As anyone who has spent time in Australia will testify the residents of both Sydney and Melbourne have always been strong advocates of their respective city’s claim to being Australia’s number one city.
Indeed it was to keep the peace between the rival factions and to ensure that both cities were treated equally that Canberra was selected as the site for Australia’s capital in 1908. Although the Parliament had previously met in Melbourne there had previously been no officially designated capital.
Following several recent visits to Australia I am tempted to look at the claims of each city to be Australia’s premier city but I have to start with a disclaimer – I lived in Sydney from 1973 -77 and it was the absolute making of me as I took my first entrepreneurial steps that were to shape the rest of my life.
And notwithstanding the above that indicates I might be inclined to demonstrate some bias I suspect that most outsiders would consider Sydney to be Australia’s main city. It is after all together with Hong Kong, Vancouver and San Francisco one of the 4 spectacular harbour cities that ring the Pacific and most people have heard of The Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour and even Bondi Beach.
How many Canadians, Americans or Germans can name any attraction in Melbourne?
Port Philip Bay anyone?
The MCG is deservedly familiar to cricket enthusiasts around the world but will attract nothing more than a quizzical look when mentioned to most nationalities.
However, my recent visit to Melbourne confirms that it is no longer without it claims to be considered Australia’s prime city and the city made a far more favourable impression than when I first visited Melbourne in the days prior to Christmas in 1972 after spending the previous year travelling overland through Asia and then hitchhiking across the Nullabor Desert from West Australia.
Years of listening to the Christmas Edition of Family Favourites on BBC Radio had conditioned me to thinking a traditional Christmas Day ‘Down Under’ was to spend it on the beach which I did at Franklin on Port Philip Bay. It was cold, windy, the beach was deserted and I could not wait to head north to Sydney.
If I was going to live in Australia for a while I wanted to be based somewhere where the climate was a significant and warmer improvement on the UK. I had not come all the way to Australia to live in a city with cool and rainy winters – I could stay in the UK and get that.
I lived in Sydney from 1973 – 78 and returned frequently until 1993 to the city that in many ways I became my spiritual home as it was here I first worked for myself and first made some serious money.
Then all of a sudden over 20 years passed in a flash with just a single visit to Australia which was restricted to West Australia and therefore did not include Sydney.
So two years ago I was quite excited when I learnt that our daughter Lisa planned to continue her studies in Sydney – or rather just outside Sydney at the university of Western Sydney in Richmond.
Despite my entreaties of
‘Why Richmond when you can be living in one of the world’s great cities? Apply to the University of Sydney’
it was never going to be anywhere but Richmond because of course
But of course it would still give me the opportunity to revisit my old haunts which partly explains why after zero visits in 21 years I have now visited Sydney three times in the last 9 months! (and four times by January 2016)
Something akin to London buses and policemen – you wait forever and then three come at the same time!
Consequently after 21 years away from the Eastern States I have now had the opportunity to visit both Sydney and Melbourne in recent months and am perhaps now in a position to at least attempt a comparison of their merits albeit one where my consideration of Sydney is more infused with many associations and memories from a previous life.This past year I have perhaps overdosed on seeing Sydney as a tourist (or rather seeing the same things three times in 9 months) – first visiting Lisa and James when I stopped off in Australia last March between Argentina and Thailand, then when returning with our other daughter Sarah in October after promising Lisa I would come back later in the year and finally with our son David in conjunction with a long planned visit to the Australian Open Tennis in Melbourne which he could combine with a visit to his sister and hence a third visit to Sydney in 9 months!
I think my experience with Sydney is best described as a crash course in getting acquainted with an old lover. Some things never change and others change drastically but usually it is possible to pick up where you left off but is the affection still there?
