More than just a life worth living
Not everyone we encounter is real, but certain fictional characters ought to be. Alexa St George narrates the tale of St Kilda from the perspective of someone who defies the constraints of time.
I love it here you know laying on horse, my beautiful, magnificent horse, The Prince of Siam I call him, I lay on his back as the St Kilda sun shines through the window, basking in the glow I think I am finally happy…
“To listen in silence to the words that are there, not printed on a page but glued within a breath… Lynnette Cawcutt has captured a whisper, softly spoken in the corner of our world almost within the next… Alexa St George was never silent, though now as time passes between the gaps she has decided to be heard once again.
Like many of us Alexa came from a foreign land and found a home within the Alex Theatre and the earth that surrounds these hallowed walls. At first Alexa’s voice seemed as if she was still in Dublin, after a while she has adapted, transformed, as we all do, to the sound of St Kilda, a beating heart against the shield of time.
So from within our tribe Lynnette has become a ghost writer for our ever watching angel, Alexa St George.
It has been said that when the moon is high and the fog rolls in off the Albert Park Lake across our Grand Boulevard Alexa St George can be seen looking out of the window of the Alex Theatre as she stands next to her friend and trusty steed, watching over her tribe, her community.
This is not only her story but those that pass through our place, Alex Theatre St Kilda – Port Phillip.” Mr K
PROMENADE DOWN THE FITZROY STREET GRAND BOULEVARD TO THE ESPLANADE
I love it here you know laying on horse, my beautiful magnificent horse, The Prince of Siam I call him, I lay on his back as the St Kilda sun shines through the window, basking in the glow I think I am finally happy, I Alexa St George live here in the Alex at the George, how serendipitous is that I ask. Alexa isn’t a very Irish name but me mammy she liked more than a tipple of the elixir, she didn’t know who my dad was, the St George Hotel in Dublin was her stomping ground so my name was her two favourite things.
I continued dancing without musical accompaniment, plying my wares, having to pull my drawers down to pay my rent on my little room full of Jimmy memories. I heard from some of the other girls that the government would pay you to go to Australia, assisted passage it was called I would have to be indentured to work in the country for 5 years but I would be where my Jimmy was. I applied and in December 1848 I arrived in Melbourne Town after a pretty damn rough 3-month journey. I was immediately taken by bullock dray with a few other indentured girls to the farms , after two hot days where I became acquainted with the Australian bush fly and interminable heat I was dropped off in the back of beyond, from day one I was verbally abused, treated worse than a hound by the English hoity toity bitch I had to work for, both the mister and the minister made considerable attempts to get in me knickers , as much as I was tempted to have a bit of a roll in the hay just to spite the English bitch I didn’t but after 2 years I was out of there, I hadn’t been paid a penny in that time so the night before I left, I stole a few pounds and a silver spoon from the bitch. The coppers would be after me I knew that.
A few weeks later after walking many miles over many days, hiding out from the coppers, in the shanty towns I passed through, feeding on scraps I found, bits of wild grass had the money so spent the night in Ballarat cleaned myself up and caught a coach to Melbourne. I finally arrived in Melbourne town the coach was stopping at a place called the Junction, sounded like the place for me, I thought that’s where I’m meant to be. I was dropped off on Baxter’s Track, the middle of a chaotic tangle of dirt roads, eight I counted bullock drays carting things, coaches carting people, dust and mud, a little ramshackle village had been created at the Junction. There were still some bush and the big eucalyptus trees gave shade, I saw some seedy looking girls hanging about a ramshackle shanty so I was in my rightful place, a big burly man says to me where you going girlie, I said I’m ‘ere looking for a bit of work, somewhere to lay me ‘ear. Mr Mick O’Shea provender of many things mainly illegal gave me a job and a bed of straw. This place was real primitive, it had just been called St Kilda, named that after a boat the Lady of St Kilda that had moored in the shallows of the bay on and off for a few years finally departing the shores but leaving the captain behind who was first to buy a bit o’ land and naming the street where he built his cottage Acland street after his old boss and the owner of the Lady of St Kilda. After I’d been at the junction about a year this fancy dressed real estate sales men started to appear, they’d drop into Micks dodgy bar after a hard day touted the claim that St Kilda Sea air was good for body and soul to the rich punters so they could sell a bit of land. It was the most beautiful beach I had ever seen, and the big gum trees were magnificent. I loved the smell of them leaves. Mick was a font of knowledge about this new seaside village, he had been in Melbourne town since he got his ticket of leave years ago, he reckoned it would become a seaside resort for the rich buggars one of these days.
