Melbourne: Hidden Secrets Tour


ANURAG MALLICK goes on a Hidden Secrets Tour through Melbourne’s Central Business District with local artist Nicholas Jones. The Lanes and Arcades walk uncovers the secrets behind the city’s most iconic buildings and bylanes.


‘Meeting under the clock’ at Flinders Street Railway Station
Dominating Federation Square, is the Art Nouveau building of Flinders Street Railway station, built in 1909-10 in Edwardian style. The pattern of striped bare red brick and white plaster is interestingly called Blood and Bandage! One of the longest railway platforms in the world, running over four city blocks, its western end has a ballroom and there’s a jogging track on top!

A row of clocks in front earlier displayed various train timings so that people returning from Sunday Church could see what time their train was. It became a bit of a Melbourne tradition to ‘meet under the clock’. Though the building is beautiful, it is not as grand as India’s Victoria Terminus, leading to an apocryphal lore that the plans for the train stations in Mumbai and Melbourne got mixed up in the post!


Eureka Tower and the Gold Rush
The 91-storey Eureka Tower is the tallest completely residential structure in the Southern Hemisphere. Many are fascinated by its appearance that looks like a calculator or ruler – Melbourne in the 1880’s was the wealthiest city in the world, rich from its gold trade. The skyscraper was built in memory of the 1854 Eureka Stockade at Ballarat, where miners revolted against unjust taxation and were eventually killed.

The blue and white represents the Eureka flag, the building’s 24 carat gold-plated exterior represents the gold rush while the red strip symbolizes all the blood spilt! SkyDeck, the 88th floor observation post offers dizzying views.


Why St Paul’s Cathedral is twin-coloured
Built at the site of the first ever church service in Melbourne, St Paul’s was originally a small wooden church later rebuilt out of loose stone. The present edifice was designed by ecclesiastical architect William Butterfield. Unfortunately, the architect was so busy the plans were shipped from England and the church ended up askew – 90-degree off axis!

Built as a flat top church out of locally sourced blue stone in the 1870s, the top spire of St Paul’s cathedral was added later out of Sydney sandstone. The difference in shades is apparent and tourists often remark, “It’s great they’ve cleaned the top part, when are they going to clean the rest of it?”


‘Having a drink with Chloe’ at Young & Jackson pub
The site of the Prince’s Bridge Hotel (named after Prince Albert), where the Young & Jackson Pub now stands, was purchased for £100 at the first Melbourne land auction in 1837 by John Batman, the city’s founder. A stone tablet outside the pub commemorates the incident. The pub’s famous inhabitant is Chloe, an 1875 nude painted in Paris in the Salon style by French artist Jules Joseph Lefebvre.

Back in the day when Melbourne was a puritanical colonial backwater, the painting was put up in the National Gallery leading to clergymen demanding that she be removed as it affected the social moral fiber. She was taken down and kept in storage between 1883-1907, until the pub owners bought it for 800 pounds; today it is independently valued at $5-6 million. Since women were not allowed into pubs those days, a naked woman gave the impression of a Gentleman’s Club and ‘having a drink with Chloe’ meant a visit to the pub.


Platform 2 Artist Project & Sticky Institute
The subterranean Campbell Arcade was built just before the 1956 Melbourne Olympics (dubbed as the Friendly Games) to take pressure off the train station. Forgotten for many decades, in 1995 local artists formed an initiative called Platform 2 Artist Project in the Degraves Street Subway (Platform 1 was on Spencer Street, Southern Cross Station) where the display cabinets served like an art gallery!

In the small clutch of shops is the legendary artist-run Sticky Institute. If you write a book of poetry, a comic book or fanzine on your favourite band, you can print it, staple it and put it up here like a locally produced mag.


Use Melbourne’s first escalator at Manchester Unity Building
In 1932, in the middle of the depression, Melbourne was hit badly and thousands of young men were desperate to find work. The result was Manchester Unity Building. Running three eight-hour shifts with non-stop construction, nearly one storey was built a week and the whole building was finished within a year.

Marvel at its copper elevator doors, mosaic tiles and relief work on the ceiling (depicting gold mining, farming and the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932). Walk past the Latin motto on the floor Amicitia Amor Veritas ‘Friendship, Love & Truth’ to the first escalator in Melbourne.


The Newspaper House mural
Rupert Murdoch’s father Keith Murdoch built Newspaper House in 1933 for the Murdoch family. The mosaic tiled façade features a quote ‘I’ll put a girdle about the earth’ taken from Shakespeare’s The Midsummer Night’s Dream – pretty accurate for the Murdochs’ sense of ambition.

It was designed by local muralist Napier Waller, who also did the murals at Myer, Melbourne Town Hall, State Library of Victoria and the T&G Life Building. Not many know that Waller served in the first World War and his right arm got blown off in 1916 in France; as a result, he had to retrain to work with his left hand!


Checking the time at Royal Arcade
The oldest arcade in Australia, the 1869 building with ornamental Italian architecture was based on Galleria in Milan. The faint lettering on the exterior ‘1912 BATH’ indicate its use in the past. Beautiful hand made tiles lead into a hall lined with premium shops. It’s only when you turn and look back you see two seven feet giants.

Gog and Magog have been striking the clock – built by Thomas Gaunt & company – since 1892. This was where gentlemen in the past would stop to check their fob or pocket watches to make sure they are on time. On the far end in the corner is a figure of Father Time keeping a watchful eye.


Flinder’s Lane
This was the hub of Melbourne’s garment industry, so anyone who wanted a suit, a hat or boots came here. The number of clothing firms in the ‘Lane’ reached 610 in 1939, right until the early 1960s. When people took clothes out into the Lane they had to cover it with calico to stop people pinching the design. The Lane is home to luxury French label Chanel who have a flagship store at the fashionable “Paris end” of the city.

Full of structures related to the textile industry but now known for its SoHo atmosphere, boutique hotels, cafes and bars, it connects to smaller lanes like Degraves Street and Manchester Lane, where a piece of public art pays tribute to its textile history – a giant zipper running down the laneway.


Presgrave Place’s 3D graffiti
Melbourne is a city that teems with graffiti, be it AC/DC Lane or Union Lane, a tiny alley between David Jones & Book Building given to local street artists in 2008 as a graffiti mentoring project. But at Presgrave Place off Howery Place, you’ll find no space for aerosol cans.

After someone put up a framed artwork and stuck it to the wall in 2007, the alley became a bit of an artists’ shrine. Strange arrangements, curious collections of plastic dolls, installations of rats with parachutes, 3D graffiti to a miniature Mona Lisa with 3 plastic soldiers pointing guns at her. It even has its own Banksy – except he’s called Kranky!


Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 26 July 2016 in Conde Nast Traveller online.


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