Sure enough, there is nothing more valuable than firsthand experience. After visiting Australia and New Zealand in 2007, I was certain to return and live in Melbourne for a while. So much so that it even overshadowed my dream of coming to work in New York. My infatuation phase with Melbourne, and to some degree Australia, lasted for nearly two years.
In my antipodal experience, Melbourne lived up to most expectations. It certainly is one of the world's most livable cities, in which one doesn't need to freeze (as opposed to other Top 5 entries such as Vancouver or Helsinki). It is also a booming and multicultural city, where the arts, architecture and design takes center stage. Melbourne is undoubtedly the arts capital of Australia. It is also intellectual, serious and demonstrates it profoundly with its love of black clothing (even in +40C) and great coffee culture.
During my time in Melbourne, I never ceased to question the relationship between European descendants, their Western culture and the faraway continent they've come to call home. It didn't take long to realize that a considerable amount of locals - certainly those in my circle of acquaintances - did the same. It is a well-established custom for young Australians to take a year, or more, off and travel the world with top priority assigned to the UK. More than that, Australians are most keen on whatever comes out of Europe - be it the latest in fashion, architecture, graphic design or city planning. Melburnians in particular have intense love affair with New York, but America as a whole is generally frowned upon.
Because of its great distance from the world's main centers of influence, Australia has developed tremendously keen sense of what's hot and what's not. I speak in terms of graphic design and architecture, and a bit of advertising. The most evident result in the recent years is perhaps Australia's resilience during the global financial crisis. Right as it hit, I worked with one of Australia's most prominent architecture firms, ARM, and witnessed great dynamism to carry on through the storm. Architecture, of course, is the barometer of economic conditions and first to get hit worldwide when the crisis struck. Nevertheless, at our firm work progressed on the state-funded Melbourne Recital Centre and Theatre Company and other significant cultural and city-planning projects. This is precisely what makes Melbourne and Australia (with the exception of Sydney, but that's a separate story) different from Europe and certainly the US.