Bearbrass: Imagining early Melbourne
Mandarin, $18.95 pb, 272 pp
Some time ago, I was curious about steam cars and found an advertisement, dating from the 1920s, for the sole Victorian distributor of the Stanley Steamer. The address was Flinders Lane, the street in Melbourne which exudes more personality than most of the others combined. I discovered that the building in question had been turned into a printshop. But its origins as a motor garage were obvious. Such unprepossessing buildings as service stations survive more by good luck and stubbornness than by design. So I was strangely impressed. All the more so because Flinders Lane now boasts a boutique hotel with a swimming pool that overhangs the street. You can paddle out and look down on the traffic swimming below you like the lost city of Atlantis.
Robyn Annear is a tourist in a city of which virtually none of the physical fabric survives. Bearbrass is a recreation of Melbourne between 1834 and 1851. It was evidently a bibulous settlement. By 1847, there were a hundred licensed premises and many intersections had a hotel on each corner, a fact described by Annear as ‘an impressive Monopoly score’. Grog was responsible for many tragedies and a number of humorous incidents. But no matter how much they drank, there is no early Melbournian who is quoted as saying the place was ‘marvellous’.