Carlton Community History Group


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.

Demolished wall and fireplace
Photo: CCHG
An upstairs fireplace and surrounding brickwork is all that remains of the original Carlton Inn Hotel

Another One Bites the Dust

One of Carlton's earliest extant hotel buildings, on the corner of Leicester and Pelham Streets, was demolished illegally over the weekend of 16 and 17 October 2016. The Corkman Irish Pub, which was subject to a heritage overlay, was reduced to rubble, despite a stop-work order being issued by the Melbourne City Council. The hotel was originally built as the Carlton Inn and first licensed to George Edmonds (Edmunds) in 1856. Over the next one hundred and sixty years, the hotel served many glasses of beer and played host to generations of university student pub crawls.

At the time the Carlton Inn was built, the area north of Victoria Street, including Carlton and parts of North Melbourne, was not subject to the provisions of the Melbourne Building Act (1849). Buildings could be constructed and demolished without permits and this contributed to the somewhat haphazard development of Carlton in its early days. Nowadays, there is a rigorous system of planning, building and demolition permits in place, but this was not enough to save the Corkman Irish Pub, which will be sadly missed.

Notes and References:
An Act for Regulating Buildings and Party Walls and for Preventing Mischiefs by Fire in the City of Melbourne, 12 October 1849 (Melbourne Building Act, 1849)
The Age, 7 May 1856, p. 2
Melbourne Planning Scheme. City North Heritage Review, 2013 (Revised June 2015)

Trendyville Revisited

At CCHG's September 2016 meeting, Dr Renate Howe gave an interesting presentation on the battle for Melbourne's inner suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s, based on the book Trendyville, which she co-authored. Dr Howe has kindly allowed CCHG to post a copy of her presentation notes on its website. If you missed the meeting, or if you would like revisit Trendyville, you can view the notes here.

The book Trendyville is available from Monash University Publishing.

Tree Removal in Canning Street
Photo: CCHG
Tree Removal in Canning Street North Carlton
June 2016

A silent protest
Photo: CCHG
A Silent Protest

Notes and References:
1 Arboricultural Assessment. Location: Canning Street and Drummond Street Carlton North. Ref.: 2145.AA.3, 16 February 2016
2 Gippsland Times, 8 February 1937, p. 3
3 The Age, 24 February 1937, p. 12

The Poplars of Canning Street

Carlton is blessed with many street trees, the most notable plantings being in Canning, Drummond and Rathdowne Streets. The poplar trees in Canning Street, North Carlton, were planted in the median strip over fifty years ago and are now reaching the end of their lifespan. In November 2015, two large trees came down near the North Carlton Primary School and crashed onto parked cars. Fortunately there were no injuries, but there was significant property damage and the risk of future tree incidents. As a result, City of Yarra commissioned a study to assess the condition of all poplar trees in Canning and Drummond Streets. The study recommended removal of selected trees in both streets and works commenced in June 2016. The median strip trees will be replaced with new plantings in spring 2016, thus continuing nature's cycle of growth, decline and renewal.1

Back in 1937, Carlton's attitude towards street trees was very different. The Melbourne City Council proposed a plantation in the centre of Rathdowne Street, as part of a tree planting scheme to commemorate the coronation of King George VI. The Council's ambitious scheme to plant a total of 5,000 trees within the municipality, at a cost of £20,000 over several years, met with strong resistance from the ratepayers of Victoria Ward. A door-to-door survey of shops and businesses in Rathdowne Street revealed 87 against and only 3 in favour of the proposed plantation. Anti-tree sentiment was running high, with some residents stating they would cut down any trees planted. The main reasons for objection were that a tree plantation would detract from the commercial appearance and character of the street, and would be a hindrance to vehicular traffic, which had increased since motor buses replaced the old cable trams in 1936. Business interests and traffic ruled in 1937 and the plantation proposal was abandoned.2,3

Rathdowne Street had to wait another four decades for its plantation, implemented in almost opposite circumstances. The controversial eastern freeway opened in 1977, amidst protests from Council, local businesses and residents alike. Rathdowne Street had become a feeder road for the freeway, via Princes Street, and Council proposed a median strip to slow down traffic and improve local amenity. This proposal was successful and, decades later, the median strip of mature trees contributes to Rathdowne Street's unique character and continues to be an asset, rather than a hindrance, to local businesses and residents.

Related Items:
Rathdowne Street
Where Palm Trees Once Grew

Tony Does Carlton

The Carlton episode of Tony Robinson's Time Walks was broadcast on ABC 1 on Friday 20 May 2016. Naturally he covers the Trades Hall and the Eight Hour Memorial. But if his points of focus are predictable, his treatment of them is not necessarily so.

