Melbourne Needs Hills

“Ding Ding”. I smiled when I heard the familiar sound of a tram. After a long absence, light rail (trams) will soon return more prominently to the streets of Sydney. Although we’ve had them for a while around the casino and the Inner West, they’ve been absent for decades from the main CBD, and around the neighbourhood where I live, Surry Hills. I’m within a few metres of the new tram, so I’m getting to know the familiar “ding ding” sound very well. Getting trams back is an important lesson Sydney has learned from Melbourne.

Melbourne Tram

The lesson Melbourne needs to learn from Sydney? Get yourself a few hills! What? Melbourne needs some hills, or at least a few high level landmarks to aid navigation. I’ve mentioned this to a number of people also visiting from Sydney, and with a smile and a laugh, they’ve agreed. “Melbourne people say it’s all on a grid, so it should be easy, but it’s not” one person said to me. In Sydney, where many of the roads are built on hills and gullies, it’s easy to navigate. You’re either heading down to the harbour, or upwards to the mountains. With that knowledge, you can pretty much find your way around,

But in Melbourne CBD, it’s all quite flat. For me, the consequence has been that I keep getting lost, heading one way when I should be heading another. This happens every time I come here. Eve with Google Maps, my inclination is to head one way, only to discover it’s the wrong way. A few hills or prominent tall buildings might help!! Ah well, it’s not such a great deal, since it’s lovely being here.

Chinatown in Melbourne

There’s a terrific saying I once heard that, “In Melbourne, there’s a strong case of Melbourne-Sydney rivalry, but in Sydney, it’s a case of New York/London/Tokyo rivalry”. Though I’ve lived in Sydney for half my life, I’m not imbued with any of that rivalry bullshit. Phrases like “cultural capital” and “most liveable city” and “gateway to Australia” mean nothing to me. I mean “who cares”?

Both cities are terrific in their own individual ways, though you would have to say Sydney definitely has the better climate, and for the last few years (due to the broader impact of the lock-out laws), Melbourne seems to have been doing better in the area of nightlife. As I walked around the inner-city last night, there was a genuine buzz on the streets, that you often find lacking in Sydney. Perhaps because Sydney is so spread out?

Some terrific laneway art, located off Little Bourke Street.

Though I’m here for work, it’s also great, because I really do love travelling. If I had a million dollars (or realistically a lot more), I’d spend my whole life travelling from town to town.

I’m a fairly “organised” traveller. I have a standard packing check-list, and so I generally don’t have to worry about purchases for “forgotten items”. I always go online and book the bus to and from the airport. Though I have public transport passes for most Australian (and some overseas) cities, I’ve never before needed a Myki, as I’ve mostly stayed within walking distance of most things I’ve needed to be. This time around though, I’m staying a little further away. Still within the city, but far enough away to make hopping on a tram an easy thing to do. (You might call it “practice” for the upcoming launch of the light rail near my home in Sydney).

To my delight, I discovered the Google Pay app on my phone, allows you to purchase a “virtual” Myki. On arrival, I usually visit the closest supermarket and bottle-shop to pick up the “necessities” which can otherwise be quite expensive when staying in a hotel. Being that organised can sometimes frustrate me at the airport, when you see people ahead of you in the queue who arrive at security, and spend far too much time unpacking and repacking their bags. Sometimes, I’m sure my mumblings about “Why didn’t you start to unpack your laptop while you were standing in the queue” are a little too loud.

Chinese sausage, which I enjoyed at a terrific restaurant called Dragon Boat on Little Bourke Street.
Dinner with my old school friend, Anthony.

11 Replies to “Melbourne Needs Hills”

  1. The grid is so easy to navigate and there are a few landmarks around to assist, if you know what to look for (Town Hall, Old GPO Clock Tower, Shrine, Parliament, and several prominent building towers). It sounds like our Sydney cousins need someone to hold their hand while crossing the street, so that they don’t get lost ;-)

    Also, the main city streets West – East are a joy for Royalists (of which, I am not one) order; Spencer, King, William, Queen, Elizabeth.

    I hadn’t heard of the Melbourne/New York/London/Tokyo rivalry, but I guess your lot are right and that feels about right!


    Matthew, from Melbourne.

  2. Melbourne doesn’t need more hills. Sydney needs less. While the city area of Sydney is not too bad, the inner suburbs are so confusing, with barely one street straight.

  3. I couldn’t help smiling at your post. As a Melburnian, I have to concur with Andrew. Melbourne is hilly enough. Try walking up Bourke street against a stiff Melbourne wind.

    That said, I always enjoy strolling through Surry Hills, and I take your point—if your point is that Sydney’s hills give strolling around your city a lot of (exhausting) charm.

    It was interesting the read the counter-argument to my own views in your post. Even in my early days in Melbourne, I found the city a lead-pipe cinch to navigate sans map, while Sydney is still a bit of a mystery to me. Every time I visit, the map I have of Sydney in my mind gets filled in a little more here and there, but as I wander randomly into new areas, I’m often surprised to find the relationships of proximity new areas of the map have with the old.

    It often feels as though streets and suburbs radically rearrange their locations and positions in my mind based on their relations to new streets and suburbs in my experience. And in between, there’s still vast gaps with exotic names, like those Japanese paintings where scenes are separated by a mist of golden clouds.

    Thanks for putting me on to the trick to navigating Sydney: next time I visit, I’ll know to think in terms Harbour and mountains. ;-)

    1. Thanks Dean for your comment. Sydney is a bit of a “mess”. From my balcony, I look across the road and it’s a completely different street, a hangover of when there was a series of terraces across the road. Interestingly, I live near Crown Street, so named because it’s at the top of the hill.

      1. Ah yes, I know Crown street well. The area’s certainly been a mess the last couple of times I’ve visited, with the installation of the light rail along Devonshire street, but when that’s up and running, I’m sure you’ll be laughing.

        1. The light rail started last weekend. I think I’ll mostly use it to travel to and from George Street. At the moment, buses and trains are still a faster way to get to Circular Quay.

    2. I absolutely adore this description of having mental maps of occasionally visited cities and filling in the gaps!

      That moment when you realise that one suburb adjoins another – when you’ve taken quite different routes to get to each. Sydney was like this when I first moved here 32 (gasp!) years ago and Tokyo is definitely still like that for me.

      1. I’m home in Lismore now and trying to construct the mental map for here. I think it’s the side of the river and whether you’re on the hill or not.

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