The D&O Diary is on assignment in Australia this week, for meetings and for a little bit of a look around. The first stop on this sojourn Down Under was in Melbourne, in the Australian state of Victoria, on the southeastern quadrant of the Australian continental landmass. Melbourne is a surprisingly large city. Its metropolitan area population of over 4.5 million makes it the country’s second most populous city. At about 37 degrees southern latitude, it is about as far south as Richmond, Virginia is north. A huge sprawling city like Melbourne is hard to sum up in just a few words, but here’s what you really need to know: in February, it’s summer there. What a great concept.
While I had specific business reasons for being there, part of my personal motivation for wanting to visit Melbourne was to take care of some unfinished business. During a work-related visit to Australia now more than 30 years ago, I had been left out of a side trip the law partner with whom I was working took to Melbourne, while I was off taking depositions elsewhere. Ever since then, I have had this strong urge to see the city, augmented by a long-standing sense of grievance. In the end, Melbourne did not disappoint. It is a really interesting and attractive city.
The city is located on the bay of Port Phillip; the Yarra River runs through the city’s central business district. In the city center, both sides of the river have been extensively developed, with a huge modern complex along the southern riverbank called Southbank. Today, Melbourne is a prosperous city full of modern architecture, with relatively few remnants of its early days remaining; the Flinders Street train station, as depicted in the third picture below, being one particularly notable exception.
An extensive tram network connects the sprawling city. It is about a 25-minute tram ride from the central business district to the picturesque bayside city of St. Kilda, which, as depicted in the picture at the top of the post, affords spectacular views back toward the city skyline. The beaches are nowhere near as dramatic as the many ocean beaches near Sydney, but Melbourne’s bayshore still has its charms.
Melbourne is also a surprisingly green city, one of the many reasons why it is regularly selected as among the world’s most livable cities. The Royal Botanical Gardens are just a short walk from the center city, and on a sunny day it is an extraordinarily pleasant place to walk.
I was beginning to think that Melbourne, as nice as it is, might be a little bit dull. Fortunately, on the advice of a nice lady working in a coffee shop near my hotel, I made my way to the Brunswick Street, in the Fitzroy district, an area full of ethnic restaurants and pubs. This was definitely a livelier part of town, a place worth just wandering and walking around in. My only regret was that I went there during the day time. I suspect this is a neighborhood best observed at night. Next time, I suppose.
I was fortunate that I was in town for the city’s fifth annual White Night street festival. The White Night festival tradition started in Paris a few years ago, and it has now spread around the world. The Melbourne festival featured a large number of artistic displays and musical performances in venues located around the city. A large portion of the center city was blocked off to traffic. Huge crowds of people strolled around in the relatively cool evening air. The events were scheduled to go from 7 pm to 7 am. I confess that I ran out of steam around 10 pm but I did get to see a number of excellent musical performances. I was struck by how diverse the crowd was; at each music venue, there were people of all ages, races, and ethnicities. It was a lively crowd, too, with a lot of dancing and cheering.
Here’s the thing about visiting Melbourne – it takes a really long time to get there from the U.S. When you travel that far, you expect things to be different. And so they are. The parks and gardens were full of interesting and unusual plants. I recognized very few of the birds. It is such an interesting experience to walk through the woods, listening to birdsongs that were completely unfamiliar. But while there are so many things that seemed different and unusual, what I was struck by was how familiar and comfortable so much about the city was. It is not just that the city’s residents and I speak the same language. It is culturally a very comfortable place. I found it very easy to strike up conversations with just about everyone.
When I travel, and when my schedule permits, I always try to attend a Sunday morning church service. It provides a way to see an interesting architectural structure being put to its intended use. Attendance is free and open to all. There is usually an interesting ritual and often good music. Typically, the other churchgoers are pretty reliably friendly as well. This past Sunday, I attended a morning service at the St. Paul’s Cathedral, on Flinders Street, cater-corner across from the Flinders Street train station. The church itself is a neo-Gothic structure, in a form that would be familiar to any churchgoer in the U.S. or in Europe. Even though I was literally ten thousand miles from home and on the opposite side of the world, the service, the readings, and the hymns were as familiar to me as if I were just down the street from my home. In the coffee hour after the service, I met the celebrants and many of the local parishioners. They were all quite interested to meet me and to hear that I had traveled so far to be there; as far as they were concerned, I was quite the noteworthy guest. For me, the interesting thing was how comfortable and natural it all felt. It was a delightfully pleasant experience.
It may have taken more than 30 years for me to finally get there, but it was well worth the visit. A great city with great people, full of energy and life.
More pictures of Melbourne: