This blog isn’t just about ghostsigns, architecture, and quirky tales of local history. It’s about an experience of the whole city – including the areas that might not be thought of as attractive for a recreational walk. The most unprepossessing parts of town can be as intriguing as any other. With this in mind we walked through the Port Melbourne industrial zone and headed towards the Westgate Bridge. Continue reading
Leaving Gasworks Arts Park, we headed south down Pickles Street into Port Melbourne. Like South Melbourne – the suburb formerly known as Emerald Hill – Port Melbourne once had a different name, and in the 19th century was known as Sandridge. There used to be a lagoon here too, though it has long been filled in. But there’s plenty of evidence of other transformations in this once working class, now gentrified neighbourhood. Continue reading
The walls of South Melbourne (or Emerald Hill, as it was known in the later 19th century – one of Melbourne’s lost place names) are rich in memories: of people, occupations, products, social movements. These painted signs, featuring other lost names, are an archive of the suburb’s history, visible in plain sight, though often overlooked. Continue reading
Leaving St Vincent Place we headed north along Montague Street, then turned right into Bank Street towards South Melbourne, a suburb in which much of the history has been carefully and consciously preserved. If you’re looking for ghostsigns, this part of town is rich in them. You also pass a kaleidoscope of architectural styles in the space of a few blocks. Continue reading
When people settle in a new country, they employ various strategies to make themselves feel at home. The Anglo settlers of Melbourne in the 19th century tried giving the suburbs names from the old country like Richmond and Box Hill; they surrounded themselves with the names of famous English poets in Elwood, where almost every street is named after the likes of Tennyson, Milton and Shelley, and writers of other nationalities (including Australian) hardly get a look in. Another way of creating the illusion of home is through architecture. Continue reading
On 27 August I took a group of keen psychogeographers on a tour around Footscray as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival. The walk took in a number of my favourite locations – including ghost signs, street art, evidence of past lives and lost histories. The tour was an attempt to explore some of the many layers of this fascinating suburb, and to suggest ways that suburban locations can be the starting point for writing. Continue reading
After leaving St Kilda we headed north through the suburbs of West St Kilda and Middle Park. This part of town is mainly residential and middle class, and unlike many suburbs, you get the sense it really hasn’t changed that much over the years. It’s not just the architecture and the wide leafy streets that go to create the atmosphere and mood of a place. It’s the names you give the houses, the way they are decorated, even the style of the lettering. Continue reading
Continuing our walk through St Kilda, we turned up Fitzroy Street. For sheer quantity of stories, this is probably one of the richest streets in the Melbourne suburbs. As always, the stories that appeal to me begin with the traces of the past that can be read on the walls. Continue reading
Leaving Elwood, I headed north towards St Kilda, a suburb about which there are many legends, stories, songs (like ‘From St Kilda to King’s Cross’ by Paul Kelly) and TV shows (like ‘The Secret Life of Us’). It’s one of Melbourne’s most multilayered suburbs, and you can see ample evidence of its ups and downs as you walk through it. I’m no expert on St Kilda but I did live in the area for a few years in the early 90s so I have some sense of how things have changed. Continue reading
Crossing the Nepean Highway and entering Elwood, we found ourselves in the land of the English writers. This is one of the most famous street name clusters in Melbourne, where dozens of poets and novelists, many of them 19th century but a few more recent, hang out together. In fact the whole suburb has a romantic, fictional kind of atmosphere. Continue reading
Continuing south down Hotham Street, we reached the point at which East St Kilda becomes the small suburb of Ripponlea. On Glen Eira Road are various shops and small businesses, and traces of previous ones, that aroused our interest. Two buildings in particular caught our eye, though their fates have been quite different. Continue reading
Leaving St Kilda cemetery, we headed south down Hotham Street, towards St Kilda East. This part of suburban Melbourne – St Kilda East heading into Balaclava – has a lot to offer, when you tune in to it – diverse architecture, appealing old signage, and suburban oddities of various kinds. Continue reading
One of the pleasures of walking the suburbs is making unexpected connections. Sometimes it’s a ghostsign – like the ‘Dr Morse’ sign that I first noticed in North Melbourne, which popped up again in Fitzroy and on a cafe wall in Abbotsford. Sometimes an architectural feature – the ‘barley sugar’ columns that I was unaware of until I spotted them on 1930s flats in South Yarra now keep turning up everywhere. And sometimes it’s a person whose life I find myself intersecting with as I walk. Whether we realise it or not, a passage through the city is a succession of encounters with countless individuals, celebrated, notorious or unknown. Continue reading
Streets are landscapes of loss. Alongside the buildings and people who currently occupy them, the vehicles, street furniture and signage, there are ghosts of buildings that have been altered or destroyed, traces of businesses that have closed, people who have come and gone, countless variations small and large that are always in process. This is particularly evident in a walk along Chapel Street Prahran. Continue reading
Every now and then as I walk the suburban streets of Melbourne I see something that stops me in my tracks. It happened again at 282 Chapel Street, Prahran, between Princes and Walker Streets, when I glanced up and noticed a three-storey building, a bit faded and the worse for wear, but unmistakeably special. It looked as though it should have been standing on a boulevard in Paris, rather than in a Melbourne suburb, among standard Victorian two-storey shops, plastered with signage for JB Hifi, which occupies the entire ground floor.
This building’s facade was extravagant, with 17 archways looking onto the street from the second and third storeys, columns and balconies, carved eagles, and a dizzying assortment of shells and other ornamentation. Clearly, it had once been a special place – but today it’s a shadow of its former self. Continue reading
Something I notice again and again as I walk the suburban streets is old advertising for long-gone doctors, medical services and medicines. Whether it’s a Victorian ghostsign on Gertrude Street offering vaccination and tooth pulling, another in the city for ‘the celebrated specialist Dr King’ (who turned out to be a clairvoyant) or faded messages declaring the benefits of products like Otis Tonic Tablets, the suburbs are rich in evidence of the medicinal options of former Melburnians. Continue reading
The 1930s were a tough time for many Melburnians – the Depression resulted in widespread unemployment, destitution, and people living from hand to mouth. But if you were a bright young thing, with money and a liking for the glamorous life, there were various ways to indulge your tastes.
