The rivalry between Australia’s biggest cities reached a peak with Federation. Melbourne was the temporary base for Parliament, and hence the centre of festivities when the Duke and Duchess of York arrived for the formal opening of proceedings in 1901. I love this report from a seething Sydney journalist;
The special, large and gaudy invitation cards for the Melbourne series of festivities in connection with the Duke’s visit there, and the opening of the Federal Parliament, were delivered to the local distinguished visitors a little while ago. On looking at them, one fact sticks out like the handle of a coffee pot, and that is the jealousy of Sydney which prompted the Melbourne artists who designed them. Small oblong views, of which I may leniently remark that they are not as accurate as photographs, are given on the cards of the capital cities of each State, as a remembrance, I presume, of the glories of Australian civilization. In representation of Melbourne all the finest public buildings throughout the area of the city are crammed together, quite irrespective of the real distance….Princes Bridge spans an idealised Yarra.
In the view of Sydney, on the other hand, we get two humpies, a windmill, Government House, and an utterly inaccurate and contracted harbour. That, and nothing more, except the very necessary label underneath, which tells us the name of the little bush town we are looking at. These things make me laugh. (Riverine Grazier June 14 1901)
You might notice the reference to a coffee pot in the above piece. This was something of an omen, because today Melbourne’s biggest boast is that they have better coffee☕
In 1920 the Prince of Wales visited, and it was decided that he would land at Melbourne first. Oh dear me, this did not sit well with Sydney at all. They felt that while ever Melbourne remained the site of Parliament they would play second fiddle.
Some wit from the south even suggested that Taronga Zoo, that sparkling jewel in the crown, was lacking;
‘A dinkum Melbournite doesn’t want to view the same lion twice. Being up from Melbourne on a holiday, I must admit the Sydney zoo is ‘some place’ (almost equal to ours). But I would like to suggest to the authorities that each visitor is handed a small map of the grounds, so that he may at least know where he has already been…..The view overlooking ‘our ‘arbour’ is very fine, but if the beautifully flowing Yarra had been there instead the outlook would have been much improved. Melbournites feel sorry for Sydney people, who are greatly handicapped by not having such a grand river flowing near their city. (The Sun, January 26 1920)
It was only when Parliament moved to the neutral site of Canberra in 1927 that the angst abated,
Mind you, Melbournians still joked that Sydney-siders had always just smirked at their reflection in the harbour, neglecting everything else that makes a city great, such as leafy boulevards and decent architecture. Sydney responded with more harbour bling;
With the opening of the Bridge in 1932 and Bradman at his peak, Sydney felt she had edged ahead.
On the subject of waterways, the joke about Melbourne’s river flowing upside down is tired and cruel, but well…..there’s no denying the Yarra has a potentially lethal, muddy bottom;
MELBOURNE – When three hundredweight of dredge chain fell on Diver Tom McMillin four fathoms under water in the Yarra near South Wharf yesterday, he battled for life, stuck head first in the mud for one and a half hours. With most of the air rushing into the legs of his diving sit, keeping him upside down, he was practically helpless….McMillin fought with his hands to dig his helmet out of the mud. (News (Adelaide) July 4 1946)
In 1947 both cities pronounced that they had a Messiah. Mr James Fraser was the contender from Melbourne’s Hawthorn. His claim was countered by one from Mr Arthur Bergman of Sydney’s raffish Kings Cross.
Well, I’m not sure what Hawthorn was like, but King’s Cross was a fairly unlikely place for a Messiah to emerge. Besides, Mr Bergman lost much of his credibility when he failed in an attempt to influence the outcome of a two-up game.
In 1954 there was another royal visit, this time from Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.. The couple sailed into Sydney Harbour first, but Melbourne was determined to outdo their old rival when it came to welcome celebrations.
I suspect the next royal visit will be from King Charles and Queen Camilla. Will there be wrangling over which city hosts them first. Hmmm, maybe not. 😏
Meanwhile, comparisons continue to be made. Perhaps it’s fashion sense that truly expresses the difference in character of the two cities.
NOTE – What every Melbournite secretly hopes might occur on New Year’s Eve. Even as a Sydneysider I can’t say that I blame them.
For a look at the rivalry on YouTube, CLICK HERE