Hi all! I’m back after a hectic semester of teaching at three different universities. It is always really rewarding but leaves little time for blog posts. I thought though that I’d jump online to plug a couple of recent publications on various aspects of urban history that I’ve had come out over the last year.
Late last year saw my book chapter in a collected edition released after a couple of years in the pipeline. International Migrations in the Victorian Erawas edited by Marie Ruiz and published by Brill. It features some fabulous articles by scholars on migration and the Victorian period from all over the world.
My chapter, ‘Transnationalism, the Urban & Migration in the Victorian Era: The Lives of Henry & Sophia Morwitch’ (Chapter Six, pages 156–186), traces the lives of the owners of the two Brisbane shopping arcades, the Royal Exhibition Arcade and the Grand Arcade, which I’ve written about on the blog previously.
The chapter looks at the various migrations throughout the British Empire (and beyond) that Henry and Sophia made over a fifty-year period. It examines their identities as both migrants and citizens of the different places within which they lived and how they worked to construct these within a variety of urban communities.
I’d love to do a longer post on them soon looking at their lives and experiences – particularly as I’ve found quite a lot more out about Sophia since I wrote this book chapter three years ago. So stay tuned. Meanwhile, enjoy reading my chapter and several others from the book in Google Books.
The second, more recent, publication, released in April this year, was an article written with Professor Andy May at University of Melbourne and George Vanags (MA2011) – ‘Returning to the city: World War One, the repatriation of soldiers and the shaping of Melbourne’. This was written for a special issue of History Australia ‘Coming Home’,(Vol. 16 No. 1), which focused on life after the end of World War One.
Our article examined the return of soldiers to Melbourne both during and after the war and how they assisted in shaping the postwar city.
In Melbourne, a city in which World War One permeated everyday life, programs for the reintegration of soldiers into the community characterised the home front and continued after war’s end. This article explores the manifestation of the returned soldier, utilising the city as a particular and novel frame to discuss the complex place of these men returning to a changing urban landscape that needed constant definition and renegotiation. It examines how the return of these men reshaped the city itself and contributes to our understanding of what it meant to be soldier, as well as a citizen, in the post-war period. (‘Returning to the City’, 132)
Although this is a little removed from my PhD thesis, I’ve been exploring the impact of war on the city of Melbourne for several years in a number of related projects with the Melbourne History Workshop. This has included the online exhibition The Everyday War, which displays of hundreds of digitised records from the City of Melbourne, held by Public Record Office Victoria, that show the way that the war was intertwined with the everyday life of the city.
I’ll also be exploring the idea of the war and its relevance to the arcades in my thesis a little. It’s interesting to note how much urban spaces were layered with activities that were related to World War One, including fundraising efforts, parades for departing and returned soldiers, patriotic imagery, and even anti-war protests. The arcades in a number of cities were intertwined with these events and experiences of war and I’ve got a wealth of information there to share at a later date.
Previously I’ve given an outline of the nineteenth-century shopping arcades built in both Victoria and Sydney. By the mid-1870s, five shopping arcades had been built in Victoria, the most recent being the Victoria Arcade & Academy of Music on Bourke Street (1876). Although Sydney had been promised an arcade as early as 1859 (Illawarra Mercury, 24 March 1859, 2), one was not actually built until 1880.
While it is probably not a surprise to many that the first arcades in the Australian colonies were built in the booming goldrush metropolis of Melbourne, the second city where they were constructed is probably more of a revelation. Today we move further north to Queensland, to briefly touch on the three arcades built there in the nineteenth-century, and another that just sneaks into my research end date of 1901.
It was in the small colonial capital of Brisbane that one entrepreneurial man built both of the first arcades in Queensland – the Royal Exhibition Arcade (1877) and the Grand Arcade (1885) both within a few doors of each other on Queen Street, the city’s main shopping thoroughfare. The story of these arcades is inseparable from the life of their owners, Henry and Louisa Morwitch, about whose lives I’ve recently written a book chapter, and about whom I will write more in another post.
The other two arcades that were built in Queensland were in seemingly unlikely locations but, at the time of their construction, represented the progress and modernity of two regional towns that were booming, both economically and in terms of population.
Firstly, the Royal Arcade was constructed in Charters Towers, nearly 1400 km from Brisbane, in the mining country of Far North Queensland, by businessman Alexander Malcolm and designed by Sydney architect Mark Cooper Day. In 1888 the town was rapidly expanding, with a population drawn by lure of new gold discoveries (and displacing the traditional owners, the Gudjal people).
