The house, the housing, the suburb.
|This essay compliments the essay on Living in Carlton in the 1950s.
I have separted the text that describes our Federation style house, and the suburb of Carlton as I knew it, from the rest of the essay simply becaause of file size.
|THE HOUSE - 373 PARK STREET
Our house at 373 Park Street is of the Edwardian Period, representing the reign of King Edward VII, who come to the throne in 1901 after his mother Queen Victoria died. Although King Edward died in 1910, the architectural period known by this name continued until the late 1910s, dwindling from the start of World War 2 and was finally deemed finished by the end of the war. In Australia, the architecture style was more parochially known as Federation, for obvious reasons - Australia become a nation in 1901.
The Federation house was a symbol of modest to substantial prosperity. Whereas many British Edwardian homes of the upper middle classes were attached homes, often in long rows which we call terraces, the Federation house was more often ‘detached', standing alone with a large garden on substantial blocks of land - after all, Australia had land to spare and inner suburban blocks could well be a half acre or even an acre in size. Many however were attached, but generally in smaller groups, of two, maybe three - not the long rows common in England. Nan and Pop's home was of this style, having just one joining wall, in a pair.
What identifies the Federation house more than anything to the casual eye is its roof line, and its roof and verandah ornamentation, with detailed fretwork in the roof gables, around windows, and along the verandah, this being more predominant in the Australian Federation style than the British Edwardian because of our warm climate. Many houses had some kind of motif design on the gable - a rising sun design, or something downright Ausssie such as a kookaburra or kangaroo of carved wood. The ceilings were high, sometimes twelve feet, and the rooms large with long hallways dividing the house until the end rooms, or ending at an internal vestibules leading to other rooms and offering sunlight if on an outside wall with window, or covered with a skylight; as was Nan and Pop's home.
Nan and Pop at their home, 373 Park Street,
North Carlton in the early 1960s.
Another image of 373 Park Street,
taken around 1957.
Park Street, now number 604, taken, in 2010.
|The homes were made of solid brick (definately not brick-veneer which
came several decades later), with tile roofs. Slate was popular prior to
the turn of the century, but tile soon dominated with improved production
techniques - also they were easier to lay, and their light ocre colour
was more pleasing to the eye. Terracotta gargoyles and less grotesque
images and designs decorated the roof edges. Verandah posts were carved,
front verandahs tessellated, and stained and leadlight windows adorned
entances and windows, and especially the important, welcoming, front door
- again, as was Pop's house.
As war spead over Europe, or more significantly when Australian troops joined the fray, labour shortages, especially in the skilled building trades, led to smaller homes and less ostentatious designs. Ceiling heights were lowered, leadlight gave way to less attractive coloured glass, and front verandahs were of wood base, or plain tile. The Edwardian/Feder-ation period was over. Scholars of this period of architecture make it clear that there was not a definate starting point nor end to the style but moreso a ‘phasing in' and ‘phasing out'. Of course, Federation-style homes are being built to this day, so the casual image of any Federation home does not necessarily identify its construction period. Likewise, scholars of architecture like to be more specific when refering to the Federation style and apply finer definitions such as Federation Academic Classical, Federation Romanesque, Federation Gothic, Federation Queen Anne, and others, to further define the style. If one needs to be more specific, pedantic perhaps, Pop's house appears to be Federation Queen Anne. An additional more generic identification for Pop's style of home was ‘double-fronted, single story', ie a central front door with a single room either side of a long corridor, as against a single-fronted double story home of the traditional Canning Street, Carlton terrace, or the single-fronted single storey ‘working-mens cottages' typical of those in Ames Street.
|Graphics (link for
Left: Google satelite image of Park Street.
Centre: Street map of Carlton.
Right: House plan of 373 Park Street.
|INSIDE THE HOME
As if there were not enough furniture in the room, four folding chairs and a card table stood near the door, used quite frequently when we played board rummy, normal checkers and chinese checkers, and mah jong, in the evening listening to - I nearly forgot - a large floor-standing radio with a tiny dial and two bakelite knobs. How enthusiastically we listened to the radio - the news, the kids serials, and the adult radio plays. I remember ‘D24' on a Wednesday evening, and ‘Randy Stone of the Daily', and some comedy school-skit program with a student named Greenbottle which Nan and Pop found to be hilarious.
