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White Night Melbourne 2014

White Night, according to its website, was conceived in Paris in 2002 as Nuit Blanche, and has since expanded its program to over 20 other cities worldwide. Melbourne was the first Australian city to hold a White Night in 2013, and the inaugural event attracted over a quarter of a million attendees.

City of Melbourne's White Night 2014 flags

I first heard of White Night just before its Melburnian debut last year, but was sadly unable to go. I was entranced by my friends' pictures, posted on social media, of well-known public spaces transformed by light and colour - much like scenes you'd find at one of my favourite Melbourne events: the annual Gertrude Street Projection Festival. But White Night, as I understood, was bigger (being held across a number of public spaces), longer (running for 12 hours, from 7pm to 7am), more central (being in the CBD), and offered an array of further attractions. Despite not understanding the name at all (white? but it's so colourful!), I'd heard tales of a fantastic buzz among the bulging crowds, of aesthetic wonders observed, dances almost done, and bands boogied to in the early hours of the morning.

Flinders Street Station looking unreal

This year, in its second staging on Saturday 22 February 2014 (a third White Night Melbourne is already locked into the state's events calendar for 2015), eight precincts were expanded to 12, spreading all the way from Melbourne City Baths, north of RMIT University, down to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Alexandra Gardens and Queen Victoria Gardens, just south of the Yarra River. With guaranteed interest and a crowd even bigger than last year's expected, media outlets excitedly spread the word on what to expect: performances, buskers, dance events, exhibitions and of course, light displays. I made sure to go.

Hint of colours to come on the State Library's walls

We didn't cover everything. I'm not sure you could, even if you wanted to, due to the huge crowds and expanse of precincts. Annoyingly, I was feeling unwell for the event this year, and arrived wondering how long I'd last. But I wanted, at least, to cover the main precincts; namely the State Library, Swanston Street, and Fed Square/Flinders Street Station. We started at the top end, not quite as far north as the Baths. This was mainly due to the impossibility of squeezing onto any tram from the inner north to the CBD, since they were all door-to-door chockers with keen White Night-goers. So, we caught a cab (an interesting exercise in itself, what with all the CBD road closures due to the event) and got out at La Trobe Street.

Northern Lights Music Stage, La Trobe Street

My first impression of White Night was a huge queue snaking around the corner towards the Old Melbourne Gaol. I'm not sure if it would have been worth joining them (apparently to see something to do with author Tim Winton), but frankly I was too excited to start the evening by queuing.

Cactus Channel trumpeter on screen

Impression number two was the Northern Lights Music Stage on La Trobe Street, which was heaving with fresh-faced hipster musos The Cactus Channel, knocking out some pretty decent tunes. I think I will investigate their stuff further, on Spotify or the like.

Bikes bundled at the State Library door

We listened for a bit, then headed for the State Library, the inside of which was the canvas for a light show called Molecular Kaleidoscope, themed "Virus One Million Times". The queues to get in were, again, ridiculously unappealing, so instead we took a few snaps of the building's mesmerising facade, simply entitled Kaleidoscope: a light installation artwork by Gertrude Street Projection Festival regular, Nicholas Azidis.

"Kaleidoscope" by Nick Azidis on the State Library, Swanston Street

Between the State Library and Bourke Street were a number of smaller stages and buskers, including old-school entertainer "Uptown" Brown, with his one-man-band style instrument and some kind of massive wind instrument accompaniment (sorry, my instrument knowledge is somewhat lacking). Churning out foot-tapping ditties from the 1920s through to the '50s, this cool cat had everyone smiling, despite the White noise drowning out his old-school microphone somewhat.

"Uptown" Brown... foot-tapping fun

Unfortunately, what with the cluster of attractions around this spot, it was an utter bitch-fight to get down the street with any sort of speed. In fact, you were fortunate to make it out of the human crush still breathing normally. It was the kind of crowd that you're rolled back and forth in, like dough between fingers, without any say over your direction or whether you even move. Quite unpleasant, but to be expected - well, hard to avoid.

I've never seen so many people in Melbourne's CBD. As far as the eye could see!
View south from Swanston Street (near Lt Lonsdale Street) towards Fed Square.

