The Melbournisation of Sydney

by Julia Robinson

In a twist on the usual Sydney–Melbourne rivalry (aka Sin City vs Bleak City), Sydneysiders have begun to notice the effects of a distinctly Melbourne influence on their Harbour City. It’s known as the Melbournisation of Sydney, a trend in urban development:

The Melbournisation of Sydney has been most evident in the past 10 years. We’ve made our restaurants feel like basements, turned the lights down to Euro-Melburnian dimness, lobbied the government to get small bar licences, and allowed our Italians to cook Tuscan and Ligurian instead of Leichhardtian. (Sydney Morning Herald, 24 July 2010)

Melbourne laneway. Image source: The Age

Melbourne has long been recognised as having a distinctive café/restaurant/pub culture. Recently this has been enhanced by the redevelopment of inner-city laneways into trendy hotspots with outdoor cafés, funky bars, and hip retail shops. (Another term recently associated with this process is ‘hipsterfication’.) In Sydney the transformation of old inner-city buildings into expensive residential apartments has had a Melbournising effect. The new cashed-up residents are looking for entertainment and watering holes in the neighbourhood, and retailers are obliging; previously run-down parts of Sydney are now being revitalised.

The verb to Melbournise is a nineteenth-century creation. As long ago as 1879 a South Australian journalist was disapproving of the tendency of Mount Gambier (SA) residents to identify with the wrong crowd:

A visitor from Adelaide to Mount Gambier and neighboring towns cannot fail to be struck with the Melbournised—if I may use the term—character of the inhabitants. The people there take quite as much if not more interest in Victorian matters than in South Australian. Many of the residents have never seen Adelaide, and some apparently do not care whether they ever are so favored. (Supplement to South Australian Chronicle and Weekly Mail, 31 May 1879)

 Later references are also negative. Over the years, the Melbournising influence was seen to encourage industrial dispute in Perth, restrictive traffic regulations in Hobart, and bad ideas about Saturday trading hours in Western Australia. In the twentieth century the verb to Melbournise generated a verbal noun—Melbournisation—but the negative attitude remained much the same. The first recorded use of the noun is in a letter to a South Australian newspaper:  ‘In every way there is deep underlying bitterness in Adelaide at the Melbournisation of our city, which is now only a suburb of Melbourne being worked for the most part from Melbourne with Melbourne capital and with profits going to Melbourne’ (Gawler Bunyip,  29 Jan. 1937).

The first written evidence of the term the Melbournisation of Sydney also reflects a certain hostility. It does not refer to urban redevelopment, but occurs in the context of the relocation of senior executives from Melbourne to Sydney to oversee staffing changes in an organisation:

It is not, Mr Morgan maintains, the ‘Melbournisation of Sydney’, as has been suggested. ‘I didn’t come up here with a big stick to stir things up. I didn’t come up here with jackboots. There’s no sense of the Mexicans coming in’, he said. (Australian, 13 August 1998)

With the most recent use of Melbournisation to describe a revitalisation of urban neighbourhoods, it seems as if Sydney is now beginning to accept that the Mexicans (people from Victoria, the State ‘south of the border’) have something positive to offer them.

Balmain, Sydney



2 thoughts on “The Melbournisation of Sydney

  1. Pingback: ‘Melbournised’ Was Coined As A Word To Describe Mount Gambier « mgpcpastor's blog

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