STREET (E)SCAPE - commerce descends Lygon, Brunswick and Smith Streets,
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
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
The wave of commerce is relentless, but on Smith Street it seems to have
found hardy resistance... For a time...