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Melbourne

Melbourne is the state capital of and the largest city in Victoria, and the second-largest city in Australia, with a population of 3,366,542 (census 2001).


One view of the Melbourne skyline
Melbourne is located in the south-eastern corner of mainland Australia, approximately 800 kilometres southwest of Sydney. It sits looking on to Port Phillip Bay[?], its suburbs sprawling to the east, following the Yarra River out to the Yarra and Dandenong mountain ranges[?], south-east to the mouth of the bay, and west and north to flat farming country. The central business district (the original city) is laid out in a grid, its southern side backing on to the Yarra.

Melbourne is a large commercial and industrial center, with many of Australia's largest companies, and many multinational corporations (approximately one-third of the 100 largest multinationals operating in Australia as of 2002) headquartered there. It is home to Australia's largest port, several prominent universities (most notably the University of Melbourne), and much of Australia's automotive industry (including the engine manufacturing facility of Holden, and the Ford and Toyota manufacturing facilities) amongst many other manufacturing industries.

Melbourne, while having a large and vibrant arts and cultural life (notably including the Melbourne International Comedy Festival each autumn), is perhaps best known as the most sports-obsessed city in the world. Melbourne has ten of the sixteen teams in the Australian Football League, whose five Melbourne games per week attract, on average, about 35,000 people per game. Melbourne hosts the Australian tennis open, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, the Melbourne Cup (the most prestigious handicap horse race in the world), a hugely-attended cricket test match starting each year on Boxing Day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (a massive arena that holds 100,000 spectators), a round of the Formula One World Championship, amongst many other events attracted to the city by the readiness of spectators to attend, as well as aggressive attempts by the state government to attract them.

Melbourne was founded in 1834 by a group of free settlers, unlike many of Australia's capital cities which were founded as penal colonies. With the discovery of gold in central Victoria in the 1850s, Melbourne quickly grew as a port to service the necessary trade and by the time of Federation shared pre-eminence with Sydney as Australia's most important cities. Until 1927 and the construction of Canberra, Melbourne served as Australia's centre of government.

Melbourne continued to grow steadily throughout the first half of the 20th century, particularly with the post-WWII influx of migrants and the influence of hosting the Olympic Games in 1956. While continuing to grow, however, Sydney's influence on Australian affairs grew stronger at the expense of Melbourne's. Capitalising on this mood, the Liberal government of Jeff Kennett revitalised the city through the 1990s with aggressive development of new public buildings and publicising Melbourne's merits both to outsiders and Melbournians. Despite a recent change of government, the re-energised city continues to grow rapidly.

One notable feature of the Melbourne landscape is a mobile one - the tram. Melbourne is the only Australian city to retain a significant light rail system throughout its inner suburbs. They are of great interest to tourists (particularly those from the US in which light rail systems disappeared a lifetime ago). The traditional W-class trams have been relegated to an infrequent "City Circle" tourist loop around the city. In 2001, the first new Citadis 300 TGA 202 trams were bought from France. These low-floor trams are complemented by a massive development upgrade of some city tram stops in 2002. The new "super stops" marginally improve shelter, information and safety for travellers.

Table of contents

Tourist Information

Whilst perhaps lacking the showy icons of Sydney and the beaches of the Gold Coast, Melbourne attracts large numbers of tourists, particularly young backpackers. It also hosts a disproportionate amount of spectator sports.

Popular sites and events include:

