Melbourne’s Laneways – A Love Story

Years ago I was flying around Canada and picked up Air Canada’s inflight magazine. In it, their travel writer was talking about Melbourne.  He said the first time he visited the city, in his words, he hated it.  Sure, there were pretty bits but it seemed to be ‘just another city’.  It was bereft of attractions like Sydney, or weather like Brisbane and frankly, soulless.

Years later, he reluctantly went back and was shown around by locals.  It was as if he’d been shown a completely different city.  He finally ‘got it’.

Melbourne may be many things – obvious isn’t one of them.

If you ask a Melbournian what makes their city unique and you’ll often get the same answer – our laneways.  For the uninitiated, this is an odd response, until you experience them yourself.  The centre of Melbourne city is a labyrinth.  Sure, it has lovely wide tree lined streets, but once you step off the main path it’s a whole new world.  Down the kaleidoscope coloured graffiti walls is an endless supply of the unexpected.

Every few days, a new bar opens behind an unmarked door.  Brilliant culinary delights can be hidden around the next corner.  You just have to know where to look.  The only constant is that there will be something new and exciting just waiting to be discovered.

The fact that the laneway culture was created organically, with no final agenda, was conceived and supported by grass root Melbournian’s only makes it more special.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve shown someone the city and I’m sure they thought they were just about to be rolled.  Walking past the stinking bins, piss stained walls and puddle laden cobblestones, I’m surprised none of them turned around and shrieked, ‘Just take my wallet, please don’t hurt me!’

Melbourne’s laneways can be considered art galleries (Hosier Lane), host music festivals (St Jerome’s Laneway Festival), fashion shows (here) or be renamed after local eminent local dignitaries (AC/DC Lane, Dame Edna Place).

But it’s not all positive.  A recent decision by the state government sold off Elliot Lane, and part Merriman Lane to developers to make way for a huge apartment complex. This has rightly stirred the ire of many.  This short sighted and almighty dollar focussed decision flies in face of what the laneways represent.

Selling part of what makes the city unique is tantamount to cutting off a part of our own body.  It can never be replaced, and it makes us less whole.  Keep it up and we may very well end up like the first impression of our Canadian cousin – soulless.


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