The Exhibition Building? Check! But instead of dwelling on the architectural wonders, he describes the unpleasant state of the grounds in the early days and recounts a nineteenth century academic scrap over the palaeontology collection housed in the basement. Italians? Of course, but after we see a venerable espresso machine and hear Nino Borsari's son tell his father's story, a visit to Dorrit Street deftly combines the stories of Carlton's early Italian migrants, who arrived about 1890, the Viggianese street musicians, and that of Jean Lee, the last woman to be hanged in Australia. Her story is the only reference to the seamier side of Carlton's history, something of an imbalance perhaps. The program moves on to La Mama and an extended segment explores the flavour and political influence of one production from this long-running and hugely influential Carlton institution.

Inevitably in such a short program there are omissions. There is no coverage of the Jewish presence in Carlton. We see the grand terraces of Drummond Street, but learn nothing of their decline into boarding houses in the early twentieth century or of the gradual gentrification of Carlton as a whole from the 1970s.

Related items:
The Trades Hall : Part of Our History
Murder at Mallow House
Betty Burstall (Founder of La Mama)

History of Carlton Football CLub
Photo: CCHG
Tony de Bolfo (left) and CCHG President Jeff Atkinson

Carlton Football Club

The 2016 footy season kicked off with a lively presentation by Tony De Bolfo at the Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre on Saturday 2 April. Tony de Bolfo, official historian of the Carlton Football Club, traced the Club's origins back to a meeting at the University Hotel, corner of Lygon and Grattan Streets, in 1864. This was the start of a long association with Carlton pubs, including the use of the Clyde Hotel, corner of Cardigan and Elgin Streets, as change rooms before the Club was granted a permanent home at Princes Park in 1896.

Tony's presentation featured historic photos of the Club and its players, and the houses in Carlton and Parkville where some of them lived.

For more information, visit the Blueseum website at

Carlton Baths
Image source: CCHG
This signage recalls an earlier era, when mixed bathing was a novelty.

Notes and References:
1 Carlton : a history, Melbourne University Press, 2004, p. 316
2 The Age, 21 February 1930, p. 12
3 The Age, 4 February 1930, p. 8
4 Barrier Miner, 7 February 1930, p. 1
5 Properties condemned under section 56 of the Housing Act 1958 (VPRS 1824)

100 Years of Bathing

The Carlton Baths celebrated its 100th birthday with a pool party on Saturday 13 February 2016. The baths were offically opened on 11 February 1916, with the original entrance via Victoria Place, a laneway running off Princes Street. In the early days, the pool water was not filtered or chlorinated, and was changed once a week. The introduction of mixed bathing at Carlton and North Melbourne Baths, approved by Melbourne City Council in October 1929, led to major improvements. Five houses in Rathdowne Street (nos. 240-248) were demolished to build a new entrance and changing facitities for both sexes. A filtration plant was installed, an important public health consideration when many houses in Carlton did not have bathrooms and local residents used the baths for personal bathing.1

The Carlton Baths were re-opened by Councillor H.G. Smith, chairman of the Baths Committee, on 20 February 1930, but had been in operation for several weeks beforehand. The Age of 4 February 1930 reported a spate of thefts at the Carlton Baths and one unfortunate man had his trousers stolen. In the same month, a major incident occurred during a heat wave when a crowd of 200 people - men, women and children - stormed the turnstiles and climbed over the 7 foot high iron gates to gain access to the cooling waters of the pool. The police were called in to restore order, and an estimated 1000 people entered the pool over the next few hours, with barely enough room for swimming.2,3,4

More recent improvements have seen the Carlton Baths transformed from a basic swimming pool into a sporting and recreational complex. In the early 1970s, five more houses (nos. 222-230 Rathdowne Street) were demolished to make way for expansion on the south side, and the site now occupies half the Rathdowne Street frontage between Neill and Princes Streets.5

Giacomo and Gina Basso
Photo: CCHG
Giacomo and Gina Basso in their shop in 2012

Gina Basso : A Film Star at 83?

The Carlton Community History Group has previously demonstrated its admiration for the persistence and hard work of Giacomo and Gina Basso and we registered our condolences on the death of Giacomo in September last year. Speaking to Gina just recently it is clear that, despite missing her husband badly, her determination and strength of character remain undiminished.

