Among The Terraces - A Carlton Street

Rathdowne Street

There were the sounds of the grocer's horse and cart, the residents' horses and buggies, bicycles and hand carts, and above all, the clang of the cable tram...

Parade of Children in Rathdowne Street, 1904

Rathdowne Street, a wide open road that was part of Hoddle's planned rectangular grid, tells many stories: the destruction of the once grand southern end, groups of cottages forlornly left between service stations and high rise buildings in the middle of Carlton, and the intact nineteenth century commercial streetscape of North Carlton, still blending with its sober terraces and villas.

Lygon Street was always the major commercial centre of Carlton and its streetscape has seen complex changes. Its housing lacks diversity however, and its residential area is reduced by the presence of the cemetery on its west side.

Rathdowne Street on the other hand has the whole story. Much of the life of Carlton turned around Rathdowne Street: entertainment at the Exhibition Buildings, the Carlton Baths, family walks in the Carlton Gardens, boys' games in Macarthur Place and Curtain Square, and later, the open air picture theatre, the Library meeting rooms and the borrowing facilities. Children walked along Rathdowne Street to the state school opposite the Exhibition buildings. In North Carlton they walked to the Lee Street State School, to Miss Maxwell's school behind the Bible Christian Church, and further north to Miss Weyman's private Ladies' College and to the Jewish school.

Families walked along Rathdowne Street to its churches the Gaelic Presbyterian, the Erskine Presbyterian, the Catholic, the Congregational and the Bible Christian churches. There were the shops, the small tailoring businesses, the corn stores, the carpenter shops, the blacksmiths and many engrossing small working activities that held the attention of every passer by. There were the sounds of the grocer's horse and cart, the residents' horse and buggies, bicycles and hand carts, and above all, the clang of the cable tram.

Cable Trams

Andrew Hallidie, designer of the cable tramway system in England, stated 'When this system is completed it will attract the attention of the civilised world wherever tramways are in use'.[1] Seventeen routes made up the cable network in Melbourne. It started in the inner city and spread out to suburban terminuses for approximately three miles' radius from the centre of the city.

For almost fifty years cable trams were a common and regular sight on Rathdowne Street. Consisting of two cars - the dummy and the trailer car they were driven by a slow moving underground cable. A device called the grip seized the running cable and rode along with it. When the grip was released and brakes applied, the tram stopped and the cable kept on running.[2]

The North Carlton tram, as the Rathdowne Street line was known, was not the first or only form of public transport in Carlton. In the 1860s an early attempt at transport links was the short lived horse omnibus, a wide and long coach like carriage, pulled by one horse. Residents and traders of Rathdowne Street waited until 1887 for the Carlton cable tram which ran along Lygon and Elgin Streets crossing Rathdowne Street; and until 1889 for the North Carlton cable tram which began at Lonsdale Street, followed the Carlton route, turned at Elgin Street into Rathdowne

Street and ran the remaining length of Rathdowne Street to the depot and engine house at Park Street corner. This latter route was the shortest in the whole network and ran on one cable instead of two. The engine shed is still there, externally unchanged except for the now demolished chimney stack.

The cable tram brought the new North Carlton suburb closer to the trade in Elgin and Lygon Streets and to the jobs, shops and entertainment in the city. It also linked residents to the seaside enjoyment of St. Kilda Beach and the Esplanade. For several years there was a direct route to the beach, used regularly by the teenagers of both sexes.

Val Pratt, now 87 years old, was born just off Rathdowne Street and has always lived in Carlton. He remembered the joy of riding the dummy to St Kilda.[3] Ruby Rhodes, 83, a long term resident of Carlton, also had enjoyable memories of the trip to St. Kilda. 'There was the front of the tram and there was the dummy of the tram, with two sides to it, and with seats along each side. We would walk up to the tram sheds up the top end of Rathdowne Street and for one penny we would get on the tram at the front and we'd go right down to St. Kilda beach. One penny! The tram would stop there, the front part would be turned around, and the back part coming home would be the front part. So we would rush to get in the front to come back home again...The trams never broke down. They were very good.'[4] James Wicks remembered his schoolboy pranks of the late 1910s: 'The more venturesome boys used to whip behind the cable trams, much to the anger of the conductor...We learned all the different ways of jumping on and off...backwards, frontwards, on your hands.'[5]

The decorations on the cable trams echoed this sense of fun. Mr. A. E. Twentyman collected memorabilia about the cable trams, and once owned a former North Carlton cable tram car. He described the painting and the signwriting on the cable tram as a work of art. The side panels were decorated with scrolls of flowers and leaves. The car number was painted in gold leaf with blue shading. At the end of the dummy, curled wrought iron scrolls were painted blue and the wire guards yellow.[6]

Cable trams were popular. Although the installation of the cable and engine house was expensive, the cost of running cable trams compared to trains was low and consequently fares were cheaper. Tram stops were closer to people's houses and provided people with increased mobility. 'Everyone used the cable trams sixty to seventy years ago', recalled resident Marjorie Palmer. 'Motor cars were practically non existent in this area.'[7]


'When this system is completed it

will attract the attention of the civilised

world wherever tramways are in use.'


Although the cable trams were a success and enjoyed by Melbourne's residents, electrification was a cheaper alternative, particularly when first installed. Beginning early in this century, several electric lines were opened. The Royal Commission of 1911, 'Report on Railways and Tramways of Melbourne', recommended that all private and public tramways be vested in the Municipal Tramways Trust and that the cable tramways be converted.[8]

By 1918, the cable system was under pressure as the number of passengers carried increased to 113 million annually. [9] Doubt over whether the system could continue to cope efficiently, hastened plans for electrification of routes. In the mid twenties electrification began in earnest: the decision to end the North Carlton to St Kilda route was made in 1925. [10]

The depression of the thirties delayed the electrification process. As the economy began to recover, closure and ripping up of the rails brought an end to the cable tram network. A metropolitan daily reported the last sad finale of the North Carlton line. On 2 August 1936, 'several hundred people rushed the tram and in a few minutes it was packed...Electric light globes, advertisements, the gripman's detachable seat, bell straps and other articles quickly disappeared. An onslaught was also made on the conductor...but with police assistance he emerged with the loss of one metal tunic button.' [11] Buses began the next day.