The room had good natural light from the front windows (facing Park Street) and the small double stained glass doors which could have been opened, but were not, onto the tessellated front patio. But it was a dull room nevertheless, with no colour, the brown and gray and dark sand of the Egyptian-theme tapestry setting the scene. The lounge setting was gray, the carpet much the same. Bright white antimacassars, exquisitly crocheted, gave some life to the arms rests and the back of the chairs. Similarly, white doilys were spattered around any bare surface, with some ornament or vase holding it down.
I remember spending many a wonderful evening sitting by the fire in winter, sometimes reading, sometimes doing homework on the card table, whilst Pop read, and Nan worked her fine crochet needles. Nan taught me how to do French knitting and I made a large round rug - well, it passed the time.
It is a wonder that the whole house didn't go up in flames when Pop was lighting the fire. Crumpled newspaper, a small amount of timber and a few briquettes were placed in the grate, and lit. A large sheet of newspaper from a broadsheet like the Herald or The Age was kept handy and as the kindling caught and the timbers glowed, Pop would place the single sheet of newsprint right across the face of the fireplace, leaving an inch or two at the bottom, but covering it right to the top. Air would rush in from the draught opening at the bottom and the whole lot would explode into flame. You had to be quick to whip away the newspaper cover before it too went up in flames - as it occassionally did. I was never allowed to light the fire!
I should mention that I had long left the house when the ceiling collapsed
one evening. Nan had by then passed away, and Pop was sitting by the fire
when the plaster came down on him. He was not hurt. I never saw the damage
as it was soon repaired. It caused some further concern however - how long
would the heavy plaster ceiling rose last in the middle of the room? I
wonder if the original is still there. They make reproductions out of polystyrene
foam nowadays - much lighter and once painted you can't tell the difference.
Maybe the new owners have taken the precaution of replacing the old heavy
Down the corridor from the front lounge, same side, was another bedroom. It too had a fireplace backing onto the one in the lounge. It was a small room, with barely enough space for a double bed, a wardrobe and a dresser. One small window opening onto a tiny space that did not deserve to be called a side yard allowed a smidgen of light. As it faced south there was never any warmth in the room. It was rarely used, and only by a tenant who required two bedrooms. I can only recall this happening once in my time there, when a teenage son of a tenant, Max, as previously mentioned, used it.
Next to this bedroom, further down the corridor, was my tiny bedroom. It had a large window opening onto the same tiny side space that I just mentioned; it faced west so there was plenty of light and bright sunshine in the summer afternoons. The room was so small that three people would make it a crowd. I had a high single bed; on a dresser was a wooden hand-made model of a tramp steamer, about two feet long - no idea who made it, nor where it ended up. In front of the window was a treadle sewing machine which I used as a table. Another small table held what few toys I had. And, suprisingly, the room had a small built-in wardrobe.
Above my bed on the side wall was a long shelf that Pop constructed for me, and on the shelf was, later, a small microgroove turntable and my beloved clock radio. The turntable was wired directly in to the radio. One of the Indian medical students living in the downstairs Lang Street flats, Thevarajah Kandiah, a wonderful young man from Sinagpore, wired it in for me. There was no power point in the room, so the power was taken from a double-plug inserted into the single hanging light socket - again set up by Theva. It is now illegal to set up such an arrangement. I loved that radio, and listened to the radio plays if Nan and Pop were not doing so in the lounge, and also to the Top-Ten Hit Parade which they certainly did not listen to. A favourite show was The Batchelors Club on 3XY at 8.00pm on Tuesday nights, a program of modern pop and rock ‘n roll music. Elvis came on the scene in 1956 I think it was, and Bill Haley, and later Paul Anka with ‘Diana', and Bobby Daren and a dozen other Bobbys of the pop scene. But I was more into jazz.
One evening I took the radio in to the lounge room and we were entranced by listening to stereo for the first time. Two radio stations - possibly 3DB and 3XY (or 3AW , or 3AK) co-operated to broadcast simultaneously music and sound effects, with separate channels coming out of each radio. It was remarkable - like seeing television for the first time which I had in 1954, in England, two years before it came to Melbourne. The stereo music was magnificent but what really shook us up, literally, was the sound effects - a train thundering through the lounge room, and a jet aircraft roaring overhead. I'm not sure what year this was, but no doubt late 1950s. Stereo records came out in the late 1950s but it was many years later that I bought my first stereo LP (long-playing microgroove 33 1/3 vinyl record).
