Thursday, 6 March 2014

5 Things I Learned About Melbourne Looking For A House

Melbourne CBD: Your soul is in
transit until you leave
I only have experience living in 3 cities: Bristol, as a spoiled student; London, as a lifelong visitor; and Wellington, as a resident without residency.

None of these were good practice for moving to Melbourne.

1. Melbourne is not a city #1: It's a series of little cities (which don't exist)

Melbourne doesn't appear on any addresses. It kind of doesn't really exist.

"Melbourne" is actually the Central Business District (CBD), a large expensive rectangle of tall buildings which everyone has to pass through to get anywhere. That's why suburbs like "North Melbourne" are in the middle of Melbourne, not actually in the Northern part of Melbourne.

Outside of the CBD, it's suburbs - except they all belong to mythical "cities", like the City of Yarra, City of Port Philip, City of Moreland, City of Moonee Valley, City of Moominland, City of Darebin, City of Knox, City of Fort Knox, Shire of Yarra Ranges, Shire of Middle Earth, City of Nillumbik, City of Humperdink... seriously, I've only made a few of these up.

These are technically real places because they each have a local municipal government, but other than that, they don't exist at all. And they don't appear in addresses either.

2. Melbourne is not a city #2: It's a series of small towns

Imagine an entire county, a whole region, populated by interconnected towns which have nothing to do with each other. That's Melbourne.

Each suburb is like a little town. Moving to Melbourne? Pick a town, any town. You will live here now. You don't live in Melbourne, you live here.

If your town happens to be missing things like a music shop, a supermarket, a bakery, a bike shop, cafes, a train station - whatever it is, stuff you might need - well, you suck it up and you walk/bike/tram it to the next town.

Not the bus though. Only peasants take the bus.

3. There's no point living close to the centre

Melbourne CBD is not a desirable place to be, despite the prices that suggest otherwise. Apparently no-one actually likes it, and apart from a few essential services which don't exist outside the CBD, no-one even goes there much.

To reiterate - there is no "success" in finding a house or flat near the centre, unless you're a suit who thinks most of your "commute" should be the elevator ride to your office. You might as well have a house near a major airport. Sure it's useful, maybe, like, every now and again. But no-one walks to the airport. And airports are transitory. No-one likes spending much time at the airport. Thus it goes with the CBD.

4. This is your life and it's ending 2 hours at a time

"Hey I live just up the road!"
700km up the road.
Anywhere you go, it takes an hour.
  • Going to work? Allow an hour.
  • Going for drinks? Allow an hour.
  • Meeting a friend for coffee? Allow an hour.
  • Realised you left something at a friend's house? Allow an hour. To get there. And another one to get back.
It's therefore impossible to get anything done in your lunch hour ("Congratulations, you made it to the CBD! Now turn around and go back"), or even the working week, depending which services your suburb actually has open after 6pm.

No wonder people spend all their time in their isolated little town, I mean suburb, I definitely meant suburb. To enjoy the city as a whole would mean living, breathing, existing as a commuter.

Unless of course, you get a bike! Bikes fix everything, right?

5. Getting a bicycle will save you time, not change the fabric of space

1 gear? "IT'S TOO MANY" roars Melbourne
Get that bike! Get accessories for it! Get excited about it! Get a racing bike! Get a fixie! Get a racing fixie that costs $700! Get a double-decker bike! Get a low-rider gangster tricycle! Just don't get a mountain bike with gears though, no no no. Practical? UGH.

It is absolutely worth getting a bike in Melbournia - it'll save you time, save you money, and give you some exercise too. You can get all over the place, get out of the city, go on wine trips, go out in town, get drunk and cycle home when you really probably shouldn't.

I'm a bike believer and I absolutely support everything about bikes.

However. What having a bike won't do is move your home closer to, well, anywhere. It won't create a little black hole and transport the universe around you, so that you teleport to your favourite landmark or restaurant or bar. It won't launch into the sky and navigate with Google Flying Carpet to your mate's place 7km on the other side of town.

Bikes are one of the most amazing machines of the 20th century (yes, their impact and identity belongs firmly in the 20th). But there's a limit to what they can do.

