Majesty’s stage has been graced with internationally renowned performers: Dame Nellie Melba (1911), Anna Pavlova (1926) and Dame Joan Sutherland (1965).

Access: There is a Special Needs hotline where any person with a special need can call and get individual attention. The number is (03) 9662 9571.

There is a disabled toilet facility on the ground level of the theatre. There are 6 entry doors. The two doors closest to Little Bourke Street are level with the footpath, so there are no steps to make wheelchair / walker access difficult.

There are four specific spots in the theatre that can accommodate wheelchairs. Two are in Q row, which is usually A Reserve price. There are two more in Y row, which, being the back row, are usually C Reserve price. Bookings for these spots should be made to the Special Needs number. They can accommodate other patrons who can get out of their wheelchairs in aisle seats – again bookings should be made through the hotline.

There is no lift in the building, which means patrons who books their seats in the Dress Circle of the Grand Circle will need to climb stairs.

ACCOMMODATION

 

When I visit a city, I like to stay as close to the heart as possible. I don’t like public transport or taxis particularly so city accommodation that is a walk (or a wheel) from the main sights, theatres and restaurants suits me.

Rydges Melbourne Hotel on Exhibition Street (Number 186) is one of my favourites. I think it is the biggest hotel in Melbourne (363 rooms) but is ‘feels’ boutique and welcoming (good staff training I guess) and it has picked up the Australian Hotels Association Accommodation Awards for Excellence – and it’s not overly expensive for a 4.5 star property.

The spa suites are nice if you want a bit of pampering but I usually go for one of the Deluxe Rooms that have plenty of space in the bathroom and an easy walk-in shower.

These are terrific if you have a mild disability like me. There is only one room totally fitted out for disabled guests.

The actual building has been there for a while but the rooms, reception and restaurant were all recently refurbished (whew, unintentional alliteration there!).

The hotel is very handy to sporting venues, the theatre district, shopping and restaurants.

There are a couple of other reasons I personally like the place – they have great beds! I was sceptical at first when I read about the ‘Rydge’s Dream Beds’, thinking it a marketing ploy but they are sensational.

There’s also a rooftop pool which now includes a cardio workout gym.

The Locanda Italian Steakhouse is also very good. I’d visit even if I was staying somewhere else.  The steaks are terrific (Dry Aged Black Angus and Wagyu beef) and there’s a large wine menu with 20+ wines by the glass.

Oh! If you are heading to a show after dinner, mention that and they’ll tailor the service to suit. There is a wheelchair-friendly bathroom in the restaurant.

Rydges also has the accommodation properties Rydges on Swanston, Rydges St KildaBell City and the Art Series Hotels, The Cullen, The Olsen and The Blackman.

Rydges (as well as QT and Art Series Hotels) offer Priority Guest Rewards membership. It is totally free and one of the best loyalty rewards cards we have found – you get 10% off accommodation at more than 40 hotels around Australia and New Zealand plus 20% off food and beverages (that’s where the real value is).

And finally, for this section, a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun…

Sydney VS Melbourne – Friendly Rivalry

Sydneysiders have quipped that ‘the only good thing to come out of Melbourne is the Hume Highway’, not realising that the same joke works in Melbourne as the highway links both cities. There has always been a friendly rivalry between the two cities, probably because Melbourne sucks. See how easy it falls from a Sydneysider? It probably originated because Melbourne had a ‘legitimate’ birth whereas Sydney was, if you’ll excuse the French, a bâtarde of a town, due to its convict origins.

Melbourne has always had a certain dignity and conservatism that Sydney has lacked, which is only something to be proud of if you have it. In the late 19th century both cities competed for national capital status with the southern capital billing itself as ‘Marvellous Melbourne’. This was parodied to ‘Marvellous Smellbourne’ thanks to the open sewers in the 1890s. Sydney would have undoubtedly been peeved when Melbourne won the 1956 Olympic Games and became the country’s sporting capital.

Of course, Sydney got her own back with the 2000 Games. And Sydney would have nodded knowingly in 1959 when On the Beach was being filmed in Melbourne and Ava Gardner reputedly remarked ‘It’s a story about the end of the world, and Melbourne sure is the right place to film it’. I think, however, that says more about Ava than Melbourne.

In a game of cards, Melbourne seems to have the trump cards while Sydney’s bluffing.

Sydney leads with Darling Harbour. Trumped by Southgate. Star City Casino? Trumped by Crown Casino. Leichhardt for Italian food? Trumped by Lygon Street. Chinatown? Trumped by Little Bourke Street. The Golden Slipper? Trumped by the Melbourne Cup. Centrepoint Tower? Trumped by the Rialto. The SCG? No, the MCG takes that one. Central Railway? Not a patch on Flinders Street Station. Haymarket? Would be lost in the Victoria Markets. Live theatre and pub comedy? Melbourne takes another one. But wait, there’s a sly grin on Sydney’s face. In a sweeping gesture, she lays down the rest of her cards in a row…

The Harbour…

The Bridge…

The Opera House…

The National Parks…

The Rocks…

New Years Eve Fireworks…

The Beaches…

Melbourne passes. Sorry, she can’t take a trick.

What’s that?! Oh damn, Sydney just got arrested for cheating. Melbourne winds by default!