  • The MCG. From April to September, there is typically one or two Australian rules football matches there per week; the game can be spectacular, it is unique to Australia, relatively inexpensive to attend, and is safe and enjoyable for all, including children. During the summer, cricket matches are played there - the most important being the Boxing day test match between Christmas and New Year's Eve, and several one-day international games in January and February which are perhaps more enjoyable for the casual spectator. There is also a museum at the ground.
  • Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open tennis tournament, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments. Held in January each year.
  • The Melbourne Museum, recently moved to a new building on the northern fringe of the city, next to the Exhibition Buildings, which were built in the 1880s for a World's Fair (one of the few such buildings still standing). To many Melburnians, the most significant exchibit is probably the preserved body of Phar Lap, a famous racehorse of the Depression era, but technically-inclined visitors may be more interested in CSIRAC[?], the fifth electronic computer built and the only one of its generation to survive intact.
  • The curiously-named National Gallery of Victoria (not to be confused with the National Gallery in Canberra), is an art museum hosting a reasonable collection of art, including both western art and a decent collection of Aboriginal art. It has now been split over two buildings, the Australian collection now housed in Federation Square, an architecturally complex public space on the Yarra river banks, and the European collection remaining at the (still under renovation) St. Kilda Road building.
  • The Rialto Tower[?], Melbourne's tallest building, gives an excellent view of the city.
  • The Victorian Arts Centre[?] at Southbank (the southern fringe of the city, just south of the historic Flinders Street Station[?]) hosts Opera Australia's Melbourne season, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra[?], the Melbourne Theatre Company[?], the Australian Ballet Company[?], Chunky Move (Australia's best-known contemporary dance company) and other touring productions. A Melbourne landmark, the acoustics of the building are far better than the Sydney Opera House and the tickets are considerably cheaper, so, given a choice, tourists are advised to see operas here rather than in Sydney. Unfortunately, the opera season is rather limited. There are also typically several musicals playing in theatres around the CBD, mostly several years after their production on Broadway or the West End, but usually of good quality and at quite reasonable cost.
  • Crown Casino[?], a short walk along the Yarra River from the Arts Centre, is a truly gargantuan gambling palace, also containing restaurants, upmarket boutiques, several nightclubs, a hotel tower, a cinema complex, and regular floorshows. Very much Las Vegas in miniature, it is either loved or hated by both residents and tourists.

Melbourne's restaurants are numerous, and are generally of reasonable quality and good value (particularly for foreign tourists who can take advantage of the low value of the Australian dollar). Below are some of the major restaurant strips, however there are many other restaurants not in these locations which offer similar or better-quality food and usually at lower cost. The Age newspaper produces two "Good restaurant" guides - one for low-cost eating and another for more elaborate restaurants.

  • Chinatown, on Little Bourke St. and now spreading out onto Russell St. in the CBD, ofers numerous restaurants, mainly but not exclusively offering Cantonese cuisine, at the lower end offering Hong-Kong style noodle restaurants up to Flower Drum, renowned for its peking duck and generally regarded as Melbourne's best restaurant. There are many other restaurants throughout the CBD.
  • Lygon St[?], in the inner-northern suburb of Carlton, offers a selection of mainly Italian-influenced food. To some extent a tourist strip, the quality is variable with some restaurants with decent reputations and others avoided by locals. The nearby Melbourne University means that students throng to the better-value places; tourists may consider following their lead.
  • Brunswick St[?] in inner-suburban Fitzroy used to be a grungy hotbed of students, musicians, actors, and the like, and still retains some remnant of that edginess with the presence of several live music venues, all manner of eclectic stores, accompanied by restaurants and cafes, many of which serve varied and contemporary menus (though prices have crept up with the growing gentrification of the area). Brunswick St went through a growth phase and rapidly became a casual place to eat. The rise in number and income level of people living within walking and hearing distance are changing the feel. Several chain companies targeting the upwardly mobile post-university crowd saw the trends (late!) and opened branches on Brunswick street, putting further rent pressure on the interesting, but low turn-over stores. Almost all buildings in the once light industrial surrounding area have been converted into apartments. This puts parking pressure on the area and noise restrictions over the previously vibrant musical scene. People have started dressing in the over-trendy, have-I-made-it-yet style, previously reserved for the "Chapel St" area of Melbourne. Luckily there are still plenty of people wearing alternative or comfortable sloppy clothes. However because there are fewer unexpected things to do on the street, you almost need a reason to visit. Lunch and a couple of second hand book stores are two choices. Brunswick St is more vibrant at night than during the day.
  • Chapel St[?], south of the city is a popular destination for fashionable clothes shopping, eating and entertainment. The long street contains commercial areas providing goods and services for local residents. This variety makes the street arguably more interesting than Lygon and Brunswick streets which have a higher proportion of eating establishments. Chapel St intersects with Toorak Rd, itself offering entertainment, food and shops. Both streets are full of people dressed in Melbourne's current fashion.