My personal reaction to Sydney has not been what I expected – when I see an old friend after 30 years I invariably enjoy the experience but my reaction to Sydney was different. Normally wherever I go I am perusing Estate Agent’s windows, looking at property prices and envisaging what it would be like to live in Paris/New York etc but in Sydney I was looking out of professional interest and not because I felt any wish to be based there.Australia is a young person’s country. It always has been and always will be and Sydney typifies this and shouts it at you all the time – or is it just that the writer is so much older now? Or was it because everywhere I went there were memories and I did not like or want to be reminded of the passing years
There can be no doubts that Sydney has a magnificent location for a big city with its harbour, ocean beaches and spectacular landmarks – it is right up there with Rio, Cape Town, Hong Kong and Vancouver and the city demands both attention and affection because of its spectacular setting.
And the spectacular setting yields some really outstanding and easy walks which will stand comparison with any city based walks anywhere in the world.From the centre of the City one can walk through the very attractive Botanical Gardens to one of the world’s most distinctive buildings – the Sydney Opera House and watch the Commuter Ferries, Harbour Cruise boats and Ocean Liners coming and going from nearby Circular Quay, the vibrant centre of the City in many ways.
And all the time with the magnificent Harbour Bridge in the background dominating everything – it really is one of the world’s great Bridges and a major landmark and visitor attraction in its own right.
There are an array of eating options lining the popular 10 minute stroll from Circular Quay to the Opera House and whilst people watching is definitely on the agenda as tourists from around the world flock here to take Selfies with the Harbour Bridge or Opera House in the background so is boat watching as you can have some of the world’s biggest liners delicately manoeuvring into and out of the Ocean Terminal amid a never ending stream of Commuter Ferries coming and going.
I have long thought there is probably no finer a commute to work anywhere in the world than across Sydney Harbour to Circular Quay and the Central Business District.
The second walk that is really mandatory is to walk through ‘The Rocks’ and up onto the Harbour Bridge walkway and then to walk across ‘the old coathanger’ as the Harbour Bridge is affectionately known by the locals. This is easily fitted in within the same half day as a walk through the Botanical Gardens to the Opera House and on to Circular Quay.
The Rocks is the name for the location of the original settlement of Sydney and is located adjacent to Circular Quay. Replete with Craft Shops, Restaurants, Galleries and a weekend market it is always an interesting place to visit with lots of attractive historic and colonial architectural gems as well as providing access to the walkway across the magnificent Harbour Bridge.
The views from the Harbour Bridge down over the Rocks and Circular Quay to the towering skyscapers behind Circular Quay and towards Jorn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House, itself surrounded by the Harbour with the Eastern Suburbs behind has to be one of the finest Bridge views anywhere in the world – perhaps rivalled but certainly not surpassed by the views of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.
However what makes the Harbour Bridge walk so outstanding is the fact that you always have a good chance of a blue sky background and there is so much going on in the Harbour below and all with one of the world’s most distinctive buildings as a centrepiece.
People often forget how controversial Jorn Utzon’s competition winning design was during the 1960s when the Opera House was being built and indeed Utzon resigned in protest as a result of the internal modifications that were made to his original design. A ‘Scrum of Nuns’ was one of the more repeatable descriptions of his innovative Roof Design but no-one would deny that the Opera House has aged well and is now one of the most distinctive buildings in the world that draws visitors to both Sydney and Australia.
I was fortunate enough to be present in 1973 when the Queen opened the Opera House and the Harbour was pretty much a forest of boats big and small and one could hardly see the water. It can be justifiably argued that the opening of the Opera House in 1973 which fell within Gough Whitlam’s radical and ground breaking Government of 1972 -75 were two important events that marked the beginnings of Australia’s final transition from its colonial roots to a proud and independent nation?
The more adventurous can invest $150 in the spectacular and acclaimed Bridge Climb atop the very Girders that form the curved span of the Bridge to its highest point but walk across the Bridge via the walkway is free and affords some of the most spectacular views anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere and is not to be missed.
