Note: To view pictures please refer to pages 13-15 of the hardcopy Sabona.
When I arrived in Melbourne seven years ago I immediately fell in love with the city. Like Cape Town, it is a delightful mix of old and new, has a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere and is very cosmopolitan – well, not quite as cosmopolitan as Cape Town, but close! It is a city vibrant with art, music, drama and architecture, both old and new, and has the deserved title of the fashion capital of Australia. I have been exploring the alleys, streets and open spaces of Melbourne for seven years now, my camera always on hand, and I still find new sources of delight every time. This is one of my favourite cities – right up there with Cape Town and Lisbon. It is a city of delights, cosy coffee shops, a vast variety of restaurants, pubs, plenty of parks and green open spaces; a city to enjoy living in.
A lack of space prevents me from sharing all the wonderful nooks and crannies, all the must-see sights of Melbourne, so what we have on these pages is merely an eclectic selection to whet your appetite for the wonders of Melbourne – until recently the world's most livable city.
Looking down on the eastern part of the CBD from the observation deck of the Eureka Tower we get a good view of Flinders Street railway station (left of centre, foreground), St Paul's cathedral beyond it, Federation Square across Swanston Street from the station, and to the right the green of Fitzroy Gardens. This view also gives a good indication of the mix of old, modern and avant garde architecture that is so essentially Melburnian. We also get a glimpse in the right foreground of the Birrarung Marr reserve along the northern bank of the Yarra River. The Eureka Tower itself, at 300m high, is claimed to be the world's tallest residential tower. The observation deck, Skydeck 88, is on level 88 and is the highest public observation deck in the Southern Hemisphere. The brave can venture into The Edge, a glass cube that slides out from the deck. Looking down between your feet at the streets and buildings 88 storeys below you is an unforgettable experience, provided you have a good head for heights!
Federation Square now occupies what was once the Jolimont Rail Yard. The complex houses an art gallery, a film museum, a museum dedicated to horse racing, a number of restaurants and pubs, the Melbourne Information centre and a theatre, among others, and is a popular venue for festivals and open-air shows.
The Yarra runs through the heart of Melbourne, separating the older part of the CBD from the more modern Southbank with the arts complex, hotels, shopping centres, casino and a great number of restaurants. The Royal Botanic Gardens are close to the southern bank and opposite Olympic Park with the Rod Laver and HiSense Arenas, the Lexus Centre and the soon to be completed Rectangular Arena for rugby union, league and football (soccer) matches. The Melbourne Cricket Ground is also nearby on the northern side of the river. Closer to the city centre one finds the boathouses of the many rowing clubs based on the river, whereas further downstream the aquarium is on the northern bank, with the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centres close by on the opposite bank. The river eventually flows into Port Phillip Bay. One of the great pleasures of living in Melbourne is taking a boat cruise on the river, or a leisurely stroll along either bank. Others find angling from the river bank therapeutic, and it's not unusual to see anglers patiently waiting for a bite while nearby office workers have a lunchtime BBQ using one of the many free gas BBQs available on the northern bank.
Melbourne is famous for its pavement cafés, and many of the old alleys are now eateries, with little bistros, restaurants and coffee shops lining each side of the alley. Here visitors, tourists, locals and city workers congregate for the meals, drinks or a cup of the coffee for which Melbourne is renowned. These cafés help to lend the city its cosmopolitan buzz and have a strong European flavour. No wonder Melburnians are so laid-back. Many of the alleys are now roofed, which is handy, given the city's reputation for having four seasons in one day!
The Royal Arcade is one of three well-known old shopping arcades in the city centre. Packed with quaint little shops selling anything from jewellery to Wiccan accoutrements, these arcades give one a taste of what Melbourne was like in the 19th and 20th centuries before the rise of the large shopping complexes in the city. The other two arcades are the famous Block Arcade, and Cathedral Close. The Block Arcade is especially known for its statues of Gog and Magog who strike a bell between them every hour on the hour, as well as a statue of Father Time. Cathedral Close has a stunning stained-glass dome.
