What parts of Melbourne would you show to visitors?

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. Read the rest of this entry »


How do we think about Melbourne?

Melway Edition 1, 1966

Review: When we think about Melbourne: the imagination of a city, Jenny Sinclair, Affirm Press, 2010, Melbourne

One of the observations made by Jenny Sinclair in When we think about Melbourne really strikes a chord with me – just how different the city is when you see it from the saddle of a bicycle. In this extract, she’s just cycled up the middle of St Georges Rd to Reservoir:

Perched on my bike on the track that runs through the park opposite these fine houses, I look down across Preston, Glenroy and to the city, and think: ‘it’s all downhill from here’. When I get home, I felt my sense of the world had expanded a little. Moments like this, of unexpected connection and revelation – I call them ‘surprised by joy’ moments after Wordsworth’s poem – come when we immerse ourselves, when we walk and ride; they are why we should get out of our cars for ourselves, not ‘just’ for the environment or for exercise

Cycling through the city is one of those pleasures that other less-fortunate souls haven’t experienced. Seeing the arse-end of factories from inner city bike trails, the undulating topography, the small exchanges of street life, or the great complexity and detail of inner suburban streetscapes that otherwise might seem regular and monotonous, is to be privy to a hidden world. Read the rest of this entry »