It was more by chance than design that I happened to be present for my second of the White Nights Melbourne Festival. I made little secret last time at how this massive event left me uninspired in 2014. So would things improve for White Night Melbourne 2015?
Last year I kind of stumbled across the now global festival by chance. Someone told me about it just over 24 hours before it was due to take place and how big it was. With little time to research I had a small inkling of what to expect. Even then my expectations were of something grander than the emotions I was left with.
This time around, things were different; or at least in part. This time I’d received advance notice from some locals, well about 5 days notice. Having said that I knew the timing of my visit was similar to last year so was mindful of it happening again.
In preparation for this year I studied the dedicated website for a taster of what to expect. Someone even printed out a street map for me (I didn’t have a map at all last year). After all this was not an event I could ignore, my hotel was located on the corner of Swanston Street and Little Bourke Street so was in the very centre of the city (CBD).
So what is the White Night Festival Melbourne?
White Night is a free cultural event which runs throughout a single night from 7pm – 7am. It is located in the heart of numerous cities around the world (not unique to Melbourne). It is a celebration of art, music, culture, film and dance. It has grown into a major attraction with literally hundreds of thousands of people attending the event.
The city centre becomes a fully pedestrianised zone as the streets are a swathe of bodies wondering from exhibit to performance.
White Night Melbourne 2015
The Festival began at 7pm and since I was outside the CBD at this time it was inevitable that I would arrive amongst the buzz of the night.
I came into town via tram, or at least as far as I could go. The tram stopped on Flinders Street just before a road block close to Batman Avenue.
My first sighting of any display was of illuminated buildings celebrating 150 years anniversary of Alice in Wonderland. Pretty much like last year these displays were colourful and intriguing.
Unlike last year Flinders Street was less of a jam. This very heart of the city was virtually unmovable last year simply because striking illuminations were displayed on the iconic landmark of Melbourne, Flinders Street Station. The natural appeal of this beautiful building and being the central hub for public transport meant the road was packed with literally thousands of people.
The organisers seemed to have learnt from that this year. Flinders Street Station Melbourne was only lit up with normal lights, not an illuminated display. Nothing to see here, please move along. To some degree this worked.
Whilst it was still very busy it was possible to get through the crowd in a matter of maybe 5-10 minutes, with patience.
Wandering up Swanston Street was almost as big a challenge as last year. Very busy!
To the side of the road numerous buskers and street entertainers performed. Music and song filled the air. Little doubt this was an encapsulating experience. However as buskers these people sought compensation for their efforts. I don’t have a problem with this at all however some might query the labelling as a free event. (Giving to buskers was of course voluntary so it was not a big issue.)
Passing up the street I saw some light displays on buildings and trees which to be honest I found far from notable.
I also saw people with an interactive and somewhat bizarre display. A water fall feature had people writing messages on it with what appeared to be tree leaves. Clearly they were loving this.
I knew that my return to the city had coincided with probably the peak of the attendees to the festival so I took some time out and returned to my hotel on Little Bourke Street.
Refreshed and ready to go I headed down Little Bourke Street on my initial thought out route.
Little Bourke Street is actually China town in Melbourne and was undergoing 2 weeks of Chinese New Year celebrations. The place was always going to be lively.
Almost immediately I came across some acrobatic Chinese street performers. They gave a lively show for around 10-15 minutes and certainly worth a contribution to their collections hat at the end.
A little further down was an exhibit labelled “Hidden Dragons” This was actually an outdoor cinema in a little square. The place had lots of bean bags to sit down upon which I thought was fab.
My timing was pretty good as I arrived just before a screening began even though I didn’t know what was about to be shown. Then I found out. It was “Enter the Dragon” starring Bruce Lee. Whilst I’ve not seen this film before I decided after about 20 minutes that I didn’t want to lose my waking hours of the night watching a film I could see elsewhere.
I was also put off by the typical ignorance you find of some people, such as standing in front of you for 10 minutes having a conversation with someone sat down. Why can’t they crouch?
I headed up towards Carlton Gardens which was the most northerly point in the White Night Melbourne Festival. En route I headed up Exhibition Street to pass exhibit number 11. This was called Trunk Lux 2, Trunk. Basically it was a few uninspiring lights on the front of a busy pub. There was supposed to be live music on too. With the odd bouncer or two looking pretty stern I felt little interest in entering.
It was at the Carlton Gardens where I came across what for me was the best exhibit of the night. A fabulous cartoon like story display on the stunning Royal Exhibition Building.
This animated tale lasted maybe 10-15 minutes with a what appeared to be a story of good against evil. The building would appear to light up in flames set off by some evil character. Then almost before the Royal Exhibition Building burnt down a hero dressed in white would roll along the building and clear the flames. All in the meantime a female character would roll across the building to various points.
Just beyond here I came across a celebration of music labelled “Music for a World Stage”. Well it certainly seemed like a world stage, I’ve never seen such a small stage so packed with musicians.
I arrived part way through the final song in their set so was ill placed to judge their performance. Looking at the way people were dancing away it seemed to have gone down well.
