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Melbourne digital time capsule: unearthing rare city secrets during the COVID pandemic

Most of Melbourne was off-limits this year. With many iconic venues and locations in the city ‘on pause’ during a global pandemic, we set out to capture them for a project we call the Melbourne Digital Time Capsule.

This ‘snapshot in time’ revealed Melbourne in a new light: from deserted stages and empty hotel rooms to hidden rooftops and new laneway street art. As the city takes steps towards re-opening, the images will be preserved in the City Collection archive to help future generations understand what life was like in Melbourne during the time of COVID-19.

The UooUoo holding pen in North Melbourne

All dressed up with nowhere to go, Me and UooUoo is a collection of 100 sculptures found waiting in the wings of a massive North Melbourne warehouse. Each UooUoo character was designed by a local artist for the 150th anniversary of the Royal Children’s Hospital. With their original launch date delayed due to lockdown, the UooUoo’s will remain in waiting until January 2021.

Statues in a warehouse

UooUoo’s ready to go

Statues in a warehouse

Me and UooUoo is planning a Melbourne-wide takeover from January

The hidden balcony and clocktower at Melbourne Town Hall

Melbourne Town Hall has been in the centre of the city for 150 years. But the building’s true scale and grandeur are impossible to see from ground level. What can’t the average passerby see? A sky-high view from the roof, providing an uninterrupted line of sight through the peak of St Pauls’, the Arts Centre spire, and the domed green roof of Flinders Street Station. Then there are the inner workings of the clock tower’s skeleton frame, and the way a person standing beside it is dwarfed by its height.

A man on a rooftop looking over the city

Views from MTH rooftop

A man on a balcony with a large clocktower behind him

Clocktowering heights

Inside a clocktower

Inside the clocktower

Manchester Unity Building art deco boardroom and secret rooftop

A triple set of immaculate golden doors set inside a marble wall are what welcomes you into the Manchester Unity Building foyer. Riding the ornate lifts all the way to the top, we were able to get a dreamy view straight down Collins Street.  More amazing spaces within the building include the art deco level 11 boardroom and the staircase inside the tower.

A city skyline

Views over the city, with Pat Perry’s aerial art on the right of the image

The top of a building with a city view

The stunning tower close up

Three sets of gold lift doors in a building foyer

Foyer doors

Inside an old art deco boardroom

Level 11 boardroom

Blender Lane Studios

A one of a kind studio in North Melbourne, Blender is home to a colourful mix of Melbourne’s best artists. Like Tinky, who creates teeny tiny artworks depicting miniature scenes against urban landscapes. Pre-COVID, Blender hosted street art workshops, tours, and an exhibition space, and an unofficial testing ground for new artworks in the laneway next door. We can’t wait for them to open their doors again.

Street art depicting a cartoonish figure

Blender Lane. Art by

Street art depicting cartoons

Blender Lane. Bert and Ernie mural by @drewfunk.

The MCG library

Sport and literature make an unlikely pair beneath the MCG, where a light filled ‘members-only’ library is stacked with books. And that includes a 400-year old French dictionary containing the first ever reference to cricket. Turn your back on the stadium for a moment, and one of the best views of the city is revealed beyond its floor to ceiling windows.

A man leafing through an old book

The French dictionary dating back to 1611

A man sitting in a window looking at the view

Taking in the view

The airstream hotel on a rooftop

Look up on Flinders Lane and you’ll see a driverless car reversing off the roof. It’s just a hint of what lies above: a fleet of metallic vintage airstreams, converted into a luxurious rooftop staycation spot. The NOTEL ‘rooms’ shine from the outside, with serene pastel interiors hidden inside. For now, the expansive rooftop and sublime view are reserved for their spa-side cactus.

Two silver caravans on a rooftop

NOTEL in all its chromatic glory

The roof of a building with a large silver car on it

Breaks on

A spa bath on a rooftop

The sole spiky resident

CitiPower Substation J

The entrance to CitiPower Substation J, one of Melbourne’s most intriguing secret spaces, hides behind a collection of stunning murals in the city’s West end.

As its few permitted visitors will attest – CitiPower Powercor staff and Open House regulars – exploring this building is an intensely cinematic experience. Abandoned rooms, shadowy hallways, hidden street art – and a control room full of vintage electrical equipment.

Windows of a building looking out on to a painting of someone's eyes

Eyes of the Upper West Side Street Art precinct peer into the substation

A narrow corridor with shelves on either side

CitiPower Substation J is like a secret maze within a maze

The inside of an old control room

The archaic control room

A man in a hardhat in an old building

Secret street art

GPO Building

Standing proudly on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth streets, GPO Melbourne is one of Melbourne’s most recognisable heritage buildings. A much-visited part of Melbourne’s CBD shopping precinct, its usually bustling atrium and colonnade are temporarily quietened. Its iconic clocktower has weathered many storms and will be standing long after COVID is over.

A corridor on the outside of a building

Under the arches of the GPO

The Johnston Collection

Multi-award winning, critically acclaimed and held at an undisclosed East Melbourne location. The Johnston Collection is quite literally a hidden gem, hosting a maze of rooms filled top to bottom with all that’s gilded and antique. Think chequerboard floors, glittering chandeliers and portraits of ruffle necked figures. No signs of life for now – just a series of phantom shoe prints marking a trail from room to room.

The inside of an ornate old room

The Johnston Collection

The inside of an ornate old room

The Johnston Collection

The inside of an ornate old room

The Johnston Collection

Melbourne Central Shot Tower

Look up. The first ring of Melbourne Central‘s shot tower is actually a walkway that provides a mesmerising vantage point into the spire. On tours led by MC’s resident historian, a gigantic hidden mural by Kitt Bennett is revealed on the rooftop.

The conical roof of a building with a large brick tower in it

The shot tower

A rooftop view with a blue and pink mural painted on it

Kitt Bennett’s aerial art

Rooftop Honey

Some of Melbourne’s best rooftop real estate is home to thousands and thousands of bees. Rooftop Honey operates a series of hives across Melbourne, with a large chunk of them living on top of Emporium. The bees work away to produce massive amounts of liquid gold, oblivious to the fact that they have one of the most spectacular views of the city.

A rooftop with beehives on it

Rooftop Honey

The Hotel Windsor

The royal suite at Hotel Windsor is 120 square meters of pure Victorian grandeur. Above all this lush luxury, the bridge and ‘turrets’ on the rooftop host secrets of their own. From above, the views of winding trams, Parliament House and the MCG are awe-inspiring.

A city view over old buildings

Rooftop views right to the MCG

A luxurious hotel suite

The Royal Suite

Flinders Street Station lights from above – DoubleTree by Hilton Melbourne Skyline apartments

Scroll through Instagram and you’ll find a sea of Swanston/Flinders corner shots of the station. But DoubleTree’s level 14 Skyline river view rooms unveil a different angle, shown at the height of golden hour in this sunset snap.

A twilight photo of a train station

Views from DoubleTree

Street art you haven’t seen before

The laneways are empty of people, but painted with colour. In tiny Caledonian Lane are a series of murals commissioned by various gaming developers. No surprise, they depict characters from video games and esports. And in Southbank a sensational mask mural appeared in early June.

A wide view of a city laneway with large artworks painted on the walls

Caledonian Lane.

A city road with a large mural on a building

The giant City Road mural by @pete.cto

And hiding in a city laneway, this massive mural by artist Kitt Bennett and Juddy Roller is an unmissable addition to the street art scene.

A large colourful mural on a tall wall

Kitt Bennett’s massive mural on Little Queen Street

All imagery by Ray of Melbourne for What’s On/City of Melbourne, unless otherwise stated.