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Camping On Top Of A Shopping Centre At St Jerome's

16th August 2015

Kitsch dessert Baked Alaska essentially works like this – a frozen blob of ice cream is baked with a blowtorch. Now imagine you are the Baked Alaska, in reverse. This is what spending the night on the roof of Melbourne Central shopping centre is like.

It’s the night of winter solstice and around 7C. I am FREEZING on my front half (my head is also really, really cold) but my electric blanket is raging, baking my back half on the HIGH setting.

Sleeping on the roof of Melbourne Central is a confusing experience. It’s like being on a really cool rooftop bar with only your friends (the bar on the roof is not open to the public) but then, instead of leaving the bar with everyone, you stay on the roof – all night.

St Jerome’s Hotel is a temporary hotel on top of Melbourne Central, with 'rooms' starting from around $330 a night – about the price of a 5-star hotel. To get to the hotel, you go up to the third floor of the shopping centre, then through a pair of doors that lead to the roof.

The camp

Camp is 20 tents (some with outdoor patios), portable bathrooms and a general store. It’s all a bit surreal. After the bar stools at the general store have been packed away, you change into a robe and (rather self-consciously) walk across the astroturf with your toothbrush to the portable bathroom.

Up high on the rooftop, you feel so close to the LCD billboard on a nearby building, showing on rote a Hemsworth brother Foxtel promo, that you could reach out and touch him. There is also the competing, terrible compulsion to go right to the end of the roof and jump like the Michael Keaton character in Birdman. But then you remember there are snacks in your tent.

You brush your teeth in the heated port-a-loos on the edge on the roof, crawl into your tent and think this is weird … I am still yet to leave this bar. It’s like Night at the Museum – but instead it’s Night at the Rooftop Bar.

Brrrr … it’s cold.

You remember that tonight is also the charity fundraiser CEO Sleepout, where politicians and business leaders sleep outside, and that whatever you are feeling, Malcolm Turnbull is also feeling (except the tent here costs $300 a night) and that makes you feel close to him in a way you haven’t felt close to him before.

Malcolm. Malcolm. Malcolm is cold, too, you think, as you pull on your hiking socks and do up your hoodies over your pyjamas.

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The tent

Your tent is decked out as if you’re Boss Bedouin. As well as the snacks (and cold drinks in an Esky) there’s a wicker basket at the end of the (very comfortable) bed, an iPad and a selection of books. Throw-rugs decorate the tent floor. There are ottomans, gumboots and complimentary thongs.

But despite the luxe touches, there’s a bit of a New York in the '70s vibe up here. Sirens wail and wail and wail all night from Elizabeth Street, which is not annoying but thrilling because YOU ARE SPENDING THE NIGHT ON A ROOF IN THE CITY IN A TENT.

There’s also a 24-hour concierge – a very sweet American woman who is sipping from a jumbo cup of Starbucks at her desk, which is near Strike bowling alley, which seems like a very desolate place to spend the hours between 1am and 6am. But there she is in the morning, dropping breakfast boxes with salmon bagels at the 'doors' of our tents.

You can barely sleep on the roof. It’s not restful. There’s the weather, and the noise and light – but also the excitement. It’s exhilarating seeing the dawn come up over the tops of Melbourne’s high-rises.

The sort of indescribable satisfied feeling that campers must feel when they wake up in the bush is now something urban people can experience. Instead of feeling excited about all the nature on your doorstep (the gum trees, the morning magpies, the fire and the morning billy-tea), for the urban camper there are the cafes, the shops (hundreds of them below you in Melbourne Central shopping centre) and the clanging of tram bells.

The hotel

Until a couple of months ago, before local entertainment entrepeneur Jerome Borazio co-opted the 2,200-square-metre rooftop space and turned it into a hotel, it was empty. At this stage the hotel is still being talked about as a pop-up, with plans for it to run at least until November.

It will be interesting to see how the space that has little shade deals at the height of a Melbourne summer but then isn’t that what camping is all about? You brave the elements, whatever they may be, because the experience is worth it.

Tent accommodation at St Jerome’s – The Hotel, from $330 a night. Level 3, Melbourne Central, 271 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne. Phone 0412 951 815;

Featured image: St Jerome's

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The writer was a guest of St Jerome’s – The Hotel.

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This article was written by Brigid Delaney from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.