How Melbourne became Australia’s hottest destination

It’s a miracle – culture has grown in popularity in Australia.

Well at least that’s what the numbers suggest.

For the first time, more Australians are visiting Victoria for a holiday than Queensland.

Data released by Tourism Research Australia shows NSW still heads the list with 7.2 million domestic visitors in 2008-09, followed by Victoria with 5.4 million and Queensland with 5.1 million.

Victorian tourist chiefs believe that during tough economic times, Australians’ tastes have shifted toward short breaks to experience Victoria’s cultural activities and away from Queensland’s physical attractions.

“The offer of big events, cultural events, retail, food and wine is considered more attractive than stuff like theme parks, Big Pineapples and gee-whizzy type of stuff,” Victorian Tourism Industry Council chief Anthony McIntosh says.

McIntosh says Victoria’s 20-year marketing campaign promoting its big events, such as the spring racing carnival, its shops, wineries and culture has paid off.

But he admitted visitors come for a good time, not a long time.

“The marketing has positioned Victoria as the place for short stay holidays, the place for dirty weekends basically,” he says.

“It’s a romantic, cultural, exciting place to visit for a short stay. People don’t stay here for weeks, they come and stay for a weekend or three or four days.

“They go to things like stage plays and big sporting events, musical tours, they go to wineries, they go to restaurants.”

As an example, both the National Gallery of Victoria and the Melbourne Museum recorded record crowds for their exhibitions on artist Salvador Dali and the ruins of Pompeii.

And the other blockbuster has been the musical Jersey Boys.

Melbourne Museum has had a record number to its exhibition, A Day in Pompeii.

And the NGV has had more than 150,000 people for its Salvador Dali Liquid Desire exhibition. Both exhibitions continue until October.

The gallery’s director Dr. Gerard Vaughan says the exhibition is second only in popularity to the NGV’s most attended Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition, The Impressionists.

“Once again, the exhibition has proved extremely popular with visitors from Melbourne, regional Victoria, interstate and overseas,” Dr Vaughan says.

A Day in Pompeii tells the story of life in the ancient Roman city which was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24, AD79. It covers everything from food and dining to shopping, medicine and religion.

The CEO of of Museum Victoria Dr Patrick Green says no other ancient city had been found so complete and intact.

But it remained lost and forgotten until rediscovered by archaeologists in the early 1700s.

Of particular interest are the the body casts, made by pouring plaster into hollows left where victims of the eruption were buried.

It’s particularly moving to observe their positions. They were most likely to have been covering their faces with their hands or clothes to relieve themselves from the gases that eventually suffocated them.

It’s highly recommended that people book online ( for a specific time so they don’t have to queue or come either in the afternoons (when the school kids have left) or Thursday nights when the Piazza Museo cafe is also open with musicians playing.

Both shows are part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series, a Victorian government initiative that brings outstanding exhibitions from around the world exclusively to Melbourne. In its first five years it has attracted more than 1.34 million people.

Meanwhile, we found the audience at Jersey Boys playing at the historic Princess Theatre lively and friendly.

We got into the swing of things, playing a game of get up, sit down as other audience members climbed over us in the packed theatre.

The Australian version of the Tony Award-winning musical didn’t disappoint.

Written by Rick Elice it’s about the 60s pop group The Four Seasons, starring four relatively unknown Aussie actors.

It shows how Frankie Valli and his band were influenced by the mob influence of New Jersey in the 1950s and 60s but went on to sell 175 million records.

The show, which is running on Broadway and in more than six other cities, features their hit songs including Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Rag Doll, Oh What a Night and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

The actors/musicians for this version were chosen with the help of some of the original band members, including Valli.

They include Irish Dance champion and former Australia Mamma Mia star Bobby Fox as Valli, actor and musician Scott Johnson as Tommy DeVito, Glaston Toft as Nick Massi and Stephen Mahy as Bob Gaudio.

Some other places to visit and things to do in Melbourne:

Federation Square: Corner of Flinders Street and Swanston Street. Call: (03) 9639 2800 or visit It’s a complete inner city block, connecting the central business district with the Yarra River and is a fusion of arts and events, leisure, hospitality and promenading.

Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) Federation Square: Flinders Street. Call: (03) 8663 2200 or visit It celebrates, champions and explores the moving image in all its forms – film, television, games, new media and art.

National Design Centre: Federation Square Flinders Street. Call: (03) 9654 6335 or visit: Combining a gallery space and resource centre, the NDC also hosts the annual Melbourne Design Festival which showcases the latest and greatest in local product and celebrates the classics.

Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia Cnr Russell and Flinders Sts. Call: (03) 8620-2222 or visit: Current exhibition: John Brack – runs until August 2009.

Eureka Skydeck: 88 7 Riverside Quay, Southbank. Call: (03) 9693-8888 or visit It’s on Level 88 and is the highest public vantage point in Melbourne, Australia and the Southern Hemisphere. Visitors are able to take in the 360 degree views through floor to ceiling glass windows, from the CBD to the Dandenong Ranges and across Port Phillip Bay.