Posted by: Nick Ward | 13 April, 2011

A Year On: A Reflection on Two Cities

Holy hell, it’s a year ago today that I arrived in Sydney, bag in hand (actually, in truth it was two bags, but that was it) and half a dozen plane tickets pre-booked to get me back to Melbourne every second weekend.

A year on, what have I discovered?

Well, Sydney and Melbourne are very different cities. Yes, they speak the same language (in a manner of speaking), use the same currency and postage stamps. Not that I’ve seen a postage stamp in a while. But that’s where it ends.


1. Food & Drink & Coffee
Sydney has very good food and wine, if you’re prepared to find it. And to pay for it. In the budget and, particularly, the mid-range, Melbourne wins hands down. You can get an awesome $25 to $50 a head meal in almost any Melbourne precinct, but it’s like finding hen’s teeth in Sydney. Tough, dry, unimaginative food is, unfortunately, all too common. And coffee? Sydney is improving, but it has a way to go. All those Italians in Melbourne I guess.
Melbourne-1 / Sydney-0

2. Culture & Events
Saw an article recently which declared Sydney has been named the World’s Best Festival and Event City. “The title has been awarded at the 55th International Festivals and Events Association Convention, taking place in the United States.” For heavens sake, get a grip. Guess it was the United States. Sydney has two events: New Years Eve and the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. What else? The Doomben Cup? Melbourne, by comparison, has the Melbourne Cup, the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, the Melbourne Fashion Festival, the Australian Grand Prix, the Australian Open Tennis, the Melbourne Comedy Festival, the Melbourne International Film Festival, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, the Midsumma Festival, Melbourne Winter Masterpieces… and the list goes on. I mean, really.
Melbourne-2 / Sydney-0

3. The Beaches
Melbourne has beaches, they are just 100km away and have icy cold water. Unless you count St Kilda and the other bay beaches and, really, you wouldn’t. Sydney is a city who’s inner eastern suburbs are bounded by some of the best beaches in the world. Broad sand beaches or secluded coves, the sand, water temperature, waves and lifestyle are second to none. This is what the good life in Sydney is all about.
Melbourne-2 / Sydney-1

4. Swimming Pools
Peculiarly, Sydney is understocked in swimming pools. Is it complacency, a belief that why do you need a public pool when you have those beaches, which often have ocean baths at one end anyway? Possibly. Melbourne on the other hand has at least half a dozen 50m Olympic Pools within 5km of the city centre, and countless 25m pools. You can find a pool for laps, waterpolo, or just playing around within any suburb. Sydney, on the other hand, sends you out to North Ryde or Parramatta. Weird.
Melbourne-3 / Sydney-1

5. Location location location
It was quipped to me recently that “Melbourne has a crap location but did a lot with it, while Sydney has an amazing location but did crap with it”. Harsh, but an interesting observation. Sydney Harbour is, arguably, the most stunningly beautiful in the world. The ocean beaches, with their cliffs and golden beaches liberally sprinkled with sun bakers and lifesavers are magnificent. That so much of it is private property, or at the other extreme the victim of rampant ugly, often tacky, commercial development, is a disgrace. Melbourne, on the other hand, is flat as a tack, wrapped around a river most other cities would call a large creek, but has developed a skyline and streetscapes which are quite striking. Location though? Sydney is the clear winner.
Melbourne-3 / Sydney-2

6. The Weather
Hmmmm, that’s a tough one. “Really?”, I hear you say. “Melbourne with it’s four-seasons-in-one-day? Days in the middle of summer so cold you need a jacket? Surely there is no contest!”. Well, in fact there is. Melbourne, bordered to the south by the icy Southern Ocean and to the north by Australia’s arid interior, may have weather that can change 20 degrees in as many minutes, but it doesn’t have rain like Sydney. In Sydney, it always rains. Melbourne is, in fact, a very dry city. And it gets a whole heap hotter than Sydney – remember that tragic 46 degree day in 2009 that saw the Yarra Valley explode into flames? Nevertheless, I do love tropical climes, and whatever Melbourne is, it really isn’t that. I’m giving this one to Sydney, but by a short-half-head.
Melbourne-3 / Sydney-3