Gina continues to work in the tailoring business she and Giacomo set up so many years ago but now she works on alterations mainly by herself, although her grand daughter spends a couple of hours a week working with her. She explains, "It's a bit hard", but she has to pay the bills. Work also helps her maintain her English. Her son calls in about three times a week to ensure she is alright and has successfully negotiated the 18 steps she walks up and down every day to reach the rooms on the second floor of the dwelling. She still enjoys cooking for him and other members of the family, like her grand daughter who, when she was only 14, painted a splendid portrait of Giacomo. However, as Gina says "Age makes things difficult. It's as if there is no future. Life is not for you." Nevertheless she keeps going, although living by herself means it is difficult having no one to mull over things which happen every day or sort out problems.

Gina is about to have another birthday and she has just been approached by a film company wanting to make a film about her house and the business. As she continues to maintain her charm and good looks, and knowing the complexity of her history, and how versatile she has proved herself, it seems very likely she could be a film star at 83.

CCHG wishes Gina well, is proud to know her and looks forward to the film adding to our record of local history.

More information on Giacomo and Gina Basso.

Des Norman in his studio
Photo: CCHG
Des Norman in his studio in 2012

Vale Des Norman

It is with deep regret that the Carlton Community History Group notes the death of Des Norman, on 13 September 2015, and sends condolences to his thoughtful wife Stella, and other family members, including their daughter Ruth, who brought Des's work to our attention. He will be sadly missed.

CCHG got to know Des in the process of working on his book of paintings, which we published as Through the Eyes of a Child : A Street in Carlton, 1939-45. He was extremely generous and the more contact we had, the more we valued his insights.

His was an unusual approach to our local history and offered a unique glimpse at what it was like to live through the war years in Dorrit Street, Carlton and attend the Faraday Street school, now the Kathleen Syme Centre. That selection of his paintings throws light on his experiences as a boy, living in a small house, whose bedroom was the narrow front verandah, with only a canvas blind between him and the street. A street where he and his friends went to school and played together, or observed the adults of many cultures he knew or saw, going about their lives, in war-time Carlton. It is an extraordinary and extremely valuable record.

This book is only a part of Des Norman's enormous contribution to art, from early works on Daisy Bates, a collection portraying the battlefields of Gallipoli and a resurrection series, to other major exhibitions, restoration work, commissions and illustrations. As a fellow staff member of the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School said, his work 'encapsulates honesty and sensitivity' in presenting images which 'can be sensually poignant and at the same time, disturbingly evocative'.

Des Norman was farewelled by family and friends on Wednesday 23 September 2015 and he now lies resting in Kangaroo Ground Cemetery. The date was specially chosen by Stella, as it would have been their 65th wedding anniversary.

Related item:
The Mystery Man of Dorrit Street

From Surrey Hills to Carlton

In August 2015 CCHG received an email asking if we were interested in a centenary souvenir booklet of the Queensberry Street Primary School. The answer was, of course, a resounding "Yes" and we have now taken delivery of the booklet, which charts the history of the school from its opening in 1881 and closure in 1932, through to its later function as the Education Department Physical Education Branch. The former school building at 224 Queensberry Street Carlton is now home to the University of Melbourne Queensberry Children's Centre. The school ( S.S. no. 2365) rates only a passing mention in Peter Yule's book Carlton : a history, so the booklet will be a valuable addition to our small resource collection.

CCHG thanks the Surrey Hills Neighbourhood Centre Heritage Collection for this generous donation and also for thinking of us - for that's what community is all about.

Giacomo and Gina Basso
Photo reproduced with kind permission from the Bassos and CoAsIt
Gina Basso (nee Costa) dancing with her husband Giacomo, soon after her arrival in Melbourne in 1953

Giacomo and Gina Basso
Photo: CCHG
Giacomo and Gina in their shop in 2012

The Bassos of North Carlton : A Love Story and a Full Life

In 2013 Giacomo and Gina Basso celebrated living and working in Rathdowne Street for over 60 years. That by itself is some feat, but when people realise something of their Italian backgrounds and the various trials and tribulations this steadfast, courageous couple have weathered, the celebrations seem low key for a 93 and 81 year old.

Both of them came from large extended Italian farming families, in an area depressed by urban development. Both experienced the 2nd World War on the losing side and both started working very young - Gina part-time from the age of 7, to fill in the half days she was not at school while her mother worked more hours on the family farm, and Giacomo at 13, as he was the eldest of four who had to help support his family after his father had died when Giacomo was 9, and his mother died 7 years later. While Giacomo's training was limited, Gina thoroughly learned dressmaking and embroidery until at 15 she began training as a men's tailor in the place where Giacomo was working. They fell in love and have been together ever since, apart from the separation when Giacomo went to Turin in late 1949 to make robes for the Christian Brothers and then migrated to Australia, not his first choice. He sold his only asset, some land, to pay his fare and with the support of a Myrtleford tobacco grower and his Italian friend Sante Forte, he landed in Australia in early 1951.

