A tale of three cities

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Sydney. Canberra. Melbourne. Each city has a distinctly different persona that forms the foundation of Australia’s identity. Like upstanding pillars of a building structure, the demolition of one would have detrimental effects on the other two. Having now visited each of them, I now appreciate the validity of these three cities and their contribution to Australia’s delicate social, economic and political environments.

Sydney: Australia's economic capital

Sydney is the economic driver of Australia. With cloud-skimming skyscrapers and the daily surge of commuters as a sea of business suits, the city feels far from a stereotypical grey metropolis.

There is much more hidden under the commercial glaze of tourist attractions such as Sydney Opera House and Bondi Beach. This glossy exterior has also been able to mask the underlying inequalities that presently tear at Sydney’s social fabric. With a prosperous inner city and a rotting outer periphery, there is an apparent economic divide between central dwellers and western suburbanites.

Although Prime Minister Julia Gillard has promised commuters new city rail lines to resolve this, it is sceptical whether such an economically driven city can find a balance for its citizens.

Whilst the economy of Australia is chiefly in Sydney, its political heart lies in Canberra. With Parliament House at the centre of the city, the rest of its infrastructure is situated around it, forming the Parliamentary Triangle. This striking assembly reflects the political importance of Canberra whilst challenging the mundane city grid structure that is more commonly seen in Australia. This makes the city feel relatively vacant even though it is the capital city.

When exploring the area during my first few weeks in Australia, I felt like I had stepped into a Pleasantville-esque, ‘trophy’ community rather than an inhabited place. Nevertheless, its political presence is a vast aspect of Canberra that continues to intrigue me after my visit.

The coastal highway stretching from Sydney to Melbourne is a picturesque route that hugs the eastern coastline. Unlike the featureless journey I take along the M6 to Lancaster every term, the coastal highway boasts lavish beaches and shorelines that are visually indulgent.

Melbourne itself is rich in culture and diversity. Graffiti covers the network of narrow alleyways that connect the main high streets, which attract art novices and art lovers alike. The infamous British graffiti artist Banksy is thought to have gathered inspiration from them for his work.

The main high streets greatly contrast these alleys. Like London’s Oxford Street, they are laden with major department stores, fashion chains and cosy cafes. Unlike Oxford Street though, Melbourne holds a laissez-faire atmosphere that reflects the timely Australian mantra of ‘taking is easy’.

These three cities reflect the multiplicity of Australia, building up a textured population and social infrastructure. Although this view could be seen as an oversimplification of such a complex country, I have found that visiting these three cities have helped unravel its convoluted concepts that initially washed over me as a haze of bewilderment. In finding an appreciation for Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, and their individual qualities, I also find a much wider understanding of Australia.

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