The Grand Southern End

In the mid 1850s as Melbourne was expanding from its city boundaries, wood and iron houses 'acquisitioning' of private dotted the top end of Rathdowne Street. A decade committees was feared. later, the wooden dwellings were replaced by the solid brick buildings of professional families who sought the fresh, hilly rise away from the dense city streets. 'Rathdowne Terrace', built in 1868, off the main street, echoed the tone of a wealthy area. Much later it became known as 'Rental Terrace' reflecting the actual drop in status of this southern part of Rathdowne Street.[12]

Even by 1875, the mansions were already changing from a private to a more institutional function. In that year, a Committee of the Hospital for Sick Children was appointed to purchase the land and building in possession of Sir Redmond Barry on the corner of Rathdowne and Pelham

Streets. The brick building of thirteen rooms including offices and a cellar on one acre of land was sold for £10,000 and converted into a hospital. [13] The action taken by the committee, which involved the acquisition of private property 'excited considerable apprehension in the minds of persons living in that neighbourhood',[l4] and further lands by government committees was feared.

In 1877, after all this controversy, the hospital was forced for lack of space, to increase the size by a further one acre to Drummond Street. In the next two years several more hospital buildings were erected in Carlton, and in 1885 a convalescent cottage in Hampton near the beach, but again these failed to cover the need. The first major alterations to the existing buildings occurred in 1886 when the original ward, formerly Sir Redmond Barry's residence, was extensively renovated. Expansion continued when the block of land next to the Barry house was secured for lease, and a three storey Nurses' Training Home erected.

Recovering from diptheria at the Children's Hospital convalescent cottage, 1904.

More buildings were erected over the next few decades but rising land prices curtailed further needed expansion. Eventually in 1943, the Government granted the hospital land in Royal Park, and when the buildings were completed in 1959, St. Nicholas's Hospital became an institution for mentally handicapped children until its closure around 1985.

Many of the buildings have since been demolished and the land now serves as a development site. Two large and imposing bluestone fence posts and bluestone base are the only evidence of Sir Redmond Barry's original mansion and land.

An institutional face had always existed. Churches were awarded major grants of land in the initial subdivisions. Later in 1878 land was gazetted for a new Carlton State School opposite the Carlton Gardens.[15]

The exuberance of the fivestoreyed Queen's Coffee Palace used to mark the high southern entrance of the 1890's Rathdowne Street, but eventually after the effects of two depressions, it succumbed to survive only within an institutional context.

The Queen's Coffee Palace, Rathdowne and Victoria Streets, Carlton

Notice was given on June the 23rd 1888, in the Australian Illustrated News that the Queen's Coffee Palace was to be erected,[l6] with the chief facade facing the gardens. On the ground floor, there was to be a large dining hall (67'x 40') covered by an ornamental glass roof, a drawing room, a smoking room, and a private dining room; on the upper floor were to be seventeen private sitting rooms and bedroom accommodation for 350 guests; on the top floor, kitchens and offices, with two separate lifts for luggage were planned. Billiard rooms and underground smoking rooms were to be included in this seemingly wonderful new Coffee Palace. Another special feature was to be a promenade platform on the roof of the building, apparently commanding 'magnificent' views of the city, suburbs and bay. The quote from the Australian Illustrated News continues: 'Owing to the demand for business sites in this part of Carlton, the front of the building has been taken up by four large shops which are expected to yield a handsome rental. The building will be constructed of good red brick facing with a cement dressing, the base being Malmsbury bluestone, and it is expected to be ready before the latter end of the present year.'[l7]

The optimism was never really fulfilled. The Coffee Palace was unfinished at the expected completion date. Sometime between 1888 and 1910, it was bought by the Colonial Bank which financed the rest of the building operations.

In 1910 the shops still in existence at the base were not the type originally planned. At the time, this part of Rathdowne Street was the centre of a socially depressed district and early in the twenties it degenerated further to become part of the 'Little Lon' zone of Melbourne. The type of shops and the Coffee Palace echoed the social status of the area and earned itself the title of a 'white elephant'. By 1930, it had been bought by the Catholic Church and turned into the St. Anne's Hostel for Girls. It was demolished in the early 1970s.

Extensive private demolition of the many large Victorian buildings in the 1970s finally destroyed the impressive streetscape of the city end of the street. Further individual destruction was halted by the change of opinion resulting from resident action, particularly the actions of the Carlton Association Historical Group which had been investigating the history of threatened buildings in Carlton, preparatory to National Trust classification.

Slum Pockets

In contrast to the grand buildings of South Rathdowne Street, the blocks between Grattan and Princes Streets were noted for their smaller dwellings, interspersed with corner shops, pubs and trade business. There were some more substantial terraces below Grattan Street, near Macarthur Place, but generally the lack of building regulations when the area was developed allowed poor housing to be built on sub standard blocks.

In September 1936, concern over housing conditions in parts of Melbourne prompted the Victorian Government to appoint a Board of Enquiry to investigate housing throughout Victoria. The Board's first progress report included the results of their surveys into housing, including Carlton's 'slum pockets'. Of the 939 Carlton houses surveyed, only 176 were found to be in good repair with adequate facilities; 358 were structurally sound, fit for habitation but needing repair; 227 houses were in bad repair, lacking amenities and considered unfit for human habitation; 153 were definitely insanitary and demolition deemed necessary; 18 were of the very worst type; 7 were unclassified [l8]

Of Carlton, the Board reported, 'The main streets generally are wide and well planned. There are however, many narrow back and side streets, right of way, 'places' and lanes which have encouraged the development of typical slum pockets. The cul de sac type of pocket is much more in evidence in Carlton than elsewhere.'[l9]

The recommendations were direct. 'Having regard to situation, size of allotments, the insanitary conditions of the houses and the lack of adequate light, drainage and other similar amenities, the slum pocket can only be dealt with by summary condemnation and demolition.' [20]

The Board's recommendations were finally realised in the 1960s when complete demolition and rebuilding began in several large street blocks.

