There’s a big Woolworths supermarket on Smith Street in Fitzroy. The façade is unusual but for years I never took much notice. We did a bit of research for a tour a while ago and found it had once been the Collingwood Coffee Palace, a stalwart of the local temperance movement. Many of these alcohol free pubs became licensed in an effort to survive but this one was bought cheap by a chap named George Coles. There he started the first Coles variety store, which would grow to become the second largest retailer in Australia. Of course it’s second only to the current tenant and major competitor, Woolworths.
When you visit a place you might try to ‘take it all in,’ but it’s hard without much context or history. Even as a local you’re often too busy getting on with things to appreciate the fascinating, beautiful world that surrounds you. You can enjoy a building or bit of street art at face value. When you get the story, the context, the point in history your enjoyment runs much deeper.
I have a lot of memories of myself so I’m very familiar to me, as are my friends and family, my home… When you visit somewhere completely new, a great way to become familiar and connected is with a bit of backstory, it’s just like a memory except you didn’t have to be there. When we take people around the city we might stop pass Tattersall’s Lane to point out an amazing mural by Adnate or Rad. Then when you see one in Hosier Lane you might recognise the style because you know Adnate loves doing big murals, mostly of women. You can tell people that Rad is short for Conrad, which makes it a little less tacky.
A city never just happened yesterday. In a good city, there are markings of its entire history waiting to be explained. It’s nice to know a great local spot for a cheeky cocktail. But to know it takes it’s name from the stones it was built from, that it was once the home of a minister long before it was a brothel. To hear the stories of how something came to be the way it is, stories told with drama and character and humour, that’s the way to get to know a place. Join us sometime.