My bedroom, the smallest in the house as I said, became popular with Nan and Pop in the years after I left. Nan used it in the years immediately before her death. And even Pop used it in his last years. I have no idea why, but I can only hazard a guess that it was because of the sunlight that came through in the late afternoon, and it was very quiet, being in the middle of the house, with no street noise.
The bedroom has now disappeared. When I visited the house in 1988, it had been converted into a bathrooom; what a great idea that was - and a necessary one. Again, when I visited in 2010, the bathroom had been modified again; where my bed stood was now a bath.
Opposite my bedroom door was another door, to another bedroom, this one of considerable size. I rarely went into this room as it was the master bedroom for the tenant. It had a fireplace backing onto the one in the main bedroom, and thus shared its chimney. It had no natural light save for a very small high stained glass window facing the next door house (now a block of flats). The bedroom had two doors - the one I just mentioned opening onto the hallway, and a double set of ‘French' doors opening onto a small vestible that was at the end of the hallway.
The floor of the house was on three levels, each separated by just one step; the first coming down the hallway was into the vestible. This always had light - although I cannot remember it specifically, there must have been a skylight here. The vestibule led to four other rooms - a small lounge for the tenant, a tiny kitchenette for the tenant, a shared bathoom, and our dining room. Most of the wall space was taken up with doors but there was room for our small fishtank, atop a small table. A cukoo-clock stood guard over the room. And in one corner was another bust on top of a pedistal - this one a real bust in both senses of the word, of a well-endowed native woman.
To the immediate right after entering the vestibule from the hall corridor was the very small bathroom, with just the bath, a shower avove it, and a small washbasin. Hot water for the bath and shower - the only hot water on tap in the house - came from an archaic gas heater which I hated. Indeed, I was afraid of it. It needed to be lit whenever a bath was required, so it was always a tedious procedure to have a bath or shower as the water had to heat up. When a pilot light was lit and swung under the contraption to where the gas ring was located, there would be an enourmous ‘whump' and the thing would come to life. Needless to say, I did not bathe every day. No-one did.
Heading longitudinally through the house, down the corridor to the vestibule,
the next ‘room' was the tenant's tiny kitchenette. It held a stove, and
a sink, and a cupboard. Two people could not pass such was its size. Another
opening was on the directly opposite side of the vestibule entrance - I
don't think there were any doors - there would have been no room to open
them. When I visited the house in 1988, the kitchenette was gone and the
area restored to what it was originally - an open fernery, allowing the
light to stream into the centre of the house. It is probably like that
to this day.
In the centre of the room was a large glass topped dining table. It could have sat six easily but there was rarely more than the three of us. Nan sat with her back to the tenant's kitchenette, with easy access to the kitchen; Pop sat with his back to the small glass cabinet facing south, and I sat opposite with my back to the never-used fireplace, facing Pop. We never changed places - never.
A door from the dining room gave access to the side space previously mentioned which provided light to enter the two bedrooms. On the west side of the house Pop kept a few cactus plants in the area which measured only about a 3 ft wide by 15 ft long.
Next in line was the kitchen down a step to the next level. This was a typical early 20th century kitchen, a far cry from the modern comfortable time-saving edifices that we have today. How Nan ever cooked a meal here was a miracle. It measured no more than ten feet by ten feet. A green-enamel gas stove stood on one wall; a sink with cold water tap only on another. A typical kitchen dresser of the period stood on another wall. And somehow there was still room for four doorways: the lounge as indicated, the tenant's kitchenette, the back door, and a walk-in pantry.
The pantry was up a step - that is, the same level as the dining room, and was about the same size as the kitchen. It was home to the gas fridge, and two walls of shelves. Nan must have climbed a thousand steps a day, one by one, as she went from kitchen to pantry to kitchen to dining room. To add to Nan's cramped discomfort, the kitchen was also the throughway to the back door, not only for us but the tenants also, who came through their kitcheneette.
There was no food preparation area in the kitchen other than a slide-out cutting board in the kitchen dresser, and what space she could find on the drying board next to the sink. To wash dishes, Nan placed a large metal dish in the sink, and used hot water boiled on the stove. The gas fridge was so old that when Melbourne converted to natural gas in the late sixties I'd guess, all appliances were converted by the Gas Board free of charge - but not our fridge. They gave Nan and Pop a new electric fridge instead. There was of course no freezer compartment in the in the old gas fridge - just a small space for two ice-cube trays. And yet Nan used to make her own ice-cream in the trays.