Although it was never finished (it still is missing it’s back half!) it is in fact, the only of the four Queensland arcades that I’m studying that still exists. Because it housed the Charters Towers Stock Exchange for a number of years, it’s now known as the Stock Exchange Arcade and is again operating as an arcade, run by the National Trust of Queensland.
The final arcade in Queensland that I will look at is the Town Hall Arcade in Townsville, which was built by Townsville’s city council as part of a large development known as the Market Reserve Buildings, which included a Town Hall, Arcade, Theatre Royal and Central Hotel. The theatre was completed in 1900 and the complex was opened by Lord Hopetoun in September the next year (who raised the new flag of the federated Australia above it).
It was a magnificent example of very early Federation architecture and must have been quite a site to behold. This amazing collection of buildings (see an image here) was partly demolished in 1973 and tragically destroyed by fire in 1978. Today, the current municipal buildings, a typical example of 1980s civic architecture, stand in its place (Townsville Bulletin, 15 February 2015).
Maps! So many of us love them. They take us places that we want to go or imagine that we would love to visit. But they also serve practical purposes for city planning. Recently I’ve been working on a project with a group of colleagues at the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne History Workshop. This project has taken one block of the city and is investigating the history of the site from pre-colonial days to the present. The site is the block (actually two blocks!) bounded by Swanston, Collins, Russell and Bourke streets, bisected by Little Collins. We are working with maps, newspapers, images, historical texts, museum collections and other sources that can give us an idea of the multiple historical layers of the site. As well as ‘traditional’ historical archival materials, we utilise digital humanities platforms (becoming increasingly important for the work we do as historians) and the mapping of the site and its histories through GIS and geospatial technology.
There are some fantastic sites out there at the moment using these types of technologies, such as Cleveland Historical, Collage: The London Picture Archive; and Digital Harlem. Sites like these are both digital treasure troves and digital rabbit holes. The first day I looked at Collage I ended up doing about four hours of research for my thesis and found numerous important sources that I would not have found through traditional means – mainly due to my physical distance from them.
I have discussed before the importance of the idea of ‘layers of history’ to my project and the work on the project with the MHW team is part of my broader interest in researching the history of the city using this layered approach. Our inspiration for the project and the selection of the site came from a fire survey map that is in the collection of the State Library Victoria produced by surveyors Mahlstedt & Gee, which detail the buildings and even the occupants of those buildings in the city of Melbourne. They produced these maps over an approximately eighty-year period, once ever couple of decades, and by looking through them we can see the physical changes and growth that the city underwent. It’s quite amazing to see the increasing density and size of the built environment of the city through this period, as well as to explore what types of businesses were present.
After working on these maps for the block on which our project is focussed, I went back to the State Library’s website and collected them for the city blocks that each of the arcades were or are on. Below are a series of maps from Mahlstedt & Gee from the State Library Victoria, that show the evolution of the site on which the Queens Arcade in Lonsdale Street stood (they have even bigger zoomable versions on there, so I highly recommend having a look!). The first map is slightly earlier and is the land sale on which the properties owned by Rev James Clow, including the site of the Queens Arcade. Have a look at the changes that this city block underwent and let me know if you see anything that captures your attention!
I know I’ve been very very quiet lately! I actually have lots of prepped posts but have been super busy over the last six months madly writing my thesis plus conference papers plus journal articles (this is good!). Today I’m writing Chapter Two and came across just the best advertisement for the Queen’s Arcade, placed in the newspaper in its opening days in October 1853.
Nineteenth-century newspaper advertisements were often entertaining and appealed to the reader through a variety of methods, including in this case … rhyme. It shows that the arcade’s owners, a consortium of well-off middle-class Melbourne businessmen, aimed provide a the wide variety and mix of tenants and produce for the consumer who visited.
Much like today’s modern shopping mall, everything shoppers desired could be found at the arcade – clothing and accessories, fabrics jewellery, musical wares, art materials, luxury consumables and onsite refreshment rooms. This gave them (ideally) no cause to go elsewhere, and the diversity and variety available seemed to place the new novelty of the arcade in an ideal position to become the centre of shopping and social life in Melbourne.
THE QUEEN’S ARCADE.
