STREET (E)SCAPE - commerce descends Lygon, Brunswick and Smith Streets, Melbourne.

an audio documentary by andrew garton / Toy Satellite / for GATEways.

Throughout Melbourne's history Bohemian culture has found its home in the multicultural streets of Carlton, Fitzroy and Collingwood. Marked by government housing apartments, these suburbs have been common destinations for migrants in particular Vietnamese, Chinese, Greek, Italian and to a lesser extent some middle eastern communities. This mix of languages and traditions has attracted writers, artists, musicians and poets since the 60s.

In the past two decades these areas have become synonymous with significant increases in property values, particularly rent, both residential and commercial. Despite the fact that the inhabitants of government housing found in these areas live on the fringes of the poverty line, commerce has descended and is laying waste to the culture that has stimulated so much creative activity here.

In the 60s Lygon Street, Carlton, dominated the theatre and visual arts with its band of writers and painters, many of whom frequented the cafes and pubs that were sparsely located there.

Melbourne University and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology are neighbors. The student population contributed to the vitality of Lygon Street, but by the mid to late 80s a steady flow of bohemians left Lygon for Brunswick Street, the next major parallel shopping centre in the working class suburb of Fitzroy.

Lygon Street began to attract investors and the wealthy middle class who wanted to live amongst interesting people! But as they came, rents increased, the artists left and the restaurants and malls moved in.

From the late 80s through to the very early 90s Brunswick Street was all the rage. The remnants of Lygon Street's colourful past can still be seen in Idamos Cafe, La Mamas Theatre and Jimmy Watson's Wine Bar and Cellar.

Brunswick Street now supports more than 90 restaurants and cafes and is officially registered as a tourist district. The money moves quickly here and so too the real estate.

Struggling to maintain some elements of its past, Brunswick Street is faced now with its first street lined apartments, a 7/11, the first Blockbuster Video store in the neighborhood and a $7 000 000 investment about to turn a small grocery store into a supermarket and mall style eatery. All this on a street that was home to the most violent pubs in Melbourne and some of the most hardy and consistent of band venues in the city. The Punters Club is still there, so to the first of two cafes in Brunswick Street, the Black Cat Cafe and Mario's. The other mainstay, battling to sustain its presence there is the radical bookshop, Polyester.

The final bastion of bohemian existence in Melbourne has found a home on Smith Street, surrounded by tired, disused factories and warehouses and of course the ever present government housing estates. Here you will still see people in traditional dress walking comfortably amongst Aborigines, ferals, homeless people, artists, drunks, slumped heroin addicts, and the ever desperate, eternally bored middle class struggling to find a foothold in this last and final stronghold.

Go one to two blocks down from Smith Street and one can't help but feeling surrounded, as if commerce is moving around in an attempt to strike from the bottom, from the expensive thin walled, hurriedly build warehouse apartments to the few glitzy restaurants serving the wannabe public... the kind of eating establishments where one won't find the local Aboriginal nor Asian communities.

The wave of commerce is relentless, but on Smith Street it seems to have found hardy resistance... For a time...