Melbourne Street Art: A Lens To Explore the City


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When walking the world's big cities, we're often told to avoid back alleys. In Melbourne, Australia's second largest city, the go-local advice is to get lost in them.

Why?

In Melbourne's alleys and laneways, you’ll find some of the city’s best street art and graffiti. Guide your search just so and you'll also pave a path to some pleasant eating and epic coffee-drinking experiences, too.

Melbourne Street Art, Rutledge Lane
Rutledge Lane, Street Art in Melbourne

Exploration and comprehension of a big city without some sort of thematic anchor can be tricky. To focus our time in Melbourne at the end of our Explore Australia trip we decided to use street art as our theme. We searched for a self-guided street art walking tour and found this long-standing one to anchor our route. Although it proved a bit dated, its path provided us with an easy route in and around central Melbourne, and tipped us off to a handful of laneways and alleys that serve as a live playground for Melbourne's graffiti and urban street artists.

Turn a corner, let’s say on Hosier or Rutledge Lane, and find yourself surrounded by laneway walls with paint so thick you can peel it. Layers of living urban canvas history. Turn another corner and you might find a collection of industrial garbage bins turned functional art. Street murals of all sizes tower and stretch across the city's Victorian and new industrial brick facade.

Melbourne Street Art, Aboriginal Message
Street art with a message.

Images such as the one above are serious, but others are fun and light. Everything hints to represent a deeper story, a lingering urge to speak the mind. Street art lives as social commentary and offers a visual snapshot of the prevailing, and sometimes dueling, mindsets at any particular point in time.

Melbourne Street Art, Star Wars
Star Wars: fun and light?

Melbourne Street Art, Writers Graffiti
Sometimes words are worth a 1000 photos.

Along our street art walk we detoured to other well-known sites and got pleasantly lost along the way. We stopped to sample some of Melbourne’s famous cafes, brunch joints, fish and chip huts and dumpling houses, but we always returned to the original route to see what, if anything, survived of once-famous works. We followed our curiosity to see what the next alley or brick wall might hold. And we used the same street art lens and approach as we explored other neighborhoods like Fitzroy and Collingwood.

Melbourne Street Art
Melbourne: Sometimes, you just need to look up.

Melbourne, Australia Street Art
Wall wordplay.

We sometimes found ourselves staring at a blank brick wall where a mural had once been, or even searching for a building which no longer exists. This is the fleeting essence of street art that is a metaphor for life: it's here one minute, gone the next. Whether it's a commissioned piece of art or something informal, guerrilla, or rogue, street art is the ultimate ephemera.

Melbourne Graffiti
A vegetarian statement?

Melbourne Street Art with a Message
The badge we all carry?

Now, why use street art as a way to explore a new city?

How a city expresses itself in public art says a great deal not only about the artists, but also the community that allows or even invites the art to exist. These expressions are a reflection of the current cultural and socio-economic pulse. Alleys and lanes covered in graffiti visually engage and further stokes creative fires. To look up and find a wall staring back at you can stop your thoughts in their tracks.

Street Art in Melbourne, Australia
Privacy. Here's looking at you.

Melbourne Street Art
Who is this art for anyway?

Melbourne Graffiti, Australia
Creating peace.

While we’ve enjoyed consuming world street art and graffiti for years, our comprehension of it has grown over time. Diving deeper into the street art culture in Berlin has helped us appreciate not only the artistic and creative and physical talent required for street artists to bring their ideas to bear, but also the depth of social and cultural thought behind their art.
Melbourne Street Art with Message about Aboriginal Rights
Street art with a message.

Melbourne Street Art, Lifestyle
Competing Currents.

Cosmopolitan. Hip. Cafe-filled. Tasty. All words to describe Melbourne. But it's the heaps of street art and the companion atmosphere of expressive freedom that seems the guiding undercurrent of it all.

When someone says “Melbourne,” our memory of getting lost in its street art filled laneways conjures first. For us, it was an experience in and of itself, as well as a pathway to getting our minds and arms around the spirit of one of the world's most popular cities.

Melbourne Street Art, Hosier Lane
Hosier Lane in Melbourne


Disclosure: Our National Geographic Journeys Explore Australia tour was provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with the Wanderers in Residence program. Check out this article for all the different G Adventures tours we've taken and recommend.

As always, the thoughts contained herein — the what, the why, and the how — are entirely our own.

About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

6 thoughts on “Melbourne Street Art: A Lens To Explore the City”

  1. We love street art.and you are right, it is a really great way to explore a city! We’ve heard a lot about the street art scene in Berlin, and are planning on returning soon to see it for ourselves.

    We’ve never made it to Australia, but Melbourne is on my list of places we need to visit – even more so after reading this! The ‘cafe-filled’ is also a big selling point! I love a good cafe!

    Thanks for sharing all your photos – hopefully, we will get there some day!

    Reply
    • Karianne, the good, strong coffee and fun street art really helped us fall hard for Melbourne. We understand now why it often ends up at the top of the list of “best city.”

      And yes, the street art scene in Berlin is great. It’s also worth taking a street art walking tour to learn a bit about the different artists and you can even try your hand at stenciling.

      Reply
  2. They say you are either a Melbourne person or a Sydney person and if for reasons like this that I prefer Melbourne. The cultural experience is absolutely amazing! I completely agree that how a city expresses itself in public art like this says so much about the city itself. Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Wow! Those murals were amazing. You’ve inspired me to do a mural photo hunt on our next vacation – and to visit Australia.

    Reply

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