Postscript, context, whinging
  • Bristol was the first city I lived in. In my student house, we bought a city road map and stuck it on the wall, next to the hand-drawn "Which drink has the most alcohol per GBP?" chart (Ye Olde English cider, apparently, with 51ml of alcohol per GBP). And like everyone else, I believed that the middle part of the map - enlarged in a red box in the corner - was the entire universe worth going to. South of the river? HERE BE DRAGONS AND CHAVS.
  • Wellington is probably not a good example of a capital city. It's cute, it's small. The BFG could probably sneeze on top of the tallest building in the CBD. You can walk everywhere, unless you live, like, way out of town, like Island Bay or somewhere, which is 15 MINUTES on the bus. Fuck that. (Except don't because Island Bay is lovely.)
  • London IS a big city. But that's the thing - it's a big, dense, city. You know what you're dealing with. Even the no-man's-land spaces between outer boroughs still have 20-storey blocks of flats, there's still stuff and people. Go one tube stop and you've probably passed more people overhead than the whole of Luxembourg. That's okay. Luxembourg understands.
The difference between Melbourne and London is density.

Last year, going on expensive dates in London (the dates weren't that expensive, the train tickets were), I realised I could get from the door of my house - in my market town 50km outside the East of the centre of London - to pretty much anywhere in London within 2 hours, often just 90mins. 90mins. That included 25mins walking to the station and a 35min train journey - the longest part was just getting into London.

However, despite having the same population as New Zealand in an area the size of Auckland, Melbourne still suffers from the same problem as Dorkland - lack of density. There are, apparently, not enough people to warrant decent transport in the parts of the city without tall buildings; it's usually quicker to travel into the city and out again, even if it's further, than wait for a bus which is kind of going to the suburb next to the one you want to go to. There's not even a city bus map, that's how Melbourne feels about buses.

After growing up 35-40mins on the train from London, I felt like a failure looking at houses in Melbourne which were 30+mins tram ride and/or metro train from the centre. (Houses, by the way, not "flats" - even if you live in a flat, you apparently actually live in a "house".) Now, this is not comparing apples with apples, as they say. But it still felt like, am I even in the city? If there's no point living near the centre, what's the point paying more rent to live in the "inner" suburbs? Why not live out in Thornbury, or Sudbury Hills, or Ballarat? What's the difference?

The fact is, Melbourne is frequently ranked the most liveable city on the planet. The. So, whether or not the list is 100% accurate, Melbourne is pretty high up there. (My doubts arise from Dorkland frequently appearing around number 10-20, despite the fact you need a car to live in Dorkland, which doesn't sound very liveable to me. Wellington never appears on these lists, despite the fact you can walk everywhere.) So even living a bit outside the centre - the vortex which I am not sure really is as dull and vacuous as people tell me - you're still living in one of the most desirable, liveable, happiest places on the planet.

It's all part of learning about living in a new place.
And yes, I'll be getting a bike soon.


  1. I loved this, and I want to write my own post expanding on how stupid Melbourne's addresses are. Why doesn't it say that I live in Melbourne anywhere on my address? (And why, if I live in the mythical City of Yarra, doesn't it say THAT on my address anywhere?)

    The one thing, though, that you missed is that there are suburbs/neighborhoods that are connected. They're little bubbles. You live in a bit of a vertical one: Brunswick/Brunswick West/Coburg, and of course, Brunswick East a short walk away. You're able to go to all of them quite easily.

    For me, I live in the Fitzroy/Collingwood/Carlton/Fitzroy North/Carlton North/East Melbourne/CBD connected suburb bubble. Which means that as long as I stay in my bubble, I can easily walk or tram everywhere around it in 15-20 minutes. Just like in Wellington! Except that that would be the whole of Wellington, not just one little bubble.

    There are other bubbles, too: South Yarra/Prahran, and CBD/Southbank/South Melbourne. You just have to find the bubble that's right for you. :)

  2. When exactly was it you were back in Ingurland last year Jezmond? I can't remember, but from June onwards I believe you would have been in a City back home too ;)