THE Belles and Beaux of Melbourne’s Town to aid,
What can be better than the Queen’s Arcade for
A pleasant lounge in summer’s sultry days,
Well shelter’d from old Sol’s o’powering rays;
And when the hot winds drive dust helter skelter
What place than this more cool and fit for shelter?
When the wet season makes our town a swamp.
The Queen’s Arcade is dry and free from damp;
And here the Melbourne belles may walk at ease,
And choose what rare commodities they please.
I’ll run them over with your kind permission
First, we’ve G. Goldsmith’s Bonnet Exhibition,
To suit complexions whether dark or fair;
Jewels and ornaments, both rich and rare;
Scents of all kinds, exquisite and recherche,
With papier mache, too, and gutta percha;
Drapery, hosiery, splendid silks, and satin,
With books in English, French, German, and Latin.
“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,”
And fewer bosoms. Here you’ll find the best
Quadrilles by Jullien, D’Albert’s waltzes fast,
The Arcade Polka, Winterbottoms’s last,
Bijouterie and articles of dress
On your attention, ladies, let me press,
That everything for widow, wife, or maid,
Is to be met with in the Queen’s Arcade;
And if the ladies’ smiles we only win,
Of course the gentlemen will soon drop In,
And they will find that them we’ve not forgot,
Havannahs and cheroots, a splendid lot,
With meerschaums, cutties, snuffs of every kind,
In short, all tastes will here be pleased; you’ll find
Rings, watches, pins, and studs in rich array.
Coats, trousers, vests of patterns neat or gay,
Canes, riding whips, and boots of patent leather,
With Mackintoshes to resist the weather.
To sum up all, an Universal Mart,
We mean to be a Gallery of Art,
And every exertion will be made
To please the public, in the Queen’s Arcade.
Refreshments of the best and choicest kind.
Will also be provided; you will find
Confectionery, pastry, jellies, ice,
Crackers, bon-bons, and everything that’s nice;
And taste it once, you’ll say such lemonade
You never drank but in the Queen’s Arcade.
Being a researcher of any sort takes a large degree of doggedness, obsessiveness, and lots of eye strain. From scientists to historians, professionals, and amateur enthusiasts, anyone who researches has experienced this. We also understand the need to go over our material again and again, looking for new angles and evidence.
So my quest to explore the history of Australia’s shopping arcades. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve trawled through Trove, Google Images, library websites, and books looking for images of these buildings. In addition to that, I’ve looked through hundreds of dusty old archival files, maps and plans that I’m terrified will crumble in my hand, astonishing but delicate and hard-to-see 100-year-old glass plate negatives and the most unsexy and eye-killing of research tools – the microfilm. Every time this was in pursuit of myriad tiny bits of information that a historian pieces together to tell as coherent a story as possible about their subjects.
But I also really really want to find some photos – because they are of course half the story and what helps bring to life these stories for your readers. Being an urban historian, this has often involved scouring street scenes of numerous Australian towns to hope that you’ll finally catch a glimpse of that building that you know existed but no-one thought it worth keeping an image of, or it hasn’t been tagged in digital files in order for you to find.
As an urban historian and curator first starting out, I spent probably over 100 hours looking at street scenes of Sydney for the Sydney’s pubs exhibition, trying to find elusive pubs that no-one knew about. I had eureka moments, when I spotted the Imperial Hotel on Wynyard Park, and crashing defeats in others, such as the Blue Anchor on George Street. Nine years later I still find myself looking for ones that escaped me, or getting excited about new images of those I already had found (that’s the obsession part!).
Now I’m back to scouring for this project. Realistically, most of the Australian arcades I’m researching have exterior images that are relatively easy to find. Interior images decidedly less so. For the last few years I’ve been searching for images of the first arcade built in Australia, the Queens Arcade, built on Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, in 1853. And believe me I’ve looked. I feel like I can see the changing urban portrait of Lonsdale Street from the 1850s to the 1890s in my mind like a palimpsest over today’s streetscape. But I had very little success in finding any image of any part of the building. The camera was always facing not quite the right way or the photo I found was of the site after the arcade had been demolished. And definitely no interior was to be found.
The first breakthrough was when I was trawling the internet yet again and found an old illustration in an old lecture Powerpoint that eminent urbanist Miles Lewis had put online. The Illustrated Melbourne Postis one of those rare newspapers that hasn’t been put online and you need to go to and find it in the State Library of Victoria on a microfilm ‘in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard”‘ (Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 1979).
