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Melbourne’s Yarra River Precinct: Heart of the City
It was only a generation ago that Melbourne’s Yarra River still carried the name ‘Main Drain No. 1’ on the city’s water and drainage maps.
From the days of the city’s settlement in 1835 on the north bank of the river to a media-led public campaign in the 1980s to “Clean up the Yarra’, the waterway was historically treated little more than a means of getting effluent to the bay. In fact, it was the pollution from the tallow factories and wool scouring plants along the Yarra that helped the city earn the nickname of ‘Smellbourne’.
However, in little more than two decades the pollution has been stopped, and the water quality lifted to such an extent that dolphins now inhabit its lower reaches. It still has a brown tinge, but that comes from the suspended clay that enters the river from soil run-off in the famous Yarra Valley wine region. The once factory-lined river banks have been transformed into the major tourism, arts, sports and recreation focus of the ‘World’s Most Liveable City’ (a 3 times winner in the Economist Intelligence Unit Survey of 140 countries).
Four kilometres of prime CBD river frontage links Melbourne’s Convention Centre and World Trade Centre with Crown Casino, Federation Square, Arts Centre Melbourne, the Royal Botanic Gardens and a nuclei of world-class sporting venues. In between the major venues lie an ever-growing array of restaurants, high-end shops, riverside bars and eateries, galleries and theatres.
On the water itself, tour boats, dining cruises and water taxis share the river with rowing sculls that have been using the waterway competitively since the 1840s.
It all combines to create a constant vibrancy right in the heart of the 4.5 million metropolis. It’s also directly connected to Melbourne’s leafy suburbs by train, tram and bus. Catch a ferry from Southbank to the historic port of Williamstown or take a short tram trip to the city’s raffish beachside suburb of St Kilda.
What ever your interest is in visiting Melbourne, or wherever you need to go in the city, at some stage most visitors gravitate to the banks of the Yarra. Melburnians simply jump on a train or tram and head to Fed Square, Southgate or Crown because there’s always something happening, even if it’s just sitting in a café and watching the passing parade of boats and people.
Speaking of parades, the river precinct is also where Melbourne’s major celebrations occur: the annual Moomba Festival street parade, the Australian Football League Grand Final Parade, the Melbourne Cup Parade, the Formula 1 Grand Prix Parade and, of course, New Years Eve, when 500,000 people cram the riverbanks and bridges to see in the New Year.
The precinct was the original heart of the city’s 19th century commerce. A beautiful custom house, remnants of wharves, a fully rigged tall ship and old mercantile vaults still mingle among the stunning, and sometimes controversial, style of the new-look river. Despite the world-wide acclaim of Federation Square, its confronting architecture can still be a divisive source of discussion among Melburnians.
The elegance, style, culture and edginess of Melbourne is perfectly encapsulated in its Yarra River Precinct. Find out more at www.yarrariver.info