A capital destination
The host city of the 2023 Rotary International Convention is multiple cities rolled into one
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The vibrant and stately city of Melbourne is an Australian capital city in every sense of the word. Now, I understand that Canberra is Australia’s federal political capital and Sydney its financial center. But if you dig into Melbourne’s rich history and look closely at its many tourist attractions, you will discover that the home of the 2023 Rotary International Convention might easily claim the crown as Australia’s culinary, cultural, sports, and shopping capital, in addition to being the capital of the state of Victoria.
In the leadup to the 2023 convention, we asked two Australians — Rotary Down Under magazine Editor Meagan Martin and her husband, creative director Rhys Martin — to test those claims. They got a friendly assist from several local Rotary members, who provided insider intel on their much-loved city on Australia’s southeast coast. If their generosity is any indication, Melbourne may very well deserve another accolade: the capital of hospitality. Join us in Melbourne 27-31 May 2023 and find out for yourself. — WEN HUANG
The culinary capital
Victoria’s economic hub, Melbourne has been defined by decades — no, make that centuries — of immigration. The city says it is home to some 140 cultures, from the state’s original Indigenous population to a multitude of migrants from countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. As of 2021, about 36 percent of Greater Melbourne’s residents had been born overseas.
Such diversity has contributed to a lively, varied, and ever-evolving culture, which you notice most in the city’s dining and drinking scene. Melbourne has more than 2,000 cafes and restaurants. Mix in lofty rooftop cocktail lounges, congenial Aussie pubs, and hidden bars found in basements and alleyways, and you get an embarrassment of riches.
In South Melbourne, Amanda Wendt, governor of District 9800 and a member of the Rotary Club of Melbourne, recommends a long lunch in the chic European bistro Bellota. Adjoining the Prince Wine Store, the restaurant says it has one of Melbourne’s longest wine lists. Ask a knowledgeable staff member to walk you through the 3,000-some options to find the perfect selection. Lounge the day away over boards of charcuterie and cheese, platters of oysters, and larger plates spanning European cultures.
“Bellota never disappoints,” Wendt says. “Everything on the menu is amazing.”
We’ll let that whet your appetite. Watch for more on the city’s foodie finds in an upcoming issue and on rotary.org.
The culture capital
Melbourne gave rise to Australian Impressionism and Australian cinema — The Story of the Kelly Gang, often considered the world’s first feature-length narrative film, was produced there — and in 2008, UNESCO selected it as a City of Literature. A 2017 census of live music venues in Greater Melbourne found that it boasts one venue for every 9,503 residents, making it arguably the live music capital of the world on a per capita basis. Its grand heritage architecture, dating from the earliest years of European settlement, stands elegantly side by side with bold, contemporary neighbors.
Those ingredients combined give Rotary Convention attendees their first look at Melbourne as an Australian cultural capital. Lift the curtain on your visit to the East End Theatre District and perhaps the city’s most spectacular landmark, the Princess Theatre, which dates to 1854. (“It has no equal in London,” gushed one British critic after the Princess was rebuilt from the ground up in the 1880s.) Nearby, Her Majesty’s Theatre has a Victorian-era facade and an art deco auditorium, while the Regent Theatre, a former movie house, has been re-imagined as a venue for some of the world’s big-name theater productions.
Across the street you will find the Athenaeum Theatre, which hosts performances of the Melbourne Opera and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. For a more casual experience, Jennie Franklin of the Rotary Club of Melbourne Passport recommends the Sun Theatre’s open-air cinema in Williamstown. “Looking out across the bay, with a backdrop of the city lights, this is a wonderful place to catch up with friends,” Franklin says.
Jamie Robertson of the Rotary Club of Footscray recommends State Library Victoria, which “has enough grandeur and quirkiness to please the most jaded traveler,” he says. At the center of the historic Carlton Gardens sits the ultramodern Melbourne Museum, which will host the convention’s signature cultural welcome event on 27 May. “With its dinosaurs and dugout canoes, its stagecoaches and science exhibits, the museum provides a different perspective on Victoria’s natural environment, cultures, and history,” says Dennis Shore, a vice chair of the convention’s Host Organization Committee and a member of the Rotary Club of Hawthorn.