But frustratingly, I could never find anything else. Until the other day. I just decided to randomly look on the State Library of Victoria’s site again and up popped a new image of the interior of an arcade from 1856 – the Queen’s Arcade. The image shows it’s curved corrugated iron roof (one of the first galvanised iron structures made locally in Melbourne) as well as the lighting, which was achieved using clerestory windows rather than a glass ceiling. This was a simple interpretation of the arcade form, inspired by European examples but built using local materials.
Additionally the description of this item mentioned another image – a panorama of Little Collins Street by Melbourne photographer Charles Nettleton – that also shows the arcade from its back entry at far right. I may have looked at this photograph before but never picked up on the arcade being in it – it also didn’t come up in searches, as the description is not labelled it with the name of the arcade. Here you can see clearer the curved roof and clerestory windows, as well as the rather ornate back entrance on Little Bourke Street.
The image of the interior was by celebrate illustrator ST Gill, who captured the life and rhythm of mid- to late nineteenth-century Melbourne and Ballarat. Currently the library is hosting a fantastic exhibition of Gill’s work, which I’ve lately found to be one of the visual inspirations for my thesis in the way it brings to life the city streets and their inhabitants. The Gill drawing probably went up online as part of the library’s research for the exhibition and my finding of it shows that its worth (re)searching again and again for images (and other historical information), as institutions like the library are always working on new exhibitions and research and, therefore, putting up new digitised images and other information for us to discover.
Addendum: ST Gill also drew this illustration of Melbourne’s second arcade, the 1854 Victoria Arcade, which doesn’t have appeared to have lasted long and may have never really got off the ground.
Part of my intent in undertaking this project is to use the arcade as lens through which to explore the history of the Australian city and its inhabitants. Within the arcades we find goods, ideas and people that came from all over the world, encapsulating ideas of global trade and migration, and even political and social changes, into a contained space.
The fourth chapter of my thesis is going to do address the people of these arcades and do what a lot of urban histories often don’t – putting people back into the place. The city isn’t just an accumulation of buildings, roads and structures but a living breathing space where people live, love and laugh. One of the ways that we can explore this is to focus on individual lives within the sweep of broader histories of the the city and the world. Within this context I want to look at the lives of a variety of people who were involved with, encountered and inhabited the arcades, many of whom have often been forgotten about in the discussions of the architecture and goods to be found in the arcade spaces – the owners, architects, shopkeepers, customers, workers, and undesirable others.
What some of my initial examinations of a handful of these people have revealed is that many of these characters, particularly in the early years of the arcades’ histories, hailed from all over the globe. Along with the display of goods and ideas (of architecture, culture, consumption) that exhibited international origins and/or influences, many of those who inspired and brought these spaces were also evidence of Australia’s close connections with the rest of the world.
In the mid to late nineteenth century, people were constantly arriving in (and leaving) the Australian colonies and a large percentage were overseas born. Recently, studies have explored the idea of combining aspects of historical biography, architectural history, cultural practices and material culture, in order to reveal new ways of thinking about history. These studies have also taken a decidedly transnational turn, in order to reveal the broader stories of nation, empire and global events through the lives of individuals whose lives were ‘formed … across a global canvas’ (Deacon, Russell & Woollacott 2010, 2).
To look at some of these ideas I’ve so far examined the lives of several people – Fong Fat, a Cantonese immigrant who opened a fancy goods store in the Eastern Arcade; Hiram Crawford, owner and tenant of the same building; Henry Morwitch, the builder of the Brisbane arcades, who lived a highly mobile life moving multiple times between colonies and continents; and Herr Rasmussen, the Danish medical botanist, who sold his Danish vitality pills to Sydney in the Central Arcade, George Street. I’ll be posting a more detailed look at the life of one of these very soon.
One of the things I really got excited about was trying to identify some images of some of these characters. I haven’t had any luck so far with those mentioned above but there was one valuable resource that I was made aware of recently. A number of these manufacturers and retailers with shops in the arcades exhibited at various international exhibitions. The State Library of Victoria has a fantastic collection of security photographs of exhibitors from the 1888 Melbourne exhibition and these include some of the people that inhabited the arcades, including the Messrs. Gaunts of Thomas Gaunts famous watch, clock and jewellery shop in the Royal Arcade, Melbourne. I’m hoping in the future I’ll be able to put some more faces to names – and people into these places – by looking through this collection and other images yet to be found.