When I visited the house in 1988, I noticed two recent renovations. One was the combin-ation of the small bathroom and my tiny bedroom into one reasonably sized bathroom; I can't remember the interior but I would presume it contained a toilet. The other major renovation was to the kitchen - dining area. The walls between the kitchen, panty and diningroom had been demolished resulting in one large comfortable room - on one level if I remember right. The kitchen was of course remodelled with modern conveniences. I cannot remember what had been done to the old wash-house and toilet. In the dining room I was surprised to see that there had once been an archway on the north wall. This was covered up in my day and was obviously blocked off before I arrived; I don't recall Nan and Pop ever saying anything about internal renovations that they may have done. It begs the question as to what rooms did the arch join, for the north side of the arch wall in my time, and indeed now, is the bathroom. My supposition is that when the house was built, it had no bathroom, and all ablutions were performed in the wash-house area. The archway thus linked the dining room as we have always used it, and another small entry room (the bathroom area) and maybe even the area of my small bedroom. When internal plumbing became the vogue, this area north of the arch was remodelled to contain the small bathroom off the vestibule, and my small bedroom. If on the other hand my small bedroom did not form part of this plan, and it was originally a small bedroom, it may have been the maid's room. But, I am guessing on all these points as no original plans to the house have been found.
Let me continue the tour by going through the back door and into a covered area which was the wash-house and toilet. The toilet was to the right through the wash-house. It defies description except to say that the cistern was the old, naturally, ball and cock system above head height, with a pull chain. It worked. We had no dainty toilet paper - old phonebooks were good enough. Good grief, we were well enough off to have traditional toilet paper, but I guess Pop was a staunch conservationist, one of the first into recycling! No wonder you could never find a phone book in a public phone booth! And whilst on the subject of ablutions, we each had a chamber pot under the bed for use at night. Nan would empty same each morning, the pot discretely screened under her apron. Oh how I don't miss those days!
The wash-house contained the obligatory twin cement troughs, and a copper for boiling the clothes. A hand ringer was mounted between the two troughs. It was my job on many a Saturday morning to sit by the copper to keep the fire going, poking in bits of wood and paper whilst I chatted away with Nan. I didn't really mind doing that - providing I had no cause to go off with my mates.
Lets go back inside again, into the vestibule. If coming from the hallway and turning left, you would enter into a small room which was the tenants sitting and dining-room. I think there was a small fireplace in one corner. A door from this small room led to a much larger room which was my grandfather's studio, but the door was always locked. Thus the only access to the studio was from a back door opening onto the small back yard. As I have mentioned, the studio was Pop's life. Here he spent most of the day, pottering about. There was a fireplace in one corner, and occasionally we would sit by this fire instead of the one on the lounge. More likely however Pop would have a tall kerosene heater going during the cold winter months.
Of course, this room was not originally designed to be a workshop. It was in fact a small ballroom, and the tenants lounge was another vestibule where coats would be taken and greetings made. When I visited in 1988, the room had been decorated magnificently as a formal living area. Whenever I think of this wonderful room I cannot dismiss how disappointed I am that I did not inherit the house, for I would have turned the old ballroom into a show room for Pop's work. Well, that was a thought. As it is, Pop's work is scattered to the wind, and some no doubt to the garbage tip. I think that if he could see what he had done with respect to his will, he may be very annoyed at himself for his legacy has only lived on through photographs.
This may be a good place to introduce a thought as to why inner-residential Melbourne has managed to retain most of its early architecture. Apart from several attrocious high-rise Housing Commission flats in Carlton, much of the land and buildings in Carlton, and especially North Carlton and Princes Hill have remained. It is well documented that ‘North Carlton in its early days was a very unattractive place', with poor drainage and small single-fronted single story ‘working men's cottages'. Such uncomplimentary comment refered predominantly to the North Carlton area on the east side of Lygon Street.
