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Meet the people keeping Melbourne ticking at night

We meet the people who work through the night, and find out how an increasingly 24-hour city is changing their lives

By Meg Crawford and Delima Shanti |

As we move to a city where you can dine at midnight, chill out in small bars until the wee hours and catch public transport home any time on the weekend, the number of people working through the night is increasing. We meet some of these night owls and see Melbourne through their eyes. For more background into 24-hour Melbourne, check out our interview with Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, and find out how Melbourne's 24-hour public transport could change your life.

Word on the street

Kash Wall at Le Bon Ton
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Kash Wall, venue manager at Le Bon Ton

Le Bon Ton is pretty unique because we’re open for lunch, dinner, and late-night service on weekends, where people can get freshly shucked oysters, brisket and pulled pork sandwiches for dessert until 5am. Early on in the evening, we serve all sorts, from people on date nights and families to big groups. Later on, we get people who have might’ve just been to a gig and want to kick on. It’s really interesting seeing how the bar, restaurant and beer garden spaces transforms throughout the night. Dinner service starts to die off around 10pm, and that’s our chance to take a break… then it’s a gradual transformation into late-night service. We show people that going out on weekends doesn’t have to be just about drinking and clubbing; that if you want a few great cocktails or craft beers and fried chicken at 3am, you can do that!

Dr De Villiers Smit at Alfred Hospital Emergency
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Dr De Villiers Smit, director of emergency and trauma centre at Alfred Hospital Emergency

I’ve been an emergency specialist since 2001. I like the variety of the work and the fact that you don’t know what’s going to happen next – you’ve got to be prepared for the worst and if it doesn’t happen, it’s good, but if it does, you’ve got all of the tools to deal with it.

If I invited you to have a look at what’s happening on a Saturday night at 2am, I would say sometimes up to half of the patients in the department would be there as a result of alcohol or drug related conditions. The other half will be made up of heart attacks or chest pain, minor injuries. Drugs and alcohol are a major problem within the community, but I don’t think the opening of Melbourne 24 hours a day has made it worse – intoxicated patients have always been part of what emergency departments deal with.

Phill Guettaf at Magic Mountain Saloon
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Phill Guettaf, bartender at Magic Mountain Saloon

When I start night shift at Magic Mountain around 6pm it’s generally quiet and people are keen for a feed. When it hits about 10pm, that’s when the vibe completely changes, the DJs come on and the venue really transforms from restaurant to bar. A lot of people would eat here, then go to Boney next door.

I think [Melbourne’s 24-hour economy] is really great, especially for people who work in hospitality. Traditionally, when we finish work, we grab some food at work and go home, or we’d pick up some takeaway on the way home. Now, we can go out and have really good quality food, instead of just drinking. I’m usually starving by the time I finish so I’ll have a meal, and a couple of drinks with the other staff who are finishing up. It’s a really nice way to unwind with your colleagues.”

Stefanie Iverson at Yarra Trams
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Stefanie Iverson, customer services employee at Yarra Trams

My job is to assist people at tram stops – to provide information about destinations, tram works or service disruptions and help people with their Myki cards. On Friday and Saturday nights, I work on the Night Network. I start my shift at 10pm and work through until 6.45am the next day. There’s definitely more women using public transport at night time now and that’s an encouraging sign – it shows that they feel safe.

I meet a lot of interesting people at the tram stops. For the first part of the night, it’s people heading home after heading out for a bite to eat and having a good time. It’s starting to remind me of Europe, where people can go out to have a bite to eat at whatever time they like. It’s encouraging businesses to stay open longer and provide services to people – it’s actually very lively, especially in comparison to say five years ago. Then in the early morning, it’s people who have to get up to work really early  – doctors, nurses, bakers.

Carolyn Beasley at Melbourne West Police Station
Photograph: Graham Denholm

Acting Sergeant Carolyn Beasley, police officer at Melbourne West police station

I’m a bit of a night owl so I try to get on as many night shifts as possible. Since the introduction of 24/7 transport people tend to come into the city later in the night. You still have the people who go into the city for dinner and have a few drinks earlier on, then you have people heading out to the clubs, arriving later and staying on to the earlier hours of the morning.  When it comes to closing time for the venues, people don’t tend to “hang” around so much anymore.  People come in, have fun and head home on transport when the night is finished – as opposed to hanging around, getting fast food, killing time and waiting for the first trains to start.

Generally speaking people are pretty well-behaved.  People who are out with their friends are usually in a good mood and want to get home safely. From a policing perspective, it’s about managing the troublemakers early and ensuring the safety of everyone else. 

Leah Flanagan
Photograph: Supplied

Leah Flanagan, Sydney-based singer-songwriter

I grew up in Darwin and moved to Sydney in 2012, but I play down in Melbourne a lot. Sydney is a really tough town for original musicians who write their own tunes. In Melbourne each suburb seems to have bars that play live music and are supported by the local community. In contrast, in Sydney everything is kind of condensed in the CBD area and when something like a new development goes up that takes priority over cultural heritage – that's a huge blow for musicians. I know people who are completely out of work – they used to be able to rely on gigging a few nights throughout the week to pay their bills and due to these lockout laws, the venues they played in can no longer open and employ musicians.

I know I can go down to Melbourne and I could easily list off the top of my head ten clubs that I could say, “hey guys I'm coming down for a week can I play?” Whereas in Sydney I couldn’t do the same because those venues don’t even exist anymore.

Make the most of late-night culture

Flinders St Station
Photograph: Graham Denholm

How to pull the ultimate all-nighter in Melbourne

Bedtime is for babies, and Melbourne's late-night offerings are just too good to pass up. Consider this your guide to making the most of an increasingly all-hours city – whether you're keen for a cocktail and a dance or dinner and a movie after midnight.