Days would pass and the girls and I would ply our trade. Water was scarce so we girls of the night would go down to the bay on sunset, oh sometimes the colours took your bloody breath away, we’d bathe in the sea, we had the bay to ourselves as Mick said that sea bathing was made illegal by some prissy puritans in the colony years ago.
As we swam, we would see the indigenous peoples of this land spearing fish in the shallows, the mothers getting the fire going on the beach while the kids played and laughed or collected shellfish from the water’s edge for their dinner their relationship with this land going back so many thousands of years was noticeable, then bloody white fella comes along drives them from their traditional grounds where they lived in harmony with this land. I wish I could tell them that their enemy was mine, the King, the farmer, the farmer’s wife, the governor, the redcoats, the coppers, but I couldn’t reach out, that was a damn shame.
I’d be looking every day for my Jimmy, pulling’ my drawers down just so I could stay alive until we were reunited. A rumour came into town early in the year of 1851, gold had been discovered here in Victoria. Suddenly there were people from all over the world rushing into the colony to make their fortune. Mick said that as soon as the rest of Australia and the world heard they dropped everything, abandoning their farms, their jobs even their indentures. I felt safe as so many where on the run and arriving in town I was the last person the coppers would be looking for.
That meant good tidings for us girls visit from gold diggers on their way to the fields having last bit of fun till they struck it big. It wasn’t long until the blokes arrived back at the Junction with rolls of bank notes and bags of gold. We would take the rich gents down to skinny dip at midnight, they paid us very well. We were in clover. Mick with his sly grog, cocaine and us girls was doing so well he built a hotel, The Junction Hotel. He finished building it in 1853. Lots of magnificent buildings started appearing all over St Kilda suddenly it was a holiday destination for the rich and famous, just like Mick had said although I reckon Mick was possibly the most famous person in St Kilda.
Lots of building was happening on the shore sea bath structures started appearing, we not so proper girls swam free in the bay we didn’t have the proper attire, we’d go buff naked or in our drawers.
Water tanks were erected at the Junction, under the gum trees, it was so good to have some freshwater, we still went down to the bay to have a bath, the local indigenous peoples had all but disappeared from the bay, I missed seeing them, hearing the children’s happy squeals as they ran in the waves but all was silent.
Lots of building was happening on the shore sea bath structures started appearing, we not so proper girls swam free in the bay we didn’t have the proper attire, we’d go buff naked or in our drawers. The fancy ladies would swim separately, in costumes head to toe, more than I wore on a good day, they swam in a tent-like contraption hidden from the gentlemen who had the added advantage of Mr Kenney’s Gentlemen’s bathing Ship which was moored offshore. The young gentlemen who frequented the bathing ship developed muscular Christianity by the exercise and sunshine swimming gave them, (Mick had read that quote in the Argus newspaper) I tell you that muscular Christianity was put to good use with us girls. If only the good Christian mothers knew what their sons got up to after the swim. That Mr Kenney he wouldn’t let any of us girls onboard, he was a clever clog bought an old scuttled ship called Nancy, floated it to St Kilda beach, turned it into a floating pool moored it in the shallows and made a lot of money off the wealthy male clientele.
Mick was full of all the news about gold, how there were so many people now the population of St Kilda had multiplied itself by 4 in two years. The Chinese had come and set up josh houses on the other side of the city taking a lot of the sly grog and illicit trade with it. Only us girls remained as a reminder of the wild days. After years defying the law Mick was now a respected publican. He even held the local Literary society in the back room of the Junction, the toffs called the room The Athenaeum. Everyone and everything in Melbourne were booming, Railways started to come and in 1857 they finished and opened the St Kilda Railway station.
