May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
The World's Great Towns, June 1997

By the Editors

The Numbers
Population: 3,080,800
Climate: Less hot than most of Australia, with sporadic "Vivaldi weather" — four seasons in any given day
Number of McDonald's: 10
Gestalt: Jane Austen on a Boogie board
When you're munching on Malaysian takeout and watching the black swans plink the lawn of the Royal Botanic Gardens as scullers skim by on the Yarra, it might occur to you that Melbourne life is plenty engaging even if you never venture beyond the city limits. Nineteenth-century prosperousness and controlled development produced shady boulevards, luxuriant, tree-filled parks, and Victorian neighborhoods that would make a Windsor pant. Then waves of postwar immigration — first from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, next from Southeast Asia — spiced up the starchy Anglo zeitgeist; today, a quarter of the population is foreign-born. Still, Aussies continue to regard Melbourne as their most conservative city, happy to play the part of genteel San Francisco to Sydney's flashier L.A. The surest way to ruffle most Melbournians is to disparage "footy" — Australian Rules football. The Melbourne Herald-Sun footy section should be slugged "Religion."

What's Out There
You could easily blow the rent gearing up for the sports that can be done within a few hours of Melbourne. Bells Beach, an hour away in Torquay, ranks with Oahu in the mythology of surfing. Rock climbers scramble up the lava columns of Hanging Rock, just north of the city, or take longer forays to Mount Arapiles and its 2,000 routes, plus kangaroos. Cyclists storm bayfront paths and the wine country. Sailors dock in one of 18 yacht clubs. Sea kayakers and boardsailors have Port Phillip Bay practically at their feet, and there's decent whitewater on the upper Yarra. The dozens of national, state, and coastal parks offer almost limitless trails for bushwalking. Even skiers, both alpine and nordic, can clip in for shortish runs within 90 minutes to five hours from the central business district.

Around Town
Melbournians don't live by footy alone. Theater, ballet, opera, jazz clubs, and the National Gallery all hum. Eateries run the gamut from smorgasbords to Sri Lankan to fried shark and chips. Socially, however, the city does still tend to be overtly old-school, Anglo, "blokey" (male-dominated), and, well, Victorian. But exoticism is creeping — even galloping — in. The city's summer and fall street fests, which attract a good percentage of the entire Melbourne populace, celebrate everything from Vietnamese cuisine to Moomba, an Aborigine term for "getting together and having fun" — something Melbournians do with great skill. Even Yanks, largely assumed to be — brace yourself — loud and arrogant, will be accepted into the moomba of Melbourne if they aren't too loud, cover the check next time everybody heads out for curry, and find a footy team to support (but not "root" for, a singularly obscene verb in Aussie parlance). An invite to a match means you've arrived.

Living Quarters
In St. Kilda, a cosmopolitan seaside enclave changing from seedy to gentrified as you read this, a three-bedroom art deco flat rents for only $400 and sells for $150,000 and up. Fitzroy and Collingwood, old working-class areas on leafy streets with a bustling caf‰ scene, have 1850s Victorians for a ridiculously reasonable $400 to $500 a month to rent and less than $100,000 to buy. Have champagne dreams? For half a million or so, you can join the execs and consular attach‰s living in immense, turn-of-the-century rehabbed mansions in Toorak/South Yarra and dream of the days when you can afford the $3 million estates just blocks away.

Nine to Five
Wages are high here: Bartenders in Melbourne can make $10.50 an hour, and young ad account execs earn upward of $100,000. Which naturally means that there are lots of people in line ahead of you, especially Australians. To even be allowed to immigrate, you first must meet certain criteria. Among the most desirable: be 18 to 39, have a college degree, know English, and — despite the country's own history — not be a felon. If a multinational or Aussie firm wants you, it can then get you a visa good for years. Eighteen- to 26-year-olds can buy themselves time by obtaining a 12-month temporary working visa. In a pinch, you can marry an Aussie, but it'd better be for love — gimlet-eyed immigration officials will notice if your spouse resides in, say, Perth.

Memorize This
Get outta that wettie, mate, and crack a tube. ("Change out of your wetsuit, my friend, and enjoy a can of lager.")

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