Living in Melbourne: A guide

Australia's second city has long been a draw for those seeking a great work-life balance. Here's a guide for anyone thinking of taking the plunge

Article by Ian Paterson | 10 Jun 2016

Hipster paradise, bookworm borough, jock haven and foodie favourite – the many sides of Melbourne are a tantalising draw for ex-pats looking for warmer climes. While there are unglamorous sides to the Victorian capital, for the most part the unsightly moments are confined to socialising with British neds, drinking cheap wine in backpacker hostels. Branch out from the comfort zone of familiar accents, however, and a melting pot of culture awaits. Melbourne is a city which is mysterious and withholding – it’s those who go looking for ‘it’ who make the most of a place that has become famed as one of the most liveable cities in the world.

Work

It’s all too easy to fall into working a casual bar or service industry job in Melbourne, but think carefully about employment before you go. A steadier, established job will likely provide more of the work/life balance that Australia is famous for – one of the core reasons people migrate here. At established companies you’ll experience plenty of staff social events to help you meet new people, while decent working hours will allow you the time to indulge in extracurricular passions easily, and the pay tends to be higher. Management also took employee engagement and staff well-being seriously at both of the large companies I have worked at.

You’re also more likely to experience the local lifestyle and meet Australians by working at established companies, as the unskilled service industry is heavily worked by backpackers and travellers. After six months' temporary employment on a one-year working holiday visa at a large energy firm, I was offered sponsorship for permanent residency in Australia. I declined the offer and returned to the UK – apparently, I like rain and bland food too much.

Graffiti in Melbourne
Graffiti in Melbourne

If your skills and experience do relate to the cafe or bar industry then do not fear. Many businesses in this sector treat skilled employees well but having a specialism is important. If you’re going to work in a coffee shop, being a skilled barista is key; if you’re going to work in a bar, being trained in cocktail-making will serve you well when looking for good companies to work for. These kind of skills are taken seriously and valued in the Australia hospitality sector.

Whatever kind of work experience you have in the UK, find a couple of specialist recruitment consultancies in Melbourne and use them to help you find work in a field that you already have skills and experience for. It’s also worth checking the Australian Skilled Occupations List to see if you are qualified for jobs that will make your visa applications process much easier. Otherwise, you’ll need to be under 30 years old and willing to endure back-breaking labour such as fruit picking if you want to stay longer than one year.

(Continues below)


More expats' guides from our Travel section:

Delhi Possibilities are limitless in Delhi

Sydney Opera House Welcome to Sydney: Australia's largest city


Finding a place to live

If you’re on a budget, you may find yourself staying in a backpackers' hostel to begin with in Melbourne. This can be a good way to meet people in the same situation as you – forming alliances and searching for a property as a team can remove much of the headache of finding a place to live. I made finding employment my main focus after arriving in Melbourne and by the time I’d secured a decent temp job, some people I knew had found a large place to live and offered me a room. I didn’t have to do any searching at all – I’m such a parasite.

I spoke with long term Melbournites recently and they recommended the following areas to focus your searches, dependant on your community preference (distances from CBD in kilometres because you'd better get used to the metric system):

Artsy/Music types – Fitzroy (3.1km), Coburg (8.5km), Brunswick (5.3km), Yarraville (8.5km), Seddon (7km).
Down to earth – Collingwood (2.9km), Footscray (6.5km), Cheltenham (20km).
Sports fans – Carlton (2km), Essendon (10km), Richmond (4.5km).
Beach bums/by the sea - St Kilda (7.4km), Mornington Peninsula (75km), Port Melbourne (3.7km), Williamstown (12.5km).
Families - Avondale Heights (12km), Elwood (9.4km), Hawthorn (7.6km).

Going out

Melbourne has several districts which can deliver a great night out. Investigate the mysterious laneways and back alleys of the CBD (City Business District) for hip and happening cocktail bars. St Kilda offers a lively night out by the sea and is a favourite on the travellers and backpackers scene. To the north of the city lies the artsy district of Fitzroy and Brunswick Street for craft beers, local bands and trendy eateries.

From dawn till dusk, Melbourne delivers one of the finest food experiences of any city in the world. Within the international melting pot of cultures, there is great food to be had, no matter what your tastes. The Chinese dim sum and Japanese katsu curry is some of the best to be had outside of their respective countries. It’s easy to find a great flat white coffee first thing in the morning, courtesy of the Italian influence that Melbourne has adopted and made its own. The Turkish and Greek heritage population even manage to turn that late-night, post-bevvie-session munch into a taste sensation you won’t regret the next day, with high quality gyros wraps and kebabs. Then there’s Melbourne’s very own Yarra Valley wine region, producing world class whites and reds, adding a homely touch to the international flavours. 

Boxing Day cricket in Melbourne
Boxing Day cricket

Recreation

Due to its isolation, bands are unable to tour Australia as much as you will be used to in the UK. Take advantage of each and every show you're interested in, as it will generally be years before your next chance to see ‘that’ band again. Fortunately, on the comedy scene things are different. Melbourne Comedy Festival in March is as much an established part of the comedy circuit as the Edinburgh Fringe. Melbourne Writers festival is a 10-day literary festival held in August. The event hosts readings and keynote addresses from a mix of international and local writers and is the flagship event for a city recognised as a UNESCO city of literature. 

Take a walk down any of Melbourne’s alleyways to view spectacular street art. There is an unwritten agreement in Melbourne that if the street artists stick to the alleyways rather than main streets, the police will not prosecute the artists. This has led to these back alleys becoming some of the most mysterious and exciting places in Melbourne – home to incredible art, some of the best bars, restaurants and creative spaces. 

Sport and physical exercise make up a huge part of the Aussie lifestyle – both in spectating and taking part. The international events calendar begins with the Australian Open tennis in January, followed by the F1 in March and finishes off with the classic cricket Boxing Day test, held in the impressive 90,000 capacity MCG stadium. In between there’s a host of Aussie rules football, rugby and ‘soccer' games to keep you entertained. Be prepared to dust off those shinpads you haven’t used since school, as Australia takes its recreational sport very seriously.