As one would expect from a city its size, Melbourne contains all manner of pubs, bars, and nightclubs. The CBD contains a wide variety of venues, from the ubquititous faux-Irish pubs proliferating around the world, to some very upmarket establishments (such as the Supper Club, which offers all manner of exclusive wines at exclusive prices), serious jazz venues (Bennetts Lane), trendoid dance venues, and massive pickup joints (of which The Metro on Bourke St is perhaps the biggest). The restaurant strips, particularly Brunswick St. have their own bars, some of which are the best rock venues in Melbourne. King St, on the southern side of the CBD, was traditionally a nightclub strip and still hosts several, but many are now exotic dancing venues (a final note in this topic, small brothels[?] are legal in Victoria and are found discreetly dotted throughout the suburbs). Chapel St. Prahran, is perhaps the trendiest, most upmarket (and most expensive) nightlife strip. The final area of note is St. Kilda, background for the TV show The Secret Life of Us[?], which is the home of several huge music venues including the famous Esplanade Hotel, the Prince of Wales, and The Palace Complex. On its beachside setting, it also combines the upmarket with the grungy.

The recent influx of city-dwellers have given rise to the numerous underground bars and sidewalk cafes in the alleys between Flinders St - Flinders Lane and Bourke St - Lonsdale St. As such, the nightlife in these areas are none too shabby. Notable alleys include Block Arcade/Block Place (off Little Collins), Degraves St (off Flinders Lane), and Hardware Lane (between Bourke & Lonsdale).

Melbourne is a reasonably cheap and easy place to shop. There are large numbers of souvenier shops on Swanston Street in the central business district selling the usual array of t-shirts, didgeridoos, boomerangs, and the like. There are innumerable clothing shops for every budget, though bargain hunters may wish to try the outlet stores in Bridge Road, Richmond.

Outside Melbourne proper, there are a variety of interesting things to see within a day trip of Melbourne:

To do: finish dining and nightlife areas, mention some of the day trips (Surf Coast, Phillip Island, Yarra Ranges, Winery Tours)

see also: Urban walks in Melbourne

Melbourne in Fiction

Melbourne has been the setting for many novels, television dramas, and films. Perhaps the best-known internationally is the novel On the Beach. In 1959, it was made into a film starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and directed by Stanley Kramer[?]. The film depicted the denizens of Melbourne quietly slipping off into eternity as the last victims of a global nuclear holocaust. Filmed on location in and around Melbourne (a huge novelty for Melbourne at the time), it is perhaps best remembered for a comment Ms. Gardner never made - describing Melbourne as 'the perfect place to make a film about the end of the world', commenting on the dreary conservatism of Melbourne in the late 1950s. The purported quote was invented by journalist Neil Jillett.

Perhaps better known to a contemporary audience is the daily teen soap opera Neighbours, which presents a whitewashed[?] microcosm of suburban Australian life. Other contemporary television shows set in Melbourne include Stingers[?], a police drama, and The Secret Life of Us[?].

Singer Paul Kelly has written several well-known songs about aspects of the city close to the heart of many Melburnians, notably Leaps and Bounds and Saint Kilda to Kings Cross.

Media

Melbourne's daily newspapers include the "small-l liberal" broadsheet The Age, and the Murdoch tabloid Herald-Sun.

The three commercial television channels and the ABC[?] produce a nightly news bulletin in Melbourne, and the Seven Network[?] produces its (downmarket) current affairs show Today Tonight[?] there. The ABC also produces a weekly state-based current affairs show, Stateline, in Melbourne.

Melbourne has a wide range of radio stations. In terms of current affairs radio, the most notable locally-produced stations are ABC Local Radio and 3AW, both featuring extensive local news coverage and talkback. Both are notably more sedate and far more liberal than the raucous Sydney talkback stations. Australia's most successful community radio[?] station, 3RRR[?], is a Melbourne institution.

Events

1854 - Melbourne Exhibition (1854)[?] (in conjunction with Exposition Universelle (1855))
1861 - Victorian Exhibition (1861)[?]
1866 - Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia (1866)[?]
1875 - Victorian Intercolonial Exhibition (1875)[?]
1880 - Melbourne International Exhibition (1880)[?]
1884 - Victorian International Exhibition 1884 of Wine, Fruit, Grain & other products of the soil of Australasia with machinery, plant and tools employed[?]
1885 - Victorians' Jubilee Exhibition (1885)[?] (Jubilee of Victoria Exhibition)
1886 -
1888 - Victorian Juvenile Industrial Exhibition (1888)[?], Centennial International Exhibition[?]
1956 - The Olympic Games

This article is about Melbourne, Australia; see also other places called Melbourne



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