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Melbourne is a city of neighbourhoods. Whether it be Italian or Chinese, groovy or chic, bohemian or beachside, Melbourne has them all. Melbourne is these neighbourhoods. Each has its own wonderful place in Melbourne life, and its own character instilled by the type of people who live and work there: emigres from all over the world who brought their customs, beliefs, businesses, food, art and style to Melbourne. Today, these neigbourhoods make Melbourne what it is. And it is only through exploring them that visitors will get a feel for the underlying beauty of this truly vibrant multicultural city.

The central business district ‘CBD’
Laid out on a grid system, Melbourne’s CBD is easy to navigate. The modern skyline of the financial district is complemented by well-preserved Victorian architecture, and the alleyways and arcades that snake through the city give it a character that would otherwise be missing. Swanston Street, a half-hearted pedestrian mall which is generally considered to be the city’s main drag, runs from the ornate 19th century domes of Flinders Street Station to the gleaming, billion dollar Melbourne Central Shopping Complex. It is intersected by Collins Street, a more highbrow shopping strip. The stretch from Swanston to Spring Streets is known as “the Paris end” and home to many of the city’s luxury boutiques, prestige offices and hotels. Running parallel is Bourke Street, the city’s oldest and most successful pedestrian precinct and home to the main department stores, David Jones and the Melbourne landmark, Myer. Little Bourke Street, one block up, is marked by a garish Chinese-style arch, the entrance to Melbourne’s Chinatown. Spilling into the surrounding alleyways, it is one of the oldest in the world outside Asia, and is home to a fascinating variety of Chinese restaurants and grocery stores. The area between Swanston and Spencer Streets is nine-to-five territory, Australia’s corporate heartland and home to many of its largest corporations. Ambitious plans are afoot to further extend this area by redeveloping the derelict warehouses of the adjacent docklands, with the Colonial Stadium the first project to be unveiled. If the developers have their way, the world’s tallest building could soon follow. To the south and east of the CBD lies a vast and beautifully maintained belt of parkland, containing the Fitzroy Gardens, and the Melbourne Cricket Ground, with the Royal Botanical Gardens lying just across the Yarra River.

On the southern bank of the muddy and surprisingly narrow Yarra, lies the landmark Victorian Arts Centre, with its Eiffelesque spire, and the chic Southgate shopping and dining complex. Further up is the glitzy Crown Entertainment Complex, a 24 hour entertainment precinct of luxury stores, nightclubs, eateries and, of course, one of the world’s largest gaming facilities. Hugely controversial, it is one of Melbourne’s most popular, and popularly detested, sites. Whether the locals like it or not, it is also Melbourne’s most popular visitor attraction. Directly opposite is the city’s spanking new and state-of-the-art aquarium, the Convention Centre and Exhibition Centre.

Prahran and South Yarra
A short tram ride from the CBD are Prahran and South Yarra, two names often used interchangeably for roughly the same area. Home to Chapel Street, lined with pretentious boutiques and nightclubs, this is Melbourne’s favourite playgound, packed every weekend with young people out for only one thing – fun! Saturday nights see the permanently congested street grind to an absolute halt and transform into a traffic-jam-disco, blaring top volume techno music, while the gay strip along Commercial Road also buzzes. The funkier, more relaxed Greville Street is home of vintage fashion stores, a weekend market and the venerable Continental Cafe. South of Prahran is Toorak, synonymous with discreet wealth, and home to many top executives.

St Kilda
The next suburb down from Prahran is St Kilda, originally developed from a shabby red light district to a bayside resort, and now a popular place for backpackers and Melburnians on a sunny weekend. The attraction is not so much the mediocre beach as the lively streetlife along Acland and Fitzroy streets. Parts of the area still have a mildly seedy feel – that’s definitely part of its attraction – but it also boasts an ornate and historic funfair along the waterfront, Luna Park, a lovely pier, a weekend craft market, and the Esplanade and Prince of Wales hotels, doyens of Melbourne’s live music scene. East St Kilda and the adjoining suburbs are the heartland of Melbourne’s Jewish community, known as the ‘Bagel Belt’, and also home to many Eastern European emigres.

Just north of the CBD is Carlton. The quaint Victorian terrace houses have been largely converted into student accommodation for the nearby university, and the district’s cafes and bookstores buzz with life. The brand new Melbourne Museum is located here, in the beautiful Carlton Gardens, Lygon Street, arguably the city’s premier dining strip, is home to a large Italian immigrant community, as well as restaurants serving the cuisines of Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam and even Jamaica!

A short walk away is Fitzroy and the even more cosmopolitan Brunswick Street. Originally a working-class immigrant neighbourhood, this has emerged as the heartland of Melbourne’s bohemian cafe culture, humming night and day with its colourful bars and nightclubs, restaurants of every description, as well as funky and unconventional clothing, CD and book stores. This is one of Melbourne’s liveliest and most distinctive streets. Running parallel a few blocks down, Smith Street retains a grittier edge, with long-time local residents, refugees and the down-and-out mixing with the patrons of its cafes and music venues.

A little further out, but easily accessible by ferry or train, lies the old port town of Williamstown – once a major hub in Melbourne’s sea trading. Located on the Western side of the bay, almost opposite St Kilda, this quiet residential suburb has recently regained favour with Melburnians after many years in decline following its abandonment as the city’s major shipping partner. Its picturesque and historic streetscapes, views over the sea and admirable pride in its bygone days attracts hundreds of day trippers every Sunday. A visitor’s centre has been established to provide information about the many things to do and see in the town.

