Republic of Moreland

February 15, 2007

Please don’t go

For several years I had the strange experience of living in far north Queensland, where developers breed like cane toads, and old house demolition is an international sport.

In Lake Street, Cairns, I lived in a Queenslander with a huge, luxurious green Deco bathroom. The house was rambling, it had blackened hardwood floors, huge gardens, old wooden venetians. My housemates and I lived there for months before we noticed the built-in linen cupboard had a false wall that was hinged. Behind it, when we pulled the shelves out, we found a secret room. It had a light, and was lined with foil.

“Photography,” I said. “Dope-growing,” whispered my housemate, behind her hand. You wouldn’t mention such things in whispers here in Melbourne, but in 80s Queensland, you’d be arrested for even thinking such a thing, let alone smoking it by moonlight in your street’s holiday resort spa, which you’d scaled the wall to enjoy (for example).

Anyway, we were tossed out of our special house because a Japanese company wanted to use our block, along with three adjoining blocks (each home to gorgeous Queenslanders) to build a towering hotel. I was used to Cairns’ heritage casualties. Much of the town’s architectural history was gone to cyclones; the whole Esplanade was lost to hi-rise hotels.

But when they demolished our house and its towering eucalypts, taking no care to keep the bathroom — or any of the house’s specialness — intact, I felt a hopeless defeat that’s natural as air to many Queenslanders.

It’s a reason I’m proud to be a Melburnian, or so I always told my Queenslander friends, if only they’d listen.

But since I’ve been back here I’ve felt that defeat nag at me. Just a bit. Not because of demolitions, though the house on the south-east corner of Glenlyon Rd and Nicholson St was a treasure and should have been saved.

Because of more superficial things.

  • The beautiful old painted fish sculpture atop a fish-and-chip shop in Northcote’s High Street: weathered and distressed, rust at its edges. Then someone had the idea to paint it all white and clean. Before I could think to take a photo.
  • The elegant sanserif lettering on the factory on the corner of Lygon and Stuart Streets, now replaced with apartments.

And now, maybe, this, at 29 Sydney Road (Coburg). I hope not. But the building seems to have changed hands and is being renovated: once a beauty parlour, its windows have now been fixed with reflective stuff and it looks officey.

I thought I’d take a photo of the building’s vintage mural, just in case, and make an appeal into the ether to leave it as is.


  1. As a Quince Lender also, I know what it is to suffer at the hands of philistine developers. It is an affliction known to us as White Shoe Disease. The Brisbane City Council, that bloated city-state of unresponsive and non-representative corporate governance, was hand-in-glove with developers every step of the way. Their job was not to represent us in council, but to present council’s edicts to us and thereafter crush all discussion. They are singularly responsible for turning Brisbane, which was described by US soldiers in WW2 as the “New Orleans of Australia”, into the ghastly northern suburbs of the Gold Coast.

    It became common knowledge that, on the rare occasions when a lovely old Queenslander house was actually listed as having heritage value and might thus stymie a development, it would soon mysteriously burn down. Same thing happened to a lovely wooden church that happened to stand on a prized block with city views on Latrobe Terrace in Paddington: development proposal; outcry; eventual heritage listing; “mysterious fire”; construction of proposed project. That’s “Queensland-style” conservation, folks.

    I recall chatting with some architecture students in Canada in 1995. They were studying the Queenslander house, and were excited to learn I came from there. They wanted to know all about it. I remember, too, my cousins coming up from Victoria in the early 1980s, eager to see these “houses on poles” for themselves. What remarkable shortsightedness that this singular attraction has been treated with such disdain in its homeland. And replaced with what? “Tuscan-style” apartments and other ghastly cement rubbish, with nary a tree or bush in sight. If I want that crap, I’ll go to Tuscany. Or Broadbeach. Or Noosa. Or Benidorm. Or 50 zillion other hellholes.

    That’s why I eventually applied for asylum here. If you threaten to send me back, I’ll immolate myself like one of those Vietnamese monks, right on the steps of the Quim Slam tourism office.

    Comment by Bane of Malakas — February 16, 2007 @ 10:07 am | Reply

  2. this wall art is great. cheers from Texas!

    Comment by Zack Gonzales — February 21, 2007 @ 12:43 pm | Reply

  3. If you are interested in the destruction of heritage in Moreland check out the debacle of the old Coburg High School site you can follow the joke here:

    Comment by peter robertson — February 26, 2007 @ 1:17 pm | Reply

  4. That’s some joke, Peter. I shall put up a post about it tomorrow.

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — February 27, 2007 @ 10:17 pm | Reply

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