Friday 24 April 2015

Three Sounds of Melbourne

I have a simple but complicated answer to the question "What's it like to live in the centre of Melbourne?"

We live in an apartment opposite the former General Post Office building, about as central as you can get in the Melbourne CBD, so it's a question I'm often asked.

My answer is: "Great, except for the noise."

That's more complicated than it sounds, because there are different types of noise. 

The most annoying noise, the kind I'm referring to in my answer, is the random noise caused by people leaving bars and clubs at 3am on a Friday or Saturday night. Drunken shouting is thoroughly unpleasant, and disruptive enough to wake me up.

But for every yin, there is a yang (or do I mean the other way round?). Despite the annoyance caused by late-night revellers and garbage trucks, there are sounds which make me smile and add a pleasant moment to my day or night.

Interestingly, each of these three sounds is connected to Melbourne's heritage:

1. The GPO clock. When we first moved into the CBD, the clock in the GPO's tower only chimed briefly to mark the quarter hours. After a renovation a few years ago, however, it now marks each full hour with a stately succession of deep, resonant bongs

It's a wonderfully reassuring sound, conveying a sense that somewhere in the world there is harmony and order. And the best bit? The chimes only operate from 7am to 9pm. Good planning.

2. Horse hooves. When you wander along Swanston Street, Melbourne's hyper-busy north-south thoroughfare, you'll inevitably notice the decorated carriages pulled by horses on tours around the city streets. The LED strips along their sides counteract their heritage appeal, but I suppose it helps motorists see them after dark.

The carriages often come along Elizabeth Street, and as they pass a soft clip-clop sound floats up from the street. I can barely express how atmospheric this is, especially If we happen to be watching a Sherlock Holmes episode or something else appropriately period at the time.

3. Tram bells. It may seem the most mundane of the three sounds, but there's nothing so pleasant as the ding-ding sound of Melbourne's trams as they pass below our building. It doesn't matter whether they're 1970s Z-class vehicles or the latest 21st century models, their chime sounds much the same. 

That continuity in trams doesn't exist to the same extent in other transport. Melbourne's trams have been around since the 19th century and, comfort levels aside, operate along the same basic principles as when they began. And on much the same routes, too.

There's comfort in that, a connection with past eras that cities are not always good at evoking. Those tram bells can interrupt me any time.

And when, very occasionally, we score the trifecta of passing horses and trams at the same time as the GPO clock strikes nine? Bliss.

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