A Monument to the City, Federation Square, in the very heart of the city is Melbourne’s long awaited public space that was the result of an architectural competition. In 1997, the call went out across the world with a design brief specifying the criteria for a better connection to Flinders Street and to the Yarra River which would also enhance and complement the neighbouring heritage buildings.
Federation Square was officially opened in 2002 with a final cost of A$467 million (over four times the original estimate). Today, tourists and locals alike use this space to enjoy a lavish array of public cultural facilities such as music events, multicultural and environmental festivals or as a popular meeting point at any of the many bars, cafes, restaurants and galleries tucked away under its strikingly different design.
When you walk across the gently undulating paving of the outdoor terraces, you may be entranced by its textural design. Thousands of ochre-coloured sandstone blocks that originated in the soils of Western Australia, have now settled into our foundations as part of the massive urban artwork (‘Nearamnew’ by Paul Carter) intended to invoke images of the great Australian Outback.
Federation Square Atrium is also home to the Kirra Glass Gallery, one of my most favourite places to visit and admire the shimmering elegant works of local glass-blowers and sculptors on display all year round. The Ian Potter Centre – an art gallery housing the Australian collection of artwork. ACMI – the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. The Melbourne Visitors Centre and the open Edge theatre on whose stage, I am proud to say, I have sung as part of a rousing choral event with a 300 exuberantly voiced choir!
Ring out the Federation Bells!
The Federation Bells is a unique art installation of 39 upturned bells cast in bronze ranging in size from 500 grams to a whopping 1.2 tonnes. Installed in 2001 at Birrarung Marr, the newest parkland of Melbourne an 8 hectare (20 acres) terraced park that provides a promenade on the riverside between Flinders Street, Federation Square and the famous Melbourne Cricket ground.
From Flinders St Station, if you take a stroll down the bank of the Yarra, within five hundred metres on your left is a muscular steel staircase of 39 steps, at the top of which is the Middle Terrace. There you will be delighted by the 39 bells and be amazed by the selections of over 200 compositions that play three times a day (8-9am, 12.30-1.30, 5-6pm). Thanks to the ingenious new design of the bell ringing and control systems by Spring Innovations for the City of Melbourne and Arts Victoria, the bells are now an responsive musical installation. Using the internet anyone can compose and submit a tune to be played from anywhere in the world..Live smart-phone interactivity is currently being developed, to allow visitors to play the bells. From the middle terrace you can walk across the William Barak Bridge, a cultural icon, to the MCG, or up to the Upper Terrace or indeed down to the river and on to the Rod Laver Arena, and four other newly constructed international sports and entertainment centres.
Be Lifted to New Heights
The Eureka Tower on the picturesque South Bank of the Yarra River, at 300 metres high, can boast one of Melbourne’s most spectacular photographic opportunities to capture a bird’s eye view of the city. Soaring way above any skyscraper rooftop in sight, the Tower has the highest viewing platform in the southern hemisphere. If you are braver than me, you can take the giant step out onto the observation deck that hovers over the city skyline. Rest assured you will be cocooned within the full-length glass walls of a cube that projects three meters from the side of the building but I hope you don’t mind if I just wave from within the tower while you hover high above in the clouds overlooking Melbourne – I dare you to keep your eyes open!
Herring Island Sculpture Park
Ah, now this is more like it…an island in the middle of the Yarra river, a quiet haven for wildlife and nature lovers to stroll with feet on marshy ground. A delightful punt will carry you across in only a few minutes in the summer months and deliver you gently upon the swampy shores of the only island of its kind.
Herring Island was artificially created in 1928 by silt dredged from the Yarra as part of a plan to straighten, widen and deepen the river.
Apart from the island being an important haven for indigenous wildlife to thrive among a rare urban environment, Parks Victoria are ensuring that this valuable ecological habitat is preserved for native birds such as willy wagtails, honeyeaters, cormorants, laughing kookaburras, warbling magpies and graceful white-faced Herons.
A sculpture park has become a popular addition to the island as a scattering of art works by various artists including Andy Goldsworthy have been installed under the guardianship of River Red Gums, Silver Wattle trees, Manna gums, Southern Mahogany and native spiky grasses.
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