What makes a Melbourne icon? I reflected on this as I headed south from Richmond into the handkerchief-sized suburb of Cremorne, a place where Melbourne icons are thick on the ground.
Cremorne is tucked into a few streets south of Richmond and north of the River Yarra and the Monash Freeway. This little pocket of narrow streets, red bricks and bluestone laneways was once a hub of industry, the home of products that were literally household names, such as Bryant and May matches and Rosella tomato sauce. It’s been a long time, though, since these iconic products were actually made here. Continue reading
At the corner of Lennox Street and Rowena Parade is a Victorian shop (dated 1878) on which some very faded ghostsigns can be discerned. The words ‘General House Repairs’ are just about legible between the upper storey windows, and I could make out ‘Builders’ and ‘Carpenters’ above the ground floor windows, along with the now almost illegible name of the former owners, which appears to read ‘ … ETT & SONS’. Continue reading
Some interesting ghostsigns can be found on a building at the corner of Swan Street and Byron Street, Richmond. There’s not much to see, at first glance – just a stock-standard two storey row of Victorian shops. These days the two shops on the corner are occupied by a patisserie and a Tattersalls, with a handy ATM in between them. Continue reading
We turned left off Nicholson Street into Gertrude Street, and headed into Fitzroy. These days Fitzroy is known as one of the world’s hipster capitals, a national centre for beards, tattoos and retro attire, full of cafes where you can get your 100 per cent vegan, cruelty-free chai latte, and salons offering alternative nail art. For the suburban explorer it’s also a place rich in old bluestone laneways and cottages, street art, intriguing buildings and ghostsigns. This post focusses on three sites, each pointing to a different aspect of the suburb’s history. Continue reading
What is Royal Park?
This hefty chunk of parkland, north of North Melbourne, west of Carlton, has an identity crisis. It’s been set aside for public use since the 1840s. But the public has never known what to do with it.
The great parks and gardens of London, Paris and New York have a clear place in their city’s psyche; everyone knows them, and if they don’t go there, at least they know what they are for. Not so Royal Park. It’s the poor cousin of the Botanical Gardens, a place we think we value (if we think of it at all) but we are unsure why.
Over the years it’s been a place for grazing, a wilderness, a car park, a military base, a zoo, emergency housing, the site of sports complexes and hospitals. It’s housed murderers, it’s been called a ‘slum’ and a ‘plague spot’, it’s been the scene of angry protests. Continue reading
When was the last time you dodged a bull on your way home from a night out? Or had your way blocked by a flock of sheep? For most city dwellers the answer would be: Years ago, or never. The closest many of us come to farm animals is the meat counter at the supermarket. And yet it’s not that long since thousands of animals were driven through the Melbourne suburbs on a regular basis. Some of the busiest stock routes were here in Kensington, and you can see plenty of evidence around the suburb of how important they were to the local economy. Continue reading
Throughout the Melbourne suburbs you can see old signs and buildings that refer back to one of the most powerful social movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries: the temperance advocates. They regarded alcohol as a social evil and sought to have it banned entirely, or at least the consumption drastically reduced. This crossed my mind as I walked south from Moonee Ponds into Ascot Vale, entering ‘The Temperance Triangle’. Continue reading
His name appeared at a construction site near the corner of Lonsdale and Russell Streets, Melbourne, in April 2013. The building on the corner had been demolished and the painted sign—hidden for many years—was exposed again, high on an adjacent wall at second storey level. Facing south down Russell Street, it proclaimed in large black capitals: ‘Consult celebrated specialist Dr King, MRCS. Consultation free.’
No address, no phone number. No hint about what kind of specialist Dr King was.
Perhaps other people wandering past that site, or standing at the pedestrian crossing waiting for the lights to change, looked up and wondered as I did: who was Dr King? Continue reading
Pushing across eastwards from the residential areas of Avondale Heights, I came to a small reserve, Canning Reserve, which leads to Steele Creek Reserve, revegetated with native species by the local friends of the creek. I walked through it on a hot day in November, with few other people around. At one point the reserve is quite elevated, and you have a good view across the Maribyrnong river to an area of abandoned, fenced off land, dotted with deserted brick buildings. To the east there’s a view of the city, some 10km distant. Nothing’s going on in the fenced off area, which is bordered by the Maribyrnong (formerly known as the Saltwater) to the north, east and west, and Cordite Street to the south.
That area of fenced-off land has been owned by the Department of Defence since 1908. Prior to that, it was known for horses – the Maribyrnong racecourse was there, and Fisher’s famous racing stables. Before that, for thousands of years it was the Wurrung country of the Woi Wurrung people. But within more recent memory it’s known as the location of an explosives factory. Continue reading
Leaving Tottenham behind us, we head north up Ashley Street, making our way between warehouses, storage places, supermarkets, smash repair shops and quiet residential streets until we arrive at Ballarat Road. Here we reach the site of one of Melbourne’s best examples of modern architecture, the ETA peanut butter factory, designed by Frederick Romberg. This building, long neglected, has now been partially reconstructed. Continue reading
A few weeks ago I walked past the exterior of the old Grand Theatre in Paisley Street and wondered what it looked like inside. Thanks to a reader, Cr Nam Quach, I was introduced to the owner, Footscray businessman Peter Ki, who kindly allowed me inside for a look around and to take some photographs. Continue reading