25 February 2011

101 Waterfront Way (Melbourne Eye / Southern Star Observation Wheel), Docklands, VIC, Australia

LaTrobe St end of Docklands in March 2008; Melbourne Eye at hard right.
It's fair to say that a number of New Zealand cities have Australian equivalents.  Christchurch is a miniature Adelaide.  Auckland is a miniature Sydney.  And perhaps the reason why I took to Melbourne so merrily is because it's just Wellington writ large, but lacking any serious hills to climb.  They are both the cultural capitals of their respective countries.  They both have by far the most competent public transport of their respective countries (though that isn't saying much in either case).  Their dining precincts are unparalleled in any other city in their respective countries.  And after Wellington did an impeccable job converting its old wharves into a welcoming, vibrant waterfront precinct, Melbourne decided it had to replicate this idea.

Unfortunately, Melbourne didn't quite grasp the idea properly.  Anybody who has been to Docklands can attest to the fact that it can be a pretty sterile, lifeless area trying way too hard to attract ... well, it seems to want hordes of tourists and shoppers, but somewhat in contradiction it wants them to be a higher class of clientele, cashed up sorts who will blow heaps of money on impractical clothes and a meal that costs four times what you'd pay at a normal Melbourne restaurant but is only a quarter the size.  Of course, cashed up bogans dismiss Docklands as a hub of leftie yuppies, while actual lefties such as myself couldn't afford to live there even if we wanted to.  You see the dilemma.  So to help lure some more people in, the Southern Star observation wheel was built ... and that's when things got hilarious.

In our entry about Moonee Ponds Creek, you would have already seen this picture of the Southern Star from Railway Canal, taken during construction in April 2008:

Now if you thought "how'd the London Eye get into that picture?", I don't blame you.  No doubt most people have heard of the London Eye; a gigantic ferris wheel beside the Thames that affords spectacular views of the city.  Somebody decided there were enough people in Melbourne who'd also want to pay money to be taken from one place ... to exactly the same place.  Well, pretty much as soon as this thing was proposed for Melbourne a few years after the London Eye opened, the comparisons flowed in.  Can't we have original ideas?  Don't we look like such colonials for copying London?  So on and so forth; the unofficial name "Melbourne Eye" stuck much better than "Southern Star Observation Wheel", a downright stupid name.  Construction began in 2006, and after a couple of delays and inevitable snide comments by everybody, it opened in December 2008.

February 2009 from West Melbourne.
Hooray?  Not so fast.  In January 2009, just a month later, the Melbourne Eye closed.  That's right, after just a month in operation, it shut down.  The damn thing suffered buckling and cracks!  The operators tried to blame all of this on a rather severe heatwave (yes, as in that heatwave that gave us Black Saturday) ... it was later discovered to be a design fault, though I'm pretty sure any big-mouth pundit on the street was proclaiming that the moment the wheel closed.  This led to the most hilarious part of the saga: the wheel was taken down for repairs (or, so it seemed, for good) while the legs remain up to the present, clearly visible from the main highway and intercity railway lines into the city from the north.

Lonely legs in February 2010.

Cranes join the legs in January 2011.
Two years later, this erectile dysfunction has become something of the Melbourne answer to North Haverbrook's monorail, if you catch my drift.  "There ain't no observation wheel and there never was!"  Yet amazingly, reconstruction began last month!  Can't wait for the Melbourne Eye's next month of operation.  How about June-July 2012, then it closes because of a "harsh winter", aka more structural defects and revenue being markedly underwhelming?  After all, that's the crucial difference between London and Melbourne's Eyes: London put theirs beside major attractions in the middle of the city, while Melbourne parked theirs on the city fringe.  Beside the wheel, you have an area of urban renewal that most people don't really care about enough to visit, and a giant fucking railway yard (great for me but not so much for sane people).  Before you get through the reconstruction, folks, you might want to have a quick re-think about the wheel's location.

Rating: Unpleasant, in a hilarious way.  I'm sure it'll be fine once it's ready, but those lonesome legs haven't been a good look.

No comments:

Post a Comment