Flinders St Station, Melbourne
I'm a Sydneysider, brought up with the parochial belief that Sydney - big, brash, sunny and with beautiful, crashing waves on its beaches - is better than Melbourne with its quiet Yarra river and flat beaches. Rivalry between Australia's two biggest cities has been going at it hammer and tongs since before Federation.
Sydney's the place with the wow factor. It has the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It has the Opera House. It has a zoo where giraffes have an unimpeded, stunning view of the city itself. Sydney's the city that people living overseas automatically associate with Australia. But is it better than Melbourne?
Melbourne has been ranked the world's most liveable city three years in a row
, and as I spend more time there for work and family reasons, I'm beginning to understand why.
It's not that the cost of living is appreciably less than Sydney, particularly in terms of housing. Property prices in both places are hefty whether you are buying or renting. The cost of food and petrol is much the same, too.
It's to do with the character of the city. Melbourne's city area has a more European feel than Sydney's, which I like.
Despite the best efforts of Whelan the Wrecker in the 1960s there seem to be more beautiful old buildings still intact in the Melbourne CBD. Laneways like Degraves Street are straight out of Paris or Rome. The shopping is better - more interesting, a little different, dare I say more classy? (And yes, plenty of people dress in black.) The new commercial and office developments tower over South Bank rather than destroy the existing city centre.
If Melbourne is European, Sydney these days has a distinctly Asian vibe. It's the number one Australian city to migrate to from south east Asia. Sydney's character seems to be disappearing behind a veneer of tourism outlets, souvenir shops and soulless office blocks; even Sydney's retail sector is more glittery and in-your-face than Melbourne's. 'Take me or leave me,' Sydney says with a bit of a sneer. The historic streets of sleepy Millers Point will have their views ravaged by the planned Barangaroo development; if not some of the buildings themselves. I don't like the Barangaroo idea. We have enough ugly high rise around our beautiful harbour as it is. The Sydney I loved as a child is being eroded away; the honest port city which had working docks not too many years before is becoming a whore for cheap bling.
Where Melbourne wins for me is public transport in and around the city centre and nearby suburbs. Firstly, the trams rock. They carry more people than buses and there's something about the sound of them - the clatter and clack as they cross other tram tracks, the cheerful 'ding' of their bell - which I love. They are unashamedly called trams in Melbourne - there is one 'light rail' network in Sydney at the moment, but apparently Sydney thinks the nomenclature 'tram' beneath it.
Both cities have a card system for public transport. Melbourne has the Myki card, and you can no longer buy a standard ticket for cash on a tram, bus or train. You tap on and tap off with your Myki, and there are Myki cards available for tourists.
Sydney is introducing the Opal card, and at the time of writing it is in place on all ferries and rolling out on train lines. I suspect that once it's in place over all modes of public transport you won't be able to use cash to buy a ticket on state-run public transport. As it stands now most Sydney buses require you to buy a prepaid ticket which can be a pain in the butt if you're not a regular bus user and have to hunt around for a sales outlet. Bring on the Opal!
But let's compare Myki pricing with Opal pricing for a moment, and here is where Melbourne wins. I have a pay-as-you-go Myki card for my Melbourne travels, and here's what I pay: http://ptv.vic.gov.au/tickets/myki/myki-money/
In short, the first time I touch on with Myki will create a 2-hour fare which is $3.50. I can travel to my heart's content for two hours on more than one tram, bus or train but I am only charged the one fare of $3.50. Myki gives me a daily cap: 'Once a daily cap has been reached, you can make unlimited journeys within the applicable zone/s until the end of the day and pay no more than the daily cap. The daily cap is the same as two 2 hour fares for the zone/s in which you travel.'
So for $7 I can get around much of the metropolitan area as most of where I usually travel is in Zone 1. And on weekends and public holidays, I pay no more than $3.50 per day for unlimited travel in Zones 1 and 2 - which is essentially much of Melbourne. Brilliant.
In contrast, Sydney's Opal card is very much distance-based with more pricing 'zones': http://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/opal/fare-information
. If I want to take a ferry from Woolwich to the city and back, it will cost me $11.20. If I want to take a train from my home to the city and back, it will cost me $8.82 outside peak times and $12.60 in peak times. Under the Opal card I will also have a daily cap: $15 a day Monday to Saturday and $2.50 on Sundays. There is a 60 minute fare which states 'An advantage for Opal card customers when making several trips on the same mode of transport is a transfer period of 60 minutes that can determine the fare incurred.For example, you catch a train to the city from Bondi Junction and leave the station to meet someone and then within 60 minutes re-enter the station and hop on a train back to Bondi Junction – that is two trips, one journey and one fare.'
Overall, the Myki pricing structure is much more attractive, don't you think? It actually encourages people to use public transport, much more so than Sydney's.
Still on public transport, I noticed a big difference in the attitude of commuters between Sydney and Melbourne. In Melbourne, men give their seat up for women on trams. I had two men offer me their seats, and saw other women offered seats during my visit earlier this week. Not just older women, or pregnant women - normal, average women like me. In Sydney, there's no chance a man would offer me his seat on a train or bus. It's dog eat dog here in Sydney. I was very impressed with this genuine show of courtesy from Melbournians.
Despite Clover Moore's best intentions to make Sydney a city for cyclists, Melbourne wins there too. The flatter terrain in the southern capital is an incentive for cyclists, but the cycleways and cycle lanes leading into the CBD are better thought out and better built than Sydney's.
My comments on both cities are based on wandering around the CBD and inner city suburbs. Both cities sprawl, and I imagine living in Melbourne's outer suburbs would present residents with the same difficulties people here in Sydney face with a lack of public transport infrastructure, particularly with newer suburbs which are only serviced by bus. I live and work in a postwar suburb 45 minutes by train from Sydney's CBD. Were I in the same sort of location in Melbourne I would feel the same disconnect from the city itself as I feel about Sydney city.
Would you feel a cultural difference between the cities if you were living and working out in the 'burbs and didn't venture into town very often? Maybe not. And that would be a shame, as it's the differences between both cities that give them unique identities.
Outside both cities, there are similarities in terms of beautiful coastline to visit and lovely country drives (many of which end in the wine districts!).
For now, we am tied to Sydney for family reasons. However, if the opportunity came up for my husband and I to move to Melbourne in the future, you know, we just might do it.