Australia For Visitors > Marvellous Melbourne v Sin City Sydney

Marvellous Melbourne v Sin City Sydney

Bling, Bling, Bling.

These are the sounds of Sydney, not Melbourne. If you dote after glitz, glamour, views, fake fur and facadism, you like Sydney. If you enjoy V12 harbour powerboat racing, callow car contests or doof-doof music with dinner, you’re in Sydney. If you suffer from appalling public transport, a financially sick health system, narrow streets, parks the size of stamps and a contagion called view-flu, you’re a Sydney-sider. But what is a view really worth without a thought to go with it?

Sydney has only three narcissistic thoughts: me, me and what you think about me. In Melbourne the subject is otiose (Melbournians know what this word means).

Melbourne is different. If you prefer intelligence and clotted cream with your concert-interval scones, an Almond Magnum at a Shakespearian drama, the Pompeii Archaeological Treasures exhibition, free CBD trams, rugging up for real winters and fog, playing Aussie rules football (which they invented) while splashing in autumnal showers of golden leaves and parks the size of Sydney Harbour, then you’ll enjoy Lord Melbourne’s demesne.

Ding, Ding, Ding.

These are the sounds of Melbourne. And it’s the music of the world’s only beautiful, burgundy, heritage-listed, fine dining trams as they reverently glide through suburbs.

Melbourne is magnanimity. It conjures up only three thoughts: class, class, class.

Colonial Tramcar Restaurant, Melbourne (image)

"Would Sir prefer oysters or smoked salmon for entrée?" "Both actually, thank you." "Of course."

Inside the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant, Melbourne. Photo: Fernando de Sousa.

Where else are there more musty, fusty, cobwebbed antique bookshops? Nowhere else in the southern hemisphere is there town planning that understands the art of the axis and has a Royal Parade in a place simply called Parkville (what else?) that is really regal with its tiara of noble, English Elm trees.

Where else is their real skill in football rather than that other game that’s just boys and their balls playing chasey before lewd, post-game, hot tub antics with female fans? Where else is there a world heritage-listed, gilded, 1880 Royal Exhibition Centre, double the volume of Sydney's so-called opera house, which is really an operetta foyer that’s too small for its own orchestra?

And show me please, where is there anywhere on earth another Windsor Hotel with its truly magnificent phalanx of jewel-encrusted chandeliers and walls covered in historical letters showing how Australia's Constitution was created?

True, Sydney by comparison has its advantages. It has two seasons, hot and wet or dry and wet.

It has water, water everywhere but only for the privileged to enjoy. It has the QVB, now claustrophobic with escalators. Thanks Clover Moore, Lord Mayor. And Sydney may be this continent’s cradle of European civilisation but will it ever grow up?

Sydney has grunge, beer barns with plasma TVs, gambling ghettoes, vomit-metres and major problems in Kings Cross.

Melbourne has roasted walnuts stalls on five-metre-wide footpaths. It has friendly, professional waiters with gold-buttoned waistcoats and ankle-length, snow-white aprons who’ve mastered their craft employed in hushed cafés with real open fires, real mahogany wainscotting and real names like Café Latino, not rude uni students on loud, polished concrete floors in stainless steel and mirror boxes with café names like Zinc.

Melbourne has more than streets. It has grands boulevards on a Grand European Scale.

And it’s where they know the art of wearing a scarf, pay tribute to tweed, where heritage is honoured, where mosaics matter and where stunning public sculpture is simply assumed. Its snug, twilight, laneway bars, buffered from residential zones, are not just cute: they’re intimate. Textured gold-leaf wallpapers and groovy, glow-bar, retro 1970s decors are enticing, captivating – titillating even.

In Melbourne a book is not a four-letter word: it’s where reading is relished. Melbourne is a UNESCO City of Literature, one of only seven in the world. It's where Australia’s most intellectual daily newspaper, The Age, still wears its traditional Royal Coat of Arms as a front-page Latin honorific.

In Sydney trashy, splashy photos flatter local media articles as if to say "We got limited words." Well obviously.

Sydney is over-accessorised, its style just an add-on. Melbourne is more than style. It has panache, élan and its own méthode Melbournoise. Sydney, always playing catch-up, has aspiration but no inspiration.

Melbourne is where civilisation disembarks at is destination.

Andrew Woodhouse (image) Author: Andrew Woodhouse, Potts Point, Sydney.

Andrew Woodhouse is a heritage writer.

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The above article: © Andrew Woodhouse

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