The heading for this set of blog posts is quite strange, because, as you shall see dear reader, I never actually lived in Carlton. However, as you shall also see, Carlton is more a feeling, or a “ground of being”, than an actual physical geographic location.
The physical location known as Carlton is an iconic Melbourne inner suburb, situated just north of the Central Business District. It has existed since 1851, some 16 years after the founding of Melbourne, and has had a colourful history with its combination of diverse migrant communities, working class Australians, inner city professionals, and students attending the two nearby major tertiary educational facilities – the University of Melbourne and the Melbourne Technical College (later renamed the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and now known as RMIT University).
I was born in Carlton – at the Royal Women’s Hospital (seen here on the right) – and spent the first eight years of my life in Brunswick. We lived on Brunswick Road with my grandparents, right in the middle of the white and red bus route. I have no idea where that bus went except that it took us west to Sydney Road and Princes Park, and then east and south to North Carlton and Richardson Street. That was pretty much the extent of our travels – one way to Princes Park and the little ponds with the ducks (and the distant stadium that I would grow to love in later years), and the other way to the shtetl that was North Carlton, largely inhabited by Jewish families from the massive post-war migration.
My mother’s parents, her two sisters, and all my cousins also lived in North Carlton, and my earliest memories are of playing footy on Canning Street and chasey and hidey on Station Street. (Are they still called that? It somehow sounds really quaint and old-fashioned in this digital age).
Occasionally, when we were really going to far-off places, like into Carlton proper, we’d even take the green bus. But that seemed rather foreign and mainstream and altogether another world. We lived in the world of the white and red bus.
When I was eight, my parents, my little sister, and I moved to a tiny little half-house at the back of a Spotless dry cleaning agency in East Brunswick, a little further away from the centre, but still walking distance from my grandparents, and a tram and white bus ride from my other grandparents and aunties and uncles and cousins.
There, living on the corner of a main street – the famous Lygon Street – I was introduced to the world of Espresso Bars, Italian greengrocers and Delis, Bocce over the back fence, and a whole slew of young Italian kids that became good friends and playmates.
And so, for the first twelve years of my life, between the Italian village that was East Brunswick, the Jewish shtetl that was North Carlton, and the occasional visits to Carlton proper with its large Greek horio, I may as well have been brought up in Europe. Until I was twelve, I’d never met any Geoffs or Colins or Felicitys or Allisons or Rods. Pretty much everyone I knew was a Moshe (Maurice) or a Hershl (Henry) or an Angelo, Giuseppe, Maria, or Josephine, or a Dimitri, Con, Chris, or Alex. We were one big melting pot, a whole community of wogs.
And strangely enough, we kids never thought about our differences. We seemed to just revel in our similarities – children and grandchildren of immigrants; parents spoke a different language, we spoke English (albeit with a wog Strine accent); brought school lunches made with funny bread and even funnier fillings; and were very close to all of our cousins and aunties and uncles. Here is our whole family at the time (see below) at a wedding or bar-mitzvah or some other function outside a synagogue or function hall in Carlton, some time in 1953. I’m the little one on the left in a white onesie in my grandfather’s arms….
This is the backdrop for growing up in Carlton.
Recently, we drove to these houses and took photos. Some looked just like I remember them more than 50 years ago. But others were unrecognisable, set in the trendy, gentrified, bar and café culture that is East Brunswick. What a difference a half century makes.
In coming posts, I’ll present some of those photos. Stand by…..