About a year before the railway opened, I was being visited on a regular basis by a lovely young American, Theodore, he had fallen in love with me and he wanted to marry me, little Irish orphan poor whore me, what should I do?
He had a very successful claim up in the goldfields and had purchased a property on St Kilda Hill, he was building us a house and a future of children, and respectability was mine.
Should I wait for Jimmy who may or may not be coming to me or should I give myself the opportunity to thrive in fancy dresses and doing tea with the ladies, bathing with them oh no I couldn’t conform to that strict structure so I wouldn’t go that far to fit in but I had decided to marry Theodore he was fine to me really treated me as a lady and not the whore I had become.
After New Year he gave me a lot of money so I could buy myself a wedding dress and a trousseau as my threadbare hand-me-down dresses were all patched. I decided to get a wedding dress made. Sadie my friend said I should get the newest fashion with flounces forming a crinoline, they had wireframes to support the material now but I wouldn’t restrict myself with wire trapping me.
I went to Levi bros store in the city with Sadie and I purchased the prettiest Emerald green silk the colour of the rolling hills of my homeland it was to be edged with a much lighter green, like the gum leaves of my new homeland. For my dress, we needed nearly 15 yards of material all up with cotton for the fullness folds, many layers that made up the crinoline dress I had to purchase a camisole, a chemise and a corset, god I was worn out thinking about the fact I would be wearing all of this at once, no wonder those rich ladies were so pinched in their faces it would take them all day to dress then in the Melbourne summer, I was not looking forward to those days when I would promenade down the boulevard to the Esplanade in 5lbs of material. My dress was getting made, Theodore would come and visit me from the diggings, we would hold hands as we walked up to our house on top of the hill, he would tell me where our children would play. We had planned to marry the next month, I still lived at the Junction Hotel but didn’t have to ply my wares to make a quid anymore, I still looked out for Jimmy every day, a little bit of my heart would always belong to him.
It was May the 4th 1857 my wedding day. Sadie had some flowers and a pretty calico dress I had bought her, we’d even bathed, Mick had made an exception as we only had a bath every two weeks. We were getting hitched by Mick, he had been ordained by some missionary that wanted to save his soul years before so he was official.
Sadie and me went to Mrs O’Brien’s across the road to get dressed, she had done hair for royalty she said before she got done for stealing a silver hairbrush an getting sent to the colonies. So, with my hair full of flowers and in my beautiful dress Sadie and I crossed the road, it had got busier and busier now, big bulk carters full of wool and wheat with a 6-horse team would always be galloping along far too fast. I saw a big load of bluestones coming towards me, Sadie had already crossed, I could make it easily but then my shoe got caught on those new bloody railway tracks, I struggled to get my foot out the muddy tracks, I was in a dream, my shoe was stuck I got my foot out but as I bent to free my brand-new shoe, I looked up, too late, SMASH. KAPOW.!!!!!
I kept running to Theo, I could see him running out calling my name, I ran towards him, then right through him, he knelt beside my body, I did look beautiful in my dress which was a good thing as I’m still wearing it to this day. It took a while for me to realize I was in fact toast, dead. I was in a state of shock so I sat and watched the world from the veranda of the Junction.
I sat there waiting to go to heaven but the angels never came for me, after months of day and night a rain a sunshine a tear from me friends I realised I was never Gunna go to heaven. I started exploring the town watching the happenings. I ended up living at the new Terminus hotel as my memories at the Junction were too raw. I didn’t want to look at the place where I marked it when I woke up every day.
Mick and Sadie fell in love over the death of me, I’d often go a sit with me on the veranda of the pub just listen to them chatting about things.
Baxter’s Track was re named Fitzroy Street even though the toffs called it the Boulevard. I spent a lot of time at the station when it opened, watching as the trains came in depositing all kinds of folk coming to catch a bit of sea air, the place was booming, mansions were popping up on St Kilda hill, Theos house was finished I would float up there but someone else lived there, poor Theo, he loved me so. He sold his dream home. But sometimes he would come and I’d see him sitting on the porch of the Junction hotel lost in memories of me.
