Wandering Brunswick

The walk has become complicated. My plan of describing a simple circle around the city is made problematic by the thought of the suburbs I will inevitably miss on the way. It seems foolish to walk through Carlton and Fitzroy into Collingwood, then continue east without a backward glance at suburbs like Brunswick, where there’s so much to see. So I have decided to double back and make my way through a few slightly more northern suburbs.

The self-imposed rule of my project remains the same: each walk has to begin from a point where a previous one finished, so that ultimately all the walks will be connected, though the shape of the final walk may end up being more like a spider’s web than a circle.

This time I chose to continue my walk from the sports pavilions of Princes Park in Parkville, and headed northwards up Royal Parade towards Brunswick.

The western side of that section of Royal Parade is a bit nondescript, with apartment blocks from the 50s and motels, but my eye was drawn to a grand Federation house with elaborate wood carving under its eaves, and the splendid name of ‘Nocklofty’.

I speculate for a while on the origins of the name: was it perhaps an early 20th century golf club, like a niblick (“I reached for my trusty nocklofty and easily cleared the bunker”)? Or was there once a Scottish laird, Jock Nocklofty?

Neither, as it happens. The house was originally owned by Kenneth Munro, a retired engineer and skilled woodcarver, who built it in 1905 and named it after a town in Tasmania. Munro was responsible for the ornamental woodcarving, which incorporates Australian flora and fauna – I can make out gum leaves and gumnuts in the detailed carving under the eaves, where the house’s name is also visible. There is apparently lots of magnificent woodcarving inside the house, photos of which you can see here.

nocklofty-3

The house is heritage protected, but there is some work going on – the building is surrounded by builders’ panels, and new grey brick walls have been built at the side and the back, obscuring parts of it. We can only hope that whatever is going on doesn’t ruin what is there now.

View of Nocklofty from Royal Parade

View of Nocklofty from Royal Parade.

Nocklofty

The view from the north side, including the cute little tower, is interrupted by a new wall of grey bricks.

Old Nocklofty

Nocklofty in its heyday. Source: Heritage Victoria

Leaving Nocklofty and Parkville behind me, I crossed Brunswick Road and headed up Sydney Road into Brunswick.

This familiar thoroughfare gives you the sense of being a time-traveller as you walk through its mix of architecture: several 19th century churches, a moderne building that has seen better days (Gladholme, not so glad today); the old mechanics’ institute, now performing arts centre (1868); the Brunswick Town Hall, an imposing Victorian edifice that was almost knocked down in the 1970s.

Gladholme

The general vibe is cheap and cheerful, with a succession of nail salons, charity shops, discount places and cheap food joints. There’s a Savers, an Aldi and a Franco Cozzo, which surely takes care of most needs of the contemporary urban dweller. Evidence of hipsterdom encroaches in the form of groovey coffee places, vintage boutiques and bike shops. There are many bikes in Brunswick, in fact the Uniting Church even offers a ‘Blessing of the Bikes’, though not yet a ‘Blessing of the Beards’.

Blessing-bikes-1

Many of the Victorian shops along this strip carry the names of those who originally built and occupied them – Hennessys building, Frazers building, Ellemor building – although those occupants have long since gone. Likewise, a few ghostsigns for former businesses and old products linger on the walls.

One of my favourites is the signage for Miss R.E. Yon at number 159, which at first sight looks like ‘Miss Reyon’.  Miss Yon has quite a fan following on the internet, though she is somewhat elusive – she was in the fashion business in the 1920s, and a newspaper advertisement from 1923 reveals that she was a manufacturer and importer of stylish ‘taffeta silk coats and crepe de Chine frocks’, the kind of thing that Phryne Fisher would wear in a Kerry Greenwood novel.

Miss R E Yon

Miss R.E. Yon’s delightful 1920s fashion shop.

David the Tailor

David … the tailor.

Robur Sydney Rd

A chemist sign superimposed over a Robur advertisement.

Nestle chocolate ghostsign

Nestle chocolate ghostsign. The remains of a Violet Crumble ad is visible at the top. I’m told this was a famous ice cream shop in the 1950s.

Nissens lingerie ghostsign

Nissens lingerie, frocks, suits, hosiery, gloves, and coats. Henry Nissen was here in the 1940s.

Some parts of Melbourne are being transformed fast and drastically, but a glance at an old street directory suggests that Sydney Road hasn’t changed that much over the years. Back in 1946, according to my Sands & McDougall, there were lots of dressmakers and hosiery makers on the street, along with cafes, grocers, hairdressers, jewellers and even cycle shops.

A little further up the street you come to an extraordinary number of wedding shops. This part of Sydney Road is one of the city’s ‘bridal belts’.  Even on a Sunday afternoon, with the shops closed, groups of young women are window-shopping among stores like Glory Wedding, Belle et Blanc, Kylie Bridal, Lady Stardust, Duchess, and Made of Honour.

wedding-gown

It’s not just dress shops – all the associated nuptial articles can be bought here too, from cakes to jewels and stationery. There’s even a costume jewellery shop with the intriguing name of Impostors. Is it a shop for wedding crashers?