Trying to move through/with the human crush

So we took a side turn down Bourke Street, passing the J + R'n'B Music Stage (where we had apparently just missed Benny and the Flybyniters) and the Myer building, which I'd never realised had such lovely Deco leanings before.

Myer's Deco flair

We stopped at the GPO, which I find a beautiful and fascinating building even when it's not lit up with extra delights. (I had once turned down an obnoxious man nearby, bought a 7-Eleven sausage roll and sat on the GPO's steps to eat it, relieved at my decision. It was that same evening when I took one of my favourite Melbourne photographs to date: the arches of the GPO, rolling one after the other down the verandah, lit up by its regular night lighting.)

Melbourne GPO

Elizabeth Street was still open to traffic, so the footpath was pretty full with White Night-goers, but nowhere near as bad as Swanston Street had been. We popped our head in at Collins Street but kept strolling south to Flinders Street, where four food trucks were parked in a row. Being flavour of the month, as well as holding such a prime position no doubt ensured they all had a steady trade throughout the evening. (I'd also read on Twitter that MoVida Next Door were flogging $15 takeaway snack boxes from midnight - undoubtedly, cleverly maximising trade based on last year's numbers.)

Taco Truck - one of many food trucks doing a swift trade.

Here was the beginning of Wonderland (not to be confused with the excellent former Sydney theme park, Australia's Wonderland, where I do believe the Young Talent Time team once performed live. Yes, folks, that was my awesome childhood). Essentially covering Flinders Street Station and Federation Square, including ACMI and the Ian Potter Centre, Wonderland was indeed a land of wonder - well, at least of pretty lights. Walking east along Flinders Street, there were amazingly intricate and colourful light projections on Flinders Street Station, the Forum Theatre, and a number of other building facades in between.

View east along Flinders Street from Elizabeth Street (Station on right).

Flinders Street Station

Flinders Street Station... and one window-waver.

Flinders Street Station was definitely a highlight; with so much surface space and so many in-built features that could be decorated or highlighted, every inch was different and pretty. There seemed to be a fete/circus theme going on, with fun, bright colours, animals, clowns, geometric patterns and childish motifs.

Flinders Street Station 

Looks like a Howard Arkley print to me

Magical night-time circus-y!

Flinders Street Station and its pet giraffe (let's call him Bob)

In between the frenetic buzz of events were some lovely occasional moments of solitude. This lady was enjoying her dinner in the upstairs of Young and Jacksons (corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets):

And this man may as well have been the only one watching the moving lights on the distant building:

There were huge crowds in Fed Square, where a Jamaican band were onstage, teaching dance moves to the crowd, which were then reflected back to the crowd via the large screen above the stage. Everyone was having a great time, on-stage and off!

Visitors Centre in Fed Square, and beyond it, Flinders Street Station

View towards Flinders Street buildings from stairs leading into Fed Square

We queued for a while to see one of the looped cinematic events in ACMI, but I had hit the wall (three hours... not bad!), so we started making our way home.

Flinders Street view from inside ACMI

A rabbit and a dog ride a rhinocerous.  Naturally.

Exiting Fed Square on the river side to try and avoid the crowds, we stumbled across a view of the beautiful blue light beams fanning into the sky. The commissioned work was called Crepuscular Beam, by lighting designer Paul Collison, and it reminded me a lot of Ryoji Ikeda's spectra at last year's Dark MOFO exhibition in Hobart - in colour and strength, and of course because it was being featured at a large public art festival.

Crepuscular Beam by Paul Collison

Coming back to Flinders Street around the eastern side of the Ian Potter Centre, the view back towards the Forum was gorgeous:

Ian Potter Centre and glimpse of the Forum Theatre

We headed back up into the northern bowels of the CBD though, along with half of Melbourne - although the further we went, the more the crowds dispersed. It took about six blocks of walking before we managed to flag down an empty cab and head home, exhausted, with aching feet ...but also with all senses tingling.

The Forum Theatre

I think next year's White Night might need to involve a bit more planning and sleep management in order to attend in the early hours rather than at prime time, and hopefully avoid some of the crowds. However, for the uniqueness of the event alone, it would be worth the effort.

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