It seems the word’s out on the world’s most liveable cities, and for the seventh year in a row MELBOURNE, Australia, has lifted the trophy!
You gotta wonder. It seems “The report considers stability, healthcare, culture, environment, education and infrastructure in 140 different cities around the world.” I wouldn’t have thought any of those factors would vary all that much between the Australian capital cities.
I can’t help thinking that picking a liveable city has to be a tad subjective. I mean, if you’re a dead keen sports watcher, then Melbourne’s your town. One hundred thousand people would be sure to turn out to watch a tiddlywinks championship. Coffee – yes, the best in Oz, I’d say. Food, culture, gardens – it’s all there. They’ve got trams to get around (and get in the way), and it’s not too far to a number of natural wonders like the Great Ocean Road, Echuca and the Murray, snow in the Australian Alps etc.
But it’s also a grey, grim place in the colder months. I recall when I moved from Perth to Melbourne in May 1996. On my last weekend in Perth I went down to Trigg beach for a walk in bright sunshine. Autumn is beautiful in Perth – not too hot, calm, blue skies. I arrived in Melbourne and immediately bought myself a trench coat and some spencers. It was f***ing freezing. All the trees were bare, the skies were grey, and everybody wore black.
It wasn’t all bad, though. I first lived in Melbourne when I was in my twenties. The thing that struck me at that time was you could go to parts of the city (Richmond, Prahran, Carlton to name a few) and the shop signs would be in Foreign. You’d go into a shop, the people would see you coming, pop out the back, and wheel out their sons or daughters who could speak English. It was a real eye-opener. So were the Victoria markets where you could get food from Everywhere. You could walk from Flinders Street station up to Lonsdale Street via the lanes, where you’d find restaurants and coffee shops and all kinds of specialty shops. Then you’d reach the Myer Emporium, which was an Aladdin’s Cave where you could get everything. I loved all the bookshops, too.
But the traffic! Pete and I used to do the daily grind from west of Bacchus Marsh to Melbourne CBD (about 80km one way, which took roughly an hour). Ten years ago when we got out of town for good the suburbs were already beginning to spread west and the commute time was creeping ever higher, which meant we had to get out of bed earlier and earlier. The house prices were rising, too. Melbourne’s just behind Sydney when it comes to affordable housing, and it will catch up pretty soon. Sorry, Melbourne. Not missing you at all.
There are two other Aussie cities in the top ten – Adelaide at five and Perth at seven. I’ve never lived in Adelaide, although I’ve visited a few times. Apart from the fact that the state’s economy is a basket case, it looks like a nice place. With the Barossa and other wine and food areas so close by, food is great. And you’re near the wonderful Flinders Ranges, as well as down the road from Lake Eyre and the outback. It’s also not all that far from Melbourne, so it’s not hard to drive there for a football match or a concert. It has a Mediterranean climate, so on the whole the weather’s great.
But my pick of the cities on the list (because they’re all large cities) is Perth. I grew up there from the age of four (and a half). The city by the Swan. Perth water is only about a foot deep, but it looks impressive. When I went Over East to Canberra for my first job after Uni, my sister and her husband, who lived in Melbourne, picked me up at the airport for a quick run around the city before my plane left for the nation’s capital. Frank drove over a little hump bridge and said, “That’s the Yarra (river).” I was completely underwhelmed. And on that subject, Adelaide’s river Torrens is even less compelling. They had to dam it so there’s at least a lake. Perth is built on the edges of Perth Water, with Kings Park’s Mount Eliza rearing up on one side. It’s a great place for an aerial view of the city, and the Swan River winding its way down to the Port of Fremantle.
My memories of Perth are over twenty years old, but I don’t think the things that stick have altered much. The laid-back, outdoors life style is the thing. The winters are mild, with long bouts of sunshine. I often went to the beach in winter, just to walk. You could always tell the tourists – they were the ones in the water. Nuts. Yes, it can get stinking hot in summer, but it’s usually a dry heat – unless there’s a cyclone hovering around Up North.
Back in the day the population was very English, with pockets of Greek, Slav and Italian immigrants, but nothing like Melbourne. Over the years the city has become more cosmopolitan. Like all the Australian capitals, first class food is everywhere. You’ll find restaurants at the Swan Valley vineyards, along the ocean, by the river, in the quaint older parts of town like Subiaco, and in Freo. I couldn’t argue that Perth is a Mecca for the Arts. Not many big acts make the trek across the Nullarbor, but some do. Still, if you’re desperate, these days a flight to Melbourne isn’t all that expensive. Oh, and that ‘most isolated capital city in the world’? It’s closer to Hong Kong, Singapore and Jakarta than any of the Eastern capitals. Perthites are more likely to holiday in Asia than they are in Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane – it’s much, much cheaper.
I have to say, the worthies in Perth have done a rather better fist of urban planning than places like Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. There’s not much room for parking in Perth CBD, so don’t bring your car. Leave it at a railway station a stop or two out, and catch a free train. There are free commuter buses in the city to get around. The freeways and the railways pave the way before housing estates start, and the satellite city of Joondalup is now a thriving hub. Smart. These days, places like Rockingham and Mandurah have been effectively swallowed up into Perth’s suburbs, but the infrastructure means people can still commute. When I was a kid, people went to those towns for summer holidays. It was a loooong way.
Why aren’t we living in Perth? In a nutshell, like every other major Australian city, it’s too big. We’re over the chase-the-dollar rat race. The climate in Hervey Bay is a bit more humid than I’d like, and bookshops are few and far between. But you can’t win ’em all. It’s small enough to be laid back, and big enough to have a Bunnings you can see from the moon. What else do you need?