Melbourne's Royal Exhibition Building, just north of the CBD and fronted by the Carlton Gardens, is the last remaining Great Exhibition Hall from the 19th century still used for its original purpose. When it was completed, it was the largest building in Australia and today it is still a very imposing building, graceful and elegant. In 1901 the building even housed the Parliament of Victoria while the newly-formed Federal Parliament sat in what is today the State Parliament Building on Spring Street on the eastern edge of the CBD. The building is a world heritage site. The view here is from the Carlton Gardens, looking up one of the avenues of London plane trees.
The Melbourne Arts Centre, just across the Yarra from Flinders Street station, is dominated by the iconic Arts Spire. It is in fact an arts complex, housing the 'Theatres' building of the Arts Centre, also known as the ‘building with the spire', which contains the State Theatre, the Playhouse and the Fairfax Studio, as well as Gallery 1, Café Vic, Curve Bar and the ANZ Pavilion. Hamer Hall (formerly known as the Melbourne Concert Hall) sits next door, beside the Yarra River. Both, as well as the lawn between the forecourt and the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, are part of the Arts Centre. EQ Cafébar is located on the Riverside Terrace of Hamer Hall. The photograph shows Hamer Hall, with the spire towering above and beyond it.
The new footbridge across the Yarra links the northern bank with the recently opened extension to the Melbourne Exhibition Centre and its accompanying shopping complex on the south bank of the river. The Melbourne Maritime Museum is still being rebuilt, but the old three-masted steel barque Polly Woodside is already back in her dry-dock-style mooring beside the Exhibition Centre. This bridge, with its flowing, graceful, yet ultra-modern styling, fits perfectly with the other footbridges across the Yarra.
Looking north towards the city centre from Port Melbourne, which is in fact a suburb of the city, not the port itself. Port Melbourne is where you will find Station Pier, from where the ferry Spirit of Tasmania II departs for Tasmania. It is the site of a host of luxurious modern apartment blocks and has some wonderful beaches lapped by the gentle waters of Port Phillip Bay. Note the gold-tipped Eureka Tower and the bluish Rialto Tower (the tallest building in Melbourne prior to the erection of the Eureka Tower, and with its own observation deck). With Port Melbourne and the Bayside suburbs south of it up to St Kilda within a short tram or light rail ride from the CBD, the eastern shore of Port Phillip Bay is where Melburnians flock to the beaches on the hot days of summer when the thermometer goes into the high 30s C.
This street scene, just outside the CBD, is typical of what one finds in Melbourne's inner suburbs: Old buildings lovingly restored and still in use sharing the streets with modern new builds. Leafy, cool and stylish, these inner suburbs have a village feel to them and preserve the sense of graceful living so very much Melburnian. There's a grace, a serenity to these streets that makes it difficult to imagine that one is but a block or two away from one of the world's major cities. Here there is none of the crowded, boringly identical estate-type developments which are becoming more and more prevalent in the outer suburbs.
Quintessentially Melbourne – that is the only fitting way to describe Flinders Street Station. The site has been the focus of Melbourne's railway system since 1854. The present building was completed in 1910 and has recently been upgraded. There are 13 platforms and from here one can board trains for any of the suburban lines. It is easily the best known station in all of Australia. Situated on the intersection of Swanston and Flinders Streets, it is also within walking distance of the CBD. For those who prefer a more leisurely way of getting about there are also trams, buses and taxis available from here to take you to any part of the city or even the suburbs. The row of clocks on the façade, just above the main entrance, has long been the meeting point for people travelling in from the outlying suburbs. “I'll meet you under the clocks” has become part of the vocabulary of Victorians.
OTHER MUST-SEE PLACES
Melbourne's Old Gaol (where Ned Kelly was hanged)
The Royal Botanic Gardens
The Immigration Museum
Scienceworks (a short drive west of the city)
Melbourne Heritage Walk