Princes Hill, a locality within the suburb of Carlton on the west side of Lygon Street, was largely exempt from the poverty that led to much of the inner suburbs gradually becoming slums, although it did have a row of ‘working men's cottages' in Patterson Street near Princes Hill Central School. Even as late as the time I lived in Park Street, the wish of most people was to move to the new outer suburbs with their 1/4 acre block of tree-less ground and a three-bedroom cream brick veneer house. I remember how pleased the Cleary family were when they moved from the lower ground floor flat in Lang Street to their new home in Glenroy. Even families living in double-story terrace houses in Canning and Rathdowne streets wanted to head north or far south over the river.
As families moved to the then ‘outer' suburbs, the inner homes became even more neglected. Some old homes were indeed demolished, to be replaced by blocks of flats. Home owners didn't know when the house next door would disappear, and a phoenix of cream brick would tower over them, blocking out the sun. This happened at Park Street, with the huge home of the Kavadis family next door to Pop's home being sold off to make way for a block of units. But such desecration was not common, and indeed, you have to agree that in the Kavadis case, it was a sound financial move. Most of Princes Hill survived into the seventies with a steady realisation that inner suburban living had its advantages. Those that weathered the uncertain times of the fifties through to the eighties would now be delighted with their wisdom in staying put.
One such family was the Hockings - I hesitate to use their real family name for privacy reasons but as this is a private document, and I had such a high regard for the Hocking family, I shall use it - if I put this on the internet one day I can always change it. . Peter Hocking was a very good mate of mine - still is I guess even though I have not seen him for many years. His family owned a shirt-manufacturing factory and they appeared to be very comfortable. Peter went to Scotch College after his time at Princes Hill Central, where I met him. I travelled oversea with him in 1958 - more on that later. [I was delighted that Peter made contact with me in January 2010 when he saw my website on music and 78rpm records. He had retired to Warrnambool and was enjoying his renaissance in playing the drums.]
In the sixties, the Hockings were doing well enough to move out of their substantial single-fronted double-storey terrace home in Canning Street. It was a fine home in a fine wide street with a grassed central plantation, but the family looked toward the more affluent Hawthorn to move when they had the opportunity. I lost contact with Peter until many years later, and visited him at his old home in Canning Street where he told me how he happened to be still living there.
After moving to a large home in Hawthorn, Peter completed schooling, studied, became a succesful graphic artist, married, and left home. Whilst saving for a home of their own they had to live somewhere and it was suggested that Peter and his bride move into the old family home in Canning Street, which the family had sensibly retained. This was not, apparnelty, Peter's ideal but it made sense, and after all, if they could survive two or three years in North Carlton they would have enough for a deposit on a home elsewhere - anywhere but the inner suburbs. The young Hockings saved and the years went by; children came on the scene. Peter was settled in the home with his graphic arts business. The end of the story is obvious. The younger Hocking family remained in the house and are still there to this day, living in a wonderful home that is now extremely valuable in a delightful suburb that has weathered the storm of neglect and disinterest. Interestingly, will their children retain and return to the family home in years to come, as Peter did ?
In 1990 I wrote an article for an Ansett Inflight magazine which I titled ‘Classic Melbourne'. I wrote of Melbourne's architectural charm, and why it was so. I wrote of the inner suburbs such as Carlton, of St.Kilda Road, and Royal Parade, ‘one of the finest boulevards in the world'. Much of what I wrote was directly applicable to houses such as ours in Park Street.
Once bordering on the title of slum areas (rather, socially and economically deprived communities), inner suburbs such as Carlton, Fitzroy, South and North Melbourne, and Richmond gained a new vibrance in the 1980s brought about not only by economic changes and the trend to live 'inner-city', but a pride instilled through a new generation of residents. What was once classed as a working-man's home is now a delightful cottage meticulously renovated in Federation colours and shining wrought iron. That these suburbs have been saved from total destruction is due more to good fortune than intuitive foresight. Melbourne is a city of predominantly flat terrain and had abundant outer suburban land available for housing development. The objective in the fifties was to move away from the inner city, creating the uniformity of cream-brick boxes and rose gardens in suburbia. The fifties boom in European emigration created a demand for cheap housing. The older generation Australians in inner-suburbia were only too happy to sell out and leave the old Victorian and Edwardian terrace homes to the ‘New Australians'.
