White Night Melbourne was held this past weekend (February 22nd) from 7pm to 7am. Yes, you read that right, 7pm to 7am. I had been forewarned that the streets would be closed and the city would be crazy, but I couldn’t have even imagined what that would actually translate to.
By all accounts, White Night was wildly successful with somewhere between 550,000 and 600,000 people flooding the streets of Melbourne for the so-called Arts Festival. The Westin Hotel, where I’m staying, prepared guests by delivering a note indicating that there would be “noise pollution” from the event and it couldn’t be avoided due to the hotel’s prime location in the center of the White Night activity.
The event, described as “a celebration of music, food, film, art and light”, but was described by The Guardian as “a super-sized mosh pit.”
After having spent a long and exhausting day on Australia’s Great Ocean Road I arrived back to the South Yarra train station and attempted to get a train back to the CBD’s Flinders Street Station. After standing in line for 30 minutes watching partiers pile into the trains I finally boarded the train. I arrived at Flinders Street Station and thought I’d take in some of the sights while I took the 5 minute or so walk back to the Westin. What I encountered could only be described as Hell Night – not White Night.
The normal 5 minute walk took me 45 minutes! Let’s look at a map:
The distance between the Station and The Westin Melbourne is about 2/10ths of a mile. The streets were closed to traffic and filled with throngs of people packed in like sardines. Teenagers were pushing and shoving as the crowd converged onto the intersection of of Flinders Street and Swanston Street – the epicenter of White Night. The cool night quickly came to a boil as bodies became sandwiched together between street signs and shop fronts.
I made my way through the crowds once being jabbed in the ribs by an Asian woman carrying an infant and having my toes stepped on by a drunk man weaving his way though the masses. One woman shouted at a group of teens as they pushed their way past others and a man shoved a person trying to push through the group. At times the crowed moved like a wave being pushed by some unnatural force.
I personally can’t imagine how anyone had a good time, but the news reports the event as a huge success. Buildings were illuminated with bright lights and music filled the air. The event charged on at all hours. At 3am I was awoken by the song, “All The Single Ladies” being sung by some no-name band and their wide-awake fans. Outside my window I could see the crowds swarming around a dancing rabbit and lines of people watching a show projected onto a giant wall. It looked nice, from a distance.
I can’t imagine having fun when people couldn’t even move in the streets. It seemed to me, from my vantage point and personal experience, that the city was ill-prepared to handle the crowds (350,000 more people turned out in 2014 than for the inaugural event in 2013.) The trains were packed, ran behind schedule and streets were log-jammed. Event operators have already announced White Night Melbourne 2015. If I happen to be in Melbourne during White Night 2015 I’ll be sure to plan a weekend trip to the Gold Coast.