The conclusions of the 1937 report still linger: 'The problem of slums is essentially the problem of poverty [and it] is largely the problem of the tenant who is unable, by reason of his low wage earning to pay the rent of a dwelling affording reasonable standards of comfort and decency.' Present Ministry of Housing policy to renovate or rebuild scattered terraces, is an attempt to avoid the ghetto of poverty and the subsequent 'slum pocket' label.

In the 1950s 'Jack' lived south of Grattan Street between Rathdowne and Drummond Streets, 'in a terrace house there with a mate and his family.' He described it as 'skid row with a roof'. 'The people were wharfies and railway workers all battlers. Whatever they did, they struggled. Nobody had any money, even though the war was over.

'They set their own rules and lived by them. They would steal off the wharf or the back of a truck that didn't matter they shared, but if they stole your handbag, that was a no no. If I got bailed out and shot through and left them to hold the bag, their house would have been taken over and sold.

' "Madge Whitford" used to run a cracker [brothel]. People each side of her treated her fine it was like a lady taking in washing. Even the kids used to accept her. It was very different from Fitzroy or St. Kilda. "Madge" started out of sheer necessity. She set her own hours, worked "piece work". There was none of the glamour...if you wanted a cookie you dashed in with two bucks and dashed out, that was it.

'I liked most of all the way the kids were happy. Everybody was safe, even the dog catcher wouldn't go down there. People built their own security. their togetherness was their security. It was a world within a world, a complete environment away from the rest of society'.[21]

CarIton Baths

The Carlton Baths enlivened the central part of Carlton. Bill Toner remembered going to the Baths as a boy in the 1920s. Boys were allowed to swim four days a week, while the girls were allowed entrance only one day a week.[22]

The Carlton Baths' story began as far back as 1868 and is surrounded by protest. In the Argus of 4th December 1868 an article reported the discussion, at a meeting of ratepayers, of the advisablity of allotting £4,000 to Smith Ward for the erection of baths in Carlton. Three days later the baths' proposal was brought before the City Council.

Beyond this, there is little recorded information until around the turn of the century. Discussion emerged again in the form of a debate regarding the proposed site for the baths. A letter dated the 11th of October 1899 from the Secretary for Lands to the Town Clerk states that the Minister of Lands 'sees no objection' to the 'proposed erection of Swimming Baths on the portion of the area known as Curtain Square, Carlton,' and furthermore, is 'desirous' of encouraging the local member of Smith Ward to be 'satisfied that there are no valid local objections.'[23]

A couple of weeks later, however, a letter was addressed to the Mayor and Councillors of the City of Melbourne from the owner of the eight twostoreyed dwellings opposite Curtain Square. He stated strongly that erection of the Baths would be 'ruinous to the property referred as it will collect around the place a class of persons who will be ruinous to the neighbourhood which up to the present time has been a quiet respectable part of the city.'[24] According to the Age of 14 November 1899, residents offered a vigorous opposition and 'a petition signed by over 800 ratepayers...urged [the Minister of Lands] that many people purchased land in the vicinity because of its utility and beauty and that it was the only park in the locality. A school in the vicinity was attended by a thousand children who used the square as a playground, and it was thought that the old Carlton Cricket Ground situated in Sydney Road Parkville opposite the south entrance to the Royal Park would be better suited.'

During 1912 to 1915 the Council kept on trying. Several sites were considered by the Council committees including Lytton Street, Carlton, and Pigdon Street, North Carlton, but were rejected vigorously by local residents and institutions as they involved closure of parts of the roadways.[25] The other proposed site, the triangular reserve in College Crescent, formerly occupied by the Carlton Cricket Club,[26] was also not accepted. The Minute Books show that by 1920, the Carlton Baths were in existence on land in from the corner of Rathdowne and Princes Streets.[27]

Sam Delmo, now 84 years old, recalled going to the Baths as a boy. He used to walk up the lane from Princes Street, through tall fancy iron gates which were the original entrance to the Baths. The present entrance and building on Rathdowne Street were then the site of ordinary houses.[28]

The Baths did not always enjoy popularity. In 1923 the Baths appeared to lack patrons and the Council decided to convert them to free baths so that 'large numbers of bathers will be attracted and it may later on be advantageous to charge as the habit of attending would be formed.'[29] The shortage of patrons may have been related also to the quality of the water. In 1928, it was noticed in Council minutes that 'the Carlton Baths were not filtered or chlorinated and emptied only once every seven days'.[30] A couple of months later new baths were proposed in Pigdon Street again, [31] but in January 1929 the Council decided to improve the existing one.[32] Properties in Rathdowne Street were purchased and demolished [33] and a new façade, entrance, office and changing rooms were built in early 1930.[34]

Further upgrading of the Baths' site has been periodically investigated in an apparent attempt to improve recreational and social facilities for the middle part of Carlton, particularly since the public housing of the late sixties increased the popularity density and removed opportunities for recreations in backyards. The Carlton baths continue to present planning issues for the MCC. Recent alterations have converted the site into a multi-purpose leisure centre.

The Baths also served the residents of North Carlton.

The land on North Carlton was opened up for subdivision in the 1860s and 1870s. By 1870, the growth of population in Carlton had warranted creation of a new ward named Victoria Ward, situated north of Princess Street. North Carlton emerged as a distinctive suburb, although only sparsely settled, with scattered groups of three-roomed wooden and brick cottages and an isolated grocer shop. Settlement is first recorded in Rathdowne Street rate-books in 1871 and was mainly consolidated in the eighties, much later than Carlton proper. New building regulations more unified and solid housing stock, with Rathdowne Street as its central commercial thoroughfare.

The Reilly Street drain, now Princes Street, had been a physical barrier between the two parts of Carlton. It used to carry the refuse of the populated area of Collingwood and Fitzroy and was considered an offensive eyesore. In the Carlton News of December 1901, an 'old identity' recalled: 'Thirty seven years ago...the walk from Brunswick to Carlton was of a formidable nature as North Carlton was studded with quarry holes and the Riley [sic] Street drain which commenced at the cemetery was 18 or 20 feet across'.