Desley Deacon, Penny Russell and Angela Woollacott, ‘Introduction’, in Desley Deacon, Penny Russell and Angela Woollacott (eds.) Transnational Lives Biographies of Global Modernity, 1700-present (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 2
I’m doing a LOT of travelling as part of my research for my thesis. Recently, I did a trip to Queensland to look at the history of the nineteenth century arcades there. It was a fruitful journey that answered a number of questions that couldn’t be resolved through online research.
It allowed me to visit the sites & understand their location and placement within the cityscape of both the nineteenth century & today, and I also collected reams of information, images, plans, maps, directories, council records and other resources that will assist with my research.
Additionally I was able to gain valuable information through direct contact with the staff of the archives and libraries there that yielded some revelations. Some of the information was contextual and this was vital. Despite growing up in Brisbane, I knew comparatively little about its history compared to Sydney & Melbourne, as that has been where my history and heritage work has focused up until recently.
There were four arcades constructed in Queensland prior to 1901 – while I say nineteenth-century a lot, my study actually extends to 1901, in order for me to consider one of these specific Queensland sites, constructed in the year of Federation and on the cusp of the new century that brought great changes to the Australian urban landscape.
Two were constructed in Brisbane and both were the brainwave of enterprising businessman Henry Morwitch, who lived a truly international life throughout the British Empire and beyond. Born in Poland, he migrated to England, then Victoria, followed by New Zealand, back over to Brisbane (with a sojourn in Gympie), then to Sydney and, at the end of his life, returning to Britain. His two arcades were built on the busiest commercial street in Brisbane, Queen Street, in close proximity to each other.
These were the Royal Exhibition Arcade, constructed in 1877 and demolished in the years around World War I, and the Grand Arcade (fronting Queen and Edward Streets), built in 1885 and demolished in parts between the mid 1920s to late 1930s.
Both sites are now taken up by commercial buildings featuring similar tenants, although certainly on a different scale. The Royal Exhibition Arcade was on the site of Macarthur Central, a large, recently constructed, shopping centre with diverse shops and eateries. As for the Grand, the Tattersall’s Arcade, part of the Tattersall’s Club buildings constructed between World Wars I and II, sits on the exact footprint of the Grand Arcade.
The other two arcades that were built in Queensland were in seemingly unlikely locations, but at the time of their construction represented the progress and modernity of two regional towns that were booming, both economically and in terms of population.
The first was constructed in Charters Towers, nearly 1400 km from Brisbane, in the mining country of Far North Queensland. In 1888 the town was a city with a rapidly expanding population, drawn by rich lure of its gold discoveries and usurping the land of its traditional owners. By 1899 it had a population of 25,000 and was one of the biggest cities in the Australian colonies.
Entrepreneurs in Charters Towers used the gold wealth to create a European-style city, commissioning architects, often from the cities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, to design buildings in the manner of the high boom metropolises far to the south. One of these was the Royal Arcade, today known as the Stock Exchange Arcade, constructed in 1888 for businessman Alexander Malcolm and designed by Sydney architect Mark Cooper Day. It was never completely finished due to Malcolm becoming insolvent, and today the back remains open to the land and laneway at the rear. It’s the only remaining arcade from the nineteenth century in Queensland and both it and the town, with its mining history and several heritage sites, are fantastic spots to visit.
The last site I visited was in Townsville, 140 km east of Charters Towers on the coast. It’s a quite expansive city of 170,000 people. In 1901, the year of Federation, the Earl of Hopetoun, first Governor-General of Australia, opened the large municipal civic buildings constructed on Flinders Street. The structure, which took up a significant section of the block, included a Town Hall, a theatre, a licensed hotel, a market and a shopping arcade.
Unfortunately, not much survives in records nor in the collective memory about this arcade and before I arrived I doubted that it even was a real arcade in the sense that I was defining them. But I found some tantalising evidence in the Townsville City Library that did confirm it was an ‘authentic’ shopping arcade. This photocopy of a cross-section came from the original plans, which certainly existed in the 1990s, but now appear to be lost.
Town Hall, Flinders Street, Townsville, 1914. Photographer: W.J. Laurie. City Libraries Townsville, 315258. The Arcade entrance is below the tower.
