Melbourne…wear anything as long as its black…

This week The Economist voted Melbourne the world’s third most liveable city in the world, narrowly beaten by Vancouver and Vienna. The Melbourne newspapers have run hot with the news, mainly with the emphasis that the city beat Sydney, which  had to share ninth place with Zurich. As far as I can tell, the Melbourne/Sydney rivalry is only in the mind of Melbournites. Sydney, blessed with its magnificent harbour, draped with the arch of the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House,  doesn’t even have to try.

The blogs and newspaper commentaries have been running even hotter with commentary, for and against, mostly from Melbourne residents. Those against complain about the transport system; those for, seem to place a rather strange emphasis on the quality of Melbourne coffee. It’s as though they believe urban sophistication can be attributed to the quality of the bean roast and the skill of its baristas. Is this why Vienna beat them on the leader board?

One particular commentator, wrote this:

“I call Melbourne BLACK, BLAND MELBOURNE. Just walk into the city whether winter or summer and all you see is men and particularly women dressed in black. Go into a department store or any restaurant or any shop for that matter and every employee is wearing black. Boring and bland. Go to Paris and women wear all colours, hardly any funeral black. So Melbourne needs to brighten up.”

This prompted me to dive to my picture files. I was in Melbourne two weeks ago and took these picture. I love Melbourne, it’s a bright, colourful city, but that writer is right, there is a pre-occupation amongst its inhabitants to wear black. If only Melburnians would learn to relax…but it must be hard when you are continually being pumped with all that caffiene…

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Filed under Australian, Digital photography, documentary photography, News, Opinion, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls, Stock photography, travel

20 responses to “Melbourne…wear anything as long as its black…

  1. Hey Rob

    I’ll be there next weekend! I’ll be sure to pack some bright Byron wearables…..but don’t worry there will also be some thermals in the baggage just in case!

  2. Theo. Bennett

    Fair comment, Rob.

    Nice pix too.

    I like both cities. But you’re right, there’s rarely heard a discouraging word from the multicultured maelstrom in the Harbour City.

    Melbourne, though is evidently a strident “me too” partner in the still-colonial States thinking.

    For all that, Melbourne is a good place. I work there every so often. Enjoy it. Splendid sense of style from Collins to Bourke, if not geography. The views from Moonee Ponds to Heidelberg are all that Barry Humphries so long ago chronicled.

    And AFL certainly beats the NRL anytime.

    But David Williamson also summed things up in his structured play ‘Emerald City’, in which the hero, Colin, must – as did Williamson – leave Melbourne to find himself and life itself in Sydney.

    Comparisons like the “most livable city in the world” invariably come amok. They don’t work. For one thing, the methodology – as in the present study, is usually disconnected,

    Disappointing too that there was no genuine attempt at analysis journalism in the Melbourne dailies. No thought to explore the deep, historical, reasons that background the Melbourne/Victoria-Sydney/New South Wales division.

    And I’m not talking about Federation or even the early British banking money there.

    The divisions go deeper, to loyalties shown the disputing sides in the Civil War in the United States of America. Melbourne demonstrated Confederacy support by proxy from the British banks by Melbourne while Sydney firmly supported the Union.

    Another division happened during recruitment for New Zealand’s “Maori Wars”. Victorians volunteered. New South Welshmen refused.

    There are many other examples, including arguably the insurrections in Victoria and the successful coup in New South Wales.

    Still, that said, Melbourne now has the best Press Club in Australia. It beats the near dormant National Press Club in Canberra.

    – Theo. Bennett

  3. Simon Cowling

    Hey Rob,
    Like the comments, although I must say that these days I do almost prefer Melbourne to Sydney for some strange reason. Must be the coffee. However, I’m currently in New York (chuckle!) and so I’m afraid any big city comparisons between Melbourne/Sydney/Vienna/Zurich seem a little lame.


    Had a very photowanky day today – first B+H, the world’s most insane photo store. Nerdy looking Hassidic Jews serving, acres of gear, overhead racks transporting stuff to and fro, anything you could possibly want to buy and then some, and all at very good prices.

    Then on to the International Centre of Photography (which has clearly copied Sydney’s ACP – not) to see a couple of very esoteric exhibitions. Ever heard of the Czech photographer Miroslav Tichy? A true eccentric/voyeur/perv who built his own cameras and lenses from cardboard tubes and toothpaste polished perspex lenses. Plus a large selection of Brassai, Atget ,Ray and Kertesz amongst others in an exhibition about Paris in the 30’s.

    The lighting was extremely low in the gallery, since those original silver prints are very susceptible to fading. Pity they didn’t have inkjet pigment printing in those days, we could still be viewing the work in direct sunlight…

    There are many more exhibitions to see of course, but how many I can fit in whilst trying to see all the sights I don’t know. Better get a coffee to boost my energy levels. Although it’s nowhere near as good as Melbourne’s…


  4. What is it with you guys? One double-shot machiatto and you get logorrhea? I must have about the only blog in existence where the comments take the form of entire travel essays:-). Thanks for caring.

    Have to agree with you about New York, Simon. It may not be up there on the liveability tables but as the song says, “it’s my kinda town”.

  5. Just shows your blogs are great , Rob .
    Love New York , love Sydney ,best coffee in the world is in my own kitchen in Balmain .

    • Thank you yet again, Irene. But like Simon, with the years my affections have shifted. Sydney has lost it’s appeal for me, but then I remember seeing the masts of the Indonesian tall ship, Dewarutji, moored at Circular Quay, at the bottom of the golden sandstone canyon that was Hunter Street, before the Cahill Expressway cut off the view to the harbour. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

      Melbourne, these days seems a livelier, friendlier, more colourful city with more accessible street life. And they also have The Mekong restuarant, where even Bill Clinton had to come back for a second bowl of pho. My mouth still waters at the memory of the beef and tripe pho I had for breakfast there two Sundays ago.

