Last Saturday I headed into town for the first White Night Melbourne, a nocturnal celebration in Melbourne’s arts precinct. Running from 7pm Saturday to 7am Sunday, the program included all-night opening hours at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne Museum, National Gallery of Victoria, the Arts Centre, Federation Square and ACMI, as well as street performances, light projections, laser shows on the Yarra River, live music, performances and exhibitions at many smaller venues.
The weather was perfect – warm and still – and the event attracted a phenomenal crowd of over 300,000 people who packed the streets of the CBD. The turnout was more than anyone dreamed of – there was still a queue down the steps of the Library to Swanston Street at 2am. The Dome Reading Room was so crowded, the staff had to count people going out before they’d let anyone else in. At the Ian Potter Gallery in Federation Square, there were only three harried staff working in the cafe and I bought the very last lemonade at 10pm. McDonald’s in Swanston Street, reputedly one of the busiest franchises in the country, ran out food and had to close. McDonald’s had to close. Enough said.
I was there with my mother and 10-year-old daughter, both of whom have a bedtime of about 8.30pm on a school night, so it was never going to be a long night. We stayed until 10.30, when my daughter ran out of steam. Moving through the crowds was slow, but everyone was friendly and enthusiastic, and my friends who stuck it out tell me the atmosphere remained safe and positive throughout the night.
Highlights for me were the peaceful and companionable atmosphere in the State Library watching Exaudi Youth Choir; the animated light projections around Flinders Street and St Paul’s Cathedral; cruising round the NGV Ian Potter Gallery with an incredibly diverse bunch of people, many of whom I bet had never been into the gallery before; and watching in amazement as people went into a frenzy of excitement shaking the poles of Konstantin Dimopolulos’ “Red Centre” sculpture at Federation Square.