In July 2022, I broke my travel drought and headed to Melbourne. I was short on time but desperate to do and see something different after over 2 years being tethered to my home.
The second largest city in Australia, Melbourne is considered our cultural capital and is home to not only the oldest art gallery in the country (the National Gallery of Victoria), but also “the highest density of commercial art galleries in the world”. And while the NGV, is definitely worth a look, I went to Melbourne specifically to visit the Laneways.
Famous for two things: cafes and street art, the Melbourne Laneways date back to the Victorian era and were designed as service and access routes for the homes and businesses that faced the cities main thoroughfares. As the city grew and the Gold Rush brought in fortune hunters from all over the world, many of the CBD’s 100 or so laneways became better known for their slum housing, red light districts and criminal element.
In the 1980s, many of the the lanes had such a bad reputation that city officials made an effort to clean up the place in order to lure the public back to the city centre. And it worked. By the 1990s, thanks to a period of gentrification subsidised by the council and state government, bars and cafes began appearing in place of brothels and slums and today the laneways are one of Melbourne’s most popular tourist attractions. Much of that popularity is thanks to the prevalence of street art.
In AC/DC lane you’ll find posthumous tributes to band members Bon Scott and Malcolm Young. Although the members of the band were born in the UK and the band formed in Sydney, they spent a great deal of time playing in Melbourne during the early part of their career and the music video for “It’s a Long Way to the Top” featured the band on the back of a flatbed truck being driven through the streets of 1970s Melbourne.
AC/DC lane also has fitting tributes to other influential rock acts.
Wander around the corner and you’ll find yourself in Hosier Lane where the art becomes a lot more eclectic:
Head down another lane (or two) and and it changes again:
What I like most about the laneways is the fusion of ideas and ideologies. It’s also interesting to think that the next time I return, most of the pieces in these photos will be gone, replaced by new images, hidden under layers of spray paint or worn away by time.
And it’s this, I think, that makes the laneways really special. They’re a constantly changing and evolving outdoor art gallery.
Because they’re such a tourist attraction the laneways are safe and relatively clean places to wander through during the day. Although, as always, common sense prevails. But if you keep your wits about you and give way to the locals, cars and delivery vehicles that frequent the area, the biggest risk you face is spraining an ankle on the uneven cobblestoned streets.
When I left Melbourne I thought I’d visited most of the laneways in the CBD. After all, I’d been following an official city of Melbourne street art walking tour map (available online). As it turns out, I hadn’t even scratched the surface.
I guess this means another trip is on the cards.