'The Rathdowne Street Study 1871 1900', undertaken by Noelle Belcher in 1975, records the changes in property ownership and tenancies on both sides of Rathdowne Street between Princes and Richardson Streets.[35] The study which was based on examination of the rate books and the City Valuers' reports for the area, contributes to a picture of the development of the street in the 1870s and 1880s and the changes that happened there in the 1890s.

In contrast to the haphazard pattern of development in most parts of north Rathdowne Street, the land on the east side between Davis and Newry Streets was taken up in a regular manner. In 1878 the old asylum buildings of the Stockade State School had been demolished to make way for the new Lee Street School buildings. Some of the land bordering Rathdowne Street, originally occupied by the Stockade, the Asylum and the first school, was released for subdivision at the same time and was taken up by twelve buyers. The next year there were further subdivisions, with 21 owners. Ten dwellings were built immediately in that year nine houses and one corner shop. Their owners included a fireman, a constable, a baker and a grocer, a joiner, a musician, a miner and an engineer. Only two houses were rented out to tenants at this stage.

By 1885, the majority of houses were occupied by their owners. As the century drew to a close, however, and the depression of the 1890s took effect, the number of owner/occupiers decreased. The trend began for owners to hold on to their properties and move out to Iess busy streets or to better suburbs, while letting their houses to a succession of tenants. In 1895 the tenants included a draper, piano tuner, carpenter, butcher, grocer, ironmonger, civil servant, organist, boot manufacturer and mason.

Tenancies became the norm in the other blocks as well. The west block between Lee and Newry Streets was always a commercial sector, but also had a group of residential dwellings. Between 1885 and 1895, its number of owner/occupiers steadily decreased.

There were however some long term owner/occupiers. Thomas Burtenshaw was one of these long term residents. A builder by trade, he was born in 1829 in London. He sailed from the East India docks in July 1852 and landed at Port Melbourne in November that year. He first worked as a joiner for nine months and between 1853 and 1855 entered into partnership as a builder in Argyle Square. Two unsuccessful years on the goldfields were followed by a return to his trade: in 1888, it was recorded that 'for the past 30 years he has been a builder in Carlton'.[36]

The rate books record Thomas Burtenshaw as the owner of six allotments on the north west corner of Rathdowne and Lee Streets in the late 1870s. In 1876, he built his own home at number 605, a twostorey terrace of six rooms with a bathroom and scullery and lived there throughout the period covered by the Belcher research. In the same year, he built the neighbouring house to the north as a pair to his own house. Later on, in 1884, on his two far north allotments, Burtenshaw built two six room houses. He kept the first house and tenanted it, the second he sold to the next neighbour, who also tenanted it. The two allotments south of Burtenshaw's own house were used as his builder's yard. On this site, in 1889, when he turned sixty, he built two seven room brick shops, which became occupied by a fruiterer and a painter decorator.

The Thomas Burtenshaw buildings corner Rathdowne & Lee Streets.

Burtenshaw was a well established businessman whose prosperity and security continued throughout the depression of the nineties.

Residences with space for pleasant afternoons, were commercial sector.

Others in North Carlton appeared to withstand the effects of the nineties' depression, at least in the first half of the decade, better than the surrounding inner suburbs, which relied on heavy industry.

Figures for the 'Occupations of the Male Workforce' for Smith and Victoria Wards between 1885 and 1895 indicate the difference between Carlton and North Carlton. In contrast to the general exodus from Melbourne recorded during the depression and echoed in Smith Ward, the figures for Victoria Ward show an increase of 331 from 2893. The significant increase was in the category 'Shopkeeper and Independent Trades' an increase of 75, from 675 to 750. The category 'Service and Unskilled' increased by 49, and the category 'artisans' by 45, to 892, indicating continued small business growth. [37]

Figures for building development reflected the local employment opportunities.

New building for the commercial section of Rathdowne St, Princes to Fenwick Sts., was at a similar level of growth in the first half of the nineties as in the second half of the eighties.

The optimism which stimulated building during the first half of the nineties' depression was unusual enough for the local newspaper to comment. On 11 April 1890, the Carlton Gazette reported, 'Some people have great faith in Rathdowne Street. While empty shops can easily be had in Lygon Street, a large number of new shops are being put up in Rathdowne Street'. The same newspaper reported on 30 May 1890: 'Mr. Goodkin has just completed a fine row of shops on the corner of Rathdowne and Princes Streets. They are all let'. On 8 January 1892, the Carlton Gazette contrasted the shopping areas of Carlton and North Carlton. 'Business to express it mildly, has been very flat. Lygon Street shows no improvement, while Elgin Street looks a little more lively with its new shops, and Rathdowne Street and Nicholson Street have both shown material improvement. Shops have been built and occupied while others are being erected, which show that these two streets are expected to become good business centres; otherwise building in Carlton has nearly been at a standstill'.

However, the dearth of building in the commercial sector in the second half of the nineties (two new buildings only) and a drop in all but two of the occupational categories between 1895 and 1910 indicate that the financial stability had faltered. In particular, after 1895 the category 'Artisans Building' for Victoria Ward, showed a marked drop of 196 from 564 to 368, reflecting the downturn in the rest of Melbourne's building trade.





Total Blocks

New Buildings





Table 1. New Building in Rathdowne Street [Princes to Fenwick Sts.] 1885 1900.

Source: Municipal rate books.

Joseph Redapple, born in North Carlton in 1888 remembered the working efforts of his father Gershon, during the years of the nineties' depression. His father, a Polish Jew, had migrated to Australia with his wife Cecelia, before Joseph was born. Gershon Redapple, an anglicised name, was a tailor by trade and also skilled in saddlery. In spite of the depression, he could obtain work making ladies' side saddles for hours after his usual work each night.

