I have a great fondness for the city of Melbourne. I recall travelling to the city by train frequently as a child, though back then, it was always called ‘town’, a term I still like, akin to the Italian concept of ‘centro‘. ‘Town’ back then meant the centre of Melbourne, particularly the commercial hub from Flinders street through to Bourke street via the arterial network of wonderful dark lanes and arcades. The route, chosen by my mother, usually included various shortcuts underground then along Degraves St, crossing over to the ornately tiled and arched Block Arcade where she spent time as a teenager working in a florist shop. My father spent his working life in the Customs House, a grand old colonial building in Flinders Street, which now houses the Immigration Museum. If he knew beforehand which train we were on, he would wave to us from his second floor window, not that we could see him, but my mother would know. ‘Wave to Dad’, she would say as we passed by. Going to town was part of our upbringing and education: train travel was central to where we lived. It became my escape route from bland suburbia. The grid layout of the city was the key map and we learnt to draw it at an early age, along with learning by rote the names of the stations along the line. The train trip grew in excitement as the view of the industrial docklands appeared to the right, a warning that we were nearly there, followed by the frightening proximity of a dark grey Dickensian looking building to the left, the deeper shadows and grandeur of the city’s architecture, Dad’s Customs House, and the final arrival at Flinders Street station, with subways lined with white and green tiles, spittoons, people in a hurry and men in hats. The highlight of a trip to town would also involve lunch, usually at Coles Cafeteria. Lining up with a tray, and being permitted to choose from an array of pies, cut sandwiches in points and a jellied sweet was the only time we ever ate away from home.
To this day, I’m still very fond of trips to the city, though my train journey is much longer and doesn’t trigger any flashbacks of looming ancient buildings and the scenery of my childhood. As I’m not an avid shopper, I’ve found a new excuse to visit the city more often, or at least I did until the Melbourne lockdowns began. The Melbourne City Library is conveniently located in Flinders Lane, the most vibrant library in Melbourne. By ordering books on line, I had a wonderful excuse to travel along the pulsating lanes of Melbourne, which are memory lanes for me. Of course this library is now closed for browsing, and during lockdown, closes completely.
I’m not sure why Mr Tranquillo suddenly produced a book from our overflowing and somewhat shabby home library: perhaps I had been reminiscing about these times. He found the book in an op shop some years ago, though I have never laid eyes on it before today, which is a good enough reason not to clean out or prune the library. Edwardian Melbourne in Picture Postcards ¹, includes a wonderful selection of old postcards held at the State Library of Victoria. One page is devoted to each, with details of the location, the printer of each, and a transcript of the letter on the back. I now have another legitimate reason to visit the city, to capture the modern equivalent of each photo, taken from the same location. Standing in the middle of the road, and attempting to photograph above a sea of people may present a few problems.
Below, a selected photo postcard from the collection, taken in 1913 and printed in three colours in Germany, followed by my photo taken in November 2020, when the city of Melbourne, post lockdown, was still very quiet. And the book which inspired this post.