Carlton Community History Group


The Good Doctor
Serge Liberman
1942 - 2017

Dr Serge Liberman, medical general practitioner to a generation of people in Carlton, Brunswick and other inner suburbs, died on 22 December 2017. Here are thoughts and recollections from some of those for whom he was a treasured doctor, friend and writer.

Judith Biddington:
There are many skilled doctors and writers in our community, but most don't have necessarily have skill in both areas. Serge Liberman did, he was a good doctor and a good and interesting writer. In addition, as a humanist and humanitarian, he had great people skills. No wonder people in Carlton followed him up to Brunswick when he moved from one suburb to the other, or flocked to his talks when he gave them. Serge had the capacity to involve you, as his patient, in what was happening to you, to explain, to answer all your questions honestly and sensibly, thereby treating you with respect. He always knew your history, even long term, over forty years for some members of our family. He was also very likeable and so many of his patients regarded him as a friend; even when they did not share his ethnicity they still enjoyed his writing and excellent scholarship. He would also have made an exceptional teacher. He will be sorely missed.

Anne Marie Lynzaat & Richard Trembath:
There are many stories I could tell about Serge Liberman who was our GP for decades. The one I shall tell comes from when he had retired, and it illustrates his compassion and empathy with his patients. About a year after he left the Lotus Medical Centre he read the death notice I had placed in the newspaper regarding my brother in law's death from pancreatic cancer. Anne Marie and I were both surprised and moved by the letter we received from Serge shortly afterwards. In it he expressed his best wishes and sympathy for our loss. He concluded with a typical dry joke that Anne Marie's unusual surname helped pick out the notice from all the others!

Shelley Marcus & Peter Tilley:
As patients of Serge Liberman in Carlton and Brunswick from the 1990's until his retirement in around 2013, my wife Shelley and I came greatly to appreciate his excellence and warmth as a GP but also his scholarly and literary interests. He was a late-20th-century version of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, who was likewise a doctor and master of the short story. As a Russian-speaker and translator myself, I enjoyed our conversations on cultural matters during consultations. Serge received the Alan Marshall Literary Award in 1980 and 1981, and Shelley and I have an autographed copy of his 2011, 836-page magnum opus, 'The Bibliography of Australasian Judaica 1788-2008'. Serge will be much missed.

Felice Rocca:
It is a rare privilege to have the wise counsel and empathy of the same doctor from the gawky edge of early adulthood until the wistful edge of retirement. I first went to the Lygon St clinic in the early 1970s with a throat complaint and soon found myself settling to see Serge whenever possible, following to new offices in Brunswick by the mid 1990s. The strictly physical complaints, increasing as I aged, he dealt with smoothly and competently, and I soon found I could also trust him to advise on matters of emotional health, with the same warm efficiency. I also discovered in his writings how deep his understanding of others could go, such as in his short story, published in The Age, of an elderly Italian widower readying to leave for Australia. Upon his retirement in 2013 I felt a door was closing on a large part of my life. Now I know it is shut for good. Addio Serge.

Susan Crowe:
Serge Liberman was a popular doctor and you sometimes had to wait a while to see him, but he always gave you his full attention and care. One day I was sitting in the waiting room, suffering from what I thought was the world's worst cold, when I heard a terrible hacking cough coming from the consulting room. My symptoms were trivial by comparison with this patient, who sounded like they were at death's door. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the "patient" was, in fact, Dr Liberman himself. He was obviously unwell, but he was still seeing a few patients before going home to rest. He wrote a certificate for my time off work and, with his characteristic humour, he pushed a blank form towards me and asked if I could write a certificate for him. I gave him the rest of the week off.

More information:

An obituary, with an overview of his life and work, appears in the Sydney Morning Herald.

As well as his medical work, Serge Liberman was a chronicler of Jewish, and also of other migrant lives, in Carlton and other parts of Melbourne, which came alive in his writings. Much of his writing output can be found at his website.

In December 2014 Serge Liberman gave a talk to the Carlton Community History Group entitled "Writing Jewish Carlton". A copy of the talk can be found on the Academia website.

Dracula's Last Bite
The Canals Have Gone Fishing

Two well known Carlton businesses - Dracula's Theatre Restaurant and Canals Seafood - shut up shop in 2017. Dracula's began in Drewery Lane, Melbourne, in 1980 and moved to larger premises at 96-100 Victoria Street, Carlton, ten years later in 1990. The converted brick factory site, on the corner of Cardigan Street, was originally designed by architect P. Hudson in 1912 and built by F. Frenchman for Ross, Robbins Co., brassfounders. Dracula's final performance was on Saturday 23 December 2017.

Canals Seafood, at 703 Nicholson Street, North Carlton, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017. The business began as a fish and chip shop, operated by Spanish migrants Joseph and Maria Canals, in Collingwood in 1917. They moved to North Carlton in the early 1930s and took over an existing fishmonger's shop, which had been in Nicholson Street as early as 1905. Canals is a family business in the true sense, with successive generations learning the trade from their elders and making their own contribution to developing the business. Over the decades, migrants from Europe, like the Canals family, have done much to influence the Australian taste for fish and seafood. In 2017, the demand for quality seafood was greater than ever and the Canals brothers, John and Peter, chose to end on a high note and give themselves a well-earned break in retirement. The shop building was auctioned in October 2017 and the door is now open for another business - perhaps a fishmonger - to move in.

