Where are the special places in Melbourne?

When I think of Sydney, where I lived for 10 years, I naturally think of the harbour. Not the familiar expanse around the bridge or opera house, but rather the myriad small inlets in places like Mosman that can only be fully appreciated from the water.

When I think of Brisbane, where I grew up, it’s those wonderful old latticed timber Queenslanders, laced with tropical vines and shaded by white and pink frangipani, stepping up and down the steep slopes of inner city Paddington.

But when I think of Perth, where I lived for four years, nothing truly special comes to mind. There’re plenty of interesting places, like Northbridge, Fremantle, Kings Park, Cottesloe and Rottnest Island, but they don’t seem different enough to really distinguish Perth from other cities.

So what about my favourite city – what are the special places in Melbourne? My rule is that these can’t simply be nice places to go to if you live in Melbourne. They have to be places that are special and not readily found in other cities – they are either unique or done so well they make a lasting impression on visitors. Here’s some I like.

Like most people, I like the lanes and secondary streets of the CBD. Other Australian cities have laneways and narrow streets but for whatever reason they’re not as developed or as “alive” as those of Melbourne. To my mind they show the inherent attractiveness of density – how a special quality is liberated when lots of activity is concentrated within a small, defined space.

The Yarra River park system, starting in the vicinity of Kew and Abbotsford and extending through Yarra Flats, Westerfolds Park and onto the Warrandyte State Park, is magnificent. It’s remarkable that such a massive park system exists so close to the centre of the metropolitan area. I’ve never researched the subject, but I imagine it survived development solely because it’s floodplain. By the time dams were built it’s recreational value was sufficiently appreciated to prevent bricks and mortar development. We probably owe it all to the businessman’s obsession with golf.

Melbourne’s off-road bike paths are another special part of life in Melbourne. That you can cycle from Westerfold’s Park to the CBD and on to the four corners of Melbourne on paths that are almost entirely separated from the road system is remarkable. That much of this path system also tracks through green and tranquil settings, most of it along watercourses, is outstanding.

The concentration of major sporting and entertainment facilities on the eastern edge of the CBD is another special attribute of Melbourne. When major events like the Australian Open or the footy finals are on the atmosphere in the central city is electric. The special thing here I think is that the arenas are so close they draw people into the already crowded CBD. It’s the density effect again.

There’re a few more I’ll look at another day. Anyone else have their special places?

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4 Comments on “Where are the special places in Melbourne?”

  1. Bruce Dickson says:

    A good list Alan – and yes, definitely the laneways! The sizeable market areas also seem to help create identity (but then Adelaide has a good historic central city one of these as well … and Fremantle).

    I sometimes feel there is something peculiarly ‘Melbourne’ about the way a lot of the foreshore areas around Port Phillip Bay look too – St Kilda being the most obvious and possibly best known.

    At first glance, it is not stunning or spectacular, it is not even particularly exciting … it is just Melbourne’s oceanside and a little understated and possibly ‘English’ at that. You actually expect to see the odd old style pier or two.

    This difference in feeling, if not style, also seems to carry over to the way Melbourne’s adjacent Luna Park feels somewhat different to Sydney’s (even though both are similarly located near major waterways). This contrast even seems to extend to the different facial tones/expressions found in the entrance faces and mouths.

    As always, something to enjoy can be found in many places around the Bay, but you don’t have that upfront and immediate visual sense of excitement that Sydney Harbour and its inlets give off.

    And yes, no football venue elsewhere in Australia can ever quite capture the mood and history of the MCG and other fields … including the absolutely atmospheric seriousness of the many supporters found within.

    I am tempted to also suggest the slowly disappearing but once ubiquitous two story corner shops (with their old Tarax and Cottees signs) once found all around Melbourne’s suburbs contributed to a sense of the city’s distinct characteristics. Most usually with a nearby tramstop and tramline running past their doors.

  2. […] a comment » As I noted yesterday, the Yarra River park system – that ribbon of green that runs north east from the vicinity of […]

  3. Benno says:

    You are forgetting the extensive national park around sydney harbour foreshore, that is also very close to the sydney cbd. For instance the stretch from Taronga Zoo – Clifton Gardens – Chowder Bay – Middle Head/Georges Heights – Balmoral. Surely it is more spectacular than the parks along the yarra from abbotsford to warrandyte.

    Have you seen the view from Rawson Park in Clifton Gardens?

    What about “the wall” in Doncaster East/Templestowe? I haven’t seen it, but is sounds pretty extraordinary.

    • Alan Davies says:

      That foreshore along the harbour is pretty thin isn’t it? As I recall, you’ve got to get out to Lane Cove or Manly before you get to anything of significant size like Yarra Bend Park (which is about 6 km out on relatively uncongested roads compared to Sydney).


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