Melbourne has been voted the most liveable city in the world for many years. And it has become even more liveable with the gentrification of the dark laneways.
Melbourne is a cosmopolitan city with people from all around the world coming together to seek a better life together. As with all big cities, Melbourne had its fair share of dark alleys that had its own notoriety. Cue the Batman theme. But due to government and entrepreneurial efforts, these dark and dirty laneways have been transformed to house pop-up shops and start-up eateries and restaurants by young entrepreneurs.
The Gentrification Boom Years (1990s-2000s)
Melbourne laneways these days are well-known for rich art culture, one-off boutiques, unique galleries, tiny cafés and hidden bars. Many of the lanes date to the Victorian era, and in some parts of the city, particularly the Little Lonsdale area, they were associated with the city’s gold rush era slums. It was not the prettiest places in the city in the past.
Melbourne’s city centre was basically empty outside of business hours, with suburban malls luring retail out of the city and few people living in the central urban areas. It was put forward by state government strategists that specialist one-off stores servicing the while metropolitan population were important for the life of the city.
The laneway boom in Melbourne really took flight in the mid-1990s recession, with young entrepreneurs taking advantage of cheap rentals and bringing with them a mix of cultures, thanks to a change in liquor laws by Jeff Kennett (Premier of Victoria, 1992-1999).
Melbourne’s colourful street art entices thousands of tourists into laneways every day, keen to experience the city’s culture and snap the perfect photo. Street artists work in a “grey area” — their work is spruiked as a tourist destination by the city council, but it’s still illegal, even in iconic hotspots like Hosier Lane and AC/DC Lane.
AC/DC are an Australian rock band formed in Sydney in 1973 by Scottish-born brothers Malcolm and Angus Young. Sometime in 1974, veteran promoter Michael Browning booked the band to play at his club, the Hard Rock in Melbourne and the legend was born.
On 1 October 2004, a central Melbourne thoroughfare, Corporation Lane, was renamed ACDC Lane in honour of the band. The City of Melbourne forbade the use of the “/” character in street names, so the four letters were combined. This was rectified later. The lane is near Swanston Street where, on the back of a truck, the band recorded their video for the 1975 hit “It’s a Long Way to the Top”.
Besides wall art, there’s also installation art in some of these laneways. Like Angel Place in Sydney, where they have bird cages hung up in the alleys, there are interesting installations here if you care to look up once in a while.
Graffiti is constantly changing. A new painting will be sprayed onto an old one as an expression of new ideas or complaints. Well, if the graffiti stays constant on the wall, it would be called wall paint. So capture that moment while you can.
The Cafe Culture
There’s a on-going debate on who serves the best coffee in Australia. They have already concluded that it’s already a undeniable fact that Australia serves the best coffee in the world, so move over Starbucks.
The best way to conduct business in Melbourne these days is to go to one of the numerous laneways and get yourself a coffee, or two. There are so many to choose from and new cafes and bistros are popping up every now and then.
In 2020, the RACV participated in a City of Melbourne initiative to extend outdoor dining in the CBD as a way of reviving the hospitality sector and overcoming the unique challenges posed by COVID-19. And the Sojourn restaurant was built in New Chancery Lane as a result. The building is the brainchild of Curious by Design, a company that specialises in creating innovative city spaces to enhance people’s leisure and dining experiences.
And what do you order besides coffee in these cafes? An Australian meat pie, of course! Aussie Pie is a food icon everyone enjoys when heading to the Land Down Under for a visit. Just like hamburgers and hot dogs are a hit in America, you’ll find Aussie pies in every nook and corner of this country.
Australia is blessed with really good agriculture and the beef produced is fantastic. This is obvious in the pie. Of course there were some bad specimens in the past, but these days you cannot go wrong. There are as common and delicious as chicken rice in Singapore. And to eat it without a big dollop of ketchup is sacrilegious.
There’s also the classier cafes in Melbourne, but one should get into the laneways and experience it like no other places. The success of this distinctly Melbourne feature has begun to bleed into other cities, and you can get some of it in the competing Sydney. But still it’s better where it all started.
Date visited : Mar 2022
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