Living and working in Melbourne

Provides background information useful for those contemplating to work in Melbourne

So you are considering to work or study at the University of Melbourne, Australia?

Note: This page was created in 2004. Since then both academic salaries and the cost of living in Australia have increased very substantially. In addition, the Australian dollar has become much stronger. The overall effect is that Melbourne is now ranked the 15th most expensive city in the world according to Mercer, with Sydney only just out of the top-10. The 2013 Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranking even ranks Sydney (#3) and Melbourne (#4 with Oslo) as the most expensive cities in the world after Tokyo and Osaka.

About the University of Melbourne campus

The great thing about Melbourne University is that its Parkville (main) campus is very close to the City Centre and even closer to famous "eat streets" such as Lygon Street. That means that you can live close to the university (as I do) and still benefit from all that the City of Melbourne has to offer. The campus itself is a nice place too. Here are some pictures of the last five minutes of my 10-minute walk to work.

Campus Campus
Campus Campus

The University has its own members-only University House staff club with decent food, the cheapest coffee and wine on the campus, and a nice outside eating area. University House dates back to 1885 and is a beautiful Victorian home with gardens to its east and west. It is the sole survivor of a number of Victorian Professorial houses that once lined Professors Walk.

For more official information about the University of Melbourne, try these links:

Campus by night

The campus looks even more beautiful by night. Here are pictures of some of the most distinctive buildings on campus.

Left: The clocktower of the Old Arts building, located opposite the Babel building. Right: Part of the Old Quadrangle, the oldest building in the university, some 150 years old.
Left: Detail of the Old Quadrangle, the corridors wouldn't be out of place in a cloister. Right: The gatekeeper's cottage at the Grattan Street entrance, dating from 1860 and a residential home until 1997.
Left: New meets old, 19th century terraced houses in front of one of the latest campus additions. Right: Campus entrance at Grattan Street, looking very spooky in the evening light.

Babel building offices

The Department of Management & Marketing is housed in the Babel building (formerly occupied by the Department of Languages, hence its name). The Department currently occupies the top four floors, but is planned to take over the whole building within the next five years as staff numbers keep growing.

Top left: The Babel building in its full glory. Top middle: Daytime city view from my office. Top right: My office, a further three windows are around the corner. Bottom: Bright lights, big city. View from my office at night.

Melbourne: The world's most liveable city

If you are an international or interstate applicant, the city of Melbourne might be as important as the University in your decision to apply.

I think Melbourne is an absolutely wonderful city. After spending time in the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and the UK, my husband and I had lifestyle at the top of our list of priorities when we picked Melbourne, Australia as our next destination. (I was of course also delighted to find the city hosted one of Australia's top universities.)

But don't take my word for it.

In 2004, the Economist Intelligence Unit declared Melbourne and Vancouver the world's best cities to live in. The verdict was based on a range of criteria under the headings "Health & Safety", "Culture & Environment", and "Infrastructure". All four other major Australian cities (Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane) made the top-10, so in the unlikely event you get tired of Melbourne, there are plenty of further options in Australia.

Melbourne Central Parliament Building

Impressions from Melbourne's city centre. Left: Melbourne Central, combining an inner-city shopping mall with a local train station. Right: Victoria's Parliament Building. It served as the national parliament until 1927, when the new national parliament was opened in Canberra. (The "new" national parliament is now the Old Parliament House, because an even newer one was opened in 1988.)

Under the title "Celebrating Melbourne" Susan Allen Toth praised Melbourne as "easy and relaxed, but alert for pleasures just around the corner", "a livable city with happy citizens" (May 12, 2002 issue of the New York Times). The full text of this article as well as eight other free articles about Melbourne can be found on the New York Times web site.

Outside Melbourne

Should you get bored of Melbourne, then there are plenty of interesting day and weekend trips in the the state of Victoria, such as skiing at Mt Buller, wine tasting in the Yarra Valley, driving down the Great Ocean Road or the Great Alpine Road, swimming and sunbathing at Sorrento beach or seeing the little Penguins at Philip Island. A favourite family outing is going to one of the 52 National Parks in Victoria and have a BBQ (Barbie). Picnic areas with public barbies are available in nearly every National Park.

See Visit Victoria for even more ideas.

Great Alpine Road Danny's Lookout
Surf at Sorrento Beach

Top left: View along the Great Alpine Road. Top right: Danny's Lookout at one of the highest points in the Victorian Alps. Above: The surf at Sorrento Beach.

But how about academic salaries?

To say that academic salaries in Australia are not among the highest in the world would be an understatement. However, we all know that purchasing power is more important than salary as such. In Mercer's 2003 cost of living comparisons for 144 major world cities, Melbourne was only the 111th most expensive city (Tokyo was 1st, Hong Kong 4th, Beijing 5th, London 7th, New York 10th, Copenhagen 15th, Dublin 21st, Los Angeles 22nd, Paris 23rd, Chicago 25th).

As a rough approximation, the cost of most daily goods in Melbourne is about half of their equivalent in the USA and the UK. And don't forget that with a mild Winter and a not-too-hot Summer you save substantially on energy costs too.

Flinders Street Station Melbourne skyline from the Shrine

Above left: Flinders Street Station, a well-known landmark in Melbourne. Above right: View towards the CBD from the Shrine of Remembrance.

What I like best about Melbourne

In my view Melbourne has all the conveniences and facilities of a big city (e.g., good shopping, restaurants, vibrant cultural and sports life), but shares few of the disadvantages of other big cities (e.g., congestion, pollution, crime, hurried & unfriendly people).

