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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Why I Will Miss the Melbourne Star (No Joke)


This week, Melbourne added another beloved institution to the list of those lost to the pandemic. This time, however, the reaction has been… a little more mixed.

The Melbourne Star, our dubious answer to the London Eye and the Singapore Flyer, announced on Monday that it would cease intermittent operation after 13 years, citing the pandemic on top of existing challenges such as the increasing number of high-rises in the Docklands area.

People have paid tribute to its misfortune-filled history in the days since, including stories about how it first opened in 2008 for a “biblical” 40 days and 40 nights before closing down due to structural defects; how it could have reopened in January 2013 if there was “no wind, no rain for the next four months” — an unrealistic scenario for most places, and laughably so for Melbourne; and how it could have reopened in January 2013 if there was “no wind, no rain

I moved to Melbourne just a few months after the current iteration of the Melbourne Star debuted at the end of 2013, freshly rebranded from the Southern Star in a dubious image overhaul. Coming into the city on the SkyBus, it loomed in the distance, impressively large and gleaming white, flanked by the C.B.D.’s high-rise buildings.

When I asked if I should go, the general consensus was, “not unless you want a view of the Costco roof and shipping containers.” So I didn’t do it.

I only have one single friend who has. He was probably closer to the wheel’s target demographic as an international student. He’d been told it’s a great place for a romantic date, especially at sunset or in the evening, which I guess is similar to the one couple who decided to have an intense and horizontal public display of affection in one of the pods, in full view of other riders and CCTV cameras.

(Reports of that event correctly note that when something similar happened at the London Eye, couples were prohibited from riding in a pod alone, but no such rule would be implemented here, and “in fact, the wheel’s operators are unlikely to turn anyone away, with visitor numbers already well below anticipated levels.”)

Jesse, another friend, had a slightly different experience. When I asked him what he thought of it, he paused for a long moment before saying, “It was kind of expensive,” with the kind of underwhelming sentiment that seems to characterise the feelings of many ride-goers.

Although I never rode the Melbourne Star, it has served as a backdrop to my time in the city in many ways.

It greeted me every time I left and returned. It was my commute companion prior to the pandemic, when I saw it massive and lit up while changing trains at North Melbourne Station, and again during the pandemic, when I took the CityLink to visit my bubble buddy south of the Yarra. It was a reassuring constant to keep an eye out for, and it provided a great view when you were looking at it rather than away from it.

It was never going to be the London Eye or the Singapore Flyer — before the pandemic, London received 30 million international tourists per year, Singapore received 18 million, and Melbourne received three million. Still, the Melbourne Star was an icon, with all of its flaws woven into the city’s fabric, Melbourne’s inside joke. Seeing the skyline lit up without it will serve as yet another reminder of how profoundly the pandemic has altered our city.

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