His son Joseph remembered his father at the end of the last century. 'My father was always able to get a job, [making] riding habits or side saddles. In order to augment his income my father used to arrange with the firm he worked for to take home some work. After doing his eight or ten hours where he was working, he'd work another four or five hours in order to keep a family of nine children.'[38]

It seems that Gershon Redapple left his regular work and in 1898 rented 378 Rathdowne Street, the present hardware store, for a tailoring business. Joseph recalled the shop: 'The front part of the shop was brick, but the workroom was low roofed and weatherboard. My father had about three employees, including my older brother Meyer.


They used to heat the pressing irons, which

would weigh eight or nine pounds, on a coke

fire, then take the hot iron, put a wet rag

on the suit and press it with the iron. That

could be on a day when it was a 100 degrees

in the shade.


The sweat, not perspiration, the sweat would be running down my father's face. Conditions were very poor, but they didn't think so because it was normal'.[39]

In spite of the need for hard work and long hours, Gershon Redapple appeared to make a success of his tailoring business. According to the rate books, in 1899 a shop several doors along at 394, was purchased in his wife's name, Cecelia Redapple. The family did not live in either shop but in a small two storey terrace in Nicholson Street.

The success of the Redapple family was echoed elsewhere in Rathdowne Street. In particular, business on the west side, Lee to Newry Streets, managed to survive the threatening economic climate, maintaining considerable stability throughout the nineties. Out of ten businesses in 1889, five of them, painter, fruiterer, butcher, jeweller and grocer, continued on past 1900. A draper began in 1890 and continued after 1900 having taken over three shops by 1899. In 1892 two residences were converted into shops and one of these, a saddlery, continued beyond 1900. Three of the businesses changed actual shop premises, but continued in the same business, two moving next door and one over the road. Of a total of thirteen shop premises, there were seven different businesses (using nine shops) that continued throughout the nineties.[40] According to Val Pratt, all these businesses continued in the same trade up till the First World War, with four of the tenants remaining the same over the whole period.[41]

'My father was always able to get a job, [making] riding habits or side saddles. In order to augment his income my father used to arrange with the firm he worked for to take home some work. After doing his eight or ten hours where he was working, he'd work another four or five hours in order to keep a family of nine children'.

During 1890 to 1900, vacancies in this block occurred in five shops and two houses, but only in one shop and one house were they recorded more than once.

Further south on the east side, between Princes and Lee Streets, the shopping block was not fully built until the nineties, business was not as stable and few remained the same by 1900. Nine of the sixteen shops were built in 1890 and 1891, four of them very soon reverting to the bank.

In this block W.L. Baillieu bought land and erected four shops from 1890 1891 on the corner of Davis and Rathdowne Streets. It is recorded that Baillieu ran an estate agency, that he speculated greatly and became insolvent in 1892.

In the north east block between Curtain and Fenwick Streets, three shops, built in the nineties by a widow several years after her husband died, reverted to a Building Society. In the west block between Lee and Newry Streets, the only record of mortgage foreclosed is a piece of land owned by Theodore Fink, a business associate of Baillieu.[43] As was to be expected, vacancies also occurred in the two east blocks, with several taking two years to be retenanted.

Although the local press had applauded the significant new building in the early nineties in Rathdowne Street, the new development was more vulnerable to the economic climate than those businesses which were built and well established in the 1880s before the depresssion.

In spite of the stability of sections of Rathdowne Street, some families were very poor. Church and philanthropic groups made some attempts at amelioration of poverty. The Carlton Gazette of 24 June 1892 reported, 'In view of the distress existing at the present time, St. Jude's Church will distribute soup on Wednesday to Saturday at the school room in Lygon Street, agency, that he speculated greatly and became insolvent in 1892. In 1893, the Commercial Bank is recorded as the owner of the four shops.[42] irrespective of creed'. Mr Joseph Redapple spoke of the children with him at the Lee Street School in the 1890s. 'A lot of the kids weren't well fed. A lot of them were very poor families...We were lucky to have some clothes. Some of the kids were dressed in what we call rags and tatters'.[44]

Change occurred slowly over the next decades. The vacant blocks in Rathdowne Street North Carlton filled gradually. In the area studied, there were several post war small factories and businesses and one block of post war flats. Photographs taken in 1975 show many shops used as stores or private residences or small businesses unrelated to local consumption. By that time Rathdowne Street showed a bare aspect a wide street with some basic shops but nowhere for a friendly coffee or a place for mothers and children to sit except the oasis of Curtain Square.

1930s - 1950s

In the thirties, Poppy Phillipatos and her family lived with her Kallinikos relatives behind their fruit shop in 294 Rathdowne Street near Davis Street where in the 1890s Baillieu had built his row of shops. The extended family of brothers had come from Greece after the First World War. Her father was a chef and first ran a restaurant in Coburg while her mother worked in the uncle's fruit shop. There were shops all around and Poppy's job was to run messages to the grocer shop on the corner or the butcher's next door. Fruit and vegetables were from the family shop and bread was delivered. Milk was also delivered. 'They'd have this big can of milk on the back of the horse and cart and we'd come out with our little buckets and they'd give us spoonfuls of milk, as much as you wanted for our little bucket.'[45]

Poppy Phillipatos remembered the thirties' Depression as a very difficult time for business:


'My father and my uncle went out of business with

the Depression. They both had fish shops

father had a fish shop near where the pizzas are

now. My uncle ran a fish shop up near Kay Street...

Potatoes and fish were getting very dear and people

weren't buying. They were just staying home and

making ends meet, like we were too. A lot of people

were out of work...I can remember asking for things

which we couldn't have.'


