There has always been a good natuerd competition between Melbourne and Sydney, Australia’s largest cities. Sydney is the oldest city in Oz and Sydneysiders sometimes refer to Melbourne as Australia’s “2nd city.” Melburnians like to think of themselves as more culturally aware than the “beach bums” in Sydney. Who’s right? Each has their point, but when it comes to culture, Melbourne is definitely not second rate.
Melbourne got off to a quiet pace as a metropolis. The historical European settlers didn’t arrive directly from England or the continent, but by way of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). Its natural harbor was its primary draw at the time. That was in 1837, almost 50 years after the original settlers arrived in Australia. As the largest city in Victoria, it was declared the capital of the State in 1851.
Later in the 1850s, a lot of gold was found in Victoria and the Gold Rush began. The pace of life in Melbourne picked up dramatically and it became one of the world’s wealthiest cities. During the 2nd half of the 19th century, many of Australia’s most majestic mansions and public buildings were constructed in Melbourne. Even today, they hold their own against the more modern skyscrapers that dominate the Central Business District (CBD) skyline.
Melbourne’s claim to being the cultural centre of Australia is not without merit. It is the birthplace of the Australian film industry and the world’s first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was produced in Melbourne in 1906. It is also the home of the world-renowned Australian Impressionist art movement and the birthplace of widely recognized Australian dance styles. On top of that, Melbourne is where many of Australia’s top traditional and contemporary musicians come from.
Melbourne has received many other accolades over the course of its history as well and continues to receive them. It has consistently been voted one of the world’s top three most livable cities since 2002 and one of the world’s top ten University towns since 2006. In 2006, UNESCO declared Melbourne a “city of literature.” When you add it all up, it is little wonder why Melbourne can make the boast that it is Australia’s cultural capital.
The great thing about Melbourne is that both high culture and popular culture mingle freely in this cosmopolitan city. The Palais Theatre, one of Melbourne’s top venues for international acts, is located in the bohemian district of St Kilda. It is a “fair dinkum” Australian city that despite its rich heritage and cultural achievements neither encourages nor tolerates the snobbishness so often seen in other major world cities.
Most overseas visitors to Australia make Sydney their first stop. If you are one of them, be sure to put Melbourne next on your list of “must see” Australian destinations. Thanks to its having the world’s largest tram system, it is an easy city to explore, even if you don’t have a car. Don’t take the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry seriously: it’s “all in good fun,” as Australians say. Find a Melbourne accommodation and expect to stay awhile. There is so much to see and do in Melbourne, you won’t want to leave.