Here’s a brief photo essay that I made on the Mean Streets of Melbourne. All taken as a passenger in a fast moving car zipping through heavy traffic on a hot Saturday evening. It covered the Melbourne suburbs of Elwood, where I lived in the late 1970’s, and St Kilda which is the suburb on the city side of Elwood. In the 19th century St Kilda was a luxury beach side area of grand houses, many of which still stand today.
By the 1970’s, however those grand houses, mostly along Fitzroy Street had been split up into many flats and had the shop fronts erected in front of them. St Kilda of the 70’s was a seedy place, much prostitution and drug dealing, petty crime and dangerous back streets. It also offered a lot of characters, great food as enjoyed by Gene Baucom and myself, and a nightlife that was simply amazing to just sit and watch.
Police corruption and involvement in the various scams and was pretty much assured and taken for granted. Rent was cheap and I lived in some wonderful-though run down art Deco style apartments that were typically 25-60 dollars a week.
As a young motorcycle enthusiast, I screamed around those streets getting away with all sorts of mischief. Yes, it is true that one was likely to have your car broken into and anything not bolted down was sure to be stolen, but as a boy from the quiet suburbs I craved the drama and excitement that St Kilda offered.
By 1982 things were starting to change as Melbourne’s suburbs close to the city started to become more trendy and rents started to rise and indeed never stopped rising. The traffic was awful in the early 80’s and the population of Melbourne is rising swiftly, so that the traffic now snarls often, leading to people needing quick reflexes and a sharp eye for a gap in the flow just to get around. Speed cameras, security cameras and intersection cameras are everywhere. Very few motorcycles seem to get around on those same streets now, and not many at all would appear to be transport rather than a fashion accessory to be seen standing next too. The cars on those streets have changed too.
At the time I lived in Elwood and St Kilda the cars were cheap basic transport. Last weekend it seemed to be a mix of shiny new Asian cars being pushed aside by Mercedes and Audi’s, BMW’s and the like. New Volkswagen vehicles are very common, but the real posers have your genuine Italian Supercars, which surely one must have in stop start crawling traffic? Along with this influx of class (?) and money, the cappuccinos have moved aside for your latte’s and heaven knows what else, the basic fish and chip or hamburger joint has been displaced by glass fronted outdoor cafes (all the better to be seen at), and “gourmet” this and that.
The street walking girls have almost vanished with the rise of the exclusive Men’s club and the odd massage parlour. I did watch a working girl using her iPhone to book customers and arrange meetings whilst we were stuck in traffic, it took her just a moment to collect her new prospect and be off to do the deed. She was the only one that I noticed. In the 1970’s one you see working girls just everywhere, on nearly every street. I suspect that vice is mostly behind closed doors nowadays.
One thing that has not changed is Luna Park with the big toothy face gaping open to invite the punters in to use the amusements, take the ancient wooden framed “Scenic Railway” or the famous “Big Dipper” roller coaster.
Luna Park is not far from the beach in St Kilda, it’s a Melbourne landmark, and has been forever. My father was courting his girlfriends there in the 1920’s.
Sydney also has a Luna Park, but it never interested me much as inside myself, I have always been a son of Melbourne, and what Sydney does is always going to be a poor copy of life in Melbourne…
A curious thing that has become obvious in the streets of Melbourne is “street art”, through the 19th and early 20th century it was always a war memorial or bronze statue of historical figures, with a background of graffiti art.
Now we have streets decorated with giant rabbits or crashed spaceships or unconvincing cement eagles and the like.
New tunnels contain “Freeways” that run under the Yarra river, new freeways cut through the old suburbs and try to hide behind sound barriers, new overpasses run over train lines and almost every intersection in Melbourne has been rearranged since I left. This leads to a constant cycle of not knowing where I am until suddenly one gets back to being at street level and recognizing a street scape or building and the realization I do know where I am, it just changed whilst I was away. Having made all the above observations, I would still commend Melbourne as a wonderful city where good food, even at the fish and chip or kebab level is expected and supplied.
It is a city with many, many beautiful parks and gardens and proud old trees. Nineteenth century red brick and stone sit side by side with the new modern and all arranged around Port Phillip Bay.
The pace of life there is faster than it was and much more crowded, but is an exciting and vibrant city and well worth anyone’s time to visit.