This guide to Melbourne street art goes way beyond the obvious spots. Find the best of Melbourne’s graffiti and world class murals in the thoroughfares and laneways of three different neighborhoods.
What Makes Melbourne Street Art So Unique?
It’s probably Keith Haring’s fault. After all, it was his whimsical and subversive subway drawings that helped to spark the street art movement in New York City. His fame netted him an invitation to Melbourne in 1984, where he created works on paper, body paintings and several murals, one of which you can still see in Collingwood.
Like New York, Melbourne’s graffiti started in the train yards but quickly move to the city’s trademark laneways. It was easy to do a quick throw-up or tag in the narrow alleys, and by the 1990’s, it had become a full fledged movement. In the 2003, Banksy showed up, bringing the stenciling technique that he perfected in Bristol. Stencils proliferated and you can still see quite a few of them all around the graffiti lanes in Melbourne.
In 2006, Melbourne realized that they were fighting a losing battle and designated Hosier Lane a legal graffiti street. Since then, they have proactively developed a graffiti management plan with sanctioned spots in Union Lane, Rutledge Lane, Artists Lane and Blender Lane.
Now, “street art” is considered legal, in designated spots or with the express permission of the building owner. “Graffiti” is considered illegal but still occurs all over the city. For the purpose of this article, I am using both terms to express the art form.
The city’s regulation codifying legal street art with building owner permission has had a dramatic effect on both the quality and scale of murals in Melbourne. Australian artists like Rone, Adnate, Smug and Phibs have deployed their complex techniques on a large scale all over the city. So, you can still see stencils, paste-ups, throw-ups and smaller guerrilla works in the laneways, but look up and you’ll also see large multi-story murals.
Melbourne may have imported its initial street art impulse from Keith Haring, but they are now exporting with gusto. I’ve spotted Rone in Nashville, Adnate and Phibs in New York, and Smug in Belfast. Melbourne has become a global influence on urban art and it all started in their back yard.
Finding the Graffiti: Melbourne Street Art Map
Street art spotting is one of the best free things to do in Melbourne and it’s not just focused on the laneways in the Central Business District (CBD). Don’t ignore all of the great works in nearby Fitzroy. It’s also worth taking a field trip to Prahan’s artist alley.
Click on this link or the image below for a fully interactive Melbourne street art map. It covers those three neighborhoods by identifying streets, alleys and studios that are worth a visit. Read further down for specific locations, artists and eye candy.
Top Graffiti Lanes in Melbourne’s CBD
Melbourne’s laneways were developed in the Victorian era as service alleys for horses and carts. But they are now transformed into pedestrian thoroughfares featuring secret bars, funky shops and the street art. They are remarkably safe and stuffed full of spray.
Where to find graffiti in the CBD: Hosier Lane, Rutledge Lane, Union Lane, Croft Alley, Caledonian Lane, Duckboard Place, Strachan Lane, ACDC Lane, Blender Lane, Presgrave Place, Little Bourke (@ Spencer) and Blender Studios
Hosier Lane is Melbourne’s most popular tourist attraction. Everyone in there is jockeying for a selfie. It can be rather overwhelming. Save yourself the aggro and go in the early evening. The light will still be good and the laneway will be far less crowded.
Hosier Lane is known as a “practice” alley. Anyone can go there and work. So, what you’ll find is a multi-layered mash-up of well-crafted art along with the mundane.
Pay attention to the little details, in all of the Melbourne’s graffiti lanes. This stencil series by ZBE uses clever wordplay to share a cynical worldview.
Go beyond Hosier and explore the other laneways to find professionally commissioned works that touch on Australia’s culture. ACDC lane was once home to the iconic band’s favorite music venue. The band itself and other cultural touchstones can be found there.
Read More: If you like large scale works like the one above, you should check out the Silo Art Trail in rural Victoria Australia. It features works from Magee, Rone, Guido Van Helten, Adnate, Julia Volchkova and Kaff-eine.
Round the corner from ACDC Lane into Duckboard place and you’ll find quite a few more treasures, including a large Steen Jones mural, touching stencils and even a Banksy.
This touching portrait by N20_Jo is a study in both complex stenciling techniques and the use of the existing environment to enhance the art. Note the “chalk” drawing at the child’s feet.
Presgrave Place is a little alleyway tucked behind the Capital Arcade. It’s one of the more quirky spots for Melbourne street art because most of it is three dimensional. There are framed prints and shadow boxes with sculptures surrounded by stickers. It’s a small wall but plan to spend plenty of time there because many of the pieces are subtle and worth a good hard look.
