One night every year, Melbourne truly shines at ‘White Night’.
White Night is a 12 hour event (7pm-7am) across one main area of the city, involving everything from art to dance to music to installations and more.
This was my first time at White Night, as it wasn’t publicized enough 4 years ago when it started; and I was living overseas the other times it took place.
Since I was home this year, I knew I had to go and see what the fuss was about; and was intrigued to see whether or not it would live up to my expectations; given I had seen it all on social media in the preceding years.
So what was my first experience actually like? Was it worth fighting the hundreds of thousands of people to attend?
Here’s a few lessons my friend Victoria and I learnt very quickly to be true:
White Night Lesson 1: Don’t Start Too Early
The number one rule with White Night is that everything looks better in the dark – and for obvious reasons. It needs to be dark to be enjoyed…and darkness falls around 8pm in February.
The best time to start is after 1am – less crowds and less wait times. But, being a Saturday night, you will still encounter crowds, boozed up revelers and of course idiots causing fights; however we fared pretty well on that front and didn’t come across too many issues thankfully. The police presence was strong so we always felt safe.
This year, the crowds were bigger (even at 1am), so there were wait times to enter some attractions even then. But all in all, we did pretty well considering we started at 9pm, after having dinner in the Chinatown area of Melbourne at around 7:30pm.
White Night Lesson 2: Go Against The Crowds
There are endless options in how you see things over the course of the night. We chose to start our night near Chinatown, which meant we were very close to SECTION 1 ‘THE BIG TOP’, which was just outside the main CBD area; where the Melbourne Museum and Carlton Gardens are located. We did this because anything around Flinders Street Station (the busiest part of the city on any day) in SECTION 4 ‘WONDERLAND’ would be better attempted later in the night; as a lot of families are walking around at this time and lining up to get into the main attractions around here.
This was a good decision it turns out; as the crowds weren’t too horrible in the Carlton Gardens and the Royal Exhibition Building which was our first stop. Here there were a few activities, but we only looked at the installation by ‘Pitcha Makin’ Fellas’ on the Exhibition Building exterior, which involved a story of the Aboriginal seasons. This was a memorable way to start our night, and gave us the excitement we needed. Here is a video of it from my Instagram.
Afterwards, we walked with the small crowds of people making their way into the CBD and pushed into SECTION 2 ‘NORTHERN LIGHTS’. This again was a good decision, because things were more spread out here. You had things going on in the immediate area, but people were eating from food trucks, entering buildings, or walking to and from sections; so it wasn’t one big line to see things.
This continued on for the night; though we made the decision to skip the State Library of Victoria at 10pm, which was also located in SECTION 2; and came back at around 2am when we made our way to the underground Melbourne Central train station to get home. (We didn’t try to get on at the always busy Flinders Street station, which again was a good move, even in the early hours). Ultimately, we didn’t spend a lot of time dealing with crowds, except for the expected area around Flinders Street, so we timed our night very well, and were pretty pleased with how much we managed to see in 5-6 hours.
White Night Lesson 3: Plan What You Want To See (So You Don’t Miss Out!)
Earlier in the day, I did visit the White Night website, and read some articles about what to make sure you don’t miss out on in the general Melbourne news.
I am so thankful I did this, because we may have missed out on seeing certain things had we just winged it; as some things were really spread out and not smack bang in the city center.
We knew our spots to hit and where they were, and because of our preparedness, we knew what to see now and what to come back to. It really helped just knowing which sections had the most to see, so we knew how long to expect to be there; and for us it was definitely SECTION 4 ‘WONDERLAND’ and SECTION 5 ‘SOUTHERN LIGHTS’, in Birrarung Marr and the Queen Victoria Gardens just past Flinders Street Station.
Read on to see what we managed to see in each section…though you will never see it all no matter what you do.
White Night 2016: Section 1 – ‘The Big Top’
In Section 1, there were only a few attractions to see in the Carlton Gardens. The Melbourne Museum had Circus performances on, and something on at the Aboriginal Cultural Centre, but we never made it to these.
Instead; we took in the ‘Pitcha Makin’ Fellas’ show on the Royal Exhibition Building Facade, which consisted of an Indigenous story line. It was an awesome show, lasting a few minutes; and really set the night off for us in a positive way.
White Night 2016: Section 2: ‘Northern Lights’
In Section 2, we lined up for our first wait of the night at the Melbourne City Baths for Craig Walsh’s ‘Incubator’. It was only a 15 minute wait luckily, which being about 9:30pm was better than expected. The baths offered a combination of 3D animation and projections which were really amazing to see.
