The real difference between Melbourne and Sydney: Longitude

People think of Sydney being north of Melbourne, but if you went due north from Melbourne until you got to Sydney’s latitude, you’d be 580km due west of the Opera House.

In fact, the east-west distance between Melbourne and Sydney is almost exactly the same as the east-west distance between Melbourne and Adelaide. (Both are just over 6 degrees of longitude difference).

The result of this is different times of daylight. A good friend of mine who works between Sydney and Melbourne says the early sunrises in Sydney get him up and running before work, which he never does in Melbourne. But he misses the languid light of Melbourne’s evenings after leaving the office.

Both sunrise and sunset are later in Melbourne, all year round. This graph shows sunrise, and sunset a for both cities. Melbourne is the yellow and red lines, Sydney the green and purple. The difference is almost an hour.

Sydney v Melbourne

The difference manifests itself in interesting ways. I reckon Sydney’s surf culture is nourished not just by the warmer weather and better beaches, but also by the fact there’s hours of sunlight before work. The pop-culture phenomenon that is Aquabumps could only thrive in Sydney.

There’s evidence of a much stronger early morning workout culture in Sydney too.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 11.04.45 am Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 11.04.35 am

Further evidence: The Milson’s Point pool opens at 5.30am. The Fitzroy pool opens at 6am.

The Sydney-siders seem to be making the most of their early mornings. Are we Melburnians missing out?

What we get is a bit more evening time to spend outdoors. This works well for Melburnians in summer, when, for example, the Sydney Botanic gardens shut at 8pm and the Melbourne Gardens are open til dusk.

Melbourne Sunset. When I took this shot, it was dark in Sydney
Melbourne Sunset. When I took this shot, it was dark in Sydney

Much like daylight savings, being further west in a timezone moves daylight to the after work hours.

The great advantage of having more light in the evening is supposed to be using less power around the home. But because of the different energy mixes between Melbourne and Sydney, (the southern capital uses a lot more gas) and the temperature differences, it’s hard to compare. And with the declining role of lights in electricity use, and the rising role of air conditioning, sending people home from work in the heat of the day may have the opposite effect.

So which is better?

The concept of solar time means you can measure which timezone is closer to “accurate.” This maps shows Melbourne is in the red, with an assymetric sort of day, and Sydney closer to balanced. If Melbourne’s time zone explains my tendency to get up late and stay up late, it has a lot to answer for.

adherence to mean solar time


The case for finely balanced time-zones is most obvious where they are absent.

China uses just one time zone, creating giant differences between one end of the country and the other. During daylight savings, the sun sets at 10pm in Lhasa, and two hours earlier in Shanghai.

lhasa shanghai

The vast majority of the world is in the red, suggesting people like the evening hours to be daylight. But if you look closely, a lot of very dynamic cities are in the green parts of the map: Tokyo, New York, LA, Shanghai. Perhaps there’s something to this “early to bed, early to rise” idea.

Should Melbourne perhaps change time zone? If we moved to Adelaide time, we’d see sunrise as early as the Sydney-siders do. Then the only reason not to spring out of bed and do exercise would be the weather!

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

8 thoughts on “The real difference between Melbourne and Sydney: Longitude”

  1. the big difference between the two is that Sydney is a financial centre and of Australia and thus our only international city.


  2. That last sentence I think could sum it up. Well if you live in North Qld (me Mackay, London now and London is just entirely different again). Being a cyclists we sorely met up at 5am for bunch rides due to the weather being always cooler, traffic quieter and employment. Most people started similar times but finished different or commutes home are bit more difficult then of in the morning..


  3. It does hit the point!

    The Sun means heat and energy to the Earth dominants, human being! Thus, being much closer to the solar time, it also means being following the deep inner rules inside the movement of the Sun. These are life rules. So observing these rules more, lifes will get more resilient! The cities where these lives are residing are just full of more energy!

    So just following the ‘rise early and work early’, you could contribute to your city a bit of more energy in your own way😊

    Thanks fir the wonderful article again! Enjoy~

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As a resident in the green (Brisbane), I can safely say I feel the city is in the wrong time zone. Brisbane doesn’t need day light savings, It just needs to permanently be shifted to GMT +11, and I feel speaking as a person from the Green, that Melbourne definitely should not punish itself by putting itself closer to Green.

    The amount of ‘usable’ sunlight is pathetic. The notion that earlier sunrise = people wake up earlier only works to an extent. Some motivated minority of people may get up earlier, but the large bulk of humanity is not waking up before 6:30am – 7am. By comparison, everyone is awake up 6:30pm.

    At midsummer, the sun rises at 4:51am and sets at around 6:45pm (Yes, it really sets that early in summer). The sun has already travelled 1/3 of the way to its horizon by the time most people are starting their day at work or school, and will be beginning its final descent into the sunset by the time you get home from work. In Summer.

    Then in Winter, the sun rises at 6:30am and sets at 5pm. a 6:30am sunrise feels late in comparison to summer, but realistically it means most people never wake up in darkness in Brisbane. Even in the depths of winter the sun and blue sky will be starting to show by the time majority of people are awake. What it means is it removes the ability to have any afternoon sun. The sun is getting ready to set by the time school kids get home, and 9-5 workers getting zero sunlight after work. You finish in darkness, in what is supposed to be a subtropical outdoorsy city. Which is cruel, considering Brisbane’s winter is perfect for outdoors activities. It’s a sunny 20C and doesn’t rain much, and unless you’re retired or don’t work, you don’t get to use much of it.


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