Almost immediately finding a job, earning money and learning a new language were problems for the 32 year old, who wanted to save enough to bring Gina to Australia, despite the fact that Gina's mother was unhappy with her leaving. They were married by proxy, with one of Giacomo's brothers, Giovanni, standing in for the bridegroom on 6 July 1953, while on the same day in Australia, Giacomo and another of his brothers, Antonio, paid the deposit they had saved on what was then a dilapidated building in Rathdowne Street, in which they still live.

As a couple they faced living and working as tailors in the same place, home renovations with very limited funds, rearranged mortgages, the problems of learning a new language for Gina and learning to drive for Giacomo, lack of privacy, council regulations, noise from traffic and machinery next door, as well as drunken customers from the Kent Hotel. These were balanced against having a son, Robert, family connections, good and generous friends and neighbours, both Italian and Australian.

Giacomo summed up their lives:

"It has been hard at times, particularly when sickness strikes, but very rewarding. We have enjoyed our life and are proud of what we have done together and how we have weathered adversity at times. We have real joy in each other, our son, his wife and children, our lovely grandchildren, our in-laws have been an added bonus. We have been very fortunate to have our son marry into a supportive family."

Sadly, Giacomo died on 19 September 2014. He was a well respected member of the local community, with a friendly word for all, combined with a slighly cheeky twinkle of the eye.

Carlton Community History Group acknowledges the generosity and openness of this remarkable family.

Contact CCHG for access to interview transcripts and other material on the Bassos.

Scout Hall
Photo: CCHG
Scout Hall
12-18 Shakespeare Street, North Carlton

Notes and References:
1 Melbourne Leader, 14 August, 2014
2 Property ownership information sourced from land title records
3 Building application file, BA 10595 (VPRS 11201)
4 The Argus, 21 July 1930, p. 7
5 Victorian Heritage Database
6 Properties condemned under section 56 of the Housing Act 1958 files (VPRS 1824)
7 The two-storey house at 8 Shakespeare Street was condemned by the Housing Commission in 1970, but it was declared fit for human habitation after the required repairs were completed.
8 Melbourne Times, 17 November 1976, p. 1

The Scouts are Back

After an absence of 25 years, the scouts and cubs are back in newly renovated premises in Shakespeare Street North Carlton. The scout hall, which dominates the north side of Shakespeare Street, was home to the Handspinners & Weavers Guild from 2000 to 2011, when they moved to shopfront premises in Nicholson Street.1

Shakespeare Street dates back to 1870, when John Green and John Ryan purchased allotments 1, 2, 9 and 10 in the area bounded by Lygon, Fenwick and Drummond streets. Within six months, the land was onsold to David Henry, who was responsible for the subdivision that made up the structure of Shakespeare Street. During the 1870s and 1880s houses were built on both sides of the street, but the 60 feet wide block on the north side remained largely undeveloped. The site served as a workshop for Enoch Jones, model maker, and remained in the Jones Family from 1885 to 1927.2

A building application for the scout hall, designed by architect Harry James and to be built by J. Perryman, was lodged on 18 May 1928. The foundation stone was laid by the Lord Mayor Councillor Luxton in July 1930 and, on completion in October 1930, the scout hall was the last building to fill the street. The hall was purpose-built for public performances, with a raised platform, off-stage dressing rooms and cloakrooms. It served a dual purpose in providing a home base for the First Carlton Troop and also a source of income from hiring out the premises for public and private functions. The hall is described as "a well-preserved but late example of Neo-baroque styling, with steel-framed windows and segmental arches to openings" in the Victorian Heritage Database. It is considered "socially and historically significant for its public role in North Carlton." 3,4,5

Shakespeare Street came under threat in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Housing Commission of Victoria declared five houses on the south side, nos. 7 to 15 inclusive, as unfit for human habitation. One property owner appealed to the Housing Commission to buy them out, but to no avail. Shakespeare Street was not in a proclaimed slum reclamation area and the Housing Commission had no interest, beyond ordering the demolition of what they considered to be an unfit dwelling on a substandard block of land. The houses were demolished in January 1970, leaving an open space ripe for redevelopment. The vacant block became an illegal rubbish dump, while the new owner argued with the Melbourne City Council over the valuation of the land. Then local residents took action, at their own expense, by cleaning up the site and creating a mini park for the benefit and enjoyment of the whole community. In 1978, the Melbourne City Council entered into an agreement to purchase the land, with local residents contributing part of the cost. The mini park, used by the scouts and residents alike, remains a tribute to the power of community action.6,7,8

More information on Shakespeare Street

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