To those with a vision, the inner suburbs had to survive the degradation of the fifties and the sixties before an imminent revival. And survive they did. But it was close. Some homes on large blocks and clusters of cottages were demolished to build disgraceful cream-brick blocks of flats, and Housing Commission high-rise horrors. Many delightful Victorian detached cottages were 'modernised'; wrought-iron fences discarded in favour of painted brick for privacy and security, open verandahs enclosed in fibro-cement. Quite often the 'other half' of a terrace attached home remained in its natural and unloved state, lapsing into a pre-demolition coma, only to be, eventually, revived by new owners with an appreciation of the beauty of Victorian and Edwardian design. Unfortunately, its neighbour had boarded-in verandahs and a ‘modernised' frontage. But at least the architectural carnage was halted.
|Whereas once the streets of Carlton were a means only to an end, a
stroll down Drummond, Canning, Rathdowne and 'intimate' Amess Street is
now a delight. These streets epitomised the working suburbs of the
post-war era. Some homes still require a touch of T.L.C. but the metamorphosis
is typically Victorian Melbourne of the eighteen-nineties, and Federation
style of the turn of the century.
Other homes in streets within these same working suburbs were destined to survive the destructive fifties and sixties period simply because of their size. As surrounding streets of lesser prestige deteriorated, homes that we would now call mansions were treated with the same disinterest as owners fled to the modern outer suburbs, or the more respectable eastern suburbs. But - these huge family homes were converted to boarding houses, scarred with inner partitions as large rooms were turned into tiny flats. Unloved gardens clung to meagre life among walls and wrought iron left without a coat of paint for many decades. But they survived, to become some of the most sought after residential real-estate in Melbourne. The seventies and eighties brought a realisation that hidden beneath the growth and decay lay a beauty that could arise simply by just being recognised. Those who could afford them moved back.
Melbounians appreciate the forethought of our early city planners, the consideration given to wide roads and boulevards, and magnificent parks and gardens. Yet perhaps the true quality of Melbourne is the ability to adopt and adapt, to accept and integrate with new cultures; to retain the best of the past and yet respect the need to progress commercially into the future. We take pride in our city, and yet we rarely extol our virtues, giving the impression that, at times, we have a low esteem of ourselves. We have our trams, our parks and gardens, our restaurants, our terrace homes - a quality of life expressed in a true appreciation of our past heritage and in contemporary culture. Pride, and shall we say a respect for the traditions of the past, has seen a revival of classic Melbourne.
Yep, thats fair enough; such comment made many decades ago has held up to reality. I think now of what I would have done if I had inherited 373 Park Street in 1977. Would I have moved in? I was living in trendy Brighton at the time of Pop's death and working at Nissan Motor Company in Braeside. I doubt whether I would have cherished the idea of driving from North Carlton to the far southern suburb of Braeside every day. If I had any sence, yes, I would have moved in. But such speculation is only the basis of wishful thinking.
|THE INNER CIRCLE LINE|
|In the fifties the railway line through North Carlton was
still operational, as a goods line, with huge black steam engines belching
white steam and black smoke at the North Carlton railway station. As a
toddler with Nan, before I lived with her, I can recall being terrified
of the steam engine if it was at the station, as I had to pass within a
matter of feet of its huge front fenders. The line was electrified and
the passenger trains were the old red-rattlers as they were known, but
these did not run once the passenger service ended in 1948. I can recall,
vaguely, seeing a passenger train at the station, but it is the memory
of the huge black belching steam train that I do remember clearly. Nan
would not have taken the passenger train to the city; the tram along Royal
Parade would have been more convenient and quicker. The only reason I can
think of that would require Nan to take the train was to take me to the
zoo which was only one station away.
The line remained in use as long as 1981, with steam, and then deisel trains hauling freight to Fitzroy and Collingwood - a circuitous route if you consult a map of the time, a single line that allowed a loop from Flinders and Spencer Street stations in the city, to the inner northern suburbs. By the mid-fifties the railway line was our playground. We were not so stupid as to ‘play chicken' with the trains but we did get a great thrill of putting large stones on the rails and hiding in the adjacent scrapyard. There was no thought that we could derail the train; fortunately that was an impossibility with a single stone. After the train passed we would rush out and inspect our handywork - a small pile of fine powdered stone. I must say we soon tired of this entertainment.
It was well after I had left Park Street at the end of 1959 that the railway became totally obsolete, in 1981 as I mentioned, and the gate-keeper at Bowen Crescent was made redundant. Of course in those days the railway crossing gates were manually operated, no doubt a tedious job and most uncomfortable in inclement weather. I knew the kids in the gate-keepers house, and occassionally went inside, but I never saw the gate-keeper except when he was opening or clossing the gates. The railway, known as the Inner Circle Line, was an important means of transport in the early days of Melbourne's growth. Even today it is an important part of North Carlton and Fitzroy as it provides a narrow green corridor through what is a very densely populated area. That this is so was due only to the dedication of local interest groups who fought to keep the land green.
