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The Melbourne-Sydney rivalry


The reasons for the enduring rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, which encompasses spheres from culture and sport to commerce and tourism, are manifold.

While the 881km separating Australia's two largest cities would seem a significant distance in smaller countries, on the 'island continent', which spans more than 4,000km from its western coast to its eastern seaboard, it's a drop in the Indian Ocean. The relationship of Australia's two largest cities, which are capitals of neighbouring states, is generally cordial but also intensely competitive.

Rivalries tend to require that the protagonists are at least in the same league as one another, therefore representing a mutual threat, and there's barely a business card between Sydney and Melbourne on numerous measures.

They're also roughly the same size for a start, with Sydney's population only 500,000 larger. Back in 2001 the difference was 660,000, so the gap has narrowed by about 20% in eight years.

Both metropolises made the cut in the Mastercard Worldwide Centers of Commerce Index of the top 50 world cities for business 2007. Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, triumphed over the capital of Victoria, ranking 14th, 20 places ahead of Melbourne in 34th.

Innovation agency 2thinknow, however, deemed Melbourne to have the edge on Sydney in terms of innovation, ranked 19th and 28th respectively. If you were considering businesses for sale in Melbourne then you can be confident of finding an innovative enterprise and confident in the quality of the city's infrastructure.

Quality of life

There's little between the pair on quality-of-life indexes. Monocle Magazine's rankings, which assess a city's restaurants, green space per head of population, response time for emergency services, local entertainment and the ease of starting businesses, puts Melbourne in a lofty ninth position, with Sydney not far behind in 12th.

Mercer's Quality of Living Survey, though, puts Sydney ahead. Based on safety, education, hygiene, healthcare, culture, environment, recreation, political-economic stability and public transportation, the rankings have Sydney in 10th, with Melbourne trailing not far behind in 18th.

But the Economist Intelligence Unit ranks Melbourne more highly, declaring it the third best place to live in the world (scoring 100 out of 100 for healthcare, education and infrastructure), while Sydney hardly shames itself in seventh.

Conde Naste Traveler is undoubtedly Sydney's biggest fan, naming it the world's best city eight consecutive times. Many Melburnians would scoff at the credibility of such an unassailable position, pointing out that their home reigns supreme in cultural matters, both high culture - including art, theatre and ballet - and street culture, a evidenced for example by Melbourne's famous street art.

Twice named the World's Ultimate Sports City by SportsBusiness, Melbourne could also claim pre-eminence in sporting terms. While Sydney is associated strongly with Rugby League, Australian Rules Football is historically based in Melbourne.

Melbourne has recently overtaken Sydney on the measure of domestic tourism income, although the latter retains its position as the leading destination for international tourists

Sydneysiders could credibly respond that they have the upper hand in media and finance.

Melbourne has recently overtaken Sydney on the measure of domestic tourism income, although the latter retains its position as the leading destination for international tourists.

Melbourne's iconic trams are a tourist attraction in their own right and form the world's largest tram network. Although Melbourne also has an extensive rail network, it is very much an auto-centric metropolis, with a greater length of road per capita than most world cities and an extensive lattice of freeways and arterial roadways.

Cityrail, Sydney's state-run rail network, by stark contrast, compares unfavourably to metro networks elsewhere in the world, although Clearways, a $1.8bn project to 'untangle' the excessively interwoven network and improve its dire performance, is remedying the situation.

Long-held rivalry

So fierce was the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne when the nation was federated in 1901 that, like a groom making his brother best man rather than risking offending one of his two best friends, neither city was chosen as the capital and Canberra was built instead. As a compromise between the cities' elites, the new capital was situated roughly equidistant between the rivals.

The rivalry can be traced back even further. In pre-federation Australia the two largest states sought to impose their contrasting trade models as the paradigm for the Australian nation as a whole, with New South Wales championing free trade and Victoria extolling protectionism by imposing tariffs on goods imported from other colonies.

The argument delayed the establishment of the federation, but a compromise was eventually reached whereby tariffs would be imposed on goods imported from overseas but inter-colony trade would be tariff-free.

Following the 1850s Victorian gold rush, Melbourne became Australia's largest and most powerful city in 1865, but its pre-eminence was ended in the early 20th century when Sydney outgrew it.

Sydneysiders have been known to mock their rivals for holding onto to long-gone glories - to which well-informed Melburnians can retort that, far from being a city of the past, they represent the country's future given Melbourne will again become Australia's most populous city by 2038 on current population projections.

So there's little to separate Australia's top two cities. However, mischievous Melburnians could remind Sydneysiders that given their head start - Sydney was founded 47 years earlier - Melbourne has done well to make up ground and is now poised to overtake them.

This one will run and run...

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