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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

Silk Road by MGB – Days 76 to 84 in Iran

3 July 2017 | Places

We’re through to Day 92, our last day in Asia, tomorrow we cross the Dardanelles, from Asian to European Turkey and then on into Bulgaria. But more on Turkey shortly, meanwhile here’s a quick summary of Days 86 to 94 in Iran. Tashi was my co-driver on this stage an...

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Silk Road by MGB – Days 76 to 84 in Iran

27 June 2017 | Transport

I’m now in Turkey on Day 88 of my Silk Road with an old British sports car journey and I’ve just posted on how friendly the Iranians were on my trip across that intriguing country, with my daughter Tashi often at the wheel. ◄ And shopping for bread when we stopped ...

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Friendly Iran

26 June 2017 | Living

I’m in Turkey on Day 87 of my 102 day Silk Road drive in an old MGB from Bangkok to London (and on to Abingdon where MGBs were made, many years ago). From Day 76 to Day 84 we drove through Iran. Friendly Iran as almost any visitor to Iran will attest. ▲Tashi Wheele...

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Ashgabat in Turkmenistan – Absurdistan or Pyongyang II?

16 June 2017 | Places

We’re now in Mashhad in Iran on Day 76 of our 102 day Silk Road odyssey by MGB. Our last stop in the Central Asian ‘stans – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – was at Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. None of the ‘stans were what I expected, Kyr...

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Silk Road by MGB – Days 63 to 71 in Uzbekistan

11 June 2017 | Places

Kyrgyzstan was a case of continuous culture shock, not what I had expected of the ex-Soviet Central Asian ‘stans when it came to the geography or the culture. The surprises continued in Uzbekistan, when we reached Samarkand and Bukhara with their wonderful Islamic art...

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MGBs on the Silk Road – Day 57 to Day 63

10 June 2017 | Places

Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, if I’ve had culture shock in recent years then these two countries have been the places that provided it. They simply were not at all like I expected, scenically or culturally. I was expecting deserts, I got the Swiss Alps. I was expecting t...

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Silk Road by MGB – China & Kazakhstan Day 47 to 57

5 June 2017 | Places

I’m in to Uzbekistan now on Day 65, but here’s a quick catch up from Day 47 to 57 Day 49 – Dunhuang is famous for its Buddhist caves and for the Singing Sand Dunes. The caves were indeed terrific, but after Maijishan it was hard to be impressed. The sand dunes, how...

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On the Road – Part 3

31 May 2017 | Transport

We’re at Day 60 on our Silk Road by car odyssey, out of China, through Kazakhstan and into Kyrgyzstan, but here are some final thoughts on driving in China after covering 10,500km from the Laos border to the Kazakhstan one. ▲ My car, Burgundy, in trouble. It was to...

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Toilets in China

26 May 2017 | Living

One of the pleasures (or at least conveniences) of travel in China today is the huge number of public toilets. Once upon a time they were hard to find and when you found one you often wished you hadn’t. ◄ Toilet sign in Pingyao Now they seem to be everywhere and...

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Curiosities & General Strange & Weird Stuff in China

25 May 2017 | The rest

▲ We had a wonderfully loud and raucous restaurant evening in the village of Duoyishu, in the rice terrace area of Yuanyang. The Chinese group at the next table were ripping in to the alcohol, toasting us, generally getting more and more in to the party spirit, culmin...

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