Melbourne, melbourne town hall

Best places to see in Melbourne: Melboune Town Hall

Two blocks north of the cathedral is another civic icon: Melbourne Town Hall (free guided tours Mon-Fri 11am & 1pm & on the third Sat of the month hourly 10am-3pm), dating from 1870 (the portico was added in 1887; an adjacent administrative block in 1908). It's best known as the place where Australia's famous operatic soprano Dame Nellie Melba made her debut in 1884, but it's also played host to everything from public debates and waltzes to poultry shows and wrestling.

Here the Queen sipped tea in the stately Melbourne Room in 1954; here, ten years later, the Beatles waved to their adoring fans from the balcony; and here, in 1997, Germaine Greer kicked off the annual Melbourne Writers' Festival by launching a stinging attack against "penetration culture" (old-fogey Melburnians are still recovering). The Town Hall can only be seen on a tour, when you can roam through rooms mired in syrupy nostalgia. There's also an excellent collection of rustic paintings by early Melbourne artists Tom Roberts and George Folingsby. Facing Melbourne Town Hall, the new Westin Hotel squats on City Square, a beleaguered space that was created during the 1960s by clearing a number of nineteenth-century buildings.

The square, which has been dogged by controversy ever since, has now been reduced to a desperately small strip of dusty land, and looks like it will never fulfil its intended purpose of providing Melbourne with an appealing and welcoming public space - it's now hoped that Federation Square, further south by the Yarra, will achieve this. Apart from the hotel, the City Square is home to a canal, kiosk, a smattering of spindly gum trees, and a fortyton statue of bewhiskered Burke and Wills, two of Australia's best-known explorers who perished on a transcontinental expedition in 1860.

Like Vault, another well-known public art work, the statue of Burke and Wills was roundly scorned when it was first unveiled, largely because the artist has made the hapless pair too "heroic". Also worth a look from here is the neo-Gothic Manchester Unity Building (1932), on the corner of Collins and Swanston streets, inspired by the Chicago Tribune Building.