The centre of Melbourne, with its many alleyways and riverside walkways, is a place which is best explored by foot.
Melbourne By Foot is a recently-launched walking tour run by Dave Carswell. For $25 per person he takes small groups through a three hour stroll through the city sprinkling factoids along the way. The route is still in development but for the moment it covers Federation Square, up towards the Melbourne Cricket Ground, drops into the laneway art around Flinders Lane, through the arcades, up to the Mitre Tavern, along seedy King Street, across to Crown Casino, across the Sandridge Bridge then back along the Yarra to finish up at Federation Square. Phew.
Here are some of my highlights.
Federation Square is the heart of city gatherings now but at the time of construction it was wrought with controversy – running late and over budget and with the choppy design by LAB attracting much criticism. The ground of the square actually covers one giant trampoline. Four thousand springs sit underneath the Kimberley sandstone tiles to cushion the sound of the train lines which run beneath the square.
If you look closely at parts of the square you’ll notice that some of them have words on them. The boxes dotted around nine sites in the square from a piece of artwork designed by Paul Carter called ‘Nearamnew‘ and include text relating the history of Victoria and federation. In addition, there’s a giant swirling pattern in the middle of the 10,000 capacity amphitheatre, and this represents the flooding of the Yarra river that used to occur.
The architect’s brief stated that the structure of Federation Square must increase the city’s connection to the river and thus the site segues seamlessly into Birrarung Marr. This area celebrates the original Aboriginal inhabitants of this area, which span back approximately 40,000 years and 1600 generations. Dave described the tribal structure of the indigenous population and their interactions with the first white settlers who took the land with boxes of axes and blankets.
I love the backdrop of skyscrapers on the Federation Bells, which ring daily with specially composed pieces by Australian composers. From that location Dave talked about the importance of sport on the Australian culture, particularly in Melbourne. The Melbourne Cricket Ground was the site of the first test cricket match in the 1877 between Australia and England and the birthplace of the Australian Rules Football.
From there we crossed the tramlines at Flinders St, the route for the first cable tram in Melbourne. Did you know that the Melbourne has the largest tram network in an English speaking country (29 routes with 500 trams)? And Elton John liked trams so much when he visited Melbourne that he bought a W class tram and has installed it in the grounds of his Windsor mansion?
Next stop, ACDC Lane, named after the famous Australian band ACDC who filmed their video clip ‘It’s a long way to the top’ on a flatbed truck down Swanston Street. Here’s a picture of us doing our best air guitar impersonation.
Melbourne celebrates its street art culture even though it is strictly illegal. The councils tolerates the graffiti because they realise it adds character and colour to the cityscape, particularly in otherwise-dingy back alleys. One of the best examples of Melbourne’s ever-changing scenery of street art is found in Hosier Lane, where you’ll find stencils by Blek le rat and Ha-Ha.
In the last hour we covered a lot of ground – and in fact, I felt that there was a lot of walking with not a lot of pay-off relative to the earlier part of the tour, as there were long segments were there was nothing to see or talk about. I did pick up some interesting factoids:
- the Mitre Tavern in Bank Place is Melbourne’s oldest pub. The owners of hardware chain Mitre 10 actually came up with the name while having a pint at the Mitre (they just thought the number 10 had a nice ring to it).
- Tucket under the Sandridge Bridge (immigration bridge) is a small artwork called Ecophene. This small water wall commerates a long gone waterfall which separated the Yarra’s fresh and salt water segment. It was destroyed in 1883 and this changed the river’s ecology forever. The waterfall’s loss is also symbolic of the loss of a way of life for the indigenous population in Melbourne.
The Eureka Tower is the tallest residential building in Melbourne. The gold at the top of the tower is 24 carat and of course represents the gold rush which brought much wealth to Victoria but was also the scene for the Eureka Stockade, after which is the tower is named. The red stripe represents the blood shed during that rebellion while the blue and white facade evokes the colours of the Eureka flag.
All in all, the tour is definitely worthwhile for visitors. For me, it provided an interesting insight into my home town and opened my eyes to features I pass every day which I’d never noticed. Dave is very knowledgeable about the city and my only criticism is that the finalised route would benefit from more talking and less walking, particularly if you’re taking tourists around in the heat of summer.
- Melbourne By Foot, every day 9am and 1pm at the Visitors Centre, Federation Square.