And when you return to the Rocks one can make a loop around Millers Point back to Circular Quay and pass under the magnificent Bridge which is like a giant Meccano set of steel Girders, Nuts, Bolts and Rivets. For sure the construction of the ‘Old Coat Hanger’ was a triumph of engineering.
As well as the Opera House and the Rocks Area the centre of Sydney and its harbour offers many attractions and from Circular Quay there are frequent ferries to both the Oceanside suburb of Manly, famed for its magnificent sweeping Beach bedecked by Norfolk Pines, and to the Taronga Park Zoo and both are high on most visitor’s lists of things to do.
Indeed there is no Zoo anywhere in the world which offers such stunning views as the vistas over the Harbour to the City Centre and Harbour Bridge which provide a quite magnificent backdrop to the Zoo’s Free Flight Bird Shows.
The walk around the redeveloped Darling Harbour area complete with many entertainment options and the Casino is always interesting but for me two of the most interesting attractions in the centre of the City are the Art Gallery of NSW with impressive collections of Australian and Asian art the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia with displays of cutting-edge Australian and international modern art housed in a grand, waterside art deco building in the historic Rocks area adjacent to the Ocean Terminal and facing Circular Quay.
By contrast if you want quite literally a birds eye view of the city and surrounding areas try the Skywalk around the outside of the Sydney Tower where you are attached to the external gangway by a safety chain and harness secured by a Karabiner – somewhat akin to a high altitude Via Ferrata route in the Italian Dolomites! This is more as reassurance against the exposure rather than to protect you because if you did slip without being secured it would be nigh on impossible to fall off the walkway and if you did you would only go a few feet before hitting the next level.
Nevertheless with the sky above and seemingly all around you it is an impressive experience and being outside of the building gives a completely different perspective on the spectacular views over the entire metropolitan area and streets and buildings below. The entire experience is made all the more enjoyable by the young and energetic guides encouraging everyone to pose like fools with the magnificent backdrop of the city behind and below. Highly recommended!
Putting to one side that all visitors to Sydney will at some point make their way to the Opera House, the almost adjacent Harbour Bridge and admire the magnificent Harbour I personally think the one outstanding attraction that people should incorporate into a visit to Sydney is the coastal path between the Oceanside Beaches of Coogee and Bondi.
Indeed, it is the range of magnificent sandy ocean beaches within close proximity of the city centre that together with the Harbour combine to make Sydney one of the world’s most spectacularly located cities and fully on a par with Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong and Vancouver.
The most famous and iconic of these beaches is of course Bondi which together with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge is of the three famous landmarks that one immediately associates with Sydney but there are many fine beaches in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and my preference is to take the 40 minute bus ride from the city centre to Coogee, and then to walk north to Bondi.
The walk is easy to follow and follows ocean side roads, cliff top parks and a modern pathway built along the cliffs. Australian’s love the outdoor life and are fitness fanatics so the path is busy with joggers and power walkers which complement the spectacular views of houses precariously built on cliff tops and of hundreds of off shore surfers depending on the weather and wave conditions. And along the route at Coogee, Clovelly and Bondi one will find some unique manmade outdoor ocean pools.
Coogee is after Bondi the largest of the Beaches in the Eastern Suburbs and similar in character but on a smaller scale. One can admire the sweeping beach before walking past the memorials to the local residents who died in the 2002 Bali bombing, onto the first headland.
A path follows the grassy cliff top before descending to miniature Gordon Bay with many fishing boats and rowing boats pulled up above the inlet before continuing to Clovelly Beach at the end of a narrow inlet with a Surf Lifesaving Club (a particularly Australian culture) at the mouth of the inlet. Clovelly is a nice place for a sheltered swim on a hot day.
The route continues past the clifftop Clovelly Bowling Club and the Waverley Cemetery and I always ask myself if there can be any more spectacular location in which to play bowls when doing so against the backdrop of a vast expanse of blue ocean or to lay in peace for time immemorial.
