Words by Emily Burkhardt Art by Gabby Parish
There are those rivalries that will go down in history as absolute GOATs (Greatest of All Time for all my acronym illiterates out there). Coke versus Pepsi, Star Wars versus Star Trek, an English breakfast versus a Continental breakfast. Alongside these pop culture tensions are the rivalries that emerge between cities. From Moscow and St Petersburg, to Barcelona and Madrid, Australia’s own Melbourne versus Sydney seems to be one of the more infamous. According to the rest of the world, this battle between Oz’s two biggest cities has gotten a little bit out of control!
According to highbrow people who care about art museums and photogenic landmarks, a city isn’t worth a dime unless it has a competitor to butt heads with. Often coming from the same country, these cities whine like dysfunctional siblings, even though they really have a lot more in common than they’d care to admit. Same currency, same chain restaurants, same annoying politicians. They even have roads that connect them to each other and share the second busiest air route in the world. So where did this seemingly huge rivalry come from?
Sydney is the proud older child of the family, beginning its European existence in 1788 with the arrival of the First Fleet. You’ve all taken Year 7 history; you know the story. 70 years later in 1835, Victoria’s capital city Melbourne was founded on the banks of the Yarra River by free settlers from Van Diemen’s Land (olden day Tasmania), and the battle was on.
The colonies were competitive with one another before they all decided to become one happy united family. New South Wales and Victoria were two of the biggest states at the time and clashed heads when it came to issues of trade. NSW had free trade, while Victoria had a stricter protectionist framework, and each thought that their model should be the trade model that the new sovereign nation of Australia should adopt. A compromise was reached on that issue, but tensions were still high.
The colonists in Sydney were jealous of the convict-free upstart in the south, and the Victorian Gold Rush of the 1850s catapulted Melbourne into the #1 spot as Australia’s Most Important City. From the 1890s, when Melbourne suffered major economic decline, both these cities have been locked in a tight race for dominance as Australia’s largest, richest and most well-known city.
This rivalry reached its pinnacle around Federation in 1901. One of the biggest questions going around at the time was where the new capital city of Australia was going to be. As the two largest colonial centres at the time, Melbourne and Sydney both strongly believed that they should be the lucky city. But in typical dysfunctional family style, neither one would concede.
To prevent a civil war from breaking out between these bitterly competitive city sisters, everyone decided a good compromise would be to meet in the middle (literally) and build a capital there instead. Its name is Canberra, and to this day people don’t really care about it. The city was designed to put the rivalry to bed, but unfortunately it’s still wide awake.
This rivalry might exist on paper, in the annals of history and newspaper listicles, but do people on the street give a crap about this? Newsflash: according to some people, we are at war. A stupid, pointless war with another remarkably similar Aussie city less than 500 miles up the east coast. Let me explain. Melburnians have been known to think of themselves as the cultural capital of the world; although London, Paris and many other cities might have something to say about that…. Thus, some Melburnians have been known to look down on Sydney as being nothing more than a glamorous shell with no discernable personality. Some Sydneysiders have also been known to look down on Melbourne as pompous crazy coffee drinkers who are lost in their own self-importance.
Although Sydney might have better weather, a spectacular harbour and plenty of touristy things to keep you busy, Melbourne has great food, fantastic laneway artwork and a plethora of cultural places to keep you intrigued.
It seem high time we bury the hatchet or at least agree to staying in our lane. Both Sydney and Melbourne are amazing cities . But just don’t get me started on Brisbane.