7. Pubs
Both cities have pubs, and they couldn’t be more different. Sydney’s pubs tend to be glitzy affairs with massive injections of cash from investors. The Beresford, The Tilbury and The Bank are good examples. Lots of chrome and glass, decks and beer gardens a focus. Not universal, but you do see this a lot. Melbourne has less money injected into pubs, as a rule, and more into clubs. And the money tends to be spent within the walls rather than on beer gardens (although this changed substantially when smoking indoors was banned). Melbourne pubs have more character, but the focus is more on bars (which Sydney can only aspire to) and coffee shops.
Melbourne-3 / Sydney-4

8. Friends & Friendliness
Ok, those who know me know I have views on this. What I don’t have is answers. Why is it so hard to make deep, intimate friendships in Sydney? Why do Sydney people hardly ever have dinner parties? Why do they virtually never call to arrange casual social things? Why when you text do they take hours to reply? I’ve heard theories: People pass through Sydney and don’t stay so nobody makes the effort to form new friendships; Sydney is such an outdoor city people focus more on the beach. It’s all crap. Make an effort people. You’d be surprised the joy that new people in your life can bring.
Melbourne-4 / Sydney-4

9. Attitude & sexiness
Ok, I admit this is closely linked to 8 above. Sydney has been the #1 city in this country since the 1890s, and it has weather, location, a Harbour Bridge and Opera House. It is the first stop for most visitors to this country (despite the efforts of my ex-colleagues at Tourism Victoria). With it has come complacency and ‘tude’. Well, this has cost ya, my Sydney friends. Neglect has seen tourism, population growth, and general livability go backward, while your southern sister has moved forward. Attitude comes through in general demeanor and is decidedly un-sexy. Loosen up people, have a laugh, wear what you want to, and smile at strangers. You might even get laid. Then we could all get some sleep.
Melbourne-5 / Sydney-4

10. Public Transport
Not much to say here. Melbourne has trams, metcards and myki, cheap regular travel. Sydney has polluting buses stuck in stationary traffic on narrow streets, un-integrated (and overpriced) ticketing, and, as a result, snarled traffic. All I can say in Sydney’s favor is, at least there is a train to the airport. Shame it costs more than a cab.
Melbourne-6 / Sydney-4

11. Cycling Facilities
Melbourne is flat, Sydney is hilly. Is this the reason the only people who ride bicycles in Sydney are crazy or drunk? No. It’s because, until Saint Clover recently started putting state-of-the-art bike paths into inner city Sydney, riding a bike in Sydney came with a guaranteed ticket to the morgue. Narrow roads choked with angry drivers. Melbourne isn’t nirvana, but boy it beats the hell out of Sydney when you have two wheels under you.
Melbourne-7 / Sydney-4

12. A Room with a View
Know what you’re thinking: Sydney, right? Wrong. Unless you have a spare five mill to spend on something overlooking the harbour or beaches, and who does. Sydney has scarce few apartments with a view, Melbourne has stacks, with views to kill. I admit, a killer outlook makes my heart start beating. Its my weakness. Well, one of them.
Melbourne-8 / Sydney-4

So, a year on, Melbourne seems to still hold my heart. I guess it does. In particular, the people do. But connecting with a new community takes time. I’m determined to give Sydney it’s chance. I was living away from Melbourne for the last five months of my mum’s life, I owe it to her now to give it a proper chance. I’m a glass-half-full kinda guy, after all. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to rock the boat and make demands of my new home and it’s occupants. Sydney, take a look at yourself. Then, let’s talk.








  1. I have to disagree about Sydney’s pools. Within (appox) 5km of the city you have Andrew (Boy) Charlton, Cook and Phillip, Sydney Uni, UNSW, Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, Victoria Park, North Sydney, Prince Alfred Park (Under construction) which are all 50m. If Melbourne has more than this, I’d be surprised.

    You’ve also got various beach side pools such Icebergs, Bronte pool, Wiley’s baths etc. If that’s not enough pools then there’s plenty of ocean to swim in and (getting off topic) at least one ocean swim every weekend for over half the year.

    Other than that some interesting points you make. I haven’t lived in Melbourne for years but do love Sydney although it’s getting increasingly too expensive for me.

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