Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Melbourne 1914 meets Melbourne 2014

The ABC wesbite features a terrific collection of digital montages by John Donegan that blend images of the major cities of Australia in 1914 with the cities as they are now.

Check out the Melbourne montage here.

This got me thinking about what places might be included in a similar montage of Coburg, which got me thinking about what those images might tell us about the character of the suburb and its people in both eras.

Over the next weeks and months, I’ll explore this theme a little more. I have some images in mind and when the weather’s kind to me, I’ll go and take another photograph of the same view from the same angle so we can see what a difference a hundred years makes. Just wish I had the skill to make a montage of the two images. Something else to work on!

Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society

The image I’m starting with was taken in about 1916 and is of the corner of Sydney Road and Bell Street, featuring the latest in modern public transport – the electric tram. It’s the north-east corner of the intersection and shows the fenced-in grounds of the Methodist (later Uniting Church) Church, with many conifers (I think) blowing furiously in the wind.

It was through this intersection that the first group of volunteers marched in August 1914, as they moved from Victoria Barracks to the newly established camp at Broadmeadows. And it was through this intersection that crowds rushed out to the Broadmeadows Camp on the following few Sundays to check it out for themselves. They created such a rush of traffic that extra police had to be put on duty to supervise.

I’ll admit to a sentimental attachment to this particular corner, as I lived in the Methodist Parsonage (corner Sydney Road and Urquhart Street) for seven years during the 1960s and used the Sydney tram often to take me to Saturday morning language classes at University High School and music lessons at the Conservatorium, as well as the occasional visit to the movies to see such favourites as 'The Sound of Music'. (Just don't ask me what I thought of 'Camelot'!)

This a rather unclear photo of Coburg Methodist Church that I took with my very first camera, a Kodak Instamatic, in January 1966. I was looking south-east(ish). The photo was taken about 50 years after World War One. Note that the fence has gone, as have the conifers. If you stand in the same place today, you'll see that the palm tree is no longer there. In fact, all the palms have been removed and replaced with gums.

Another photo taken with my Kodak Instamatic. It's some time in 1967 and I'm in Form 3 at Newlands High School. (That's me at the back). My little sister is on the right and the caretaker's children are next to her. This view is facing east and you'll notice behind us the Sunday School building that was destroyed by fire in the 1990s. I suspect that the brick Sunday School building in this photo was not built until after the First World War, so that would not have been part of the landscape when the 1916 photo was taken. 

So, even by the 1960s many changes had already taken place in this small corner of Coburg. The property was no longer fenced-in and the citizens of Coburg were free to use this green oasis in an ever-growing mass of shops and building developments. The conifers that were in evidence in 1916 were no longer there. The palms now dominated that landscape.

Bring yourself forward to 2014 and imagine yourself standing in the same place and you will see that trams still run along that busy route. There are cars banked up at every corner, the drivers waiting impatiently for the next change of lights. The church is still there, its bluestone exterior giving a sense of permanence to the scene, although it is no longer the Coburg Methodist Church (or even the Coburg Uniting Church) but it is still a church. The palm trees have gone, replaced by gums with beautiful white bark trunks. Best of all, though, the shared green space is still there. Let's hope it never disappears! 

And just to give you an idea of the view of that intersection facing south, here’s an image taken in about 1905. Note that trams were still horse-drawn. The electric tram was yet to come to Coburg. .

Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society

I can see Warren's Bakery on the right hand corner and that was still there when war broke out. It's now Ferguson Plarre, but in my day it was Ferguson's and a favourite destination of my father, who had a sweet tooth and was very fond of their vanilla slices and boston buns, so we visited the shop often.

On the left hand corner, you can just make out the Corner Hotel. It had been there forever and a day and went through a number of changes of name, but in my day it was Brown's Pub. (Being Methodists, of course, no one from my family visited the pub, but it was hard to ignore the men emerging when the pub closed at 6 o'clock. And I disliked intensely the smell of stale beer that emerged from the doors as you passed by.) Today, the pub's still there, known these days as Brown's Corner Hotel, so some things stay pretty much the same.

There will be more of these reminders of the changes time has wrought. 

Please let me know if you have suggestions for places to consider. And feel free to send me any images you have come across or have taken that might fill in this look at Coburg's changing landscape.

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