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Melbourne city profile | city data
  • Melbourne has long been a significant gathering place for Aboriginal Australians of the Kulin Nation.
  • It has been named ‘most liveable city’ by the Economist six years in a row.
  • Attracting major events and festivals to Melbourne is a priority for the state of Victoria, which views this as key to driving tourism and economic growth.

City data: Key facts

  • Geographical area: 9,991 sq. km
  • Total population: 4,440,300
  • Percentage of total national population living in the city: 18.9%
  • Education level – percentage with degree level or higher: 36.90%
  • GDP (PPP) million: $180,177
  • Percentage creative industries employment: 4.18%

Before Europeans set foot on the banks of the Yarra River, Melbourne was an important meeting place for the members of the Kulin nation, including the Woiwurrung (Wurundjeri), Boonwurrung, Taungurong, Dja Dja, Wurrung and Wathaurung groups. But as a city Melbourne is relatively young, with its first permanent European settlement in 1835. Less than 20 years later, a gold rush sparked major immigration from Britain, ushering in a late nineteenth-century economic boom. Much of the city retains architecture from this era.

Melbourne is growing rapidly, with the inner city residential population projected to almost double within the next 20 years. This has had a dramatic effect on property prices. According to The Economist (2016), Melbourne is now one of the top 25 worldwide cities for cost of living.

Immigration has shaped the city since the nineteenth century. Today Melbourne is an extremely diverse city, home to people from more than 200 countries, who speak 260 languages and follow 135 faiths. Nearly 40 per cent of Melbourne’s residents were born outside Australia and it has a large population of international students.

Melbourne considers itself the ‘cultural capital’ of Australia. It was chosen as ‘most liveable city’ six years in a row by The Economist, and is known as a safe, relaxed, low-rise city with an outdoors-oriented culture. Its narrow ‘laneways,’ filled with boutiques, cafes and street art, are known as a creative destination.

Building a creative city is one of the seven goals in the city’s 2013-17 Council Plan. It aims to ‘inspire experimentation, innovation and creativity…. build upon long-standing heritage and embrace Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island history and culture.’ It recognises that creativity is ‘not exclusive to the arts sector… that science, research, education, design and invention all contribute to a civic culture of creativity.’ Therefore delivery must be a task for the city government as a whole.

Development of cultural infrastructure is a key priority for Melbourne. The City of Melbourne has recently published an Arts Infrastructure Framework, the first for an Australian local government. It is working with the state and federal government to develop Southbank as the Melbourne Arts Precinct. This area on the south side of the Yarra River is already home to a wide range of cultural institutions, many of which are publicly funded. The plans aim to give the area a more lively and welcoming atmosphere and street life. Also a cultural infrastructure priority are plans to turn North Melbourne into a hub for the independent creative sector.

Melbourne is known as a city for live music, with more than 120 clubs, bars and hotels offering live music in its central business district, as well as 17 larger theatres and concert venues. Its strong music culture supports around 50 vinyl record shops. Busking is also important in Melbourne’s music scene, with nearly 1900 licenses issued in 2016.

In 2008 Melbourne became UNESCO’s second City of Literature. As a result of this, the Victorian State Government created the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas, a literary and cultural centre that hosts over 230 talks every year. The Wheeler Centre is situated next to the State Library of Victoria, one of the oldest and busiest public libraries in the world.

Melbourne hosts 54 major festivals per year. Chief among these are the Melbourne Festival and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The Comedy Festival runs for three and a half weeks every Autumn and is attended by more than 700,000 people. Many city festivals, including the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, are produced or supported by the City of Melbourne through funding, sponsorship and partnerships with the state government.

The state of Victoria also plays a role in Melbourne’s events calendar. It recently initiated a review of Melbourne’s Major Events Strategy, planning to take a more aggressive approach to winning big events in order to drive tourism and economic growth. The Victorian government created and supports White Night Melbourne, an all-night free festival modeled on the Nuit Blanche.

Melbourne is planning two major cultural events for 2017 with Victorian government support. February will see the launch of the Asian Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts, a festival in which major venues and organisations in Melbourne’s arts precinct and beyond will present Asia-focused art and performances. In the summer will be the premiere of the NGV triennial, a large-scale celebration of the best contemporary art and design, intended to gain the interest and participation of the international arts community.

Climate change poses significant risks for Melbourne, with increasing temperatures and pressure on water supplies. There is also a major risk of wildfire in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, alongside flash flooding. In its planning for a rising population, the city is thinking about ways to mitigate these threats – the challenge is to avoid low-density development and urban sprawl, without losing gardens, parklands and other green space. The Melbourne culture sector is addressing these challenges through targeted programs that invite the general public to collaborate with artists in exploring extreme climatic events. The City of Melbourne also requires all artists and arts organisations to actively address environmental sustainability in project and funding applications.

Melbourne is one of Australia’s most culturally vibrant cities, with a full festival calendar and an active live music scene. Although rapid population growth presents new challenges to liveability and affordability, developing a ‘creative city’ is one of the Council’s key goals, with development of cultural infrastructure a priority.