Melbourne

In 1961, Gwen Harwood submitted a sonnet to the Bulletin under the name of Walter Lehmann. Her poem, ‘Abelard to Eloisa’, held a shocking acrostic secret that many people considered very bad art. Nobody discovered the secret until after it was published. But despite her transgression, as Wikipedia puts it, ‘she found much greater acceptance’ – to the point that she is today considered one of Australia’s greatest poets.

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It was in the wake of the landslide re-election of Daniel Andrews’s Labor government in November 2018 that the former Coalition prime minister, John Howard, christened Victoria ‘the Massachusetts of Australia’. Coming from Howard, this characterisation of Victoria was not meant as a compliment. Rather, it seemed designed as a consolation message for the local Liberal Party. He was providing them with an alibi for their lengthening record of under-performance in the state. Victoria, Howard seemed to be saying, was simply impervious to the party’s conservative values.

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On 19 November 2021, a delegation of Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung community leaders and prominent local non-Indigenous representatives presented a letter to Moreland City Council, in the inner-northern suburbs of Melbourne, asking that the Council be renamed. As the petitioners pointed out, Moreland – a name given to parts of the area in 1839 by Scottish settler Farquhar McCrae and then adopted by the local Council in 1994 – was the name of a Jamaican slave plantation to which McCrae’s family had a connection.

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We routinely think of the past as a subtext of the present, but in The Women of Little Lon Barbara Minchinton flips this around. She aims not only to ‘dismantle the myths and counter misinformation and deliberate distortions’ about sex workers in nineteenth-century Melbourne, but – in an explicitly #MeToo context – to ‘reduce the stigma attached to the work today’ while heightening our ‘understanding of and respect for the lives of all sex workers’.

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It was watching the empty buses leave in the dark outside the restaurant that did it. I was eating with my lover and my daughter on a June evening in Altona when I found myself being distracted by the rooms of light, quite empty, that floated behind my daughter's back. Every ten or fifteen minutes there would be another one heading off into the night, passengerless, ...

The title of this book might, to an innocent observer, suggest a triumphalist history, an impression that could be reinforced by the preface, which argues that the setting up of a squatters’ camp on the banks of the Yarra in 1835 ‘had a significance far beyond the baptism of a great city’, and concludes with the ...

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Academic historians only took to urban history in any systematic way during the 1970s, but Melbourne, regardless of what historians might have had to say about it, has always had a strong sense of its own identity and culture. In the heyday of 1880s ‘Marvellous Melbourne’, journalist Richard Twopeny saw the city as representing ‘the fullest development of Australian civilisation, whether in commerce or education, in wealth or intellect, in manners and customs – in short, in every department of life’. English historian J.A. Froude, staying in style as a guest at Government House, saw Melbourne people as having ‘boundless wealth, and as bound-less ambition and self-confidence’; they were ‘proud of themselves and of what they have done’.

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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.

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Inner city residential areas of large Australian cities have, it is said, been transformed by a marauding band of the professional middle class. These people bought dwellings with ‘potential’, took up residence, and refurbished their houses back to their original state or into some dainty contemporary form. Such has been the demand placed upon this housing that a sharp escalation in house prices has resulted. Increasing costs associated with this rise have forced many old, long-term, working class residents – the traditional inner city occupants – out into distant suburbs. Thus, inner city residential areas are now dominated by the middle class.

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