Melbourne Circle is an account of a series of walks around the suburbs of Melbourne which my late wife Lynne and I took in 2014-2016. Taken together, the walks form a circle around the city. Beginning in Williamstown in the south west, we walked in a clockwise direction, with very occasional brief detours into the city centre. The walk ended with a trip across the bay back to Williamstown, completing the circle.
The journey is described in my book Melbourne Circle: Walking, Memory and Loss, published in December 2020 by the Arcadia imprint of Australian Scholarly Publishing (who also publish my novels Death of a Typographer and Ghostlines.) The book includes stories about Williamstown, Footscray, Yarraville, Sunshine, Brunswick, Fitzroy, Richmond, Prahran, South Yarra and South Melbourne, among others, along with colour photographs, lots of ghostsigns, and hand drawn maps.
You can buy the book here, here, here or ask at your local bookshop.
The stories on this site are extra material, to whet your appetite.
Here’s a map of Melbourne Circle.
The walks are an experiment in psychogeography – which I define as an attempt to understand a place by experiencing it at close range, and seeking to make a connection with the lives and the stories embedded in the place. A few years ago I became interested in lost histories associated with old buildings, faded names painted on walls, derelict factories, bits of graffiti and street art. The Californian writer Rebecca Solnit has described these phenomena as “the unconscious of a city” – they are like memories, or dreams, which survive even when they are forgotten and ignored. Their meaning can be recovered if we take the trouble to stop, observe, and think.
This isn’t a tourist’s guide to Melbourne, of which there are many already. Nor is it an exercise in nostalgia – although I am interested in recovering the past, it’s just as important to understand the present and think about the future. The past has its charm but it was no golden age, as is obvious from the large amounts of toxic waste still buried around the city.
I’m not an expert on history, geography, art, town planning or architecture, though you’ll find a bit of all of those in these posts. I’m a creative writer, rather than a historian or a critic, and I’m driven by curiosity about what I don’t know.
Finally, it’s a very personal tour, and that’s part of the point. Every suburb, every street, has millions of stories worth telling, of which I’ve only mentioned a handful. Anyone who took a walk like this would easily find many others. It doesn’t take much – just a bit of observation, curiosity and imagination. They are out there, waiting to be uncovered.
I’m Nick Gadd, a Melbourne writer. Besides Melbourne Circle, I am the author of the novels Death of a Typographer (shortlisted for a Ned Kelly Award 2020) and Ghostlines (winner of a Ned Kelly Award 2009 and a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript 2007) – both available from my publisher Australian Scholarly Publishing, or orderable from your local bookshop.
I write essays about Melbourne, history, literature, music and suburban life. My work has appeared in publications including Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, The Guardian, Griffith Review, Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, and various anthologies.
In 2015 I was the winner of the Nature Conservancy Australia Nature Writing Prize for an essay about place, and was one of five writers shortlisted for the Writers’ Prize in the Melbourne Prize for Literature, which supports literary work in and about Melbourne.
My author website is nickowriter.com. Email me at nickgadd [@] optusnet.com.
Melbourne Circle in the media
‘”Psychojogging”‘ and the pleasures of walking’ – interview with Hilary Harper on Radio National, Life Matters, 15 December 2020
‘Marvellous Melbourne: the books that capture our city and its life’. The Age/Sydney Morning Herald, 7 December 2020.
Ghost signs on the evening news: Channel Nine ran this segment featuring me, Dr Morse’s Indian Root Pills and a selection of Melbourne ghostsigns on 21 June 2020.
‘Ghost signs’ – I took a walk around central Melbourne and Richmond with arts reporter Fiona Gruber. ‘Blueprint for Living’, Radio National, 23 May 2020.
‘Psychogeography tour points out Mildura’s hidden past‘ ABC online, 19 July 2016.
‘Melbourne’s hidden past revealed by psychogeographer’ Domain.com on 14 June 2016.
Melbourne Circle featured in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on 24 October 2015: ‘Ghost tour traces Melbourne’s mysteries via signs of another time’
Melbourne Circle was the city blogger of the week in The Guardian, September 2014.
I was a guest on Radio National on 21 February 2015, chatting with Michael Williams and Stephen Banham about ghostsigns. Article here, with link to audio: ‘Melbourne’s ghost sign hunters open windows to the past’.
Email me at nickgadd [@] optusnet.com.au with suggestions for places to visit and write about, requests, invitations, comments, stories, or just to say hi.
Follow Melbourne Circle on Twitter
Sounds like an excellent project. I heard about it through your article in the Guardian. As an ex-Melburnian looking forward to reading your blog.. Cheers
Couldn’t help but notice that virtually all the ghost signs listed are inner suburbs and west of the Merri Creek. I guess that’s a consequence of the slower rate of development in these areas. With development picking up, will we see their disappearance accelerate – as was the case with the intriguing Dr. King? Most of the ghost signs of the eastern and southeastern suburbs are likely long gone. But it would be nice to locate any that are still around.
I’m not sure Mike, I think it’s more that my journey so far has been mainly in the west and inner north so those are the ones I have written about when I have spotted them. There are still ghostsigns to be found in the east and southeast, but it’s quite true that in suburbs where there has been a lot of development many of them have gone. Thanks for reading!
Great stuff, have shared via Twitter and FB! ; ))
Hi Nick, I wish you very well – and am so envious!! I love walking. I love Melbourne. I love remnants of the past, and the imagining this stimulates. I have an urge to follow in your footsteps, once working life is done with! All the best, keep hydrated & watch the feet. Rosemary
Hi Rosemary, No need to wait until working life is finished. Walk and wonder on weekends or whenever you can. Thank you for your good wishes, I will keep hydrated (and caffeinated!)
What a great idea! I only just found your blog – I wish I’d found it sooner! I can’t wait to go through your old posts and read your new ones!
Thanks! Hope you find plenty to enjoy.
Hello Nick, great project. I found your page when I was trying to find info about Rafts Florist in North Melbourne. Good luck!
Thanks Erin! I don’t know much about Rafts but I do love that window.
Thank you for the wonderful photo you have taken of the old milk bar at 136A Nicholson Street and the information regarding the owner Mrs Lazarus. I am researching my family history and can confirm that Mrs Lazarus was my great aunt Eliza Caroline Lazarus (nee Harding). Eliza Lazarus was married to John Edward Lazarus. They were first listed at 136 Nicholson Street in the 1931 Electoral Roll. Eliza died in November 1953, while John died on 31 May 1964. The information I identified through a search of the Wills Index on the Public Records Office website confirms that John was the proprietor of a milkbar when he died in 1964.
Thanks for your great website. It has allowed me to put one more piece of the jigsaw puzzle together.
Hi Sharon, Glad to be of help! Good luck with your research and thanks for the comment. Nick
As newbies to Melbourne from Scotland we have loved walking around the different suburbs each weekend – this blog has been brilliant for reading up about each place afterwards! So glad to have found it!
Lovely, Hannah, thank you for the comment! May you have many more happy walks in Melbourne.