It is most fortunate that the railway land has been turned into parkland, even though sections of it could have been prime residential real estate. The green strip extends from Bowen Crescent at the western end, east to past Lygon Street, past Nicholson Street and beyond. It is the widest where we used to play - from the Bowen Crescent railway gates to the end of ‘our' Park Street, now called Gallagher Reserve. I say ‘our' Park Street as the railway reserve continues to divide the east end of ‘our' Park Street with the Park Street that extends over Lygon Street and Nicholson Street in North Fitzroy. It is probably because of this division that the street numbers (of at least ‘our' Park Street) were changed - Pop's home from 373 to 604. Why the council did not join up the ‘two' Park Streets after the railway line was ripped up is anyone's guess, but for the residents of ‘our' Park Street, especially those east of Stranger Street, it was a peaceful blessing.
And why Gallagher Reserve? Surely it was not named after the only Gallagher of public note in the eighties that I can think of, Norm Gallagher, he of the notorious Builders Labourers' Union? Well, indeed it was. He and his union mates helped to keep the land from being sold to developers. I wonder how many of the new wealthy generation home-owners in the area know this, and if so, would they really appreciate what he did.
The land that is now Gallagher Reserve was probably always railway land but it was not all used as such. From about half way between Bowen Crescent and short Garton Street, through to near the east end of ‘our' Park Street, was a substantial strip of land used as a scrap-metal yard. The office for the company was on the south-east end of Garton Street, a square single story wood building. The scrap-yard was crudely fenced - it was easy to enter, and indeed the route I and may other kids took to walk to Princes Hill Central School in Arnold Street was over a dilapidated picket fence near the very eastern end of Lang Street. We were never stopped from doing so.
I remember that all along this section of the scrap yard was a line of old jinkers laden with lengths of scrap metal, which we had to climb over. On returning home from school one day I fell from the top of a jinker load over the fence and landed flat on my stomach. I was badly hurt, winded of course but to the extent that I could hardly breath. The pain was intense. I cried out to my ‘mates' ten yards in front of me. They turned around, saw me lying in agony on the ground, thought it was extremely funny, and kept on walking. I crawled as far as Garton Street and staggered home, through the back entry from Lang Street as I usually did. I was not impressed with my ‘mates' Ronny and Michael Silver, brothers who lived in Lang Street. I cannot remember what happened once I got home. I would suggest that Nan would have immediately called one of the student doctors living in the Lang Street flats. Their services came in useful on many an occassion. I gather that I did no internal damage but for many years I would get unexpected and unexplained stomach pains, generally of a night-time. (Sometimes I think this was nerves; when I was a teenager I would get stomach cramps when attending a dance or school function where girls were attending).
Toward the eastern end of the junk yard, opposite the train station, there was less ‘junk' and no fences so access was easy, and trespass not an issue. One November the street lads collected old timber and branches and made a huge pile ready for Guy Fawkes night, apparently with the blessing of the junkyard owners as they never stopped us. Unfortunately, on the weekend before the night of November 11, some idiot kid lit the stack. We never found out who it was otherwise he would have been later cremated after we rushed to build another pile. This one remainded intact till the appropriate night and maybe a hundred parents and kids gathered around. It was always chaotic, with jumping-jacks, rockets, spinning wheels, strings of tom thumbs, and penny-bangers exploding anywhere and everywhere, with no supervision or organisation as it is today, parents and kids just doing their own thing and having fun. It was a miracle that nobody was hurt. Of course, kids were indeed injured, some badly, on Guy Fawkes night (and many pets went hysterical); years later the government rightly stepped in and banned fireworks other than those authorised to use them. Such legislation was not popular - it may have reduced our fun, but it certainly saved the eyesight of many children.
