Bourke St - pt III
[before reading, open another window and cut and paste this link – http://bourkestreet.com.au – for the streetsonline.com.au guide to Bourke St]
Swanston St to Elizabeth St
Welcome to the Bourke St Mall – the CBD’s most concentrated retail block with scores of outlets ranging from a small specialty shop selling Russian dolls to major department stores that spread over two city blocks.
It’s also the lowest part (topographically speaking) of Bourke St, so it’s all uphill from here. Thankfully the climb isn’t as steep as Victoria’s other well-known Bourke Street – the 1km-long main piste at Mt Buller (Google Maps: 37 08’48.77S, 146 26’49.41E), the state’s largest ski resort about 150km north-east of Melbourne (webcam image below).
At times both thoroughfares can be jam-packed with people – shoppers in the city and skiers and snowboarders in the mountains – and the saying “busy as Bourke St” (the city version) was coined for a reason.
I’m not sure when the phrase was first noted, but if historical pictures are anything to go by, it’s a good thing this section of Bourke St was blocked to vehicle traffic back in 1972. I could imagine it would have been an absolute nightmare for drivers, with eager shoppers ducking and weaving through the traffic to get from one side of the road to the other.
(Bizarrely, the properly constructed Bourke St Mall was “officially” opened by Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1983).
Modern-day pedestrians still have to keep their wits about them because trams continue to negotiate this block and drivers can sometimes get a little impatient with dawdlers. Be warned: trams can be very quiet and on more than one occasion I’ve seen them sneak up on oblivious people who were blasted back into reality by the sudden dinging of the tram’s bell, or the driver berating dreamers via the tram’s external loud speakers. It can be quite amusing ... unless of course you’re the hapless person who drops all their shopping bags from the shock.
A few years ago the Mall underwent major refurbishment – new seating, paving, planting, information centre etc – but “improvements” also included lighting suspended from ridiculous wires that make the Mall look like it’s shrouded in a giant fishing net. It’s almost impossible to shoot around the damn thing:
Many shoppers tend to get into a “zone” when in the Mall, and only focus on the shopfronts at street level. However, it’s worth looking up and studying some of the wonderful buildings and one of those is the Leviathan Building (c1918) on the south-west corner of the Bourke-Swanston intersection:
Next along is the modern Centrepoint shopping centre, followed by the southern branch of the upmarket David Jones department store (food hall and men’s wear), which was the site of the Coles variety store from 1930 to 1987 (#299-307). The building extends south to Little Collins St:
Next up is the Melbourne Visitor Booth (open Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 10am-5pm) outside another modern shopping centre that encompasses The Walk Arcade. Union Lane (east) and The Causeway (west) are on either side of the building, and link the Mall with Little Collins St.
Melbourne’s walks, arcades and laneways are part of what makes this city marvellous. They enable shoppers to cut through city blocks and avoid the heavy foot traffic on the major thoroughfares. Many are covered to provide protection from the sun in summer or from the wind, rain and cold in winter. While it’s true that some laneways are merely used as loading zones and somewhere to stash the rubbish bins, other laneways are home to unique retailers/boutiques and cool cafes/bars where you can sit and watch the world go by.
I think Melbourne’s best two arcades are the Block Arcade (to be covered in the Collins St report) and the Royal Arcade at #331 Bourke St. Royal Arcade links Bourke and Little Collins sts, with a side offshoot to Elizabeth St:
The Royal is Australia’s oldest surviving arcade, being built in 1869 and designed by architect Charles Webb, whose other outstanding buildings include the Windsor Hotel back up the hill on the corner of Spring and Bourke. No matter how many times you visit Royal Arcade, it always seems like a bit of an adventure when you step on the black and white tiles at the entrance, pass the plate glass side windows of the shops on the Mall and enter the renovated arcade bathed by sunlight that floods in through the glass roof.
At the end of the first part of the arcade are Gog and Magog (above in introduction), who have been delighting generations of small children. The sign below them says: “These two 7-feet giants have been striking the time on Gaunt’s clock since 1892. They were carved from clear pine and modelled on the figures erected in Guildhall, London, in 1708 to symbolise the conflict between the ancient Britons and the Trojan invaders. Mythology tells of the giants Gog and Magog (also known as Corineus and Gogmagog) having been captured in the battle by the Trojans and made to serve as porters at the gateway of an ancient palace on a site later occupied by the Guildhall. It is traditional for Gog to stand to the north and Magog to the south.”