Next up is Bronte Beach like all the others with a grassy park area immediately behind and then one arrives at Tamarama Beach and when conditions off shore are right there will often be hundreds of spectators on the clifftop shelves and rocks watching dozens of Surfers offshore all hoping to catch the big swells.
And then finally, depending on your walking speed perhaps 90 – 120 minutes after leaving Coogee, one sees the massive sweep of Bondi Beach appear.
And after walking past the historic Bondi Icebergs swimming club with its pool built above the rock shelf below one descends to Bondi still Sydney’s most popular beach for locals but now characterised by many fast food outlets, souvenir shops and the destination of choice for Backpackers visiting Sydney as there are so many hostels here.
I do not think there is a more spectacular urban coastal walk anywhere in the world and if you are lucky enough to be in Sydney in October the stretch from Bondi to Tamarama is the site for the popular Sculpture by the Sea open air art exhibition. With over a hundred traditional, modern and often eclectic examples of sculpture on display and for sale along the path, in neighbouring parkland and bedecking headlands you will be guaranteed a very different dimension to your walk.
Personally I judge the attractiveness of any piece of Art by one simple criteria – would I hang it on one of my walls or display it in one of my homes? The scale of many of the sculptures and exhibits was such that the question should best be phrased as ‘would I display it on my Estate?’ (if I had one) and in truth the answer as far as most exhibits was concerned was ‘No’ but I doubt if there could be a more stunning canvas on which to exhibit Art than with the Azure Tasman Sea as a background.
Another option for experiencing this magnificent coastal path is to take a Harbour Ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay where one will find Doyle’s Fish and Chips restaurant, a venerable Sydney institution.
One can then walk north for 20 minutes or so to South Head – the southernmost tip of the entrance to Sydney Harbour before turning and walking along a path and suburban roads that hug the cliff tops with million dollar homes facing the ocean.
One walks past the Macquarie Lighthouse (Australia’s oldest lighthouse and still working) to Bondi in about 90 minutes and then continue southwards along the path I described above to end in Coogee.
In the first of my three recent visits to Sydney I stayed awhile in Coogee again (I also lived there in 1973!) and walked along the path towards Bondi and back most days as part of my never ending efforts to stay fit.
It is difficult for me to be objective about Sydney – the five years I lived there was the most formative period of my life and in every way the making of me so I have fond memories although at the same time I prefer not to be reminded of the passing of time!
Nevertheless there had to be a nostalgic element to my visits so I took each of my kids to historic Sydney Grammar School where I taught from 1973-76 with Alistair Mackerras as the School Headmaster. The Mackerras family were one of the most distinguished Australian families with the 4 brothers all achieving pre-eminence and not least Charles as Director of Music at London’s Covent Garden.
I did not appreciate that Sydney Grammar was a fee paying school until the morning I started in late January 1973 because a Grammar School in the UK is a state school for the academically gifted – a benchmark I had failed to traverse at the age of eleven!
I could not resist revisiting what was Bohemian and risqué Kings Cross in the 1970s and found it to be without character or vibrancy today with none of the ‘edge’ it had in decades past perhaps because many of its activities were only tolerated because the Police turned a blind eye in return for a weekly stipend from the nightclubs, strip joints and illegal casinos!
But Randwick Racecourse did not disappoint – it is still one of the finest race courses in the world and Australian Racing is, in my and many other’s opinions, quite simply the best in the world for administration, prizemoney and spectator comforts.
Sadly they were not racing at Randwick when David visited Sydney but I enjoyed visits to Randwick last year with both Lisa (twice) and Sarah and it was good to show my kids the very location where I first started to make money!
I very much recommend a Saturday afternoon at Randwick if the horses are racing when you visit Sydney.
Casinos were illegal when I lived in Sydney although the infamous (then) corrupt police force were easily paid off and several operated in and around Kings Cross but now I could indulge my passion for gambling (which was born and nurtured during my time in Australia) by visiting the Star Casino in Darling Harbour and did so on a couple of occasions.