When looking at the water of the swimming pool and the ‘art’ of the sea creature (whatever it was!)…it looked real! I instagrammed a video of it, and people were asking what the hell was swimming in the pool. It really was one of highlights of the night for sure! The downside to a busy night however, meant we only were able to watch it for about 2-3 minutes as they kept the lines moving on both sides of the pool. But, that’s the nature of it, and explains why the wait was so little.
Another cool White Night attraction in this section was at the Old Melbourne Gaol courtyard, where gigantic skipping ropes were being used. The ropes were all lit up and people were jumping them (although badly!). The effect of the rope looked so cool. We stayed and watched for a little while and then continued on…but not before purchasing a red bull (because at 10pm, and no end in sight…you have to be prepared!)
We didn’t go to the State Library of Victoria for the ‘Ideation’ show projected on the iconic La Trobe Reading Room dome; which celebrated libraries and learning until about 2am (as the lines were long with families at 10pm). When we made it there, we waited about 20 minutes and it moved quicker than expected. The show was definitely worth every minute of the wait. It lasted about 5 minutes and offered some really pretty installations; making it the true highlight of the night for sure.
The front facade of the Library was also very cool, with music by DJ Jnett and installations by artist Amanda Morgan and photographer James HH Morgan. It was very busy with people everywhere, but it was exactly what the night needed to enhance the ambiance and energy of those walking along Swanston Street.
There were other attractions in this section worth stopping by with RMIT University showcasing a few things; and also having projections on some buildings around it on Swanston Street which were nice enough.
White Night 2016: Section 3: ‘Monkey Business’
If there was anything disappointing with the night, it was the lack of attractions, or even exhibits along Swanston Street. This was an active decision by organisers to stop crowds gathering on the Flinders Street intersection at Federation Square; but it was still disappointing and made the walk along the street kind of boring. It needed more in some parts.
However, at the Town Hall, there was a giant monkey on the Town Hall. I am not really sure what it meant, but the Golden Monkey by Lisa Roet and Felipe Reynolds at least dressed up the street and the Town Hall which is one of the city’s prettiest landmarks.
There were performances and music on Bourke Street, and other things like that happening here, but as we were headed to Southern Lights, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to dedicate here.
It would have been nice to see Flinders Street Station lit up like previous nights have. But nothing beats the iconic yellow lighting of the building on any night in the city.
White Night 2016: Section 4: ‘Wonderland’
Moving into Section 4, Federation Square was all lit up quite nicely – which always goes well with the bars and restaurants in this area.
The police were based here which was good, as Federation Square is where most of the youths hang out on nights like these. We didn’t see too much happening on that front, except for one altercation and kids running away but nothing horrible which was good to see.
In this section, there were some events happening in Fed Square at ACMI: Australian Centre of the Moving Image; including the continued showing of an internet cat video which lasted 12 hours…but if you like cats (i do not!) then this is probably right up your alley!
The National Gallery of Victoria further up had a light show projection on the exterior of that building which looked cool. I never made it over there though as we just ran out of time to see it all.
Walking past Fed Square and down along the Yarra to Birrarung Marr was a highlight, with a hot air balloon, open air disco and other interactive things happening right along here. There were also food carts set up for those craving a late night snack. It was a very happening area.
Section 5: ‘Southern Lights’
Our favourite section was Section 5, because it had the prettiest things. We spent all of our time in the Queen Victoria Gardens, which was just amazing to explore. Being away from the CBD area, it was quiet and just relaxed. Best of all, it wasn’t busy and people could move around without bumping into people, unlike the other sections that are more closer to each other and brimming with people.
Whether it involved the interactive Seven Spires, where people touched the spires and they lit up, or the projections in the Black Mirror in The Rotunda (which was honestly a little freaky with a weird soundtrack that felt like a horror movie); we enjoyed our time out here. The true highlight however, was The Dresses by Tae Gon Kim. These dresses were fibre optic and changed in colour to represent the transformation of relationships, love and intimacy.
White Night: The Verdict?
For 12 hours only, there is so much to see here that doing it all is impossible! All up, Victoria and I lasted 9pm-3am and that was more than enough for us.
In 2017, I don’t doubt that White Night Melbourne will be amazing! But I do hope that the disappointments I and many Melbournians had with the Swanston Street festivities, and the lack of lighting on Flinders Street Station are rectified; even if they are aimed to limit crowds. The night is busy. Half a million people flocked into the city in 2016 and it will only get bigger.
But lighting up the entire city area this is occurring is paramount to the overall success of it all for the years to come.
Regardless, make sure you are in Melbourne next year for White Night. It is an awesome experience in an amazing city.
But you will never be able to see it all.