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The Melbourne Star Wheel has Derryn Hinch calling it out for what it is — Melbourne skyline’s “white elephant” — and despite the Wheel being built…and rebuilt…people still won’t come.
It’s white and the owners claim there is no resemblance to a pachyderm.
So why is the Melbourne Star Wheel – this southern city’s slowly-revolving and evolving giant wheel – universally mocked as a white elephant?
There it towers over what Franco Cozzo used to deride as “Foot-is-cray”, the container-strewn Docklands and an industrial wasteland. Every half-hour its expensive pod-cabins do a circuit and a mellifluous voice tells passengers about the wonders of the Victorian capital…”the MCG, the Arts Centre, the city’s artistic arcades.” The problem is you can’t see any of them…even at the zenith of the Melbourne Star Wheel’s ride. You have to take the announcer’s word for it. You get much better views and more value for money on the 78th floor of the Eureka Tower and a ride out on “The Edge“. You can actually see the things they tell you about on the Star from Eureka.
That has always been the problem for the Melbourne Star Wheel. They ignored the real estate mantra: location, location, location. The London Eye doesn’t dominate that skyline by fluke. Likewise, the other member of this international ferris wheel trifecta in Singapore.
And that’s on top of the Melbourne version’s disastrous debut when, due to structural or design faults (it started developing ominous, embarrassing, cracks), it had to be pulled down and rebuilt.
That exacerbated the problem. The locals got so used to it being in Meccano-wreck pieces or frozen in the city skyline, that they ignored it. For years.
I remember, four or five years ago, when on 3AW I read the predictions about how the Melbourne Star Wheel would attract a million visitors a year to the windswept and troubled docklands region. That’s 20,000 a week!
“In ya dreams,” I thought and said so on the wireless.
That was even before the big wheel started, and abruptly stopped, turning.
Beleaguered shop owners in the cockily titled “Harbourtown” apparently believed the hype and locked themselves into crippling leases.
“Build it and they will come” may be a line out of a Hollywood movie, but it certainly didn’t apply to Harbourtown. Mercifully, their lawyers managed to negotiate free rent for several years after the shutdown, but I went back to check on it last week and it still resembled another movie set.
Like the last days in On the Beach or a Will Smith sci-fi disaster flick.
The unintentionally self-mocking slogan is still up: “Harbourtown – A Town Like No Other.” That’s no lie. It’s akin to one of those ghost-like shopping malls that have been shut down in the United States.
Downstairs, in this deserted mall, we found discount store after discount store. Windows filled with signs offering up to 70 percent off and “two shirts for $20.” A long, eerily-quiet escalator ride to the second floor revealed, well, nothing much. Shop after shop window plastered over with incongruous cheery montages of happy people having fun…but no real people.
The few windows that weren’t obscured had dressed mannequins, display cabinets and shelves stocked with clothes, but also padlocked doors, no staff and closed signs everywhere. Spooky.
Sadly, to be brutally honest, I don’t know if this project will ever fly. I know I’ve made my first and last visit there. But I am grateful for one thing.
As we drove away, my partner, Natasha, convinced me to stop off at a nearby area called South Wharf because “C’mon, it’s on the way home.” She introduced me to a riverside gem. It was a Wednesday night with a real European feel and with a thousand times more people than at Harbourtown. Interesting walkways to tapas restaurants. The Yarra edge lined with bars and noshhouses reminiscent of the strip at Woolloomooloo, and the city lights glinting across the water.
No elephants in sight.
White or otherwise.