Arcade building and premises of Brownhill, Kirk and Company, Market Reserve Building, Flinders Street, 1913. Photographer unknown. City Libraries Townsville, 323846.
This amazing collection of buildings, built during a period of intense change for Australia, were unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1978 and today, the current municipal buildings, a typical example of 1980s civic architecture, stand in its place.
Despite the fact that the majority of these arcades no longer exists, seeing the sites on which they stood (and still stand, in the case of the Royal Arcade), allowed me to better understand their placement within the urban environment that no amount of looking at images or maps can provide. I also feel much more illuminated as to their place within the history of the cities in which they were built and the overarching historical narrative of those places.
The experience of road tripping to Charters Towers in particularly was fascinating as the bitumen road from tropical seaside Townsville took me to the dry almost outback of western Queensland and allowed me to understand the true feat of what was constructed in this now small town in the last decades of the nineteenth century.
I’m currently collating all the material and information gathered and this will figure in a longer case study of specific arcades that will contribute to my thesis.
This trip was made possibly by a Graduate Research Arts Travel Scholarship from the University of Melbourne. Lastly, a big shout out to those who assisted so much in my research on this whirlwind two week trip:
Charters Towers & Dalrymple Archives Group, especially archivist and curator, Michael Brumby, who was excessively generous with his time and resources, and was willing to have great long chats about history with me.
In my previous post I discussed the mix of businesses that occupied the Eastern Arcade during its 50 year existence in it’s intended form. We left off the story in 1926 by which time tenants were all gone and Clauscen & Co’s Furniture Emporium occupied the whole building. But the arcade’s story does not end there.
For the next 83 years it was occupied by a succession of Melbourne homegrown businesses: first Clauscen & Co’s, then Fletcher Jones, later Allans Music and finally Dimmeys. The promenade was built over and it its interior gutted, but its walls and unique façade remained. As an arcade it was largely forgotten and was mainly remembered in the press and popular imagination for its associations with the Haymarket Theatre and the Gun Alley Murder. It was only in 2008, after a hard fought battle by heritage groups, that the entire arcade was demolished and replaced by the Citadines Hotel.
While these dramatic changes occurred within the Eastern Arcade over the space of half a century, two blocks away at the Royal Arcade, things had changed relatively little since it opened in 1870. The same general mix of shops from this time had endured and the arcade had even been expanded at the turn of the century. What were the conditions that rendered the story of the Eastern Arcade so different to its nearby counterpart?
A complex interplay of factors probably acted together to precipitate these changes but the location of the arcade may have played a key role. Initially it seems to have been the 1890s depression that made a significant impact on trade, resulting in a large vacancy rate between 1893 and 1895, followed by a distinct change in the types of shops that occupied it after 1896. Although only two blocks away from the Melbourne’s shopping heart, the block bounded by Collins, Swanston, Elizabeth and Bourke Streets, this distance may have also played a role in the decreasing popularity of the Eastern Arcade. While it is a common claim that the arcades were outmoded by the development of more modern forms of shopping, such as large drapers and department stores, the Victorian Era arcades located in this central section of the city – Block, the Royal and Queens Walk Arcades – continued to be destinations for customers for decades. In fact, for these arcades, the crowds that flocked to the new fashionable department stores built in close proximity to them from the 1890s onwards were probably highly beneficial. The Block and the Royal are still busy thoroughfares today, as well as shopping destinations in their own right and this use of them as a shortcut through the large Melbourne city blocks has long been an advantage.
The very emphasis on the area surrounding the Eastern Arcade as an amusement district may have also had an impact. We might surmise that visitors wandered up Bourke Street more for its entertainments than its shops but also that this location affected its reputation among shoppers. The Eastern Market, which had eventually been rebuilt in 1879, and the area surrounding the arcade continued to attract the condemnation of some. One Tasmanian visitor in 1888 commented on the noticeable ‘larrikin element’ in Melbourne and that at the entrance to the Eastern Arcade he had seen
a crowd of 1000, principally of this class … assemble one afternoon … as if by magic, because two policemen were apparently trying to arrest some one. (Launceston Examiner, 8 August 1888, 3)
In the 1890s the Hanover Hall within the arcade itself was a magnet for larrikins wanting a boisterous and boozy night on the town. In 1901 Bourke Street was described as ‘a non-stop vaudeville show’ with a wide variety of entertainments ranging from music halls to shooting galleries (quoted in Kristin Otto, Capital: Melbourne When it Was the Capital City of Australia 1901-27 (Melbourne, 2009: The Text Publishing Company) 47-48).The shooting galleries of the Eastern Market and the presence of an amusement parlour in the arcade itself probably attracted a number of visitors who did not fit the ideal.