For comparative purposes please note that the Star Casino is Australia’s second biggest and the biggest is the Crown Casino in Melbourne. Strike one for Melbourne then!
However perhaps the most enjoyable experience of my three recent visits to Sydney was to wander down Glebe Point Road on a stifling hot January day this year. Glebe is an inner city suburb just a couple of miles from downtown Sydney and I lived there for two and a half years from 1974-76 at a time when Glebe was in transition and being ‘gentrified’ in a similar fashion to Paddington, a suburb between the City and Bondi where the worker’s 19th century colonial terraced houses have long since been converted to much sought after townhouses.
But in Glebe I was delighted to find that Glebe Point Road was much as I remembered it with very little alteration to the Victorian houses and an eclectic mix of bookshops and a rich variety of ethnic eating options.
I even discovered my old rooming house in a similar state of ‘needing to be decorated’ as it was when I departed in 1976 with the coin operated laundry still opposite. I did wonder if the current inhabitant of the ground floor front apartment had discovered the $200 I hid in 1975 and subsequently could not recollect where I put it or whether that money indeed went ‘walkabout’ with a girlfriend who stayed over for a while and then relocated to Canberra without any farewells.
So during my recent visits I have very much seen Sydney as a tourist but as a tourist with nostalgic memories and gratitude for what the city gave me. And whilst I hope I have given the reader an overview of some of the City’s main attractions for tourists there is much else to see depending on one’s interests including Fort Dennison in the middle of the Harbour, the Observatory in the Rock’s area, the Justice and Police Museum, the Australian Museum (next door to Sydney Grammar and I still have not set a foot inside despite working next door for almost 4 years), Chinatown and both Paddy’s Market close to Chinatown and the Saturday market at Paddington.
And there are also many options in the surrounds of Sydney – notably the famous Blue Mountains about 50 miles inland from Sydney which offer a host of viewpoints with magnificent landscapes and vistas as well as innumerable walking trails. Just make sure you check the weather forecast and do not drive up to Katoomba only to discover the town is immersed in cloud and the views can be described but not seen.
And on three occasions we rented a motor boat for a three day self driving cruise on the Hawkesbury River which was great fun and very relaxing.
So no doubt that Sydney offers a lot for both residents and visitors – but what about Melbourne?
When I flew into Melbourne in January 2016 it was my first visit since 1986 although I had visited several times between before including the distinctly underwhelming experience of Christmas Day 1972 on Frankston Beach with a cool wind blowing off Port Philip Bay as described at the beginning of the article.
I had far more positive memories of flying down to Melbourne from Sydney in 1977 to watch the exciting one off Centennial Test Match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
As we drove into the city from the airport both the concentration of multiple skyscrapers in the City Centre and the modern sculpture along the side of the freeway indicated this was a city that was going somewhere – fast!
As soon as we dropped our belongings off at the Southbank apartment we had rented I realised I was in a different Melbourne to the one I had last visited 30 years previously! Indeed, Southbank as an area did not exist at the time of all my previous visits as it was the result of an extensive 1990s urban renewal program.
This transformed the previous industrial part of South Melbourne into a densely populated district of high rise apartment and office buildings which is now dominated by high-rise development including one of the world’s tallest residential buildings, the Eureka Tower.Indeed the Tower incorporates the southern hemisphere’s highest viewing platform with extensive views over the Melbourne conurbation and beyond; It even incorporates a viewing cubicle which extends out from the side of the building. I kept my back pressed very firmly against the side of the cubicle closest to the main building as we moved out with a lot of nothing down below us!
As we crossed the River Yarra to Flinders Street where we would catch a tram to Melbourne Park and the tennis we could not but notice one very clear demarcation between Sydney and Melbourne.
Yes Sydney has its magnificent Harbour but Melbourne like London and Paris has a river running through the heart of the city which provides a break in the cityscape and allows the stunning new South Bank architecture to be accentuated.