After Presgrave place, exit onto Carlson Place and cross Little Collins to Union Lane. Like Hosier Lane, Union is a legal alley and is considered to be a practice spot for up-and-coming Melbourne graffiti artists.
Large Murals Near the Southern Cross Rail Station
There is a series of commissioned pieces across from the Southern Cross rail station on Little Bourke at Spencer street. This series comprises a best-of compilation featuring some of the most accomplished (and globally recognized) street artists in Australia.
You cal also find a lovely piece by Rone on Honolulu that was done for the Kaka’ako mural festival.
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Don’t Miss the Fitzroy Neighborhood
So many articles about Melbourne’s street art culture focus only on the CBD and ignore the amazing works in Fitzroy and nearby Collingwood. Like London’s Shoreditch neighborhood, Fitzroy is a traditionally working class neighborhood settled by immigrants and Australia’s Aboriginal citizens. It has followed the typical gentrification pattern: working class neighborhood, transitions to artists because rents are cheap, graffiti begins appearing, gentrification sets in, cool restaurants and bars crop up, murals begin appearing.
Fitzroy is having a moment and is worth exploring not only for the street art, but also its markets, bars and restaurants. It’s also a great place to stay with inexpensive AirBnB inventory.
Some key spots are noted on the street art map above, but I also encourage you to just wander around and poke into the side streets.
You’ll find this mural on Wellington street just southwest of the Keith Haring mural. The building itself is a housing project occupied primarily by new immigrants. Adnate was paid $300,000 to complete the 20-story project. He is a master of portraiture and does a stunning job of reflecting the whole world in his subject’s eyes. Don’t miss it.
There is a cluster of works along Johnston and on Chapel Street. You’ll also find the Juddy Roller gallery there. Juddy Roller has the gallery and they also curate street art. They are responsible for many of the large murals in Melbourne as well as a series of silo art projects. Check their website for events at the gallery. The piece above is by Phibs. He is very prolific in Melbourne and you’ll find his whimsical creatures all over the place.
The Local’s Secret Alleyway in Prahan
You know that you are onto something when you can smell the spray billowing from the parking lot. Artists alley (sometimes called Aerosol alley), is tucked away into the quiet neighborhood of Prahan. It’s used by artists who want a place to practice their craft away from the tourist scene in the CBD. It’s a pretty democratic place, in fact one guy working there encouraged me to pick up a can and do my thing.
It feels like a world away from the CBD but you can easily get there in 15 minutes on the Sandringham tram line.
In addition to the usual spray, I also found a series of poems and stories scripted onto the walls. Here’s a particularly funny one:
“Whenever I’m feeling particularly anxious about something, I go to the supermarket and shoplift avocados with no subtlety at all. I stand in line in my tight white top, with a huge bulge on my shoulder, one near my elbow and 3 on my hip…and try to act smooth. Then, by the time I arrive home, the shoplifting anxiety has outweighed the old problem and I’m feeling fine again.”
While I don’t recommend shoplifting as a tonic for anxiety disorder, I do recommend taking the time to look past the large, colorful and obvious stuff to find these kinds of extraordinary works of urban art.
Melbourne Street Art Tours
You can do all of the above as a self guided tour. However, in order to understand street art, you should get the invaluable perspective of an insider. I prefer to take tours hosted by actual street artists and so I sought out Melbourne Street Tours. They kindly hosted me on a ridiculously informative tour that covered a good chunk of the CBD as well as a visit to their Blender Studio.
They have thrice weekly tours of the CBD and Saturday-only tours of Fitzroy. Check out their stellar reviews on Trip Advisor.
If Melbourne’s Street Tours’ schedule doesn’t work for you, try a few of these other tour providers
- Alternative Fitzroy. This tour run by Wayword Wanders covers Fitzroy’s history and it’s current alt culture. It’s not just about street art, but you’ll see plenty of it on the tour. Book it here.
- Hands-On Street Art Tour. Take the tour and then get your hands dirty with a workshop that has you spraying the walls. Check reviews and book it on AirBnB.
Explore More Great Global Street Art
Study great street art in other cities by checking out my guides to:
Top Street Art Cities in the World | Books About Street Art|Street Art Festivals | Buenos Aires | Bogota | San Diego | San Francisco | Los Angeles |Nashville | Chicago | New York | Havana | London | Reykjavik | Belfast | Bristol | Berlin | Paris | Estonia | Rural Australia | Melbourne | Honolulu | Salt Lake City
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