"Melbourne's Fitzroy and Collingwood" Fitzroy by Intrepidduck
Fitzroy Travel Guide: 23 reviews and 65 photos
Brunswick Street is in Melbourne's oldest suburb of Fitzroy. It starts a short distance from the spire of St Patrick's Cathedral and runs beyond the obelisk like spire of the Hungarian Church, several kms to the north. Walk the street's length and you'll see the evolution of a great city.
Brunswick Street was laid out in the early 1840s by a freemason, it radiates north. The area was first called Newtown and became the home of the fledgling merchant community. The name was soon changed to Fitzroy. The suburb got it's name after Captain Fitzroy commander of the HMS Beagle, the ship on which Charles Darwin travelled on.
Fitzroy, like many inner city suburbs of Melbourne, went into deline after the stock market crash of the 1890s. Conditions became crowded and the textile industry was the key component to the area. Fitzroy for decades remained a poor nieghbourhood. It was the home of struggling artists and so called undesirables. It became the haunt of notorious gangsters such as Squizzy Taylor.
By the late 1940s and well into the 1950s Fitzroy experienced a wave of southern European migrants, settling into cheap housing. There was a localized boom in sports social clubs and espresso bars. Through out the 1960s the State Government had monumental plans to raise much of inner suburban Melbourne. Several street areas of condemed housing were torn down and high rise estates built in their place. For a while these blightful estates carried a stigma, the Atherton Estate remaining today. During the late 1970s there then started a shift in the area's demographics.
Since the late '80s Brunswick St. quite rappidly became gentrified. As with these kind of streets, and there arn't so many left, there has long been standing a defiant crowd of certain individuals. Take that please from a definitive source! Just prior to and even during this period the area experienced a kind of cultural upheaval with a rush of young artists, designers and the well heeled.
This long geomantrically straight stretch of bitumen, Brunswick Street, holds many secrets. Striding it's east and west sides are some remarkable marvals of inner suburban architecture. Take the c1888 "Beswicke Building", it's got no offical name, located at 252 running south. I have never grown tired of this special building since the day I first glimsed it in 1986, visiting one year later. This three level polychrome brick oddity boasts two feature towers, mysteriously unnoticed by many. The so called "bell" tower, named for it's shape rather than what it emits, sits high over the famous, but actually not original "Black Cat Cafe". The original which was the creation of Henry Mass, a local figure, went from 1982 - 2001. Various boutiques fill the other shop spaces, while studios fill the rooms above.
Brunswick Street is yet more an extended version of what is found in those shops of the Beswicke Building. From this location you should wander on north. For several blocks at least there are more cafes, bars and boutiques than there are in perhaps any other street on earth, other than in Chapel Street, which surprise surprise is in Melbourne also.
There have been many so called "institutions" along Brunswick Street, such as the "Punters Club Hotel", gone like the "Cat", and who would remember the "Marijuana Cafe"? I can't, but evidently it was once there. But this has always been a street in flux and no great city is without one. It has it's critics and I can be counted also as one, but as you guessed I'm always back.
If you to wander east over Young, Napier, George and Gore Streets to Smith Street, here is the definative boundary of Fitzroy and it's nieghbour Collingwood. Walking these back streets one gets a closer look into the areas charm.
Smith St is the traditional shopping hub for Fitzroy. However here there has been now for years evidence of a Brunswick Street influence. It is only in Johnston Street, which bridges the two north running streets, where the remnants of the old Fitzroy and Collingwood are still present, although shouldered by the new of course.
While for a long time now coffee culture has dominated the scene in Fitzroy and Collingwood, stencil art has become another activity. In the late 1980s a great political slogan went up on a side street wall announcing - "Action Speaks Louder Than Coffee Chats!". Sadly the chit chat still goes on and less and less action is taking place as our whole society becomes further and further dumbed down. Interesting stencil art shows a glimmer of hope in a new generation of street artists, while still unfortunately the narcissistic screams from the tagger is more ever pressent.
Fitzroy from the 1940s was the haunt of many of Melbourne's avant garde artists. In the 1970s a new generation started to move in and by the 1980s the art environment of Fitzroy had reached it's peak. By about 1990 the area boasted more galleries than pubs - a great achievement in Australian culture. It was not uncommon to see some of the hottest in Australian contemporary art all going on along Gertrude Street. Now things unfortunately are a little tired in Fitzroy when concerning new art as the shift has taken it back into the Melbourne city centre or elsewhere. However there are some of the legacies and left overs from better or frivolous times with out sounding all too cynical.
- Pros:Geographically Centred
- Cons:Egocentrically Centred
- In a nutshell:Shifting from Centred
Fitzroy and Collingwood's doors are something to look at. Many go straight onto the street and some appear in odd... more travel advice
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