A little bit of Europe Down Under

March 1, 2017

Travellers and Aussies alike had told me that I would love Melbourne, and it was a very “me” place, so I was keen to see what lay in store. It was quite the compliment, as what I found was a bustling, diverse, cool city that felt more European than Australian. Melbourne is the southern most city in Australia, so its seasons are more pronounced. It’s not exactly Arctic conditions in the winter, but it certainly gets down to single figures.

This supports my argument that colder climates produce more academics and culture because people are forced to stay inside and read books. While I envy the beachbum lifestyle, and there’s definitely advantages to both, I could never live long-term in a city that lacks culture. This is also disproved by a guzillion other socio- and geopolitical points, but let me have my moment.

The architecture of Melbourne feels very European. It’s got the tall sandstone buildings with ornate detail and the tight little alleyways with lots of bars and restaurants tucked away. In the 2011 census, over half of Melbourne citizens identified their ancestry as European, and only 24% as Australasian. The migrants have certainly left their stamp on the city and I felt fortunate to make the most of their cuisine, art and architecture.

Sidebar – the largest population of Greeks outside Greece live in Melbourne.

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Melbourne is one of the few cities in Australia where life hasn’t spawned at the beach and crept inland. For those needing their fix of surf, just outside the city is St. Kilda beach. It’s not the breath-taking coastline in other Australian metropoles, but it does the trick.

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The fairground at St. Kilda beach

In place of a beach, the Yarra River runs through the city centre, again a similarity to the evolution of European cities. The river, especially Southbank, is lined by swanky cocktail bars and fancy restaurants. It’s a great spot to indulge with friends. I happened to indulge a little too much and ended up in a helicopter, but that’s a story for another day.

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A reminder of Melbourne’s history is the Colonial Tramcar. The city has very efficient, modern trams but one relic has remained and they’ve converted it into a culinary experience. You are served a four-course meal and unlimited fizz (there goes the klaxon), while you are transported around the city.

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1916 or 2016?

Melbourne is also the home of AFL, Australian Rules Football, with more teams than any other Australian city. The Grand Final, the last match of the season to decide the winning team, is always played in Melbourne. I love going to sporting events when I travel as I think it’s a good way to see locals in their natural habitat. I caught a handful of footie games whilst I was there, and was mildly surprised at the atmosphere. Where I’m from, football/soccer is a tribal sport and can sometimes spill over into violence. The matches I went to seemed more like family days out; grannies taking their picnic along, parents taking their kids and an equal balance of males and females.

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MCG where the Grand Final is played

Another welcomed aspect of the footie demographic is that 9% of players in the AFL are from Indigenous decent. Given that Indigenous people now make up less than 3% of the Australian population, I felt that maybe sport is a way to increase integration and opportunity. This is compared to 1.7% of Australian workers coming from Indigenous backgrounds in 2011. Maybe it’s improved over the last six years. I hope so.

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