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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

Ten Takeaways from 2017

3 January 2018 | Living

1. Nuclear conflict versus twitter conflict – the word of 2017 for me is dotard, the word is a winner on so many level. It also won for Kim Jong-Un, he was a clear victor over Donald Trump in their twitter battle. Why bother with nuclear war when you can win on a much...

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Rohingya, Myanmar, Bangladesh, New York City & Akayed Ullah

26 December 2017 | Living

My visit to Mandalay in Myanmar for the Irrawaddy Literary Festival was all about the disastrous campaign against the Muslim Rohingya people of the country’s Rakhine State. Myanmar’s genocidal campaign against the villagers in the district led to thousands of deaths a...

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Saudi Madness

22 December 2017 | Living

I love absurd countries, which is why I wrote Bad Lands and Dark Lands. Countries like North Korea, which threaten the outside world with nuclear Armageddon, but in fact couldn’t make something as simple as a bicycle. Any country – and again North Korea is a perfect e...

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Detroit – a city on the way up?

17 December 2017 | Places

I’ve blogged about Detroit a number of times over the years including when I drove through Detroit in 1994 on a coast-to-coast Odyssey in a fine old piece of ‘Detroit iron,’ a 1959 Cadillac. Or more accurately Detroit chrome.   ▲ Here I am with that ’59 Cad...

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Postcards – how long to deliver?

16 December 2017 | Living

One day I’m going to mail off my last postcard, although at the moment I still regularly send off a couple of cards from my travels. One to my about-to-hit-93-years-of-age mother and one to Maureen’s even older aunt. I’ve blogged in 2014 and again in 2016 about the...

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Death on the Highway

12 December 2017 | Living

My April to July trip from Bangkok to London along the Silk Road this year gave me plenty of opportunity to muse about safety on the roads. There was no question that we went through some countries where the roads were horribly unsafe. There was general agreement that...

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Where Was it Made?

10 December 2017 | Living

The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney of course) and The Age (Melbourne) in Australia had a story this past weekend (Saturday 9 December) about fake Aboriginal art. Well perhaps not fake, just not made in Australia. Buy a boomerang, a didgeridoo or some other Aboriginal a...

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San Francisco One Year Later

6 December 2017 | Places

A year ago I was in San Francisco when the US election took place and Donald Trump won. I thought I’d done my bit to save the world by having him cursed – by the cursing grannies – in Hong Kong. I decided that was a clear failure, but perhaps it wasn’t, perhaps becomi...

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Nay Pyi Taw – the new capital of Myanmar

3 December 2017 | Places

The Lonely Planet Myanmar guide suggests that ‘it can feel soulless – Canberra meets Brasilia with a peculiar Orwellian twist.’ I’ve not been to Brasilia, but that’s very unfair to Canberra. Compared to Nay Pyi Taw the bush capital of Australia is compact, crowded, ea...

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The Sex Lives of Cannibals

1 December 2017 | Media

While I was travelling the islands of Kiribati – South Tarawa, North Tarawa and brief visits to a couple of outer islands – during November I read J Maarten Troost’s The Sex Lives of Cannibals, the perfect Kiribati (well mainly South Tarawa) book. You have to go a lon...

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