And with walkways, Restaurants, Parks and Gardens frequently adorning the riverside areas it was clear that as well as being an attractive feature the Yarra played an important recreational role in the life of the City.
As we were in Melbourne to spend six days at the Australian Open Tennis Tournament our visit was connected to an area where most Australians would accept Melbourne is ahead of Sydney and that is as a Sporting Centre.
It may be difficult to accept that after Sydney hosted perhaps the most outstanding Olympics of the modern era, but Melbourne has with its Sport and Entertainment Precinct without doubt the greatest concentration of major stadia within easy walking distance of a City Centre on the planet.
At a time when the French and US open Championships are planning to build roofs over their main area and Wimbledon hopes to start work on covering a second court, the Australian Open held at Melbourne Park already has three courts with retractable roofs which is unprecedented and ensures that the tournament can proceed with minimal interruption from the weather.
There is not a bad seat in the Rod Laver Arena and the adjacent Margaret Court Arena and Hisense Arena can seat 7,500 and 10,000 respectively and with many of the outdoor courts having generous seating it is a very user friendly event for fans as well as being the Players favourite Grand Slam event.
Adjacent to the Melbourne Park Complex is the very distinctive AAMI Park (also known as the Rectangular Stadium) which houses 30,000 wanting to watch football, rugby or track and field and overlooking the entire complex is the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) which is the world’s most famous and iconic cricket ground with a capacity of 100,000.
This makes it both the world’s largest cricket ground and the biggest stadium in the southern hemisphere as well as the venue for the Aussie Rules (Football) Grand Final each year. And it also has the distinction of the tallest floodlight towers of any sports stadium in the world (Thank you Wikopedia!)
The MCG has been described as the “shrine that symbolises Melbourne to the world” and not for nothing is it voted Tripadvisor’s most popular Visitor Attraction in Melbourne.
And indeed once an enthralling Australian Open Tennis tournament had concluded and I had watched Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic triumph in the Women’s and Men’s finals respectively my first stop on the following day after the Men’s Final was to go to the MCG for a Behind the Scenes tour of this iconic stadium which has hosted an Olympic and Commonwealth Games as well as two Cricket World Cup Finals.
The MCG also houses the National Sports Museum which largely concentrates on Cricket, Australian Rules Football (or Aerial Ping-Pong as it is irreverently described by many Poms like myself!), Rugby Union and Rugby League, Football (Soccer), Boxing and the Olympic Games.
The Museum also includes the Australian Racing Museum and Australian Sports Hall of Fame and was certainly deserving of more time than the 75 minutes I spent in it. It would be nice to come back on multiple occasions and focus on one particular sport as there were so many exhibits it was impossible to take everything in. We did make time to watch the 3D Shane Warne Hologram which was both entertaining and informative.
And if Melbourne requires any further credentials to justify its claim to be Australia’s sporting capital it does of course host the opening race in the Formula One Motor Racing season as well as one of the world’s most famous horse races, the Melbourne Cup.
The Melbourne Cup is a race which in many ways defines the nation, a claim that cannot be made by any other major race like the Kentucky Derby, Epsom Derby or the Grand Prix de le Arc de Triomphe. Indeed, as well as being the race that stops a nation on the first Tuesday in every November, the prizemoney is so high it now attracts top class horses from around the world.
I think the other area where Melbourne excels over Sydney, certainly in the eyes many visitors, is with the rich variety of Cultural attractions located in close proximity to each other in the City Centre. And indeed more specifically either within or in close proximity to the Federation Square area which is a complex that includes a Square, Atrium and both metallic and glass clad buildings all located close to the Yarra River and facing the iconic Flinders Street railway station, a longtime symbol of downtown Melbourne.
Federation Square contains both the Ian Potter Centre which has an outstanding collection of Australian Art (part of the National Gallery of Victoria collection) ranging from the Aboriginal Collections to modern and eclectic works as well as including works by Australian Masters such as Tom Roberts, Sidney Nolan and Russell Drysdale.
