Christopher Beanland discovers intriguing art, indigenous wildlife and Ned Kelly’s death mask in the Australian city
Start in the city’s brash and breezy Docklands, which can be reached from the central business district via the pedestrian bridge over the rail tracks that funnel into Southern Cross station.
The dazzling glass-walled skyscrapers that have sprung up around the waterfront are all the proof you need that it’s boom time in Australia’s second city. Gold may have lured people here in the 1800s, but today’s Melbourne is building flashy flats, shops and restaurants such as Berth (berth.com.au) on New Quay Promenade, which looks out at Victoria Harbour.
The huge Etihad stadium, which hosts football, Aussie Rules and rugby as well as pop concerts, is located here, and there are even plans to build an artificial surf complex.
There’s a trail around the Docklands that you can download at walkingmaps.com.au/walk/609 – in less than half an hour it will take you past historic dock buildings, old ship jetties and sculptures as well as some of the area’s swish new buildings.
2. RMIT GALLERY
Catch the number 30 tram from Etihad Stadium Docklands to Swanston Street/La Trobe Street and head into the gallery at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).
Its art collection primarily comprises work by Australian artists such as Russell Drysdale, Jock Clutterbuck and John Olsen, and it also hosts intriguing temporary exhibitions.
Until February 21, Experimenta Recharge presents local and international multimedia works inspired by the past, while March will see Japanese artists respond to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Open Mon-Fri 11am-5pm, Sat 12pm-5pm; free. 344 Swanston Street; rmit.edu.au/rmitgallery
3. OLD MELBOURNE GAOL
A two-minute stroll around the corner and along Russell Street brings you to the Old Melbourne Gaol.
In the 1800s, people did everything they could to avoid this stark Victorian edifice, and yet today it’s a popular tourist attraction. Why? Mostly because we delight in the horror of the past; a horror that’s made all too real here in the cells and at the gallows of the city’s old prison, which was decommissioned in 1929.
These are the gallows, in fact, that claimed the life of outlaw Ned Kelly in 1880 – among the artefacts are the death mask that was made only an hour after Kelly was hanged.
Open 9.30am-5pm daily; entry AU$25 (£13). oldmelbournegaol.com.au
4. CARLTON GARDENS
Another two-minute walk to the end of La Trobe Street brings you to more rarefied surroundings – Carlton Gardens.
This beautiful park is home to all manner of Australian flora and fauna, including brushtail possums, as well as exotic Indian myna birds.
At the heart of the gardens is the Royal Exhibition Building, which opened in the same year as Ned Kelly’s demise and, in 1901, hosted the first Australian parliament.
It’s the most confident building Melbourne possesses, paying homage to Florence’s cathedral, Indian exoticism and British muscle, and the interiors are just as sumptuous – daily tours take place at 2pm and 3pm.
5. BRUNSWICK STREET
Walk east along Gertrude Street and you’ll come to Brunswick Street, the city’s hippest drag. Head north through the Fitzroy district and you can indulge in a famous flat white at one of the many coffee shops, and admire the colourful street art.
Stores sell trendy clothes and records, and there are dozens of bars and music venues. One of the best is the Labour in Vain (labourinvain.com.au) at number 197a, where you can finish off your tour with a cold “stubbie” of James Boag’s Tasmanian beer and a sausage fresh off the barbecue.
The 11 tram runs all the way down Brunswick Street and will get you back to the CBD in ten minutes.