Some things I particularly like about Melbourne:

Its Multi-culturalism

About 25% of Melbourne's 3 million inhabitants were born overseas; together they represent more than 60 different nationalities. Combined with the usual dose of international students and tourists, this means that in the Melbourne City Centre you're bound to hear a dozen or so different languages within 5 minutes.

More important, however, is that nearly every Melburnian is open and accepting to "foreigners" (as long as they don't haul from Sydney ;-). Melbourne is in fact the first foreign city in which I did not feel a foreigner when I first arrived. And you can become an Australian citizen after only two years!

Its Restaurants

The Gourmet BBQAlthough we do have our prestigious restaurants with accompanying price-tags, the majority of Melbourne restaurants simply delivers good food at very reasonable prices, and many manage to deliver excellent food at prices as low as AU$7-15 (US$5-10) for a main course. To name just a few of the more popular dining precincts:

  • Lygon Street for Italian food;
  • Victoria Street for Vietnamese food;
  • Lonsdale Street for Greek food;
  • Johnston Street for Spanish food; and of course
  • Chinatown for Chinese food.


Right: They've got real Aussie food too...

Every year The Age newspaper bring out their Cheap Eats book which features 500 of the best restaurants serving an excellent 2-course meal for less than AU$25.

Its Food

Like to do your own cooking? Then you'll love the Queen Victoria Market, right at the edge of the City Centre. Any food you can't get at Victoria Market is not worth eating. If you come from Europe or the USA, prices will seem ridiculously low — think AU$5-8 (US$3.50-5.50) for a kilo of excellent beef.

Queen Victoria Market is open five days a week and has nearly 1000 traders that sell food, clothing, souvenirs, handicrafts, CDs, toys etc. The Meat Hall is located in a historic building that dates from the Market's opening in 1878. In Spring (September-November) the QVM Carpark doubles as a Moonlight Drive in Cinema, while in December and January each Wednesday features a Night market.

Its Coffee

Melbourne is the (self-proclaimed) coffee capital of Australia. You can get really good coffee nearly everywhere. Every cup is made of freshly ground beans. Melburnians shiver at the idea of keeping coffee warm on a hot-plate as is done in many European countries, or at the thought of the coloured water that passes for coffee in most parts of the UK and the USA. Interestingly, even McDonalds serves decent coffee in Melbourne.

A recent article in the Age claims that even people returning from Italy have been known to say Melbourne's coffee is better than what they sipped overseas. Melburnians take their coffee very seriously. Where else would you be able to get a barista certificate from a real coffee academy?

Its Climate

Mount Dandenong's ObservatoryThough complaining about the climate is a Melburnian's favourite past-time, in my view Melbourne has one of the best climates in the world.

Summers are pleasant and the occasional days of over 35 °C are rather easy to bear, because humidity is very low. Spring and Autumn bring warm days with plenty of sunshine.

Melbourne's Winter is a breeze in comparison to most countries on the Northern Hemisphere. Temperatures rarely go below 10 °C and Winter days with clear blue skies, sun and 15 °C compensate for the inevitable but rare rainy day.

WeatherZone's web site maintains up to date weather information for Melbourne. Please note that Melbourne's seasons are reversed from seasons in the Northern Hemisphere, i.e., the height of Winter is in July/August, while January and February are the warmest Summer months.

Its Outdoor Activities

In the Summer Melbourne goes outdoors in a big way: Moonlight Cinema or Shakespeare plays in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Jazz and other musical performances in the Zoo Twilight sessions, free concerts in the Fitzroy Gardens, or gazing at the stars in the free Starry Starry Night Programme in the Royal Park are just a few of the many events.

Melbourne Zoo at nightRight: Melbourne Zoo entrance at night

Its Parks

One visitor said of the Royal Botanic Gardens "If you see these gardens, then for the rest of your life you need see no others. they won't compare." The Gardens are close to the CBD and are easily reached by tram. However, nearly every suburb seems to have its own green space too.

Royal Botanic Gardens

...are some that are close to the city and the University of Melbourne.

Its Sports

Sports is not really my thing, but if it is yours you won't be disappointed in Melbourne. It is the sporting capital of Australia with excellent sporting facilities and a wide range of sport events throughout the year.

The one thing that really gets the whole town going is footy, the Australian rules version of football, rugby, or whatever your local version of "grab the ball and run" is called. The Australian Football League is responsible for all this mayhem.

See the Visit Victoria web site for more information.

Its Festivals

Tulip FestivalThere is nearly always a festival going on in Melbourne, be it Film, Comedy, Food & Wine, Fashion or even Tulip.

See the Visit Melbourne web site for an overview of all major festivals throughout the year.

Some useful links

Essentials CitySearch (time, money, emergency etc.)
Settling in The Newcomers network helps you find your way in Victoria
Visiting & Working Department of Immigration & Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Getting around Melway is the indispensable streetmap
MetLink (Melbourne's Public Transport)
Real estate (buy or rental)
House sitting Australian house sitters directory
Newspapers The Age
The Australian
The Australian Financial Review

And finally...

Yes, we do have kangaroos in the wild here, and koalas in the almost wild. Plus wombats (resembling enormously oversized guinea pigs), possums (cat-sized squirrels), and a few others. In the not-quite-so-cuddly department you'll find the occasional snake and spider, although both are fairly rare in Melbourne. We haven't seen any so far.

Kangaroos Koala

Above left: Kangaroo mum and joey foraging. Above right: Koala during one of its few waking moments.

Photo credits All photos on this page are © 2000-2004 Ron van der Wal.

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