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If You Love Melbourne, You’ll Love Yogyakarta

If You Love Melbourne, You’ll Love Yogyakarta

We all like to think we are truly unique beings – the only person to ever ponder the lack of a shaka sign on the emoji keyboard – but there are many times when our complex identities overlap, like how your neighbour has a similar thirst for craft beer, GOT and beards on men – just like you!

These same situations play out in the world of global cities but with curious cultural interpretations of zeitgeists. Such a scenario is the striking similarities between Yogyakarta in Indonesia (also known as Jogja) and Melbourne, Australia’s cultural capital. Here’s a few things the sister cities have in common. 

A photo posted by @elianor on

The music + art scene


People say that Jakarta is like Sydney, because it’s all hustle, bustle and business, baby, and Jogja is like Melbourne – it’s all culture, art and music. Jogja is renowned for the arts, both traditional and modern, that form the core of the city’s identity. The contemporary Jogja music scene has a vital energy and throb, with locals like Yes No Wave label, Seek Six Sick and a community of noise bombers (it’s a thing, and it involves experimental audio, noise and circuit bending) shaping a sound and scene that compares to any Brunswick or Bushwick. Art in Jogja is everywhere, from the painted streets to the Biennale Jogja – this city does art good. A few prime spots to acquaint yourself with Yogyakarta’s current creative prowess are Cemeti Art House, SURVIVE!garage and Jogja Contemporary.

The North-side South-side thing

You can’t so much as transit through Melbourne without getting whiff of the geographical and cultural divide between the northern and southern suburbs of that city. In Jogja there’s a north-side south-side distinction that echoes the Melbourne river gap, however, reversed and probably not as reminiscent of a celebrity Twitter feud.

The south side is home to many artists and creatives, with a healthy hub of art collectives, galleries and independent shops. In and around the streets of the South, like Prawirotaman, Parangtritis and Tirtodipuran, you can find these artist-run spaces that would nestle easily in the back streets of Melbourne’s cool Collingwood. In the north of Jogja the houses are bigger, cars shinier and hotels grander – similar to Melbourne when you reach the south of the Yarra – but there are still loads of spots full of charm where you can soak-up the vibes of the city, especially in and around the district near Universitas Gadjah Mada.

Fear not cyclists


If you’ve experienced the extreme displeasure that is being stuck in one of Jakarta’s infamous traffic jams (this year the Indonesian capital took the gong for the worst traffic in the world with New Yorkers travelling at twice the speed of commuters in Jakarta), then the cycle-friendly streets of Yogyakarta will have you sighing with relief. Like Melbourne, the city is pretty flat making it easy to bike around. Jogja has well signed bike-friendly routes and clear lanes designated for getting around the city on mankind’s first freedom-mobile. Although not quite as fanatical about the bicycle as Melbourne, Yogyakartans can be seen cruising down the streets on bikes or taking it easy in the carriage of one of the city’s many becaks (the Indonesian variation of the global tricycle people carrier known as the rickshaw) or, as with most Indonesian cities these days, on the obligatory scooter.

Biking around Jogja is one of the best ways to experience the city – get unintentionally lost in the many gangs (small laneways, another Melbourne samesies), feel the wind in your hair (no helmets here!) and explore at your own pace (amazing race or island time?).

The coffee scene

Like Melbourne, cafes and coffee are big business in Jogja, and there are more hip bean-juicing joints in the city than there are health/fitspo gurus on Instagram. The hundreds and thousands of students living in Jogja (the city’s nickname is Kota Pelajar meaning ‘The City of Students’) means there is a captive audience for the cafes of the city. In the North some favourites are Esco and Lagani – both establishments offer coffee served in the same laboratory-esque methods you’ll find at Fitzroy’s finest. Syphoned, french press, you know the drill.

There’s also a healthy selection of bean provenance in Indonesia meaning you can add ‘locally sourced coffee’ to your palate and peace of mind. In the South, Ministry of Coffee and ViaVia serve up fine cups of joe with the latter also housing a very Melbourne-esque bakery. If you’ve been doing the Asia route for a while (read: daily rice diet), ViaVia might make you weep like a Next Top Model contestant at the sight of their sourdough loaves and gluten-free brownies.

Eat, shop, repeat


Just like Melbourne, Jogja is primarily a food and shopping destination. From the malls and markets to the streets, it has all you need to perform one of life’s simplest but most pleasurable equations: eat, shop, repeat. The main shopping (also tourist) drag of Yogyakarta, Jalan Malioboro, is home to loads of shops, street-stalls and a massive market selling the region’s famed batik (handmade Indonesian textile). Here you can pick up clothes and accessories, and if the worldly artisanal look is your bag, this is the street for you. (If your scene is more jeans, trainers and a well-cut t-shirt head to Jalan Cenderawasih in the city’s north to shop with Jogja’s hip youth.)

As the weary shopper in Melbourne might do after a Chapel Street blow-out, you can make a beeline to the nearest restaurant to refuel, recuperate and reevaluate next week’s accommodation budget. In Jogja, instead of spending the equivalent of an hours’ pay on a fancy reuben sandwich as you would in Melbourne, you can head down one of the little streets that run off Malioboro, pull up a stool at one of the street vendors and enjoy a plate of Lotek (a west javanese version of the famous gado-gado but better: vegetables and glutinous rice cake doused in the most holy and fragrant peanut sauce and topped with Indonesia’s table-staple, krupuk crackers) for just 90cAUD

So is it that Yogyakarta is so Melbourne-like or is it that Melbourne is so Yogyakarta like? Who can really say, but for now its good to know you can catch a good gig, dig some art, ride a bike, shop, chow and imbibe a steaming syphoned cup of joe almost anywhere you go (almost…).

(All photos: Elianor Gerrard)

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