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Time Out Melbourne decade in review
Image: Mitchell Moore

Decade in review: How Melbourne has changed in ten years

Written by
Time Out editors

The end of the decade is nigh, fellow Melburnians, and this fair city has seen a lot of change since 2010. We were named the most liveable city in the world seven years in a row before the crown was rudely snatched by Vienna in 2018 (don’t worry, at least we’re still considered the happiest city in the world). We’ve seen Metcards flushed, the introduction of White Night and many, many great venues, festivals and events come and go, but we’ve learned one particularly pertinent thing. Melbourne is still Australia’s cultural capital, and we can’t wait to see what happens next. 

Here are a few of the highlights from Melbourne’s cultural scene in the past ten years. 

We said goodbye to Metcards and welcomed Myki (2012)

Remember Metcards? Remember how could purchase them on the tram? Oh man, those were the days. Even though these credit card-sized public transport tickets were flimsy and so easily ripped or lost, they had a special place in many Melburnian hearts. After being rolled out in late 2009, Mykis fully replaced the Metcard ticketing system at the end of 2012. 

The Melbourne Star finally opened to the public (2013)

Technically the Southern Hemisphere’s only giant observation wheel, the Melbourne Star certainly seemed like a good idea when it was first announced. But after many, many, many delays, the poor Melbourne Star slunk off into obscurity. After originally opening in 2008 and shutting 40 days later due to structural issues, the Star did not rotate again for another four years.

The NGV turned a corner and found Melbourne (2013)

For most of the 2010s, our city’s biggest gallery seemed to swing from blockbuster exhibition to blockbuster exhibition. Under Tony Ellwood’s directorship since 2012, the NGV has featured shows from just about all of the art world’s biggest stars (although you could argue the gallery has been chasing those starry exhibitions a little too aggressively). But the gallery’s landmark exhibition of the decade came primarily from locals: Melbourne Now was its most ambitious project ever, with more than 400 artists and creatives involved in capturing a snapshot of the city. It attracted more than 750,000 visitors and laid the groundwork for the NGV Triennial, which drew more than 1 million visitors in 2017-18, becoming the gallery’s most visited exhibition ever.

White Night launched, then changed (2013-2019)

An all-night art party to end all all-night art parties, White Night was one of a kind in Australia. In its first iteration, the festival was a 12-hour art party featuring spectacular projection art, mind-bending installations and unexpected experiences. Melbourne held its inaugural White Night festival in February of 2013 with more than 300,000 people attending, and it only grew from there. In 2019, the festival moved to winter and changed to White Night Reimagined, a pared-down but stretched-out version of the original festival. For 2020, the festival is expected to bundle up with a proposed new 2020 mega winter festival. Here’s hoping they bring back the all-night aspect!  

Melbourne GPO shut to make way for a mega H&M store (2014)

The old General Post Office is a landmark of inner-city Melbourne. Formerly a hub of more than 50 shops and eateries, the GPO is now occupied by Australia’s first H&M concept store. Even if you're not there for the clothes and accessories, you can still have a peek inside at the building's impressive 19th-century grandeur… but it’s certainly not the same. 

Melbourne’s Free Tram Zone was introduced (2015)

Before the Free Tram Zone, you could only hop on the City Circle Tram for a free ride around the city. Now we have a comprehensive (ish) network that runs all over the Hoddle Grid, making it ideal for those travelling from one side of the city to the other, or for tourists wishing to sightsee. Speaking of public transport, Melbourne also got 24-hour trains on Friday and Saturday night thanks to the Night Network. 

Metro Tunnel construction began (2016-2017) 

Hey, remember when we didn’t have giant holes in the middle of the city? It’s hard to picture what it was like when City Square (RIP), A’Beckett Street, Federation Square and the area surrounding Young and Jackson’s wasn’t just dirt and excavators. But hey – it’s all for a good cause right? The Metro Tunnel is expected to open in 2025. Almost there!

We said goodbye to a LOT of good venues (2010s)

Dracula’s, the Greyhound Hotel in St Kilda, Little Creatures Brewery in Fitzroy, Olympic Doughnuts in Footscray, the George Cinema in St Kilda, the shabby chic Greater Union cinema that was on Russell Street, that Irish pub near Melbourne University that developers bulldozed illegally, and arguably the best music venue in the CBD, the Palace. We lost some favourites but...

We also welcomed some new favourites (2010s)

Where would we be without Arbory Bar (and its always-pumping summer floating cousin, Arbory Afloat)? What about mega mall Emporium or food truck park Welcome to Thornbury? QT Melbourne also opened, as well as Lune Croissanterie (the OG in Elwood opened way back in 2012), Stomping Ground... the list goes on! 

The Espy closed… and made a triumphant return (2015-2018)

St Kilda’s Esplanade Hotel has gone through many iterations in its 140-year history. The latest is arguably the most impressive, thanks to a mega 18-month renovation. Currently there are three live music stages and several bars and restaurants scattered over each floor of this labyrinthian venue. Sure, there’s a bit of a disconnect between the old rock soul of the Espy and its shiny new personality, but maybe that’s what Melbourne is now – a place where community and inclusion is more important than group. 

The AFL Women's League hit the big time (2017)

A women's league of the AFL began in February of 2017 with eight teams and a bucketload of excited fans. The first premiership game between Carlton and Collingwood at Princes Park attracted a capacity crowd of over 24,000 people (with around 2,000+ locked out and waiting outside). 

We voted yes (2017)

Thousands of people festooned in rainbows gathered outside the State Library to cheer for love (and do some quick maths as the chief statistician really milked his 15 minutes). After a hard-fought and very bruising campaign, marriage equality was finally the law of the land. We were 23rd of the 26 countries that currently recognise same-sex marriage, but better late than never.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opened (2019)

Melbourne was the third city in the world to get a production of JK Rowling’s two-part Potter sequel, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The Princess Theatre was transformed into Rowling’s wizarding world (completely with Hogwarts-themed carpet and other surprises) and will be sticking around for at least the first part of the 2020s. It wasn’t the only milestone theatrical experience of the 2010s – Taylor Mac’s 24-hour queer extravaganza at the 2017 Melbourne Festival changed pretty much everybody who attended – but it’s certainly the one that’s attracting the most attention.

Melbourne marched for action on climate change (2019)

On Friday, September 20, Melburnians took to the street for the astoundingly well-attended Not Business As Usual Global Climate Strike. It's estimated around 100,000 Melburnians converged on Treasury Gardens in the city for a multi-generational show of solidarity, protesting government inaction over climate change. It's a serious subject and one that is increasingly concerning as the impact of global warming becomes ever-more unignorable. But the atmosphere on that day was one of defiant optimism, thanks in part to the comedy gold adorning thousands of home-made signs throughout the mass gathering. See some of the best here.

Read more about what happened in Melbourne during 2019.

Get ready for the new decade with these excellent Melbourne summer activities.

Love Melbourne? Find out how much of a Melburnian you really are by ticking off our Melbourne bucket list.  

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