Melbourne is the capital of Victoria, a state at the bottom of mainland Australia, which is nearly at the bottom of the world. It’s not the centre of the universe. Most people in faraway places don’t waste much time, if any, yearning for or even thinking about marvellous Melbourne.
They live in complete ignorance of Melbourne’s world-class status and its claim to be the cultural/culinary/fashion/sporting capital of Australia. To most well-adjusted, self-assured Melburnians none of the above would cause the slightest concern because (a) our geographical location is beyond question, (b) the lack of awareness distant folk have of us is largely reciprocated and (c) the stuff about Melbourne being the capital of everything is boastful twaddle.
But there is a group of earnest burghers – politicians, bureaucrats and special event hucksters – who suffer acute anxiety about Melbourne’s place in the world and will not stand for any suggestion that this city is anything less than the most cutting edge, state-of-the-art place to be.
In an angry tirade nine years ago, Barrie Kosky said it was possible to measure the parochialism of a community by how often its leaders declare it to be world class. On that score, Melbourne would have to be one of the most parochial places on the planet. Type the words “Melbourne” and “world class” into Google, and you get the picture.
Declaring Melbourne to be Australia’s number-one city for every conceivable human endeavour other than sunbathing would be the stuff of comedy if it were not for the fact that Melbourne’s status as Australia’s comedy capital is something even the comedians take very seriously.
Bringing attention to the absurdity and pointlessness of this provincial puffery does nothing to stop it. Just the other day there was a headline screaming “The Ideas Capital” over a story asserting Melbourne’s “international reputation as one of the world’s great creative cities,” something that I am certain remains a mystery to most of the rest of the world.
In another section of the same paper was the pants-wetting news that the broadcast rights for the 2006 Commonwealth Games had been sold to 18 Asian nations in a deal that Games organising supremo Ron Walker described as “made in heaven.” We’re supposed to believe that audiences across Asia will be glued to the Games coverage and will be so impressed by the occasional glimpse of Melbourne in the background that they will rush out and book flights south. Think about the last time you bought a ticket to some distant destination just because you saw it as the backdrop to a sports telecast, and you get some idea of the likely impact the Games broadcast into Asia will have on tourism here.
The more worldly we claim to be the more insular and insecure we appear, reinforcing Melbourne’s reputation as a backwater of self-congratulation.