But in my opinion what makes the Ian Potter Centre a delight to visit is the imaginative and viewer friendly way in which the artworks which include paintings, sculpture, photography, fashion and textiles are displayed and presented.
Equally impressive was the nearby Australian Museum of Moving Image which had an impressive and fascinating collection of exhibits illustrating the history of Australian Media – Film, TV and Entertainment many of which featured programs and events familiar to overseas visitors.
There was one excellent exhibit when you could play videos of over 100 famous new stories from the past and I could have spent hours there!
And just across the River Yarra can be found the Giant National Gallery of Victoria and the Arts Centre with no less than 4 Auditorium in the same complex including the Hamer Hall (a 2,661 seat concert hall where I was to watch the renowned Canadian Jazz singer Diana Krall perform a year later), the State Theatre and the Playhouse. There are also a number of Galleries and the largest specialist performing arts collection in Australia depicting the history of circus, dance, music, opera and theatre in Australia and of famous Australian performers who have achieved fame overseas.
In contrast to sleepy Brisbane, where we were hard pressed to find somewhere to eat in the West End after 10pm on a Friday night, Melbourne had the buzz of a city that had a lot going on and was confident with what it was doing.
The Southbank area where we stayed was just across the Yarra from the city centre and contained some stunning new high rise buildings and yet once we crossed the River and arrived outside Flinders Street station we could take a historic (or modern) tram to the tennis as an alternative to the 20 minute walk.
The Trams themselves are a distinguishing feature of the city and are part of the largest urban tramway network in the world. Indeed, the free City Circle Tram is an attractive and novel way for visitors to explore many of Melbourne’s attractions.
The centre of Melbourne like many cities is an interesting mix of old and new and this in itself is by no means unusual but I have rarely seen the two combined more effectively than in the Melbourne Central Mall.
Now Malls by definition are an item often best avoided as an item of discussion as I find they attract polarising opinions (and not just between old and young) but like them or not they are a feature of our lives and here to stay.
If one is looking for a vacation that can incorporate visits to Malls that seemingly incorporate every brand known on the planet, then you should be heading to Thailand or China and not Australia. Similarly, if State of the Art Malls that incorporate ever more imaginative features (you did not really think Malls were just for shopping?) then Edmonton in Canada, a pioneer in promoting a Mall as a Visitor attraction or Dubai with its annual shopping Festival should be your destination. Ski slope in your Mall anyone?
However I have never seen a Mall that so skilfully incorporates the old and the new as the Melbourne Central Mall where a large Glass Dome rises above and surrounds the historic Coop’s Shot Tower dating from 1888.
It may sound strange but this curious blend of old and new with the tower the focal point of the centre beneath a massive glass cone works really well and whether the result of either architectural innovation or a planning condition (or more likely a combination of both) is to be applauded and is well worth a visit to observe the creative way old and new are combined. In a different way it is perhaps not unlike the Pyramids in the Louvre in Paris
And Melbourne is a City with many attractive open areas close to the City Centre that we wandered through such as Fitzroy Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens and also additional attractions that we did not have time to visit including the historic Block Arcade, a fine Zoo, the Melbourne Museum, the Old Gaol and the Sea Life Aquarium.
So to return to where I began – which city is most deserving of the mantle of being described as Australia’s premier city?
With Sydney having a population of 4.8 million and Melbourne 4.4 million there is hardly anything between them.
When I think of Sydney I think of the magnificent Harbour and its Ferries. With Melbourne it’s the graceful Yarra snaking through the city and the Trams.
Sydney boasts the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, landmarks that around the world are linked with the city as immediately as the Eifel Tower and Statue of Liberty portray Paris and New York respectively.
By contrast I associate Melbourne with Parks and Gardens, innovative architecture as well as Sport and Culture, two contrasting pleasures of life.