Electric trains ran on the line till 1948. Only
goods steam trains used the line from then
A deisel goods train heads west on the line,
coming out of the tunnel at The Avenue.
|This particular area, between the railway station and Park Street,
deserves further comment as it was low lying ground and always wet and
muddy in winter. It was a wide stretch of land where once a railway siding
existed; I cannot remember any siding rails in the fifties. But it must
have been in one dickens of a mess in the 1920s, for then, letters and
articles in the Melbourne Argus called it the Railway Station Lagoon -
".... there is a sheet of water lying in a depression and giving off a
most unwholesome smell". It is interesting to note that the land was partly
owned by the railways, and partly by Melbourne City Council, hence the
inactivity to do something about the swamp was probably typical of bureaucratic
buck-passing. It harboured the breeding of mosquitos, and, "At night we
are unable to sleep because of the noise made by thousands of frogs." But,
the station master was philosophical. He said that the depression would
take a lot of filling, and that to drain it would be a difficult job. "He
gets his consolation from the fact that the water dries up in summer".
That must have been so comforting for the residents.
By 1925, some action was taken ‘to drain the land', and perhaps the problem was solved, even if partially. Of course if you have a close look at the fall of the land, it is easy to see why the residents of Park Street had their own private swamp. The land slopes down into the depression where the railway tracks were laid, from the south (Garton, Arnold and Wilson Streets), and from the north where Brunswick Road is at a much higher elevation than Park Street. That it would remain a swamp without extensive civil works was obvious.
The railway station became a private residence sometime after the end of the passenger service of course, but whilst the goods train was still running. During my time in North Carlton it was occupied by an elderly lady - we never saw a man, or kids. I never knew who she was, but I, along with my mates, did not make life easy for her. Railway lines provide an ample supply of ammunition - stones. The station had a tin roof. A good lob from the junk yard would create a din heard a mile away as it crashed onto the roof and rattled down into the gutter. We thought this was great fun, especially when the dear lady stuck her head over the fence looking like the traditional kids cartoon of Foo. If our aim was not so good, the stone would land anywhere in her ‘backyard', the old platform. How stupid, how irresponsible, how - childish. Some time after I left North Carlton, the station building became vacant and was in a bad condition when it was rescued, presumably by the council, and turned into the North Carlton Railway Neighbourhood House, a sensible use for the historic Gothic-Victorian building.
This is as good a place to mention our trips to town by tram. We would walk the two hundred yards to the Sarah Sand tramstop and catch the Coburg tram into town. Each tram had a brown-uniformed conductor, with a huge leather back hanging around his neck, and a row of tram tickets of various denominations clipped to a board. He, as they generally were, would walk up and down the tram, crying ‘Fex plese', and it was up to you to make the offer, stating your destination - "one and a half to the city please", a cost of 3d (thats pence) for me and 6d for Nan. That bag must have weighed a ton; even though we had a tiny silver ‘threpenny bit', or a ‘trey' as it was known in common slang, and also a silver sixpenny coin called a ‘zac'. We also had a very heavy penny which probably weighted ten times as much as a trey; and a half-penny. (Farthingss, a quarter of a penny, has long been out of circulation). What with walking up and down the tram for the whole journey, struggling through the crowd with a heavy bulky bag, it was not a job for the man of slight build. And indeed,when women came into the workforce, they had to pretty hefty ladies top do the job. They must have ached by the time they completed a rush hour trip. Every now and then a green-uniformed inspector came aboard, and checked our tickets. I have the impression that they were much more curteous than the rail and tram inspectors that we have today. Just to while away the time - all of ten seconds I suppose - Nan and I would play poker with the eight numbers on our tickets, the winner having a four or five of the same number, down to a pair.
The trams themselves were nothing like what we have today. If the trains were called red rattlers for good reason, then the trans were the green rattlers that rocked and rolled and screeched and lurched and gave a hell of a ride especially when the driver got up speed. The tram was dived into three sections; in the centre third, where one would board and alight, the compartment was open to the elements with no doors. On the passive side, that is, on the right facing front, a single wooden rail at hip height is all that indicated that this was not the side to alight. Some did, especially if the tram was crowded, a very dangerous practice. On the active side, there was simply - nothing. It was many years before sliding doors came into effect. In inclement weather, a canvas blind was pulled down on the passive side. The seats within the compartment were wooden. It was generally accepted that men rode in the centre compartment; women rode in the inside compartments, at each end of the tram, which was enclosed with a sliding door - which usually stayed open. The seats here were padded. The courtesies of tram travel extended to the male offering the lady a seat, and children were expected to do the same.
|TO LIVING IN CARLTON ESSAY|