Down on the bay things were happening so fast, I lose track of time but it was over a year after I carked it, they built them 1858, the first ever actual permanent sea baths on the same site they are today I reckon. No more of the ladies swimming in tents and the Nancy disappeared I love living at the Terminus, now it’s the George so I been living here for 160 odd years, it was opposite the station you see so I could float over and watch see if Jimmy or Theo came, I still do now watch the trams to see if a ghost from my past floats by.
Sitting listening to Sadie a Mick one day Theo turns up, oh my heart did give a flutter seeing my love. I sat on his knee as he told them he was leaving the country the next week on the Royal Charter a ship that was going to carry the rich miners and their gold back to England, he was then going to go onto New York. He had made a fortune but the memories of me he just couldn’t stay here anymore. Oh, if I could I would have cried for my poor darling Theo, who I had loved.
A few months later Mick sold the Junction, he a Sadie was having a baby and they were moving, further down the coast, I went one last time to their party, there was dancing and laughter, but I heard some men talking about how the Royal Charter had sunk just off the coast of England. All that gold was lost along with most of the passengers. Oh, my poor Theo Rollin around at the bottom of the sea.
It was the first game of the season and our Saints finally had their proper colours back, the yellow went, white returned, thank goodness. My favourite player Vic Cumberland came back to play, after fightin in the war he was 43 years old and I’d seen him when he was 20 odd. Although we roared into last place in 1920 for the 10th time in 21 years I still loved me Saints, I was their number one fan and could say I have been to every footy match they played at the Junction.
The soldiers that returned had returned to work, the town started to come alive again. The St Kilda army and navy club was built, I’d watch ‘em building it, you know I like watching burly sweaty men workin, ghost or not I’m still a woman. This club I heard was a unique concept, the first in Australia where the community funded it entirely and it was a multi-functioning venue, I went to its opening with all the returned soldiers havin’ a beer in their rightful place they was happy as Larry.
Another famous royal person came, landed at the newly renovated pier, it was the Prince of Wales, the future king. I got really close an’ had a good look at him, he was handsome in that rich man way, I followed them around being part of the royal circle. They were makin a movie thing on his visit called The Prince in Melbourne, I’m in every scene filmed in St Kilda if ever you see it you may see me. I helped him cut the ribbon when he opened the extended Pier and the new revamped swimming baths. Everyone wanted to touch and prod him, crowds would form around, hands would reach out I tried to push the hands away, that was hopeless endeavour haha if they made it and touched him they would yell “I touched him”, it was said he would arrive at his digs after a day of opening things in Melbourne and he would be black and blue from this touching mania. It was a bit crazy but you gotta understand there hadn’t been anything good happen for a long time so he was a prime target.
Boy did it get hot hot hot in the summer of ’20, 1,000s of visitors flocked to the St Kilda seaside in search of the exhilarating zephyrs the bay would bring. Even I was seeking the cool shady areas. Everyone was sea bathing, remember when it was banned now everyone was in the water together, the bathing suits were still very modest but a little less material these days. They locked the men’s dressing sheds as there were so many people. Some men who were shy actually scaled the walls to land in the dressing shed to disrobe in privacy, well they thought they were but I was watchin the silly fellas.
The bloody Richmond footy club won the 1921 Grand final, you know what the buggars did they drove down Fitzroy Street in a convoy of these fancy motor cars , I jumped in with the captain, strapping young man he was, they then dined at the Elite café in Acland St to celebrate this was followed by an even rowdier exit from St Kilda, buggars rubbing our noses in our losses, wasn’t there a café in Richmond they could go to.
There was a big party at The George, Mr Levi was leavin to go to England for a time, I loved a good party and this was no exception. They asked Mr Levi, who had been a councillor when he may return, he replied “When my money runs out “he said everyone laughed as he was a very wealthy man so may never return. They gave hm a walking stick as a goodbye gift. Young Freddie was a good host.