Certainly 30 years ago I would have written that Sydney was the more dynamic city but I no longer think that’s the case. Is it going too far to say Sydney is the brasher city and Melbourne more refined?
Whatever I write will make no difference to most Australians who for whatever reason will have their own preference. As for me I thought I had a preference for Sydney if for no other reason that the enormous debt of gratitude I feel I owe the city for giving me a great foundation from which to start my life but now after two extended stays in Sydney I am not quite so sure.
If forced to choose I would probably still come down in Sydney’s corner due to its it’s beautiful beaches and magnificent Harbour adorned with the Opera House and famous Bridge, a combination that never fails to impress however many times you see them. This conclusion was very much reinforced when I reviewed the thousands of pictures I have taken to select images to accompany this article. It is truly a wonderful city for young people and in which to raise a family.
And I think this preference would be reinforced by most international visitors. As a Tour Operator I believe every destination requires a ‘hook’ to attract visitors and with the Harbour Bridge and Opera House Sydney has two that are instantly recognisable around the world.
However I think I can give the responsibility of making a final decision to my longstanding friend from university days, Mike Rossington, who was recently visiting Australia (for the first time) at the same time as myself.
When we were corresponding by email in an unsuccessful attempt to meet up Mike wrote
We are really enjoying Australia, preferring Sydney to Melbourne at the moment although the weather might have something to do with it.
So I think I can refer to my statistical sample (of one!) to endorse my conclusion with the caveat that I feel Melbourne is very much a city on the move and I am far from convinced that I will come to the same conclusion ten years hence!
Please Note: Most of this article was written in early 2015 after three visits to Sydney (and one to Melbourne) within 9 months. However, it took me longer to edit the article than I envisioned and this was only concluded in early March 2016 when I was still in Australia after having made a second extended visit to Melbourne in January 2016 to spend 10 days at the 2016 Australian Open Tennis Championships – hence the occasional reference to 2016 in the article.
© Michael Bromfield 2016
Readers might be interested in the following comments From Annabell Wheeldon who lives in Sydney and regularly visits Melbourne and who puts an interesting slant on the Sydney Melbourne rivalry through the eyes of a ‘local’:
It was planned to incorporate the following images into the above article but for reasons of space they had to be omitted.
April 1, 2016 at 6:48 PM
Great article, Michael. You cover the ground in both Sydney and Melbourne very well. However, I disagree with your conclusion (and wish to increase your statistical sample from one to two) – for preferring Sydney over Melbourne. Certainly, Sydney harbor is a great “hook” for tourists, and has spectacular natural beauty, but I believe Melbourne is by far the better city to live in.
Like you I have spent many years in Australia – including almost three years in each city.
Sydney has the beaches, better weather, the harbor with its magnificent opera house – but not a lot else. Most of the actual suburbs of Sydney are very drab indeed. The focus around the harbor creates a central focus to the city – but also a concentration in both housing and traffic – which is terrible to actually live in.
Melbourne, in contrast, has space – and lots of it. The city spreads out in front of you – and each suburb – Port Melbourne, Williamstown, Toorak, Carlton, St Kilda, Surrey Hills, Brunswick etc – has real Victorian charm, character and warmth. The long empty expanse of the Great Ocean road heading West is wild and beautiful. The pace is slower, amiable and friendly. The natural beauty of the state of Victoria is breath taking.
When I lived in Melbourne, I used to fly up to Sydney once a month for a Board meeting for the day. Coming back that evening, as the plane approached Melbourne airport, I would breath a sigh of relief and feel it was great to be”home” and back in Melbourne again.
In a way it is a remarkable debate to be having – which of these two great cities in a Continent is “the better”. Both cities are streets ahead of most other cities of comparable size anywhere in the world.
If you going to Australia as a tourist – visit both – and decide for yourself.
But if your going to Australia to actually live there – I would advise Melbourne.
All the best