Moving on I headed down La Trobe Street looking for what was to be one of the highlights of the night for me. “Rabbit Hole” was to be shown on the State Library of Victoria.
Maybe I was incorrect in my research but I was expecting animated displays of rabbits. It was anything but. Spread over two buildings there was a fixed colour display and a revolving display. The revolving display seemed to show Alice in Wonderland and a collection of mushrooms. (Believe me the mushrooms were not very magical.)
Disappointed I moved on and soon came across Caledonian Lane. As I understand it White Night is supposed to be a way of promoting this amazing city. So I’m struggling to understand why they picked one of the ugliest lanes in all of the Melbourne CBD for an exhibit! This was the access lane to the rear doors of restaurants. It was full of graffiti and rubbish bins. It didn’t smell too pleasant either.
Then to complete the moment the display of “Draw/delay” was surreal and a little bit abstract?
I was drawn down Bourke Street by an illumination promising “Free Water”. It was a warm night so the offer was welcome.
To be honest, I wish the free water itself was more visible because I never found it. The public toilets were clear to see but not the water.
It was only later down Russell Street that I stumbled across a water fountain to benefit from this promise.
I then hit upon Scots’ Church on Russell Street which had an exhibit called “Colonise”.
I was initially put off venturing inside the church due to the massive queue outside. However I saw how quickly the queue was moving that I decided to investigate.
After around 5 minutes I was inside. Then I was outside again a matter of seconds later.
This exhibit was just downright weird.
The sign outside tried to explain in arty fashion what an interesting exhibit it would be. Clever, thought provoking, unique, an inspiration. Er no, maybe not.
Across the aisle was strung a few pieces of what I guess were metal objects. Then a kaleidoscope of colours was broadcast onto the shapes, changing colour and pattern in short sequence.
If I’m honest I felt a little underwhelmed. Mind you I guess so did most other people as they just walked straight back out again (little wonder that queue moved so quickly!)
With so many more exhibits it would be hard for me to see them all. It would also be difficult for me to sum up my impressions of them. So maybe I will share with you the last thing I experienced.
I’d headed south of the river and was by the Arts Centre. To be honest I’d headed this way looking for illuminations of some matchstick men yet somehow I’d missed them.
As I headed back to my hotel I decided to investigate what was happening inside Hamer Hall. It was labelled as “Ghostly Machines” so maybe this was similar to what I wanted to see. But would it fit the white lights Melbourne has to offer by being inside a theatre?
Like many exhibits it was free to see. Also like numerous indoor events there was a long queue. I waited maybe 15 minutes at the back of this line waiting for the doors of the theatre to open.
It was late now, heading to nearly 1am. I was tired and was struggling to stay awake. (I’m used to forcing myself awake whilst waiting in airports so I know how to fight being tired, for a while at least.)
Once we were allowed inside it took maybe another 10-15 minutes before everyone settled in what is admittedly a large auditorium.
Then our entertaining (?) show began. I’d like to describe it to you but it is a little difficult. I’m not too sure what it was.
For around 10 minutes eery music played whilst metal and wooden bars and beams seemed to move up and down and from side to side across the stage. In the meantime a range of lights billowed out.
There was no performer, no real animation, no story. It truly was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. Also not very enjoyable. I wished that I was already in bed.
All this, computer programmed moving objects on a stage in the name of art.
Well I guess that sums up the White Night Melbourne festival, it is art. After all art is very subjective. You can throw almost anything up, claim it as art and want to be labelled a genius. Or am I doing it a disservice?
What ever view you take it is certainly subjective.
Comparing the White Nights Melbourne offered in 2015 v 2014
So did I think 2015 was an improvement on 2014? In all honesty yes I did, although only partially.
Firstly, in spite of the many crowded streets the ability to move along Flinders Street was a big plus. Whilst the illumination of the train station last year was fabulous it was also a massive bottleneck.
I appreciated the fact that this year I was able to also take advantage of people handing out maps on the night. I saw this in a few places. In 2014 I often looked out for these map distributers but couldn’t find them at all.
The displays were claimed in 2015 to be spread across more logical areas. The spreading out of the exhibits didn’t really help much with getting around as the streets were still very crowded and you needed lots of patience. On the plus side, someone of reasonable fitness could walk to many of the displays.
The event like last year was promoted as being Alcohol Free. Well that maybe the case yet all the pubs and bars within the boundaries of the exhibits were still open and packed with revellers. As the night wore on you saw more drunkards on the street. Thankfully I didn’t come across quite as many as last year.
The presence of security did seem more noticeable this year. Yet I still felt it was an area for improvement. I often saw security guards or police bunched together in the less crowded areas. Surely they should also be visible in spots where there are around 500-1,000+ people around an exhibit?
As for the events and displays. Still quite bizarre if I’m honest. I’ll hold my hands up and let you call me a philistine but quite a few things I just didn’t get. Especially Colonise and the Ghostly Machines at Hamer Hall.
On the plus side I felt the music and street performers I saw this time were of a higher calibre. Yet to top it all the animation on the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens was my favourite part of the night.
Did you attend White Night Melbourne? If so, what did you like or dislike about the 2015 event?