Where’s that wrecking ball?

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I see that the good people of Williamstown are concerned about the possible demolition of what they suspect might be Melbourne’s oldest house.  Judging by the McMansions in the background, it no doubt occupies valuable space.   The evidence for the 1842 date seems to be rather sketchy though- land could change hands several times in the efferversence of the early 1840s without an actual dwelling being built.  A search on the Heritage Victoria database records that Pope, who purchased it from James Cain in 1842, was a property-owner and eligible to vote in 1843.  However, many men had several parcels of property, and he could have qualified otherwise through other holdings.  The database gives an approximate date of 1855, presumably because the type of construction was common around 1850.  The 1856 rate book records it as a four room timber building.

Attached though I am to old things, I don’t know if I’d die in the ditch for it.  It needs so much work as to constitute an absolute re-build.   Its value as a curiosity, or as a reminder of times past could just as easily be achieved by shifting it to a park somewhere.

One building that I would have stormed the barricades for, though, was Redmond Barry’s house at 494 Bourke Street that was demolished in 1924.  (It must be a sign of age that I think of it as “only in 1924″ when it’s actually ninety years ago).   It was situated between Queen and Elizabeth Streets, on the north side of Bourke Street- then numbered as  97 Bourke Street West.  The five roomed, low-slung brick cottage with an old mulberry tree in the remnant of a garden would have stood as a reminder that there were people living in that section of  Bourke Street, at that time close to the hub of town,  as distinct from shopping or working in it.  There’s so much else in Melbourne that commemorates him as literally larger-than-life, and this brings the man back to a human scale.

You can see a painting of the house made in 1915, and a photograph of the house just prior to demolition.

But this building is long gone of course, so perhaps I should gird my loins to defend the Northcote Bowl.  Ugly, yes.  At one time ubiquitous, yes.  And, while not the first or only, it’s one of the last left standing in suburban Melbourne, yes.  There’s a sentimental glow about something from a hundred years ago, but it’s just as important- and more difficult- to fight for something forty years old that now violates every concept of good taste without yet attaining the gravitas of being ‘historical’.

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References:

Robyn Annear  A City Lost & Found: Whelan the Wrecker’s Melbourne

Update to the Williamstown house:

The Sunday Age of 30 August 2009 reported that the land will be auctioned on Sept 19 2009 and it is expected to bring about $1 million dollars and be developed as a townhouse project.  Heritage Victoria recently authorized the dismantling of the house.

“The dismantling will be recorded and it will form part of an archival record which will be lodged with the State Library, the National Trust and the Williamstown Historical Society” Heritage Victoria acting executive director Jim Gard’ner said.

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The permit be directed that the parts of the house be “stored” at the owner’s discretion.   Apparently all fabric and any significant archaelogical items are to be removed and catalogued.

I think they could do better than this.  Somehow the documentation of the dismantling seems a rather inadequate response, and “at the owner’s discretion” is so wide that you could drive a truck through it.

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4 responses to “Where’s that wrecking ball?

  1. Just not enough of the Williamstown house left, is there. Let it go. I agree with you about the Bourke Street house. Skimming through my memory, there is nothing like it, certainly not in the Melbourne area. Not sure about the Northcote Bowl. Perhaps it could be kept as an example to architects who start feeling a bit grand about their work.

  2. Yep, the Williamstown house should be taken away and set up somewhere in a historic park/setting (like Sovereign Hill), it’s too far gone to get Heritage “do not touch” status.
    I love reading Kerry Greenwood’s book series on Phryne Fisher as the heroine still lives in the St Kilda road mansion in 1929 when houses were the norm in the CBD *sigh*.

  3. I reckon that the house should be relocated to a park area and restored to an acceptable standard so that future generations can see how people lived in early Williamstown.
    Williamstown has many wondrous historical sites. This could be one More!!

  4. Pingback: Celebrating a new public holiday | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

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