Melbournians and Sydneysiders have been squabbling for donkey’s years over which is the better city. While both have their pros and cons, Melbourne has the one-up of having once been the capital city of Australia.
As the Federation of Australia was in the making, Melbourne and Sydney argued heavily over which city would forever be the capital city of the new nation under the British Commonwealth. If television had existed circa 1900, the episode of Parliament Question Time that have aired the negotiating between the two cities’s politicians would have been more like an episode of Jerry Springer … only less boganish.
It has to be said that all the states and territories we know today were colonies back then. The citizens of each colony were from different backgrounds: Victoria and New South Wales were penal colonies for Britain’s numerous convicts, whereas South Australia and Western Australia were designed for free settlers to start new lives away from overpopulated, dreary England.
Each colony had different laws, different agricultural practices and even different types of train tracks that prevented people from travelling interstate (or inter-colonial) by train. Needless to say the colonies were already hesitant about uniting to become one nation, so deciding who would become the capital was controversial to say the least.
The two cities did eventually manage to come to an agreement: the new capital city would be placed in a new state situated in New South Wales, but Melbourne would be the country’s temporary capital while the city that became Canberra was being built.
As you can imagine, the Victorian government would have been pretty rapt with themselves between 1901 and 1927 when they reigned supreme over a brand new country. Melbourne’s Parliament House was where politicians dealt with federal matters for just over a quarter of a century long before Canberra’s Parliament House started operating (they clearly did not bother to think of another name besides Parliament House).
It was finally on the 9th of May 1927 when Melbourne had to hand the torch over to Canberra so it could become the permanent capital of Australia. Though the Victorian government would have been annoyed to give away their status of the nation’s capital to a city much closer to Sydney, it was time for them to move on.
If this story proves anything, it’s that Melbourne and Sydney’s rivalry well and truly went beyond being ridiculous when all this happened and could not possibly be topped by any other quarrel between these two catty cities.
Originally published here at milkbarmag.com on Tuesday 6 December 2011