Months back, my friend, Alison, had suggested we attend a workshop of that name, run by the Council of Adult Education. As the day dawned, I realised it couldn't have been more apt, or more timely. Because of course Election Day had been the day before and as the majority of the country lumbered to the right, Melbourne headed in the opposite direction. We not only returned the wonderful Adam Bandt to the House of Representatives for his second term as the sole Greens member, but we did it with a further 10% swing to the Greens. It makes me proud to belong to this great city. Sunday was the perfect moment to hear rich tales of earlier denizens of Melbourne, which I soon learned has always teemed with radical thinkers prepared to stand against the tide.
The incredibly informative Meyer Eidelson, a radical himself since adolescense, was just the person to lead the workshop and lead the charge.
|Meyer Eidelson - Old Melbourne aficionado|
The promo for the workshop promised: 'Discover the rich heritage of agitators, troublemakers and eccentrics in the back lanes of Melbourne. Communists, anarchists, madams, nuns, mediums, Chinese libertarians, rioters, suffragettes, feminists, gays and more.' And did Meyer deliver! We covered little actual ground geographically as so much of this action occurred in the historically poorest parts of the CBD, but in terms of lives lived the afternoon couldn't have been more rich and varied.
|Lane way full of stories, and secrets|
Perhaps my favourite person was someone I'd never heard of before. Edward Cole, who was born in 1832 in England, created an extravaganza, a paean to books. The Coles Book Arcade in Howey Place boasted 2 million books for sale. Browsers were entertained by a band, could sup in the Chinese teahouse or admire the monkeys in the monkey house.
Cole, a century before his time, found his bride via the nineteenth century equivalent of RSVP (he actually advertised for a wife on the front page of the Herald). Apparently it was love at second sight. The couple married rapidly and subsequently spent their evenings blissfully playing with the monkeys in their upstairs apartment in Howey Place.
|Where the Coles Monkeyed Around|
There is one thing that utterly amazes me about Edward Cole. Forget George Orwell's 1984 written in 1949, in the 1880s Cole thoroughly pipped that post by producing 'prophecies for the year 2000'. These included: 'Flying machines will be in general use, passing and repassing every point on earth.' 'A network of railways, telegraphs, telephones and later inventions will cover the entire earth, bringing people together, associating and fraternizing across nations.' And 'Everybody will easily obtain proper food, clothes and the necessities of life.' - if only!
|Trunk Bar, Little Lonsdale Street|
I loved lots of the buildings we visited. But I think my favourite would have to be what is now the Trunk Bar, whose history has been most ecumenical and social justice-oriented. And with which I have a recent personal connection.
The building started life in 1859 as one of Melbourne's first synagogues and schools, before morphing into an early free State School. The Salvation Army used it as a Labour Exchange for women and later as a poor men's shelter. After a time as a women's shelter, the Methodist Central Mission took it over to provide relief for the residents of the slums which surrounded it.
Just before WW1 it was a free kindergarten for children of the poor and once the war started it operated as a creche to assist working and ill mothers. It was a relief depot once again during the Great Depression (1929) and a creche and nursery subsequently. It moved into the hospitality industry as a Chinese restaurant in 2005 and nowadays is the super cool Trunk Bar. Which is where I come into the picture.
Commissioned a few years back to write a photojournalism piece on the new radical phenomenon of urban honey, I visited the roof top of Trunk with members of Melbourne City Rooftop Honey, who maintain the restaurant's hives up there.
|Up on the roof|
It was a thrill to realise that my personal history is now a tiny part of the rich tapestry of radical Melbourne. And extraordinary to think that though Meyer shared a succession of wonderful stories with us, there are undoubtedly many more to discover. In the future probably people will marvel at the persistence of Adam Bandt and his Greens supporters and the radical politics of the Melbournians of 2013.