What parts of Melbourne would you show to visitors?Posted: July 7, 2011
The other night my son and I had the pleasure of attending a seminar titled Emotional Cities at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne’s wonderful cultural institution for discussion of writing and ideas. The seminar was billed, somewhat pretentiously, as an all-star line-up of literary luminaries discussing the “architecture of the mind and the cities that inspire them”. It was actually much better than that.
We heard moderator Louise Swinn in discussion with Matthew Condon, who’s just published a book titled Brisbane, and Kerryn Goldsworthy, who’s about to publish one titled Adelaide. These are two in a series of books on Australia’s major cities published by UNSW Press – others include Sydney (Delia Falconer) and Melbourne (Sophie Cunningham). What a great idea! Regrettably, I haven’t read any of them yet.
One of a number of interesting questions put to the panellists by Louise Swinn was what places in their cities they’d show a visitor. I’m not familiar enough with Adelaide to appreciate Kerryn Goldsworthy’s picks, but I know Brisbane very well. Matthew Condon said he’d show his visitors Brisbane’s Southbank, starting with the new Gallery of Modern Art, moving through the various buildings in the cultural precinct and on to the pools and palm trees opposite the CBD.
This is an interesting way to think about any place. I concur with Matthew Condon. When I lived in Brisbane in the 90s Southbank was a “must see” for visitors – I thought of it as “the people’s five star resort”. The superb GOMA has made it even better and while there I’d throw in a visit to the nearby Grey Street and Roma Street railyards redevelopments. In my view almost any part of inner city Brisbane is worth seeing for those magnificent ridge lines, timber bungalows and fecund sub-tropical gardens. Even the standard of new building and urban design is generally very good.
Yet notwithstanding Brisbane’s wonderful natural and human-made assets, it seems it might still lack something vital for Gen Ys. We recently had a new graduate from Brisbane stay with us for a few weeks. She told us she knew of seven other Brisbanites in their early 20s who’d also moved to Melbourne from the north around the same time. What’s particularly interesting is they’ve ignored the siren call of Sydney, the traditional “greener pasture” for young Brisbanites. It’s about jobs, culture and buzz – Melbourne’s got it, Brisbane hasn’t. Nor, it seems, has Sydney. (And yes, one should be careful extrapolating from the particular to the general!).
What to show a visitor in Melbourne? That will depend on who you are and who they are. Children make an enormous difference to tastes and practicality, as does the age and interests of your visitors. Our Gen Y friend is likely to have different tastes from some of my baby boomer friends. But there are some universals, like the harbour and opera house in Sydney.
When I first moved to Melbourne from Sydney in the mid 80s some friends took me on a trip that included the unmade portion of The Boulevard at East Ivanhoe, St Vincents Place in South Melbourne, CBD arcades and laneways, various historic buildings in Collins St like the ANZ bank, the reading room in the library, the NGV, Victoria Market and (better then than it is now) Brunswick St. My list of places to show visitors would now also include the Yarra bank opposite Birrarung Marr, the cycling trails in Yarra Bend Park, Federation Square-Southgate, and the Windsor. I wouldn’t bother with Brunswick Street anymore.
And I’d also include the CBD just for the sheer energy and diversity of all those people walking and dining, full of anticipation of the day or night ahead. In fact maybe I’d just take my visitors to the city centre in the early evening and say this is it. It’s not something in particular that makes Melbourne, it’s the whole caboodle. We probably under-estimate how vital our city is. The centres of some places – for example San Francisco – are dull by comparison, relying mainly on tourists for a bit of life.
My friends also had a ‘disasters’ tour of Melbourne that once again highlighted Collins Street, but this time the buildings that had been lost to redevelopment. My memory’s hazy but other disasters included an MMBW building in Spencer Street where the facade was losing panels and of course that great embarrassment for Melburnians, the humiliating (stunted) Arts Centre Spire.
I hope others have ideas about what to show visitors to Melbourne.