  6. Aaahhh ,Pho . Happy new year to you and Family ,in Vietnamese ,Chuc Mung Nam Moi , in Chinese , Kung Hee Fat Choi , the year of the Tiger . I’m a Monkey but my nickname is Tiger , hope it works for me . What animal are you ? Have you seen the making of Venus , on my site ?

  7. For what it’s worth Irene (and you know I’m still an astrological cynic): the year of the Horse. Watched the making of Venus; very interesting…but is there a connection?

  8. No connection Rob just fishing for a comment . Hope you found old photos of Spain with Maggie in them ? Love any of them .

    • Now that’s honest. I was puzzled…
      Photos from Spain…I’ll see what I can dig up. I vaguely remember a couple, but whether Maggie was in them or not I don’t know.

  9. Pete

    I guess from your observations then, Melbourne is the perfect home for Ford in Australia. When talking about the model T Didn’t Henry ford say ” you can have any color you like as long as it is black”

  10. But one question remains unanswered. Is Melbourne a short black or a long black?

  11. Hi Rob,

    Well I am guilty of all that black stuff – and I don’t mean the coffee. Tho’ as I am a true [black] dyed in the wool old Melbournite, you can take the girl out of Melbourne but you can’t take the [ all black] dressed Melbourne out of the girl. Mind you living in London for all these years, doesn’t exactly help entice you out of the black city “uniform”.

    Anyway, almost 26 years to the day since you saw me off on my travels, bidding me farewell in the good ol’ days of Rapport Photo Agency Sydney airport, where you gave me “Europe on $20 a day” – and a little plastic bendy kangaroo, which accompanied me all my flights for years afterward, until eventually baggage handlers put pay to that – it all stood me in good stead. Shame one can’t still live on $20 a day, with the photography industry on it’s knees, it’s now photography FOR $20 a day. then again how many micro-downloads would you have to sell to make enough commission climb all the way UP to $20!! Madness.

    I still remember assisting you on a job out in Parramatta, a dull journey by any stretch, on one of those colourless hot hazy February days where you bet me that you could find a shot somewhere along the way or back and have it sold by the end of the week. And you bloody did too!! Great stuff!

    All the best & hi to Simon in New York… I am jealous! Great city, not bad coffee..? Maybe I will see you guys again soon, I am coming back to Melbourne, later this year, have to give evidence in the Supreme Court ( now I think black is ok in there?), had a nightmare of the last couple of years, too bizarre or surreal to even attempt to explain! And I usually needed to escape London to come back to Australia to get some sanity! Anyway, black STILL describes the mood of the day. nope, I figure it must just be me, it follows me everywhere!

    much love Kirsty xx

  12. Kirsty, Kirsty! Yet another amazing comment from an old friend, generating all sorts of nostalgia. 26 years! I was almost young then…or only middle-aged.

    Can’t imagine, or remember, what I photographed on Parramatta Road that I sold in a week, but I must boast that even in today’s $20 a day photographic climate, I’m still occasionally capable of that kind of sleight of imagination.

    As for black; I must confess my favourite garment is a black, lambswool, polo neck sweater, which with autumn setting in down here, I wore as recently as only last night.

    I’ve got some work that should take me to the big island a few times over the next twelve months. Maybe we can catch up over coffee (not black) in Melbourne. I’ll wear black. Stay in touch…fond memories.

  13. Hiya. Great to hear from you. Yes, yes such great memories! I see you haven’t lost your touch, always imaginative and if there’s an angle to be found – You’ll be right on to it!! Have read a few of your posts over last couple of years (Alamy), and always enjoy the relaxed voice of reason, offering up your experienced words of wisdom!

    Went into town this afternoon, first spring shoot, nice & sunny ( you know, I actually think I even noticed the slightest hint of warmth in that sun?) shot the oak trees avenue (down toward Buck Palace) bathed in a riot of daffodils in Green Park – it’s reinvigorating to see the colour finally start to emerge from such a long grey & cold winter. I always miss the daffodils, & keep reminding myself to go out – this time they were SO late, even I managed to finally to shoot some!

    Noticed a lot of the obligatory black “uniforms” – even in the Easter sunshine, but now and then a dash of red scarf or brightly coloured woollen hat, to punctuate the dazzling sea of yellow daffs!

    Be great to catch up, definitely! I will email you my details. Keep in touch!!

    lots of love Kirsty x.

    • You are too generous Kirsty; confusing my outspoken opinions for anything approaching wisdom…though I do try to be reasonable. Most often I fail.

      London in the spring…a delight I remember well, but not one that I would swap for autumn in Tasmania. Season for season though I’d be tempted. Spring here is the season of gales and living in the Roaring Forties it’s a case of “You call that a gale? This is a gale!”.

      Best to ya’, Rob

  14. Janani

    Now I know where I picked up this love for black!
    Thank you!

  15. Please don’t think I’m being sexist (in any way) when I say this, but I have no objection whatsoever in observing (particularly young) females in Melbourne with gorgeous bums (US:”butts”) wearing black stockings, short black dresses and black boots, or revealing black tights. As far as I know, females here have been wearing black for at least the last 20 years.

    This potential insight might throw some light on the subject. Melbourne has a high proportion of Southern European immigrants (it’s supposed to have the largest Greek population outside Athens). The older Italian females whose husbands have died normally wear black in mourning. Maybe the tradition has passed on…

    Hope this helps.

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