MELBOURNE DOES WINTER BEST
Make like a swifty and glide through the grey this winter.
Swift parrots are critically endangered, but they love Melbourne’s particular brand of gloom. The little red-and-blue-faced characters migrate from Tasmania to the mainland in winter. Go for a dewy morning stroll among the flowering gums that flank the Route 58 tramline through Royal Park, and listen for a sharp, clear whistle—a kind of “kik-kik-kik-kik". If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a flash of brilliant red under their wings as they glide down for a feed.
It takes a certain instinct to embrace Melbourne’s cold skies. Swifties have it. And you could say Melburnians have it too. Checking your woollens for moth-holes, untangling the clotheshorse and dragging the oil heater out from under the stairs aren’t always happy tasks. But they’re done, safe in the in the knowledge that Melbourne is a winter city. When the days get shorter, we know that the dark and cold require a more kinetic, human heat. So, we wrap ourselves in scarves, lace up our boots and step into it.
Blazing gigs in dimly lit pubs. Slippery windows in clubs. Cloakrooms dangling with well-cut coats. Fragrant bowls warming faces in laneways. Coffee thermoses on the boundaries of local footy fields. Hot Toddies on cold rooftop bars (which stay open despite the icy southerlies). Debriefings with your favourite people after films. Generous pours of cheap wine at friends’ art openings. Buskers on Swanston Street with steamed breath and dubious tunings. All the huddled energy that sparks connection, warmth and creativity.
This June, the 58 will be one of RISING’s six Art Trams. So, it’ll be emblazoned with vivid visions of Blak Futurism, curated by Jarra Karalinar Steel. Catch it through the park into the city’s southern grid, and you’ll be in the festival’s heart. Which is a great way to go. Because if a tram ride is a liminal, quintessentially Melbourne experience; and if winter gloom is partly what galvanises Melbourne’s status as cultural city; then—considering RISING takes place on the unceded lands of the Kulin Nation who’ve been practising culture here for thousands of years—and RISING is a festival of place that exists to honour and amplify its cultural roots... Then it stands to reason that an Art Tram is capable of (both symbolically and literally) delivering the city out of the trace memory of winter limbo and into the true aura its most iconic season.
After all, “from St Kilda to Kings Cross, it’s thirteen hours on a bus”. You can “press your face against the glass and watch the white lines rushing past”. Once you get there “if the rain’s falling soft, everything shines just like a postcard”. But in Melbourne, in winter, you can see Paul Kelly at RISING. And he only wrote a lyric that good because Melburnians have been stepping off trams, flipping their collars to the cold, and watching him perform since he started out playing pub shows in the ‘70s.
There’s a moment, in early May, when the chill feels good. When the gloves and scarves come out, the smell of fireplaces being lit for the first-time curls in the air, and the walk to the pub becomes a bit brisker. Melburnians embrace the cold—and the layers.
For 14 years, beginning in 1984, the city’s winter faithful travelled to Sidney Myer Music Bowl, laced up skates and went open-air gliding across the ice (as Dipper once so elegantly demonstrated). In 2021, RISING revived the tradition. Now the festival’s keeping it going with a new rink up, riverside and double the size.
So this June, catch the 58 in. Or you could pile your friends and family in the car, crank the heater and drive. The train’s good too. So’s the bus.
Follow the fairy-lit elms and lace up some ice-skates at Birrarung Marr. Warm your cheeks by the open fire, then check out the art that’s bursting through the dark.
Because, as swifties and Melburnians instinctively know, the city’s gloom is perfect for a colourful glide.
Melbourne’s most unmissable moments are yours to explore, only in the city. Visit What’s On to see what else is happening in Melbourne this winter.
Melbourne Art Trams is presented in partnership with Public Transport Victoria, Yarra Trams and Creative Victoria.
The Rink at RISING is supported through the Melbourne City Revitalisation Fund – a $200 million partnership of the Victorian Government and the City of Melbourne.
The Rink at RISING is supported by O'Brien Icehouse.