At the Rathdowne Street State School in Carlton she remembered seeing 'bare footed ones'. She left school before she finished the eighth grade, in the Lee Street School by then: 'My mother thought I was old enough to leave school and stay home and help in the shop. They couldn't afford to employ anyone...I wanted to stay. I liked school I really wanted to be in everything. Boys had the priorities those days, because my brother was allowed to go on and on.'[46]


'Taylor's BUTTER SHOP carried a large range of butters

Western district, Gippsland and so on. These were in very

large slabs and chunks were cut from them with wooden

butter pats. Cheeses were also in great variety as were

honey and bacon. The shop was cooled by canvas sail like

ceiling fans on pulleys.'[49]


The Rathdowne Street shopping centre never recovered. It struggled to compete with the city shops. For more substantial purchases Poppy's family would take the cable tram to the city. It seemed that drapery articles were no longer available locally. Poppy: 'There was nothing like that in Rathdowne Street, only food...We would go right down to Lonsdale Street. We mostly went to Myers to the materials' shop.'[47] Val Pratt believed 'The thing that killed Rathdowne Street...was Myers starting in town, taking all the trade into the city, taking it away from the suburbs.'[48]

Marjorie Palmer also saw the decline of the shopping area. 'Rathdowne Street was the busiest between Lee and Newry Streets' west side as there was Taylor's butter shop, Hattam's clothing store, the butcher etc... I think the Depression of '31, '32 hit all the businesses badly and the '39 war definitely put a finish to the small shops. People started shopping more in Nicholson Street, but all shops were affected.' [50]

Although North Carlton kept its integrity and its identity still intact, based on artisans and shopkeepers through the nineties' depression, only the basic service shops seemed to survive the thirties' Depression. Very little in the streetscape changed until the wave of migrants settled in the fifties and early sixties.

Peter Re remembered Taylor's shop in the fifties and sixties. At that time, he used to help his father Tom Re in his greengrocer shop several doors along.

Tom Re was born in 1913. His father's family had a fruit shop in Rathdowne Street near Elgin Street. Tom's father was Italian and his English mother died when he was young. In the mid 1920s the grandfather moved to a shop at 647 Rathdowne

In 1931, the Re greeengrocery at 647 Rathdowne St was run by all the family. Tom Re second from right

Street, North Carlton and ran a new green grocer business with Tom and his younger brother Dave.

Later, in the 1950s, on Sundays, the shop was the centre of social life. Peter recalled the 'Catholic Hour' every Sunday morning.


'All of Dad's mates came for their vegetables for the

Sunday roast. That was their excuse. They'd bring their

beer, talk about the races and football and drink beer.

While they talked they would unfold the newspapers

ready for the week's business. I would go there

sometimes on a message for some item that my mother

had forgotten to collect for lunch.'


Other activities enlivened the working day. 'My father could sometimes drink many beers in the course of the day. In the morning he would pick up the orders Lady Gowrie, then the Dan O'Connell, the Brandon, the Union [now the Fenwick Inn], the Red Lion, or the Rising Sun and have a few beers. Then he'd go back to the shop with the orders and return to the pubs with the deliveries before lunch and have a counter lunch at one of them. Then when he closed shop, he'd call in at one of the hotels for a drink and perhaps at one of his friend's on the way home.'[51]

Deliveries were by horse and cart until 1954, when Tom Re bought a truck, and sometimes extra entertainment services were given. 'I would be doing the deliveries and Dad would make up a few boxes of fruit and veg that wouldn't last till Monday and send it round to the poor people. He'd say don't knock on the door, just leave it. Dad would also get the old ricketty fruit boxes, and break them into bits and send them round to the old pensioners who had fires. Another thing that he did mainly for the old people was to deliver their other orders. Say an order would be left at the butchers' or the shoe repairers' for bootmaker Mick Tallon, Dad would pick them up, and deliver the meat or the shoe repairs. I used to do it too and I would have to collect the money, remember how much it was for each and then go and pay the butcher or the bootmaker or sometimes the dry cleaners. Quite a number of my father's mates drove trucks and sometimes goods might "fall" off. That would come to the shop and Dad would distribute it with the deliveries. It would never happen these days.[52]

Peter Re remembered that great changes came with the migrants in the fifties and sixties.

The spread of Italians in Carlton had followed the spread of Jewish immigrants from East Melbourne, to South Carlton and then to North Carlton.[53] By 1961, Italian families had already begun to move out to more open suburbs. In the middle of 1960, at least one quarter of the population of Carlton was of Italian origin.[54] Italian labour was prominent in Carlton's small clothing industries [55] and along Rathdowne Street the Italian settlement contributed to the appearance of pasta and continental fare at the corner shop. However one shopkeeper, who migrated from Italy to Australia in the 1920s believed the arrival of the Jews and Italians contributed inadvertently to the decline of the shops.


'They bought their own food and cooked it

their own way. They didn't buy anything cooked,

they used oil instead of butter...The shops

closed down because nobody was busy.'[56]


Entertainment had always been a 'do it yourself activity along Rathdowne Street: shopping walking, drinking, taking the cable tram to the or beach, while boys and girls played where they could.

The unfilled quarries and the sewer workings around the Curtain Reserve, as it known towards the end of the last century, provided exciting play areas for boys in what was the developing suburb. Mick Tallon, now remembered his father in law speaking about fishing in the quarry hole' in the 1880s.[57] Joseph Redapple recalled his childhood in the 1890s those days sewerage was just being inaugurated big shafts with steps on the side were being made. There was one boy we used to call Lanky because he was so tall. We would throw his books down the shaft we all carried our books in a leather bag. There was nobody working in the shafts at that time. The poor boy would go down to get them as he came to the top to hand his books up would throw them down again. Kids were cruel in those days'.[58]

There were no swings or slides in Curtain Square. Boys made up games football with or with a wad of paper tied with a string, a kerosene and piece of wood for wickets and bat, or a 'cat' made with two sticks.

