The 'Melbourne vs Sydney rivalry' is boring

Coffee is not a barometer of superiority.

Coffee is not a barometer of superiority. Photo: Peter Schofield

If there is one subject that won't die it is the rehashing of the ‘Melbourne versus Sydney debate’. Never mind that nothing screams 90s (or maybe "pre-internet") more so than positioning this as a serious question. Apart from perhaps wearing doc martens in the women’s room at university and sundried tomatoes in slab-like foccacia sandwiches. Or that there are actually people that live outside these two cities (I know they don’t really count, but whatever).

The debate tends to pop up in weekend newspaper supplements, visits from out-of-towners, awkward dinner parties and blogs. It generally comes down to the following pillars: food (Melbourne scored a point this week with the announcement that it does in fact have the best restaurant in Australia), fashion (Melbourne people wear black and ‘pieces’ and statement jewellery in the manner of a zany office manager in the arts; Sydney people are flashy, neon, sexy and definitely shallow), coffee (snore!) and small bars.

While the inevitable cost of living stories will come out each year sparking fearsome gloating in the comments sections, the Melbourne and Sydney brunch debate rarely includes less sexy things like public transport or community engagement because everybody knows we’d all rather be sitting on milkcrates drinking Bonsoy lattes and talking about whether Melbourne has a better small bar scene than Sydney. 

It relies on stereotypes about both cities – Melbourne is “European” and cobbled laneways, it is a pie at the MCG and wearing clogs to go on dates with boys who wear skinny jeans and probably call themselves conceptual artists, social anarchists or ‘dandy’s.’ Sydney is envy inducing beautiful (well, not counting the suburbs, right), asks you where you went to school, wears body conscious bandage dresses and the men are either jerk stockbrokers or jerk Bondi bros. But just as these are meaningless stereotypes, a few vox pops from 'identities' from either city, or the flowery first person piece by a ‘born and bred’ [insert city of origin-sider] can't speak for everybody. Funnily enough, we're not a homogenous broad stroke of humanity. We make cities our own with our individual experiences, and I don’t think that people are so blinkered that they need to list the reasons why one city (or in fact, anything really) is inferior to theirs. And if they are, perhaps it’s time to do a little looking within and consider what's lacking in one's own life.


I have lived in both cities. I moved to Melbourne from Tasmania for university in 2004. I lived on campus, I went to gender studies classes at Melbourne University (and was resoundingly terrified), I moved into squalid share houses in Carlton, worked at The Age, and rolled my eyes at tourists in St Kilda. And then I moved to Sydney and lived in a grotty Redfern share, swam at Bondi beach and moved in with my Sydney boyfriend and we look out onto the Harbour Bridge. I felt happiness in both, both felt like home.

Everybody I have met in Sydney loves visiting Melbourne, all of my Melbourne friends love coming to Sydney. We make lists of things we want to do, see and eat (mostly eat) in both places, and we all have a swell time. Yes, you can now get good coffee in both, AFL and NRL both include the kicking around of a ball and a hot pie tastes good/terrible no matter where you are.

If we really think about it, the so-called debate is dull and kind of pointless. Australians are huge overseas travellers, so comparing two cities an hour apart seems pokey when we now live in a world more global, connected and Skyped than ever. If we're not travelling we can look through the blogs, Facebook updates, Twitter feeds and endless of images of those who are, and from where we'd rather be. Flights between the two cities are cheaper than ever and everything looks better through an Instagram filter anyway.

Everybody already knows that Melbourne and Sydney are both extremely expensive and undeniably pleasant places that some people are lucky enough to call home. Maybe now instead of pitting the cities against each other in a non-existent rivalry we can simply appreciate what we each have, and don't have, and maybe even look a little further afield.

I hear Hobart has a great small bar scene too.