The Melbourne/Sydney debate is a battle of cliches. To Sydneysiders, the overriding cliche about Melbourne is that it’s always drizzling and its beaches are industrial swamps. That and the city is a flat grid of monochrome skyscrapers inhabited by 4.2 million wankers in Carhartt beanies who sleep in beds made from milk crates and all sincerely believe Melbourne has a cultural monopoly on coffee, graffiti, and laneways, even though that stuff is literally universal. Have you ever been to Hosier Lane??!! says everyone in Melbourne. It’s amazing. Just incredible. Picture a tiny street—we call them “laneways”—all covered in graffiti by unemployed artisans!
Meanwhile, the perspective looking north is equally contemptuous. To Melburnians, Sydney seems eye-wateringly superficial. A city of people who’ve somehow all adopted the body language and conversational skills of real estate agents. People who gush “yeah not bad how about yourself?” when you’ve simply said “hello.” People who dress exclusively in athleisure wear and sock-free boat shoes and go on “breakfast dates” so they don’t need to drink alcohol. A city of men and women who are obsessively, desperately, and miserably successful and who spend their lives in fast forward just to afford living in the world’s most extortionately beautiful city.
So yeah, there are stereotypes about both cities and all are equally subjective, which is why the Sydney/Melbourne debate rages on. But I’m tired of debate. I’m tired of this “friendly rivalry” and I just want to know which city is better. So I set up a few scientific experiments to find out.
Scientific Experiment #1: Which City Is Kinder?
What you’re looking at is two people laying on the ground in Melbourne and Sydney. That’s me on the left, laying on the Swanston Street footpath in Melbourne, and that’s a guy named Harvey on the footpath of Oxford Street in Sydney. And what we did was lay there and time how long it took for someone to check we were okay.
Turns out both CBDs are outstanding places to have heart attacks. In Melbourne it took just one minute and 21 seconds for a young woman to put a hand on my shoulder and go “you alright mate?” But Sydney was even better with an eclipsed total of 20 seconds before some gym dude stopped to check on Harvey.
But these were areas with lots of foot traffic, so we upped the stakes by trying somewhere quieter.
We next took the experiment out to each city’s respective Bonsoy Belt—Collingwood and Surry Hills—but again everyone was really nice. I lasted a total of 25 seconds on Collingwood’s Smith Street before this woman crossed a road to investigate. Meanwhile, Harvey lasted barely six seconds on the Crown Street sidewalk before these two old blokes stopped.
At this point Melbourne and Sydney were neck and neck in the kindness race, so we took the experiment to a public train station where we figured people would be a little more rushed.
If there’s one thing I learned from this whole experiment it’s that train stations are bad places to fall over. If you happen to experience some kind of health crisis on a train station footbridge, people will actively step around you.
On the train station at Collingwood, I lay on the ground for eight minutes and six seconds before someone helped. At Sydney’s St Peters station in the inner west, the total was five minutes. In both cases many people looked concerned. Many people even slowed down, but it took a long time for anyone to stop.
Learning: Sydney and Melbourne are equally kind, but just so long as you’re not near any train stations. Train stations turn people into ruthless animals.
Scientific Experiment #2: Which City Is More Generous?
For this experiment we went into a bunch of cafes and ordered a coffee, then tried paying 30 cents short. Would we still get the coffee? Or would the owner demand their 30 cents?
To find out I went to Alimentari in Fitzroy, (on left) where the waitress seemed cheerfully ambivalent and gave me the coffee. And that’s Harvey on the right at Pastizzi, which is a pretty upmarket joint in Newtown where again the waitress just shrugged and handed over a coffee.
In total we went to four coffee shops each, and nearly every time the baristas showed themselves to be fine ambassadors for their shops and cities. And only once was that not the case...
The Grounds of Alexandria touts itself as “a welcoming space to bring people together,” which is the case 100 percent of the time that customers have 100 percent of the money. Because, as we found, if you’re 30 cents short you’ll get a polite refusal. And look, to be fair the young waitress in this photo was doing the correct thing and she probably just didn’t want to get in trouble. But whatever. Science can be cold and the Grounds of Alexandria was the only place to say no.
Learnings: I was really hoping a clear winner would be emerging by now. But both cities seem pretty equally… nice. If you fall, people will stop in both places and check you’re okay. And if you’re short on a coffee money: don’t worry about it! But that’s not the finding I was hoping for. As a good Melburnian and a bad scientist and I was hoping for a Melbourne win. So I tilted the next experiment in Melbourne’s favour.
Scientific Experiment #3: Nightlife!
The mission here was to discover how much fun you could have in each city with a $50. So in both cities we started with beer. In Melbourne the cheapest beer I could find came from the Asian Beer Cafe above Swanston Street, where $9 got a jug of “Sumo’s Choice.” Honestly it tasted a bit like effervescent dam water but as a I say, $9.
On the right, Harvey and his photographer mate Will headed to East Village in Surry Hills. There schooners were $8.50 because he’d just missed happy hour. He then fixed that by going to Marley, where VBs stubbies were $7 a piece.
In total, my friend and I drank three $9 jugs in Melbourne and then headed out for dinner. Our remaining $23 got us two plates of Chinatown dumplings, and then we were out of money. In Sydney the finding was pretty similar. Will got a total of six beers, spent a bit of time on his phone, and then everyone in both cities was home by midnight
Learning: Look, big nights on small budgets are equally difficult in both cities, which really isn’t surprising. A big night in Melbourne or Sydney, taxis-inclusive, sans-drugs, will cost a minimum of $100, which is just the reality of living in 2019. But I think what we learned is that generally speaking, Australia is a good place to live and the people are kind and generous—as long as you’re not around public transport. Because at train stations everyone in Melbourne and Sydney runs on suspicion and survivalism and if you fall over you’ll die watching the feet of unhelpful people scurrying away to someplace less scary.
And a big thanks to William Jordan who coordinated all the action in Sydney with Harvey Robbins