A bitter tale of two cities

(Courtesy of Jenny Brown - Domain - 25 Feb 2012)


Sydney's and Melbourne's antagonism is well established but what sparked it?

Where did the pernicious rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney spring from? And why, after almost two centuries, are snide, decidedly mean, remarks still being traded between the grown-up citizens of both capitals.

For example: ''If you find yourself getting misty-eyed about the Yarra, you've been drinking from it,'' former Sydney columnist David Penberthy quips. ''Sun and beauty rarely coexist with intelligence,'' Melbourne columnist and broadcaster Waleed Aly retorts.

It's hard to identify where it started. Some say it blew up during the 26 years from 1901 to 1927, when Melbourne became the interim base of the newly federated Commonwealth.

It was only a temporary arrangement because competition between the two cities for national-capital status became so intense that Canberra had to be built to quell the jealousies.

Other historians believe it began when Melbourne experienced the financial windfall and population explosion that came with the 1850s gold rush, which, for the next 40 years, elevated it to the most populous city in Australia and one of the wealthiest on Earth.

Some contend that it is based on the foundation stories of the capitals. Sydney was set up as an open-air jail in 1788, whereas Melbourne was founded in 1835 by independent settlers seeking new farmland.

In the beginning, according to spiteful commentators, Sydney was a haphazard city laid out by rum-soaked drunks, whereas Melbourne's central business district got Hoddle's regimented grid, specifically to discourage crime in dark backstreets.

Maybe so, Sydneysiders say, pointing to the natural beauty bestowed on their city by one of the deepest and most picturesque harbours in the world. Nyah, Nyah!

By the 1880s, writer Marcus Clarke sought to share the spoils by pointing out that Sydney would probably evolve as ''the fashionable and luxurious capital'', while Melbourne would become the intellectual and cultural capital.

And so it is in 2012 that the ''Emerald City's'' celebrated glamour is pitted against the supposed conservatism of Australia's most Europeanised city.

The coffee is much better in Melbourne, pundits say. ''So what?'' the Sydneysiders reply. ''Who would want to sit in a hole and drink chardonnay and read a book?''

And on it goes: Sydney has the beaches and the better weather. Yet, while it does have more overcast days, Melbourne actually receives half Sydney's average rainfall. Sydney gets more thunderstorms. Melbourne gets more fog.

Sydney's house prices are higher and the urban density greater. Melbourne kept its trams. Sydney gets the biggest share of international tourism.

But Melbourne is visited by more interstate travellers than any other Australian city. And the hotel prices are, on average, $20 a night cheaper.

One of the most hackneyed gibes, that ''the best thing to ever come out of Melbourne is the Hume Highway'', can be reversed to dis Sydney, which is indicative that what is termed ''a respectful rivalry'' is probably more about old habit than comparable fact.

Last year, the crowing from Melbourne was renewed when it was named the world's most liveable city in the Economist magazine's measure of 140 cities judged on their social, cultural and political qualities.

Sydney came in sixth but only by a narrow margin: Melbourne 97.5; Sydney 96.1.

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