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.


Images from –

About Dave Sinclair

Dave is a writer, a screenwriter and a really excellent parallel parker. He is the author of The Barista's Guide to Espionage.


  • Peta says:

    So that was what I was missing? I have only been to Melbourne twice for very short visits, I think next time I will extend my stay so I can explore some laneways.

  • I see what you did there says:

    Melbourne would be an awesome place if it wasn’t for the people living there. I say this because your average Melbournite is very fickle and short term focused. They want all the cool and groovy little lane ways and other cool little bits, but their very presence threatens the very city itself.

    As more people flock there to be in with the hip and cool crowd, they place a larger burden on the infrastructure which has to change to suit the crowd (as with the development you mentioned). As it does, a little bit of what makes Melbourne unique dies each time. In short, Melbournites are loving their city to death, they just don’t realise it yet.

  • Disco Stu says:

    Um. Way to go negative ‘I see’. Can’t people just like things without it having negative connotations? The laneways are special, like Dave said; created and supported by Melbourne folks. They’re not fickle, that’s why they’ve lasted. I suggest going to have a nice relaxing drink and chill out.

    Now – Dave – WELCOME BACK!!! And an excellent way to get back to you bloggingness. More please.

  • Grogger says:

    I so want to go to Melbourne now.

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