Despite the life of the streets around it, the arcade does not appear to have been well frequented, at least during the day, and was seemingly uncared for by its owners. The Melbourne Guide Book of c1895 wrote that it was ‘a quiet recess, wherein is no great sign of business’ (Melbourne: McCarron, Bird & Co, 27-28), while another commentator ten years later hoped that it would be demolished as ‘it [was] time that dirty and dingy arcade was put to some good use’ (The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People, 2 February 1907, 3). The trustees that had owned the building had been apparently discussing turning it into a residential hotel for two decades by 1921 and it is not beyond the imagination that the neglect was intentional. Although clearly on the decline for many years, it may have been its association with the Gun Alley Murder that affected business most significantly in the end. From this time onward, most mentions of the arcade in the newspapers revolve around the murder and the characters involved in it. In the end the Eastern Arcade, rather than being a transformative space for this section of Bourke Street, appears to have been transformed by the city streets around it.
Today very few of the Australian arcades remain. A few well-known examples have operated continuously since the 1880s or have been recently rejuvenated for modern consumers. But the many others, even those that still stand, have largely faded from the collective memory. Some lost popularity and closed relatively rapidly, while others never quite met expectations. Many underwent changes during the twentieth century to the physical fabric of the building and/or the mix of tenants in order to attempt to make them viable or in step with architectural fashion. Numerous examples were demolished during the course of the twentieth century and even into the twenty-first. Some, like the Eastern Arcade and the Prahran Arcade were transformed into buildings that would hold one large business, demolishing its individual stores and, in the case of the former, covering over its distinctive gallery space.
In the 1930s Walter Benjamin, in his work on the Parisian arcades, emphasised the idea of examining the afterlife of buildings within the city. He contended that, by examining the multiple historical layers of a site, we could better understand its place in the development of the city and by extension the history of the city that surrounded it. He used the arcades as a lens not only to tell the story of the nineteenth century but also to interrogate the social structures of his own era.
Examining the historical trajectory of the Eastern Arcade, we can see some of the changes that were inherent in the city surrounding it during a 100 year period. Not only from the 50-year period in which it operated as a shopping arcade and the changes in businesses, goods and inhabitants therein, but also from its subsequent histories, including the battle to retain it before its demolition in 2008.
While the contemporary discourse surrounding the arcades at the time of their construction makes it clear that these sites were intended as refined, elegant leisure spaces for middle-class clientele many, like the Eastern Arcade, reveal a more complex story. From websites, brochures and commissioned histories to heritage assessments to more serious historical studies, most promote an imagined view of the arcade, often focusing on the nineteenth century context and eschewing the afterlife of these sites. Marketing campaigns for those arcades that have been restored to or preserved in their so-called ‘original forms’ understandably focus heavily on such nostalgic perceptions in order to promote them as unique shopping experiences. The website for the Royal Arcade, Australia’s oldest, typifies the general bent of current popular discourse surrounding them:
Historical – Charming – Beautiful – Timeless. There are few words which can describe the feeling and olde-style charm captured in the Royal Arcade. Since 1869, the arcade has acted as a hub between Melbourne’s, Bourke St Mall, Little Collins Street and Elizabeth Street; The Royal Arcade houses some of the most well-known and beautiful shops in Melbourne (http://www.royalarcade.com.au/)
Unlike the Block and the Royal, which had maintained their existence as an arcade since their inception, the Eastern took a different trajectory; but the changes in tenants, architectural fabric, eventual transformation and even its demolition do not diminish its significance. Rather, I would contend that the histories of sites such as this are vital to our understanding of the development of urban space from the nineteenth century until today.
I argue that the layers of these spaces are essential to our perception and understanding of the past, even more so than their original newly-built form and that the idealised perception of nineteenth-century arcades disguise many aspects of their histories, rendering them and our urban history in a one-dimensional, mummified form.
With heritage buildings being regularly demolished in Melbourne, partly based on the argument that the original fabric has been lost, perhaps we must consider that it is not only the original fabric but the accretions of layers of fabric that are just as essential to our understanding of our city.