'Cat' or 'Kit Kat' was a popular boys' from the 1890s to the 1930s. Val Pratt descri in the 1910s. 'You used to get about half the 1 of a broom handle and sharpen it at each en' then you'd draw a circle with lines across number 1 2 3 4 in each of them. Then you'd stand

The lads of the Northern End from the Lee Street School Football team, 1884

back about ten feet and throw the cat into this ring. Say it came out on 1, well you had one stroke of the cat. You just held another bit of broomstick and belted the cat down the street as far as you could see.'[59]

Girls played different games. According to Val Pratt, 'diabolo' was popular, and a game for girls only. 'You had two sticks joined together with a worked the diabolo up, threw it up in the air. Some girls could throw them up thirty feet and catch them on the way down...The idea was to try and keep it going. As soon as you dropped it you were out.'[60]

Girls kept to their home boundaries, generally playing outside their own fence In the 1930s, Poppy Phillipatos played on the pavement outside the family shop. We were allowed to play outside under the verandah or in our back yard, but we weren't ever allowed loose in the streets. We were kept close by, it was just a family custom. [61]

The pubs have long been a traditional meeting place in Carlton for drinking and discussing the football. The 'Kent' on the north east corner of Rathdowne and Curtain Streets, was one of the district's earliest buildings, recorded in the Sands and McDougall Directory in 1875 Between 1887 and 1897, the hotel was enlarged from seven to twelve rooms, with the addition of a billiard room. A skittles' alley provided further entertainment in 1878, 1879 and 1884.[62]

The zwine saloon, opposite the Kent, made its mark in the minds of several residents when they were boys. James Wicks recalled an incident about 1920. 'Petrucho's had a wine saloon in Rathdowne Street and one day I walked in. I think I paid 1/6 for a small bottle of wine and I went over to the Curtain Reserve with Jacky Wootton. He wouldn't drink any, but I drank half the bottle, and I came back to school and ] didn't know where I was...They phoned my parents about that'.[63]

Peter Re also remembered a wine bar on the west side of Rathdowne Street, somewhere opposite the Kent hotel in the late 1940s and 1950s. 'A group of "plonkos" used to drink in the park. My parents would say, don't go near the plonkos. Probably they knew them from the time before they were drinking.'[64]

Sly grog establishments were also part of the life of Rathdowne Street and Curtain Square. Peter Re used to visit the 'Tin Shed' right next to the North Carlton police station in Fenwick Street, just east of Rathdowne Street:


'It was a paper warehouse with gigantic rolls of paper.

They had big barrels of beer and hundreds of people on

Sunday night. I loved it. There was another, the oldest

running sly grog place. It had started in the twenties

"Ma Fitz's Speak Easy". It was a double storey terrace,

opposite Curtain Square with a lane at the back, entered

from Earl Street. I used to deliver fruit and vegetables

to old Alice, a family friend next door, and see hundreds

of bottles of beer being delivered.'[65]


The vacant north west corner of Rathdowne and Newry Streets opposite Curtain Square was a target for plans for community social life.

In the 1880s, some North Carlton gentlemen felt encouraged to form their own social club. According to the Carlton Gazette of 18th June 1887, 'a meeting has been held and a committee formed who have selected a site ...[for a building] devoting the ground floor to shops and a large hall, and upstairs, two lodge rooms, ante rooms, library etc.' Another meeting was planned to consider 'establishing a coffee palace as the land was considered sufficient to embrace the whole scheme.'

On July 2nd 1887, the Carlton Gazette recorded that the promoters of the North Carlton Hall Co. Ltd. had purchased land opposite Curtain's Reserve, 66' 6" frontage to Rathdowne Street, 92' frontage to Newry Street. A prospectus was reported as available on 24th September the same year. But by 1st June 1888, the newspaper reported that lack of public interest in the scheme forced the sale of the land to Isaac Roffs.

By 1913, the corner site was used as an open air picture theatre attended by many residents including Val Pratt. 'They used to show the films on the wall of the two storey house next door. The screen is still painted on the wall.'[66]

Much later, in 1953, this allotment was proposed as a site for a new children's library. The Council had also proposed the Carlton Hall in Princes Street as a possible site, but the Junior Chamber of Commerce, which was providing finance for books, preferred the Rathdowne site an appeared to sway the decision. An old men's shelter and amenities' room for Council employees ha recently been erected on part of the site, and 'plans' have been prepared for the addition to these buildings of accommodation for elderly women on the ground floor and library on the first floor.'[67] The records are not clear whether the club room were a Council or a community decision.

The elderly ladies' club commenced in July 1957 and continued through to February 1964 when the few remaining members were catered for by the central Carlton Elderly Citizens' Club. It seemed that North Carlton in its independent way could rely on its own networks without too much structure and organisation from the Council.

The evidence of the story is still there to see in Rathdowne Street today the 1890s, the thirties, the fifties. Some of the people are still there to meet. And around the entrance to O'Rourke's hardware store, the rustle of Cecelia Redapple's long skirt as she entered the door of her husband's steamy tailor shop, might again be heard.

Go and walk along Rathdowne Street and listen.

Girls played different games: Diabolo




1. John D Keating,. Mind the Curve, Melbourne, 1970. p.48

2. ibid., p.7

3. Val Pratt. Transcript of interview, Lee Street Primary School. Nth. Carlton, 1983, p.2

4. Mrs. Ruby Rhodes. Tape of interview, Lee Street Primary School Nth. Carlton, 1987, Side A

5.James Wicks. Transcript of Interview, Lee Street Primary School Nth. Carlton, 1983, p.21

6. A. E. Twentyman. Private records, quoted in Keating, J.D., op. cit., p.80

7. Mrs. Marjorie Palmer. Reflections on Carlton. Lee Street Primary School Nth. Carlton, 1983, p.6

8. Keating, op. cit., p.l22

9. ibid., p.l2

1O ibid., p.l26

11 Sun News Pictorial, Melbourne 3/8/1936, quoted in Keating, op. cit. p. 47

12. I.S. Abdin and A.H.M. Moedani. 'The Block: Rathdowne Queensberry Drummond Victoria Streets', History of Architecture thesis, Uni. of Melb. 1966, p.l3

13. ibid ch.3, 'St. Nicholas' Hospital', p.1

14. Melbourne Hospital Chronicle, October 1876, quoted in ibid. p.1

15. Faye Schutt, Rathdowne Street 1884 1984. Melbourne Impressive Graphics, 1984

16. Quoted in M. Linden and B. Allen. 'The First Block of Carlton', History of Architecture thesis, University of Melbourne, 1966, p.41

17. ibid.

