Previously published on Meld Magazine.

Despite expensive public transport, Meld’s Marcella Purnama argues Melbourne is the world’s most liveable city for international students.
Despite expensive public transport, Meld's Marcella Purnama argues Melbourne is the world's most liveable city for international students
Photo by Bentley Smith

INTERNATIONAL students generally complain about delayed trains, overpriced public transport, increasing rental fees, and expensive food in Melbourne. When news came out that the city had been named the world’s most liveable, I had my doubts. For people living here long-term, yes – maybe Melbourne was the most livable city in the world. But I was not so sure that was the case for the poor students who were often referred to as the “cash cow” of the city’s tertiary education industry.

But on a recent four-day holiday to Sydney, I began to realise why Melbourne was worthy of its title – even for international students. I have to say my holiday wasn’t a pleasant one overall, and after 24 hours in Sydney I was homesick – longing for a freshly brewed latte at my local Melbourne cafe, with poached eggs and smoked salmon on sourdough.

Then came the ultimate realisation: despite its flaws, I am proud to call Melbourne my home. Here’s why:

1. Melbourne may be the 21st most expensive city in the world, but Sydney is the 14th

Ever think your Melbourne rent is expensive? Well, Sydney tops that. While the average two-bedroom apartment in the heart of Melbourne costs at around $400-500 per week to rent, in Sydney, this goes up to $800 per week. Not to mention the price of food. I never managed to find a meal for under $10 – something that’s common in many of Melbourne’s cheap noodle, sushi or sandwich joins. I am still feeling the effect of my Sydney holiday on my bank account.

2. Sydney buses vs Melbourne trams

There are no trams in Sydney. Well, there are, but they’re not the main inner-city public transport system as they are in Melbourne. According to my friend who is a Sydney resident, trams are for tourists as they are quite expensive. Not only does Sydney have very pricy public transport fares (a weekly full-fare public transport cost ticket around $50, compared to $30 in Melbourne), but its bus system is also very different to Melbourne’s – and I have to say that it is quite confusing.

Sydney’s CBD is double the size of Melbourne’s and we had to explore it on foot (for once your expensive bus ticket is validated, you can’t use it anymore – no two-hour fare!) I came back to Melbourne in dire need of a foot massage.


Melbourne vs Sydney: an old rivalry

3. The friendly people – or not

The first thing I did when I arrived in Sydney was visit the tourist information center at Darling Harbour. I expected a warm welcome, but the two ladies who were talking to each other behind the counter looked thoroughly annoyed that I had interrupted their voracious chatter. One of them replied to my questions in short and unhelpful sentences and resumed chatting. As the first point of contact for a Sydney newbie, she left me wondering about the hospitality of this tourist city.

4. Drivers, roads, jaywalkers, one-way roads, taxi zones, traffic…

I missed driving and walking in Melbourne. The drivers are so hot-blooded – honking everytime they have the chance, speeding through every yellow traffic light possible. Giving way to other drivers is a rare sight in Sydney. You want to drive in Sydney? You’ve got to earn it.

The jaywalkers are even worse. I don’t think they care about their safety, and they walk as if they are going to live forever. Crossing on the red is normal in Sydney – not just three seconds before it turns green, but when cars are going by. I have no idea why they think another minute of waiting will cause them such harm.

Sydney has lots of one-way streets, and an impossible amount of taxi-only parking. To drive and to find parking in Sydney was no easy task. Plus, the roads are so narrow, and oh, don’t even get me started on the traffic jams!

Sydney has its flaws, but I have to give special mention to the restaurants, which are genrally fancier and nicer than those in Melbourne. Trying the pastries at Adriano Zumbo’s restaurant, eating fresh seafood at Fish Market, and delighting in the succulent pork ribs at Hurricane were the highlights of my Sydney trip.

But the next time I’m waiting for a delayed train, experiencing four seasons in a day or paying for my expensive accommodation, I’ve vowed to try to be less judgmental about my adopted city. I am, after all, living in the most liveable city in the world.