Tale of two shopping cities

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 January, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 January, 1993, 12:00am

THE two great cities of Sydney and Melbourne historically compete for the number one spot in Australia - and no more so than on the shopping scene.

Sydney has a lot to offer the visitor, with a strong line in tourist shops.

Claiming to be the birthplace of Sydney, The Rocks area, near Circular Quay, is home to the designer souvenir and authentic bushman look.

Top-of-the-range Australian goods are sold, including the famous ''Driza Bone'' rain coats, koala bears and boomerangs and, of course, the ubiquitous Ken Done wear.

For more general shopping, the spotlight falls on Sydney's commercial district, in an area bounded by Hunter Street, Park Street, Clarence Street and Elizabeth Street.

Boutiques, duty-free shops and speciality shops abound, along with the two famous Australian department stores, David Jones and Grace Brothers (owned by Myer).

The area is also home to a number of impressive music and book stores, as well as the Strand Arcade, which features high-class shops.

Just around the corner from Grace Brothers is the enormous Queen Victoria Building, running along George Street between the Town Hall and Market Street.

Built in 1868 as a produce market, it was slated for demolition in the 1970s.

The building was reprieved in 1980, when it was closed for restoration, and re-opened in 1986.

The project has been a huge success as the complex has managed to retain all its Victorian features as well as being home to nearly 200 elegant shops stocking the complete spectrum of fashion, footwear, antiques, jewellery, leather goods and food.

A short trip from George Street on the city's monorail takes visitors to Darling Harbour, a massive glass and steel complex housing a huge variety of specialist shops and eateries.

Overlooking the Chinese garden, the shopping complex offers all the usual tourist and clothing stores, in addition to a number of fascinating shops selling anything from aboriginal art to beer memorabilia.

One warning though: Darling Harbour, like many of Sydney's shopping centres, does not open until 10 am, leaving the early shopper to kick his heels on the waterfront.

Moving away from the city centre, Oxford Street has a range of designer and trendy fashion shops, leading up to the suburb of Paddington.

Paddington is most famous for its weekly Saturday market, held in the grounds of the Uniting Church.

Stall-holders sell every conceivable variety of new and used clothing, plants, jewellery, pottery, leather goods, and imported exotica.

However, many Australians consider Melbourne to be far superior for shopping.

The Myer store here is vastly superior to Grace Brothers in Sydney, and the display maps and guide staff are more of a necessity than a customer service exercise.

At weekend, Melbournians head for Prahran, an area of Melbourne which contains the shopping ''Golden Mile'' of Chapel Street, designer boutiques in Toorak Road, the avant garde of Greville Street and antique shopping in the Armadale High Street.

And further south on Chapel Street, the ''Budget Mile'' features discount clothing and new and used furniture shops.

At one end of this varied and exciting shopping area, sits the Jam Factory, a fairly contrived but nevertheless attractive 125-year-old factory that now houses a host of specialist shops and a department store.

Open five days a week, the Queen Victoria markets, known locally as the Vicky markets, attract people from all over Victoria.

The century-old markets (at the corner of Elizabeth and Victoria Streets in North Melbourne) sell a staggering variety of goods - more than any other market in Australia.

Among them are cheap new and second-hand clothes, antiques, bric-a-brac, flowers, fresh fruit and vegetables and cheeses.

Most of the markets are housed under one gigantic roof, featuring the 19th century architecture for which Melbourne is famous.