18. 'Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board, First [Progress] Report, Slum Reclamation, Housing for the Lower Paid Worker.' V.P.P. no.4, vol.l, 1937. Appendix D, p.94

19. ibid., p.l6

20. ibid., p.5

21.'Jack'. Notes of interview with Katie Holmes 230/1987, pp.l 5

22. Bill Toner. Taped Interview, Lee Street Primary School Nth. Carlton, 1987, Tape side A

23. M.C.C. Archives in Curtain Square Vertical file, Lee Street Primary School Archives

24. Letter to Council [M.C.C.] 30/10/1899, ibid .

25. Minute Book, Town Hall, 4033 vol 2, Planning Committee, Minutes 10/5/1912, p.l54. Minutes, 18/12/1912, p.l99. Letter from Carlton Refuge Committee 12/5/1915, p.395. Minutes 9/6/1915, p.l60

26. Memo, Parks and Gardens Committee in ibid., October 1915, p.383.

27. ibid., 1/3/1920, p.l9

28. Sam Delmo. Conversation with Elizabeth Loughlin at Carlton library 17/1V1987

29. Minute Book, Town Hall, vol. 4, 3/1V1923, p.262

30. Minute Book, Town Hall 4054/2 vol.5. Town Hall and Baths Committee, p. 166

31. ibid., Parks and Baths Committee 11/6/1928, p.203

32. ibid., 23/1/1929, p.250

33. ibid., 24/6/1929, p.298

34. ibid., 20/1/1930, p.346

35. Noelle Belcher. 'The Rathdowne Street Study 1871 1900, Unpublished research, 1975. Summary copy, Archives, Lee Street Primary School Nth. Carlton. The predominantly shopping area has been selected for examination, as the commercial sector would be linked more closely to the changes in the economic climate than would the records which included the predominantly residential blocks from Fenwick to Richardson Streets.

36. A. Sutherland, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol.2, Melbourne, 1888, p.2

37. Occupations of the Male Workforce Smith and Victoria Wards 1875 1910, in Katie Holmes, Among the Terraces: Work in Carlton, pp.22 23.

38. Joseph Redapple. Transcript of Interview Lee Street Primary School, North Carlton. 1983, p.2

39. ibid., p.l2 13

40. Chart of Changes in west block, compiled by Noelle Belcher from her Study. See back cover.

41. Pratt op. cit., Map of Rathdowne Street shops in cover

42. Belcher op. cit., p.45

43. ibid., p.23, 63.

44. Redapple op. cit., pp.7,14

45. Mrs Poppy Phillipatos. Transcript of Interview, Lee

Street Primary School, Nth Carlton, 1983, p.9

46. ibid., pp.2,4,21,22

47. ibid., p.l2

48. Pratt op. cit., p.2

49. Marjorie Palmer op. cit., p.3

50. ibid.

51. Peter Re. Interview with Elizabeth Loughlin 8/1/1988 Record of interview. p.1

52. ibid., p.2

53. F. Lancaster Jones, 'Italians in the Carlton Area: The Growth of an Ethnic Concentration', Australian Journal of Politics and History, no.l0, 1964, p.90

54. ibid., p.92

55. ibid., p.86

56. Mick Tallon. Transcript of interview, Lee Street Primary School Nth Carlton, 1987,p.14

57. ibid., p.9

58. Joseph Redapple op. cit., p.7

59. Val Pratt op. cit., p.l4

60. ibid. p.6

61. Poppy Phillipatos op. cit., pp.l2 13

62. Noelle Belcher op. cit., p.71

63. James Wicks op. cit., p.22

64. Peter Re op. cit., p.2

65. ibid.

66. Val pratt op. cit., p.6

67. M.C.C. Archives, Carlton Library. Letter from Junior Chamber of Commerce, 6/3/53. Letter from Town Clerks office to Chairman and Members of Finance Committee, 30/10/1953.

Among the Terraces: A Carlton Street

Research: Noelle Belcher, Elizabeth Loughlin and Catherine Gleeson

Written by: Elizabeth Loughlin

Edited by: Katie Holmes and Pat Grimshaw

Layout and design: Katie Holmes

Cover design and graphics: Catherine Gleeson


Thanks to the Principal, Bill Clark, and librarians Jan McIntosh and Barbara Zovi, of Lee Street Primary School, North Carlton, for access to the school's archives, and to the residents and former residents of

Carlton for their memories. Thanks also to the staff of the La Trobe Library for their patience and assistance in our search for photographs. Barson Computers provided a computer, Co Design ergonomic chairs, and

CEP the funding to make the project possible.



Catherine Gleeson

Katie Holmes (coordinator)

Annemarie Law

Elizabeth Stafford


Printing Services, University of Melbourne, Vic.


Carlton Forest Project

C/o Princes Hill School Park Centre,

Arnold St., Nth. Carlton, Vic.

Copyright, Carlton Forest Project, 1988

Copyright: This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher.

Photos on pp. 3, 7, 9, 11, courtesy of the La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria. Copyright for photos, pp. 3,7, 9, 11, La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria.


p.3. Australasian, 9/7/1904, p.41. La Trobe Library Collection, State Library of Victoria.

p.4. Royal Historical Society of Victoria p.4. A & C Black Ltd., London.

p.5. Courtesy Carlton Library.

p.6.Courtesy Castle Family.

p.7. A. Sutherland, Victoria and its Metropolis, McCarron, Bird and Co,. Melbourne 1888 vol 2, p. 679, La Trobe Library Collection, State Library of Victoria.

p.9. Carlton's Slum Pockets', 4/8/1937. Victorian Ministry of Housing, Slum Abolition Report, 1937.

p. l0. Courtesy Elizabeth Loughlin.

p. 11. La Trobe Library Collection, State Library of Victoria.

p.l2. Courtesy Ivan Burns, 1974.

p.l3. Courtesy Marjorie Palmer.

p.l4. Courtesy Ivan Burns, 1974.

p.l6. Courtesy Re Family.S

pp.l8, 20 Drawings by Val Pratt.

p.l9. North Carlton Primary School archives.

ISBN: 0 9587922 3 2

0 9587922 5 9 (for series)