That description won’t help you work out who’s who because both statues face north. However, the official website goes into greater detail: “Gog carries a ‘morning star’ (looking like a mace and chain) ...
“... and his brother, Magog stands like an ancient Roman soldier with a halbert (spear-topped battleaxe) in hand.”
After saying hello to these mythological brothers, turn around the look towards the Bourke St entrance ...
... where Father Time stands guard:
There are 32 different shops in the complex including several clothing/accessory boutiques, Babushkas (where you buy your Russian dolls), jewellers, a branch of sweet retailers Suga ... and there are even dragons in the basement!
Back out on Bourke St, and on the Elizabeth St corner, is the 10-storey London Stores office building (c1922):
Now it’s time to head back to the north-eastern side of the Mall where there are two Gothic buildings that I’m quite fond of. The first is the narrow #280 (c1913) ...
...and #290 (c1902) a couple of doors west. The main features I like about this building are the row of 10 gargoyles at the top and the two demon-like figures leering down on the general populace. I’ve tried many times to take a photo at different times of day (bit hard without a telephoto lens), and this is the best I could do:
The demons’ western neighbour is a small David Jones building (#298, c1934), which has fantastic art deco features and three panels advertising the building’s former function as a menswear outlet:
Next to that is main David Jones building at #310, which extends north through to block to Little Bourke St:
DJs moved into this art deco building (c1930) in 1982, to give the Sydney-based company (founded 1838) a toehold in the Melbourne market. The building (as well as #298) used to house the Buckley & Nunn department store and its previous ownership is recorded in two signs on the frontage:
Next to DJs is its archrival and the grand daddy of Melbourne’s department stores – Myer. The DJs company is more than 60 years older Myer, which was founded by Russian immigrant Sidney Myer in Bendigo in 1900, with a Bourke St branch being established in 1911. However, Myer has had seven decades on David Jones to well and truly establish itself as a Melbourne institution. The art deco building on the Mall – Myer (city) stretches back over Little Bourke St with another store frontage on Londsdale St – was built in 1933:
I’m not really a regular shopper at Myer – or Myer’s as most people refer to it - but it is handy if you have to buy a present for someone because you can wander the floors looking for inspiration. And if you can’t find anything ... there’s always DJs next door!
And now we come to the epicentre if Melbourne: the GPO (#350, c1859-1907) on the north-east corner of Bourke and Elizabeth sts:
But don’t bother coming to this “general post office” if you’re after stamps or other postal services because Australia Post moved out several years ago and now conducts business from premises on the corner of Elizabeth and Little Bourke, plus several other locations in the CBD.
Various plans were mooted for the site – including a hotel rising up from the middle – however, all almost seemed lost when the main postal hall was gutted by fire in September 2001 during initial restoration work. After three years of rebuilding it reopened in 2004 as the locale for upmarket fashion boutiques and cafes/restaurants.
It’s still one of Melbourne’s grandest landmarks:
Last but least is a piece of public art that’s usually hard to photograph on its own because it’s either being used as a seat (for which it was designed) or has kids crawling all over it and sliding on the smooth surface:
The Public Purse is made of red granite and stainless steel, and was commissioned from artist Simon Perry in 1994. It sits outside the GPO near the Elizabeth St corner ... and I reckon it’s great.
[At Elizabeth St you can catch the No 19 tram to North Coburg, the No 57 to West Maribyrnong and the No 59 to Airport West.]
Hmm, I didn’t mean to spend so much time and space on the Bourke St Mall, but I’ll be posting the rest of Bourke St soon.
http://www.thewalkarcade.com.au/ (The Walk Arcade)
http://www.royalarcade.com.au/ (Royal Arcade #331)
http://www.davidjones.com.au/home.jsp (David Jones, corporate)
http://www.myer.com.au/ (Myer, corporate)
http://www.myer.com.au/about/history.asp (Myer, history)
http://www.melbournesgpo.com/# (GPO, corporate)