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Richmond, Struggletown & Modern Architecture

Friday, 16 February 2018

A large chunk of my life in Melbourne, Australia was spent in Richmond. Maureen and I lived in a rented house in Richmond from 1976, then bought it for A$20,500 in 1980, renovated it and lived in it until 1988 when we sold it for $144,000. At that time it was the highest price a house had got to on that street. The same house sold last year for A$1.7 million! We moved on to build another Richmond house from scratch with the architects Robinson Chen. It was cutting edge Richmond architecture at the time and it’s still known as the ‘Wheeler House.’ We sold that in 2001 and departed Richmond.

◄ The Skipping Girl Vinegar neon sign on Victoria St near the Yarra River, the brand has long gone, the neon sign lives on as one of the key symbols of Richmond

Richmond was one of the earliest Melbourne suburbs with grand houses on ‘Richmond Hill’ and the working class spilling down onto the surrounding flatlands towards the ever-flooding Yarra River. You can still find those grand houses although their expansive surrounding land soon disappeared and Richmond became a strictly working-class suburb – the elite had fled – by the time the Victorian economic collapse of the 1890s and then the depression of the 1930s gave Richmond the tag of Struggletown, it’s an award-winning 1984 book by Janet McCalman telling the Richmond story from 1905 to 1965.

▲ The Two Girls Building on Lithgow St just off Victoria St is actually in Abbotsford, just outside the Richmond boundaries. That’s the architect’s two daughters immortalised on the apartment facade.

◄ Nonda Katsalidis is a big name in Melbourne architecture, his Abinger St Silos were one of the first silos-to-apartment conversions and an early use of rusty metal

Richmond had gone through spells as a down-and-dirty industrial slum, a centre for petty crime and cut-throat Labor Party local politics before post WW II Greek immigrants turned it into the retsina and lamb kebab centre of Melbourne.



Swathes of the tightly-packed Victorian terrace houses disappeared to become high rise public housing and the warehousing and industrial activities transitioned as Richmond became the centre for the Melbourne rag trade. More changes swept through in the last quarter of the last century as Vietnamese boat people flooded in to the public housing and turned Victoria St into Little Saigon. It also became Melbourne centre’s for dealing in heroin and other drugs and for drug overdoses.

▲ Known as Old House, this new house on Tyson St features a picture of the old house that used to stand there

I didn’t realise it when we bought our Victorian, weatherboard terrace, but we were part of the gentrification of Richmond as young people turned houses that were once slums into little architectural gems with price tags to match. The rag trade disappeared to China and other Asian centres, but the emptied-out factories and warehouses became apartments and also architectural showpieces with prices to match. An indication of this change from shanty town to luxury living also saw Richmond become the centre for Melbourne’s flash car dealers – Ferrari, Maserati, McLaren, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Rolls-Royce all live in Richmond, along with Dutton’s, Melbourne rare-flash-collector’s-items-very fast used car specialist.

▲ Telsla are also in Richmond

▲ On Alfred St, just off Rowena Parade and right across from the Wheeler House is the Hello House, it’s surprising how ‘hello’ shows up very well on photos when just walking by you don’t even notice it

Richmond, Struggletown & Modern Architecture

16 February 2018 | Living

A large chunk of my life in Melbourne, Australia was spent in Richmond. Maureen and I lived in a rented house in Richmond from 1976, then bought it for A$20,500 in 1980, renovated it and lived in it until 1988 when we sold it for $144,000. At that time it was the high...

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Tesla Can’t Get You There … and Jaguar?

4 February 2018 | Transport

▲ Me and a Tesla Model S – promoting Lonely Planet’s Epic Drives – in Wales. I don’t have a Tesla in my garage in Australia – if the Tesla Model S was just a little bit smaller I probably would have one, but it was a real squeeze fitting one in and I could see I’d hav...

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The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah

1 February 2018 | Media

The story line in The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah is straightforward – Adam Levinson scores a job as program coordinator for New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus and uses his time in that UAE capital as a springboard to explore the region – Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq,...

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Donald Trump Promotes Global Trade in T-Shirts

31 January 2018 | Living

Donald Trump may be fiercely against global trade (unless it’s all-American global trade), but he certainly does wonders for world trade in the T-shirt business. Now I don’t believe in buying T-shirts, they’re something you get free with the donor’s trademark, name...

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Kiribati Missing Ship – 50 People, was there a A$369 EPIRB?

28 January 2018 | Living

On January 18, the MV Butiraoi, a 17.5 metre catamaran ferry with 50 people on board set out from the Kiribati island of Nonouti on a two-day, 240km trip to the main island of the nation, South Tarawa. It never arrived and a New Zealand Air Force Orion aircraft has be...

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Melbourne Street Art

27 January 2018 | Living

Melbourne – Australia’s second largest city – is noted for its street art, there are laneways in the city centre with a constant procession of photographers documenting the art. Lou Chamberlin’s Burn City book is particularly good for dramatic large scale portraiture,...

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Dan Gurney & an Epic Drive

17 January 2018 | Living

I’ve always been a bit of a petrol head and Dan Gurney, who died at the age of 86 on Sunday 14 January, was my favourite ever racing car driver. After winning the 24 hour race at Le Mans in 1967 he invented the now customary practice of spraying champagne over the ent...

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Trump, Shitholes, T-shirts

14 January 2018 | Living

Like much of humanity I’m disappointed if a day goes by without another incident of the US President Donald Trump opening his mouth and seeing how far he can get his foot into it. Last week it was his ‘shitholes’ outburst and, predictably, a dozen different shithole T...

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Journey – An Illustrated History of Travel

10 January 2018 | Media

Journey - An Illustrated History of Travel from Dorling Kindersley bills itself as ‘a must for every armchair traveller’ although it probably needs a warning that you’re going to need a big armchair. It is a substantial tome. Moving through section by section from ...

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Airline Mysteries

5 January 2018 | Transport

Airline mysteries are always intriguing although when people die they are no fun at all – like the two Malaysian Airline 777 disasters in 2014. Of course we know who shot down MH17 over Ukraine and although it’s unlikely Putin is going to confess anytime soon that it ...

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