Opinion Madonna King: Down-on-its-luck Melbourne winning as the nation’s heart capital

Madonna King: Down-on-its-luck Melbourne winning as the nation’s heart capital

Sydney Melbourne rivalry
The optimism of Melburnians gives the city a decisive edge in the Sydney/Melbourne rivalry.
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Melbourne v Sydney has always been a thing.

Sydney is big and brash.

Melbourne doesn’t boast the same population but argues quality wins over quantity; at least until 2050 when it is expected to overtake its NSW nemesis.

Sydney has the Opera House. Melbourne has the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Manly v St Kilda. Vaucluse v Toorak. Beaches and harbour v river and bay. Big and brash v cool and chic.

Melbourne is the birthplace of Germaine Greer and Cate Blanchett and Chris Hemsworth and Barry Humphries; a point always tempered by the fact that it is also the home of Eddie McGuire and Andrew Bolt.

Sydney has Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman and Paul Hogan, although Melburnians claim they all left Australian shores to find a new home in the bright lights of Hollywood.

The rivalry runs deep.

Sydney’s Double Bay is Australia’s wealthiest suburb, but Toorak in Melbourne is a close second.

NRL v AFL. The Art Gallery of NSW v the National Gallery of Victoria.

Gladys Berejiklian v Dan Andrews.

Melbourne and Monash universities v Sydney and NSW.

New money v old money. Convicts v free men. New design v history.

Crime rates and air pollution, drinking water and health care, traffic and restaurant prices, fashion and science funding – daily Australia’s two biggest cities battle it out to win the mantle of the nation’s heart capital.

That ended this week. And it might be an empathy vote, but Melbourne is now streaks ahead.

“How fragile are we feeling, Melbourne?’’ ABC reporter Patricia Karvelas asked her Twitter followers on Wednesday night.

“Shaken but not stirred.’’ “Our magnificent city will bounce back.’’ “Weirdly strong.’’

Those answers are unsurprising. For decades, Victorians have shown a resilience, built on the back of its people.

“I remember going to Melbourne in the middle of the State Bank collapse, a royal commission, several financial collapses and every second office was up for lease,’’ one senior financier says.

“At the time, people thought it was dire – and it just bounced back.’’

Bushfires tried to break the heart of Melbourne’s country cousins, but failed.

COVID-19 numbers keep creeping up, but it hasn’t bent the spirit of a city that has been forced to give up football finals and school bells and theatre and dozens of other parts of their lives.

Brutal lockdowns have stopped children socialising for months. Parents are out of work. Psychologists have closed their books.

And despite being hijacked by a selfish chunk of ignorant fringe dwellers, Melburnians are still encouraging each other to do the right thing; to stay at home and halt this virus.

For that, we should all thank them.

Indeed, when this week’s unruly anti-everything mob took to the streets, it was Melburnians, first, who called them out.

This wasn’t their Melbourne. These weren’t their people.

“The protesters are a bunch of bored morons who are angry and don’t really know why,’’ one new Melburnian explains.

For her, Melbourne won out over Sydney quickly.

“There’s still a sense of community here you don’t often find in Sydney. There are community libraries and community food hampers all over the inner suburbs. People will stop and have a yarn with you in the street. Drivers stop for pedestrians. Most people know their local publicans/shopkeeper by name.’’

This week’s earthquake, on top of everything else, just seemed so unfair to a city already so bruised.

But while it might have rocked its fixtures, it will take more than a rumble to chip away at the resilience and optimism of its people.

In the battle for the nation’s heart capital, Melbourne has already won.