To learn more about local history, Michelle Crawford of the Rotary Club of Central Melbourne recommends a visit to the Koorie Heritage Trust, which promotes the art and culture of Aboriginal Victoria. Or cruise down the Yarra River to Williamstown, Melbourne’s first port settlement; you will find the Seaworks Maritime Museum, and the Newport Railway Museum is in an adjacent suburb. “The views of Melbourne from Williamstown are spectacular, particularly as the sun sets on the city,” says Crawford.
Generations of Melbourne residents and visitors from around the world have enjoyed Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, established in 1846. Nearby, the Shrine of Remembrance offers moving insight into Australia’s wartime history. Ascend the stairs to the balcony to enjoy panoramic views of Melbourne’s skyline beyond the 250-plus memorial trees of the Shrine Reserve.
The sports capital
With more than 20 professional teams in the metropolitan area, Melbourne is sport crazy and has a dazzling array of venues to indulge that passion. Nine of these teams play Australian-rules football, invented in Melbourne in the late 1850s. In Melbourne Park, the Rod Laver Arena, where the Rotary Convention’s general sessions will take place, is the center court for the Australian Open, the first of four annual Grand Slam tennis tournaments. The mighty Melbourne Cricket Ground is the largest stadium in the Southern Hemisphere and arguably Australia’s sporting mecca. Flemington Racecourse is home to the Melbourne Cup; known as “the race that stops the nation,” it’s the richest 2-mile handicap thoroughbred horse race in the world in terms of prizes.
Albert Park is the location of the Formula One Australian Grand Prix, a four-day motor sport extravaganza that uses everyday sections of road that circle Albert Park Lake. The rest of the year, locals and tourists alike enjoy this lakeside oasis. “Surrounding the lake are a number of picnic spots and restaurants, as well as the Albert Park Golf Course,” says Matthew Proctor, a member of the Rotary Club of Albert Park. “It’s a popular location for a relaxing walk or cycle. It also has a number of boating and fishing activities.” And it’s just a short tram ride or walk from St Kilda Beach, which Aviv Palti, president of the Rotary Club of Melbourne Passport, calls “one of the city’s most vibrant and eclectic spots.”
A 10-minute drive south of St Kilda will bring you to Brighton’s Dendy Street Beach, a highlight for Maria Hicks, the Melbourne Passport club’s charter president. “Over 100 years old, the beach’s colorful bathing boxes evoke times past,” Hicks says. “Walk south towards Green Point, and you will find a hidden beach called Holloway Bay, a quiet, sheltered picnic spot.”
If you prefer your motor sports on two wheels, head to scenic Phillip Island for the site of the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix. For something completely different, check out the Phillip Island Penguin Parade, where thousands of little blue penguins dash home across the sand at sunset.
The shopping capital
To see some memorable Melbourne architecture and get a hit of retail therapy, explore the Block Arcade’s high-end retail shops. For more shopping options, jump on a tram to the “Paris end” of town for an array of boutique outlets, such as Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Hermès, and Prada.
At the opposite end of the shopping spectrum is the 144-year-old Queen Victoria Market. With more than 500 vendors, the Queen Vic is a hive of activity spread across two city blocks. Begin your visit at the meat and fish hall, two long corridors of carnivorous chaos that offers everything needed to fulfill your wildest backyard barbie dreams.
Peter Shepheard of the Rotary Club of Altona is a manager at the market, and he says the dairy and produce hall is the place to try two must-eat treats. “No Queen Vic experience is complete without a stop at the Bratwurst Shop & Co.,” he says. “Top that off with a savory Turkish [pastry] delicacy from the Borek Shop.”
Along the Yarra River is the dining and shopping hotspot of Southbank. Some of the best shopping in Melbourne is on hand at the Crown complex, including designer brands such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Salvatore Ferragamo. For unsurpassed city views, take the lift up to Melbourne Skydeck within Eureka Tower — which bills itself as the highest observation deck in the Southern Hemisphere.
A little further along the Yarra will bring you to South Wharf. Walk the promenade, lined with restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops, and admire the historic Polly Woodside tall ship. South Wharf is also the location of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, where the Rotary Convention’s House of Friendship and breakout sessions will be held.
With that, we’ve barely scratched the surface of all that Melbourne has to offer. It would take a lifetime to unearth all its treasures and secrets. But if you are looking for something a bit special to do during your time in Melbourne for the 2023 convention, just ask a friendly local Rotary member and find out firsthand why their city could be Australia’s hospitality capital.
This story originally appeared in the November 2022 issue of Rotary magazine.