But I’m not in the market for bridal wear so I pop around the corner into Ballarat Street. Here a couple of interesting buildings face each other across the street.

One is a modernist 1950s building, occupied by a succession of clothing manufacturers for more than 50 years. It was built during the post-war era when the Australian manufacturing boom and architectural modernism briefly coexisted. You can make out a ghostsign for Perucci shirts on the wall but before that it was occupied by other manufacturers such as Fletcher Jones. The building is in a fairly sorry state now, but you can see it was once impressive – it reminds me a bit of the ETA peanut butter factory in Braybrook which also had that horizontal geometry and displayed a wall of glass to the street.

shirt-factory2

A little further down Ballarat Street is the former Brunswick Market, a Spanish Mission fantasia that couldn’t be more different to the factory across the road.

Spanish_Mission-market

The Brunswick Market is a well-known local landmark, although it only operated as a market for a couple of years. A retail entrepreneur opened the place in 1930, intending it as an alternative to Victoria Market for the locals. The Spanish Mission style, imported from California and Florida, was enjoying its Melbourne vogue at the time, and the striking design was meant to get people talking – it still stands out among all those square brick Victorian buildings surrounding it.

Brunswick-market-5 Brunswick-market-3

Sustaining a new venture was hard in the Depression and the market was gone by 1933. The building was used as a storage place and a box maker after that. But you can still, as you wander along Ballarat Street, briefly imagine yourself in California.

Further north, up the top end of Sydney Road, the vibe changes a little. There are more discount and bargain shops, and places with names like Liquidation House. There are kebab places and shisha lounges, and blokes chatting in Arabic outside cafes. I pass a shop with a window full of those flashing signs that say ‘OPEN’, but the shop itself has a photocopied sign on the door reading ‘We are closed.’ However, Maxine’s Erotic Ultra Lounge appears to be open, offering burlesque classes and buck’s night entertainment. Maxine is not shy or subtle in her approach to signage.

Maxines Erotic Ultra Lounge

I resist the enticements of Maxine, and instead follow the sounds emanating from a small bar where a five piece band is performing. It’s a good place to pause for a beer before the next stage of the walk. This is not a blog about bars so I don’t normally include pictures of them but, well, it’s Brunswick isn’t it?

Strong Dose

Strong Dose perform at the Handlebar

View a map of the walk on Google Maps.

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9 comments

  1. I suspect you could expand your circle indefinitely, there is so much to explore in Melbourne. Brunswick is such an interesting suburb though, well worth the detour. Am i right in thinking that burke & wills passed through Melbourne on their way out of Melbourne?

    1. They departed from Royal Park so they may have passed through Brunswick, not sure! I know that Burke used to pop back into town to meet his actress girlfriend …

  2. Brunswick is also the burial ground of many of Marvelous Melbourne magnificent buildings that were knocked down by Whelan during the carnage of the late 50s to late 70s. He had his offices and landfill/depot across the road from where IGA is. The site was sold and is now home to another of Melbournes boxed apartment building. They left the Whelan the wrecker sign as a reminder which can still be seen.

  3. Sorry this is rather belated, Nick, but I only recently discovered your blog, which I love …..

    Firstly, on the “Burke & Wills passing through Brunswick” comment, I believe it is unlikely. It is well documented in various City of Essendon/Moonee Valley histories that they spent their first night near the Moonee Ponds waterholes (now Queen’s Park Lake in Moonee Ponds). At the time, the only road crossing of the Moonee Ponds Creek was at the toll-gate at Flemington Bridge at the Mount Alexander Road (where Flemington Bridge Station now stands, at what is now the Tullamarine Freeway entrance), so I would think it very likely they travelled by that route.

    Secondly, I saw an interesting ghost sign in Brunswick last week, a little further north than you travelled. It was on the SW corner of Moreland Rd. and Melville Rd., on the rear of a shop facing Melville St. The sign read “Florist” in what I thought looked fairly old-style lettering. The rear of the shop is now enclosed by a fenced yard, but at some time the sign must have been visible enough to the public to serve as useful advertising. Maybe you’d like to check into its history?

    Enjoying your stories enormously and looking forward to the next instalment.

    Trevor

  4. Knocklofty – with a K – is the name of a hill in West Hobart just on the edge of Hobart. I live halfway up it. It’s not a suburb name, though it might have been one of those vernacular locality names. There’s also a Knocklofty in Tipperary, Ireland which presume is the source of the Hobart name. Maybe the K fell off the side of the ship in the migration to Melbourne? We’ll never know.

  5. Just discovered your site. Congratulations. I grew up in Brunswick from 1954 for three decades. The old factories started to go in the late 1970s, and gentrification made the most of the warehouses etc.

    When I’m back ‘home’, I like to take photographs. A couple of weeks ago, I took one of the old Yorkshire Textile Mills factory in Albion Street, which is up for sale and will soon be apartments. I’d send it but can’t work out how to.

    BTW, I have a popular facebook page about Brunswick: https://www.facebook.com/shamrockstreet87/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

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