…and still there are more neighbourhoods. Richmond, the Greek centre of Melbourne and more recently known as ‘Little Saigon’ with its growing Vietnemese community opening more and more restaurants and shops along Victoria Street. Richmond’s Bridge Road and Swan Street are also famed by those in the know for factory outlet stores selling bargain buys.

And then there’s South Melbourne, with its tree-lined streets and beautiful town houses, market and growing breakfast café scene; Port Melbourne, which is being transformed from derelict docks to inner-city dwellings; Albert Park, home to the Australian Formula One Grand Prix and a popular spot for joggers and dog walkers around its two-and-a-half-kilometer artificial lake; and Elwood, a popular residential area with its very own ‘village’ feel.

History of Melbourne

Melbourne – a bayside metropolis that grew beside a river to become one of the world’s most exciting cosmopolitan cities. From humble beginnings – a few tents and bark huts, through boom and bust periods, gold fever, two world wars and an influx of migrants from around the world – the city has grown with its people to become a vibrant cultural melting-pot loved dearly by the people who live here.

Melbourne is a seaport located midway along the state of Victoria’s southern coast at the top of Port Phillip Bay, and at the mouth of the Yarra River. Prior to European settlement the indigenous people of southeastern Australia (known as Kooris in their own language) lived a semi-nomadic life for at least 40,000 years. The oldest site of continuous occupation yet found in Australia lies in the Melbourne suburb of Keilor.

For more than two decades, the region around Port Phillip Bay was ignored by Australian settlers, except for the sealers and whalers who worked the coast. Rumours of good pastureland caused land-seekers from other colonies to try their luck. In the spring of 1835 the rival camps of John Batman and John Pascoe-Fawkner were established on opposite banks of the Yarra River. Other settlers soon arrived from other parts of Australia with sheep and cattle, and the district grew rapidly. The government in New South Wales accepted they couldn’t stop the settlers, so they acknowledged the occupation, and in September 1836 officially declared the Port Phillip district open to settlement. The infant city was named officially in 1837 after Lord Melbourne who was Prime Minister of Great Britain at the time.

The distinctive grid pattern of Melbourne’s city streets was laid out in 1837, and provided for wide streets and grand boulevards leading out of the city. Land was reserved for the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Domain, and the Fitzroy, Flagstaff and Treasury Gardens. This was unusual for the times, and established Melbourne’s unique landscape.

Melbourne, unlike other Australian cities was not founded as a penal colony, but settled by free men, rapidly growing from frontier town to colonial metropolis. The settlers already had businesses or property, and those from Britain included many merchants and professionals who brought capital for investments, as well as artisans and labourers. The city’s activities centred on the busy port – it was a commercial city from its inception. Businesses clustered around the wharves, where ships brought mail, bank drafts, immigrants and goods. In the 1860s Melbourne rivaled Chicago population-wise.

Early Melbourne was a very rural town. All around the city centre were market gardens and orchards, fields of wheat and oats, and small dairy farms. Early suburbs like Fitzroy and St Kilda were also rural, supporting occupations like grazing, farming and horticulture.

In 1851 gold was discovered in Victoria. Melbourne’s population halved as people left to seek their fortunes on the gold fields. The regional towns of Bendigo and Ballarat saw an influx of immigrants from Britain, Europe, China and America. Ethnically Australia remained predominantly British, but not segregated like in Britain. Irish, Scots, Welsh and English mixed on the gold fields. Irish and Chinese inter-married. Life in Melbourne was more open and egalitarian.

Between 1851 and 1861 the state of Victoria produced one third of the world’s gold. All this gold made the colony rich. In cultural terms the gold fields generated in Melbourne an institutional approach to society and the arts. Gold gave Melbourne the opportunity to found Melbourne University (1854), the National Gallery of Victoria (1861), the National Museum of Victoria (1854), the State Library (1864), and many professional societies. Melbourne offered churches, theatres (such as the Princess Theatre built in 1854), clubs and sports (notably horse racing, cricket, and football). Arts flourished. The fledgling government was strong on conservation and education. In 1872 the Victorian Education Act made history. It made schooling compulsory and tuition free.

By the early 1880s Melbourne was recognised clearly as a metropolis. A visiting journalist coined the phrase ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ in 1885. The city was the centre of Australian colonial administration, manufacturing, and commercial activity. People enjoyed the excitement of Melbourne – its busy streets, the spectacles and entertainment. Between 1880 and 1890 Victoria boomed. There was an increase in immigration and the suburbs spread east of the city. Mansions were erected, lavish theatres built and land values soared.

Depression hit in the 1890s: fortunately the wheat, dairy and wool industries helped keep the state going.

On 1 January 1901, the new Commonwealth of Australia was declared independent of Britain, and the newly formed parliament met in Melbourne until 1927. During World War I, 112,000 people from Victoria served in the armed forces. Melburnians later struggled through the Great Depression, and the Second World War.

After World War II many British, Yugoslav, Dutch, German, Arab and Maltese migrants arrived. The Australian government wanted to increase the population and the labour force to help build the country. The government offered ‘assisted passage’, to many of these migrants, some of them having been displaced after the war. This changed Melbourne’s cultural make-up, and set the pattern for decades to come. The 50s and 60s saw another wave of migrants arrive from Italy and Greece: Melbourne now has the third largest Greek population in the world, and the largest outside Greece. In the 70s and 80s refugees arrived from Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as migrants from countries such as India, the Philippines and Malaysia. Our latest wave of immigrants comes from North Africa.

Melbourne thrives on the experiences these people have brought – eating habits, religions, cultures, races and languages. It is this culture of diverse backgrounds that Melbourne has been built on and undoubtedly what gives Melbourne its unique and endearing character.