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7pm to 7am - Melbourne's first WHITE NIGHT

To the State of Victoria, the City of Melbourne and the hundred thousand people or more who attended Melbourne’s first annual White Night Festival – thank you!

It was very heartening to see the Central Business District come alive up and down Swanston Street Walk – from the State Library to the National Gallery of Victoria. Spilling out down Flinders Street and onto the banks of the Yarra and on bridges over the Yarra – and on one pontoon on the Yarra.

A hundred thousand people plus – more than attend the AFL Grand Final at the MCG in any given year. A hundred thousand people out to experience a city open all night – to see music performed in libraries on the steps of Flinders Street train station; to be given dance lessons at Federation Square; to see buildings transformed with intricate light displays; to see inside buildings that are rarely open to the public – and never all night. Until last night.

I began the night (after a delicious meal at Seamstress) by visiting Queen’s Hall at the State Library – to see this never-opened-to-the-public piece of incredible architecture, and to engage in Pop Up Playground’s little game about “The Whisper Society”. If the White Night Festival in general was a way to see Melbourne as you’ve never seen her before, “The Whisper Society” challenged players to look at that on a micro level – to find items of significance and tell stories about their history; the more creative you are, the more fun you had.

So rather than wandering down Swanston Street only marvelling at the size of the crowds or merely enjoying the street performers, we set off on a quest to look at the small details of Melbourne – and to listen for whispers and watch for shadows. And take photographs of small objects along the way and add to the grand narrative of “The Whisper Society”, whose story ended (or began?) inside St Paul’s Cathedral with a crazy man dressed all in black.

After that, I marvelled at the light display inside St Paul’s and the changing facade of the Forum theatre. Watched a song or two at the steps of Flinders Street. Watched people dance in Federation Square and felt the rhythm move me, too. Took in the Neo-Impressionists exhibition at the NGV, then missed out on the Ghost Tours of the Arts Centre, because apparently they were all booked out prior to the night?

Stopped in at the tram bar on the steps of the Arts Centre – considered venturing inside the Spiegeltent, but chose instead to while away some of those balmy late night hours with a few drinks, some more friends and a discussion of how amazing the whole night was – and what was to come.

The water and light show on the Yarra near Birrarung Marr was spectacular, if a little far away from my vantage point at the time – Princes Bridge. The WHITE NIGHT sign’s evolution across the night from its pure white to a collage of drawings by sunrise was a sight to behold. Wandered along the edge of the Yarra to spot some keen people learning to boxercise just as the first light fell upon the city – and then gathered on Princes Bridge once again to see a brass band welcome in a new day and farewell the White Night for 2013.

Some issues for the government and city council to consider for future White Night festivals:

1. Better signage

2. More White Night ambassadors/volunteers/people giving directions

3. Remember that while free is nice, it means everyone will want to try all the free things and stuff like the ghost tours will book out before the event begins (I don’t even remember the website suggesting you needed to book for that)

4. Great that the trams ran all night, but might be good if trains ran later and started up again earlier. White Night finished at 7am and some train lines didn’t leave the city until 7:45 or 8am. In the dying hour or so of the festival, that long wait for the train was interminable

5. Something to cope with the high use of mobile phones and the White Night website and app, which got hammered all day and all night, which made it hard to navigate the city and events

6. The website itself, when it was running, wasn’t all that clear in its division of events and difficult to plan a trip through the city

But those problems aside, a beautifully balmy night, filled with music, dance, theatre, art and interactive storytelling that opened up the city and reminded us all that Melbourne is not just the sporting capital of Australia – we can also be the Arts & Culture capital, as long as our Arts Minister brings this sort of Major Event to the city, because Melbournians are happy to embrace an all night party.


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