Sixteen things I've learnt about Melbourne

Cafe-lined Centre Place, one of Melbourne's revered alleyways.
Cafe-lined Centre Place, one of Melbourne's revered alleyways. Photo: Alamy

I never knew that much about Melbourne. I’d spent a few weekends there in the past, been to a couple of sporting events, drunk in a few bars, but I’d never had the chance to really get to know the city.

That is, until I moved there earlier this year. I went from fancy Sydney to down-to-Earth Melbourne, swapping beaches and harbour for cafes and bars. And while my time in the southern capital is almost over, the last five or so months have given me a good insight into life south of the border.

I don’t care about the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry – as someone who was born in WA and raised in Queensland, I have no allegiance either way. But there are still a few things you learn when you move south.

It’s pretty

Melbourne seems to be unfairly thought of as ugly, mainly because it’s always being compared with Sydney. Take it on its own merits, however, and you’ll soon find beauty in Melbourne – try the Royal Botanic Gardens, or the banks of the Yarra down by AAMI Park, or even the art-splashed streets of Fitzroy.

It’s also kind of snobby

I moved to Melbourne picturing a glorious haven of unpretentiousness – but instead found surprising reverse snobbery from the cool crowd. I was turned away from a bar in Fitzroy because I was wearing a tie. I had a bartender in Northcote peer down his nose as my shabbily dressed soccer team arrived for a drink and ask, “Is there a ute muster on or something?”

If you think its public transport system sucks…

Then you haven’t left Melbourne for a while. Locals tend to complain about transport in Melbourne, particularly the Myki card system, but while it may have its faults, the huge network of trams and trains and buses is still miles better than any other city in Australia.

Its obsession with AFL borders on the absurd

“Who’s your footy team?” asks every single person at every single first meeting. If you can’t come up with a good answer you’ll see their eyes glaze over and quickly move on to someone else. Victorians are obsessed with AFL. You can’t even joke about it. They’re way too serious. It feels like 98 per cent of newspaper sports sections are given over to AFL. Every TV and radio channel is talking about it. It’s all-consuming, and it’s a bit bizarre.

Its bars require a tour guide

The Melbourne bar scene is a multi-dimensional maze of unmarked doors down dark alleys, of hidden rooftops and split-level clubs. You’d never just stumble upon Sister Bella, or Goldilocks, or Lustre, or Ferdydurke. I was lucky to know someone with local expertise – without her I’d have been drinking at Fed Square every night.  

You don’t go out in the CBD on a Saturday night

All those small bars that seem so classy and mature during the week get invaded by a completely different crowd on weekends, turning the CBD into a cesspit of tarted-up teenagers. Stick to the suburbs.

Pho Hung Vuong 2 rules

On moving to Melbourne I was a little worried about where I’d get my Vietnamese noodle soup fix – and then Pho Hung Vuong 2 in Richmond came to the rescue. Best pho ever.

Harbour Town is weird

You get the feeling that the Harbour Town shopping precinct was commissioned with the idea that, “if you build it, they will come”. Only they built it, and no one came.

The “Melbourne Star” is even weirder

Plenty of questions arise from this huge Ferris wheel down at Docklands. Does it actually work now? Who goes on it? What can you even see from up there? Why put it in Melbourne? I have no idea.

It pays to be hungry

Melbourne is supposed to be all about shopping and eating, and while I’m not a huge shopper, I can definitely do food. I came to the city with a huge list of places I wanted to eat at and only managed to knock over about half. If you don’t eat well in Melbourne, you’re doing something wrong.

It also pays to take an umbrella

Some of the clichés are true, and one is that it’s only ever about 10 minutes away from raining in Melbourne. Take a brolly.

There’s never nothing to do

At any given point in time you can pretty much guarantee that there will be a festival on in Melbourne. They range from music festivals to arts festivals to food festivals to spiritual festivals. There should be a “Festivals Festival” – a festival that celebrates all of Melbourne’s festivals.

Melburnians will go to the opening of a fridge

I’ve been to plenty of events in Melbourne – from footy games to White Night, the Comedy Festival, and even just dodgy bands playing at the Corner Hotel – and every single one of them has been packed with people. Melburnians aren’t afraid to leave the house, which means more entertainment is offered, and everyone wins.

It is possible to get bad coffee

The common assumption about Melbourne is that you can’t get a bad flat white. I, however, heroically proved that theory wrong by buying coffee at a suburban train station. Stick to the cafes. 

Parking your motorbike on the pavement rules

My friend’s wife calls it the “VIP pass”, the ability to park your motorbike or scooter pretty much wherever the heck you please. On the pavement right outside work? No worries. It’s an idea Sydney should embrace.

It’s more like Sydney than it would like to admit

While some Melburnians still love to hate Sydney (and vice versa), there are a surprising amount of similarities between the two cities. There’s the faintly ridiculous north-south divide, although the cool people and the posh people swap sides of the water in Melbourne. There are all the transplanted restaurants, like Spice Temple, Longrain, Messina and Eau de Vie. And there’s St Kilda, which, with its laidback beachy atmosphere and backpacker vibe, has a fairly big whiff of Bondi about it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Have you lived in Melbourne? What have you learnt about it? Do you think the rivalry with Sydney is pretty pointless?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

Comments