Backstories of Buildings

Words by Caitlin Johnston
Art by Raphaela Alexopoulos

Melbourne is such a vibrant city with a harmonious mixture of contemporary and historical sites but few people take the time to look around. Fear not, I’ve put together a walking tour to reintroduce you to our great city.

It would be rude to start this tour anywhere else but Melbourne’s most iconic landmark and first railway station. Flinders Street Station, Melbourne Terminus as it was known, was built in 1854 from a collection of weatherboard sheds, later to be painted in its recognisable bright yellow exterior. The opening day saw the first steam train trip in the country. From once being a single platform station running 30 metres long, it’s now the central hub for thousands of locals and tourists alike.

Emerging up from the station step into one of Melbourne’s most famous streets, Degraves Street. Known now for its quintessential contemporary street art, this street is home to one of Melbourne’s oldest cafes, Degraves Espresso Bar. The street is named after Charles and William Degraves, pioneer merchants from Hobart who built a flour mill at the corner of Flinders Lane and Degraves Street in 1849.

Next up is one of Melbourne’s most lively streets. Swanson Street was originally laid out in 1837. Today you can expect a taste of everything—from well-known franchises to unique food stalls, and independent art stores. On your walk up you’ll pass the Melbourne Town Hall. Built in 1837, it holds an epic grand organ standing 9.57 metres high with over 9,000 pipes!

Cornering Bourke Street and Elizabeth Street sits the glorious heritage-listed building you would now recognise as H&M. But before that, this structure was the former General Post Office for Victoria made in 1861. Once the centre of postal communications, this building’s location is still used as the point of reference for the centre of Melbourne. Take a seat on the historic stairs and listen out for funky music from buskers.

Wandering down you’ll find yourself in the centre of Chinatown. Established during the Victorian gold rush, this energetic cultural hub was founded when Chinese immigrants came to search for gold, making it the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western world. Chinese associations began purchasing land in Little Bourke Street to build clubrooms which would serve as meeting places for the Chinese community. When the gold dried up, those who did not return to China settled in Bourke Street and established businesses to cater to the local Chinese markets and beyond. That tradition continues today with restaurants, Asian grocery stores, herbalists and more.

Keep walking till you’re in the quiet solitude of the Carlton Gardens and take a peek into the Royal Exhibition Building. This World Heritage-listed building is one of the world’s oldest exhibition pavilions. The iconic dome rising 68 metres was modelled on the Florence Cathedral. The venue has hosted it all: Summer Olympic events in 1956, the old Melbourne Aquarium and VCE exams.

Next up is both Victoria’s oldest public library and one of the calmest spots you can find in the CBD. The State Library of Victoria. Opened in 1856, the breathtaking architecture of The Dome reading room, the Australian gallery collection, the permanent display of Ned Kelly’s original armour and thousands of books, are just a few reasons to visit.

Now known as Melbourne Central Shopping Centre, but once upon a time it was a bullet making factory. Built in 1889, this 20 story high glass cone is one of the city’s most enduring landmarks. You can still see the preserved shot tower in the heart of the centre. Also look out for the intricately designed grand clock that rings with Waltzing Matilda on every hour.

A more modern addition is the Eureka Tower, a 297.3 metre tall skyscraper. Completed in 2006, the structure was named after the Eureka Stockade, a rebellion during the gold rush. This has been incorporated into the design, with the building’s gold crown to signify gold and a red stripe representing the blood spilt during the revolt.

Melbourne Arts Precint is truly the heartbeat of the Melbourne art scene. We have the Art Centre Melbourne, State Theatre and the National Gallery of Victoria, collectively running 3000 exhibits and performances per year. The Arts Centre Melbourne’s site has long been associated with arts and entertainment; it was first occupied by a permanent circus venue, then an amusement park, a cinema, a dance hall, an Ice Skating rink and the list goes on. The NGV also houses the world’s largest stained-glass window, which took five years to build.

Finally, you can watch the sunset over the Yarra River, grab a quick snap for the ‘gram. Hopefully now feeling a little more educated, exhausted and in love with this city.

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