Notes and References:
Building occupancy information has been sourced from Sands and McDougall directories.
Building design information has been sourced from the Australian Architectural Index and Building Application Index.
Dracula's Melbourne
The Age, 28 September 2017

Photo: CCHG
Elm Trees in Curtain Square North Carlton
Looking South Towards Newry Street

Photo: CCHG
Tree Removal in Curtain Square North Carlton
September 2017

From Quarry to Quercus
Curtain Square North Carlton

Curtain Square in North Carlton has had a major landscape change, with the removal of twelve elm trees from its north/south avenue. Six of the mature elm trees, estimated at 100 years old, were assessed as having structural defects and they posed a serious risk to public safety. The remaining elm trees, from more recent plantings, were not growing well in their current position and their removal allowed for a new avenue of 16 trees to be planted. The Scarlet Oak, Quercus coccinea, was selected as the replacement species. Tree removal took place in September 2017 and care was taken to minimise disruption to the resident wildlife population.

Of course, it will take some time for the new avenue of trees to become established, but Curtain Square has gone through many changes in its history. Curtain Square occupies 1.46 hectares of the area bounded by Rathdowne, Canning, Curtain and Newry Streets and the land was first reserved for recreational purposes in May 1876. However, it had an earlier history as a quarry worked by convicts from the Collingwood Stockade from 1853 to 1866. The convicts spent their days doing back breaking work in the quarry, hewing blocks of bluestone with hand tools, then they were marched back to the stockade (now the site of North Carlton Primary School in Lee Street) to be locked up overnight.

The contrast between the work of the convicts and the amenity of Curtain Square as a public recreational space could not be greater. A report in The Argus of April 1877 spoke in glowing terms of the area being "hardly recognisable as the place it was 12 months ago". The old quarry holes were filled in and the area was planted with a variety of trees and shrubs in pleasing arrangements. It was noted "the great hollows which formerly existed have been filled up with street sweepings, and are now being covered with a thick layer of mould." The legacy of this infill material was noted a hundred and fifteen years later in the Curtain Square Masterplan of 1992. Cracks in the walls of buildings, constructed in the 1930s and 1940s, were attributed to subsidence on the former quarry site, as was the tilt of the elm trees in the vicinity. The buildings, a "men's shelter" and a toilet block, were demolished in the 1990s.

The reserve, also known as Curtain's Square, was named in honour of John Curtain, who was instrumental in having the land reserved for ornamental and recreational purposes. He was a Melbourne City Councillor and Member of Parliament, the publican of several hotels in Carlton and a well known real estate developer, who at one stage owned over fifty properties in Carlton. Curtain Street, on the northern boundary of the square, is also named after him.

Curtain Square tree replacements, City of Yarra, 2017
Crown Title, Vol. 887, Folio 273, 5 May 1876
The Argus, 6 April 1877, p. 5. This article includes a detailed list of trees planted in the reserve.
Curtain Square Masterplan, Urban Design Team, City of Melbourne, April 1992, p. 6

Related Items:
The Poplars of Canning Street
John Curtain

Vale Bea

It is with great sadness that CCHG notes the death at 93 years old of "Bea". Her recollections of her Carlton childhood were recorded in 2010 and provide a vivid insight into the kind of lives lived by poorer residents in what was then a vibrant working class suburb, as well as describing the effects of the outbreak of World War 2 on a young woman just finding her feet in the world of employment.

Bea married soon after the war and over the decades raised a family of four and gradually acquired the professional qualifications and experience she had missed out on when she left school at 14. Additionally, at the age of 64, she undertook an Arts degree majoring in Art History and Italian. She described those years at university as the highlight of her life. It was characteristic of her energy that, when she was interviewed at the age of 86, she was still employing an Italian tutor to work with her and a small group of friends in maintaining their language skills.

Bea spent the last couple of years of her life in an aged care home, something her daughters suggested to her with some trepidation as a temporary respite but which, characteristically, she enjoyed so much that she immediately elected to make it permanent.

Vale Bea, a full life indeed.

Who would have thought that waiting for her friend to change her stocking could have made such a difference? Read Bea's story and find out how this seemingly trivial event had a big impact on her young life.

A Fruitful Business

St Clements the greengrocer closed on 26 February 2017, after five years of supplying fruit and vegetables to North Carlton residents. St Clements was the latest in a long line of greengrocers that have occupied the shop at 384 Rathdowne Street since the 1930s, with the exception of a few years from the late 1940s when it was a wholesale hardware business. Longer term residents will remember the Tucci family, who operated the greengrocer's business from the mid 1950s through to the 1990s. The purchase of fruit and vegetables was often accompanied by an impromptu Italian lesson, courtesy of Francesca and Paolo. They retained ownership of the building after their retirement and the business was continued by a succession of greengrocers until 2017. Paolo died in April 1993 and Francesca in June 2016, at the age of 90 years. Both were buried in Melbourne General Cemetery, Carlton.

The shop building was sold in late 2016 and 384 Rathdowne Street is awaiting its new occupant in 2017.

Tucci family
Image: Courtesy of Tucci Family
The Tucci Family in the 1960s

The Samovar Travels On

The Travelling Samovar closed in late 2016 and the former tea house entered the next phase of its history as the café Extension of Time, opened in February 2017. The new café retains a link with the Travelling Samovar and has a small selection of Samovar teas available.

The two-storey building at 412 Rathdowne Street, North Carlton, which dates back to the 1890s, was a tobacconist shop for sixty years. None of the subsequent business occupants - pastrycook, confectioner, milk bar, picture framer, noodle shop, café or tea house - can rival the tobacconist in terms of longevity. Read more about the tobacconist shop that became a tea house.

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