St Kilda was given a clean bill of health by the Medical Superintendent, they had inspected every backyard and declared that it deserved the reputation of an ideal seaside resort. Young Freddie thought this was great news, we all felt healthier after that even us dead ones.
Fashions were changing, the clothes were looser, less modest. I felt overdressed in me bustle and frills. I would go to all the parties, the best one was at Wickliffe house a beautiful house next door to the Esplanade Hotel (they ripped it down in the 1950’s) there was a lot of dancin’ this new dance the Charleston was an energetic dance it was hard to perform in my weddin dress, for once I was glad I was invisible as I was opeless at tryin this dance. But the ladies looked fabulous in their loose shorter dresses with lots of long strands of pearls, crepe de chine, satin, georgette even the hairstyles were different sort of a bob cut, it used to be we all had long hair and put it up. I felt old-fashioned. I wished I could change my dress. The women seemed to be more liberated than ever, I had heard young Freddie talk about the suffragette movement where women were wanting gender equality. They had had the vote in Australia for near on 20 years. It was a good thing, women having a voice and the freedom of less undergarments and all that bloody material.
Jazz was entering my world, I loved it, the trumpets, the coolness of the music, the cigarette smoke. I would go listen to jazz and dance, the Eastern Tent Ballroom was behind the Esplanade Hotel was my favourite. Other jazz cafes popped up and they were cool places to be, full of cigarette smoke, liberated women, men relieved of the burden of war, everyone was out for fun. I wished I was alive or at least not so old fashioned in me yards of green silk.
A new theatre was built on the corner of Barkly and Carlisle Street, of course I went and watched them building it those hot sweaty men. It was called the Victory, it was touted as the most modern picture theatre in Australia, this was the first entertainment venue that wasn’t on the Esplanade, it was all changin, Alfred Square was no longer full of entertainment it started to fill with monuments. The Palais de Dance was near Luna Park, I loved the afternoon dances they had and jazz bands at night.
All those makeshift shanties on the beach and Esplanade were now either torn down or real proper buildings were being built. One of these new ones was the Wattle Path Palais de dance next to Alfred square they held the first ever Australian Dance championships, folks came from all over it was so good, I would have won I reckon givin I’d been dancing for near on 90 years pity Jimmy wasn’t around.
The movie men wanted advertising on the esplanade as their venues were either at the Victory or the Astor and there was one in Brighton, the council said no way as the real estate on the Esplanade was to expensive. The movies kept on bein made the old Bioscope up near me on Fitzroy Street it was now the StKilda Theatre. There was a fire in the Sacred Heart Church in Grey St so the owners of the theatre allowed it to be turned into a church every Sunday for nearly a year. It was funny young Freddie was sayin one night that a lady who attended the church and the theatre sometimes forgot what she was attending and was seen once genuflecting and kneeling before a show, this made everyone laugh.
The Lyric finally closed it had become part of the Esplanade theatres but when that flopped they turned it into a dance hall. They did all this fancy stuff to the front, young Freddie was sayin that it was mock medieval, like from way back in time. it was weird but done really well I got to like it.
Old Mooneys was no more it was now the Corso Picture Theatre, I went to a few pictures there but it made me sad ‘cause Mooneys was the first real pub on the Esplanade it used to be a riot of noise and frolicking now it was a sedate theatre. The resident ghosts would be pissed off I’d reckon. I still didn’t have a ghost friend and had given up findin’ Jimmy or thinkin about Theo it still made me sad.
Then there was a murder, it was the talk of The George, this man had been shot on cup day these two brothers, the Pierce brothers had ridden up to his house, shot him with a revolver and ridden away on their bicycles only to be caught by the cops. The paper described the brothers as idle and disorderly and when they were convicted to 12 years James Pierce yelled out to the jury sayin ‘tell the jury they are a bunch of bloody liars, the whole lot of ‘em.’. The twenties ended with my Saints in the finals at last it had been a while 11 years to be exact but my boys didn’t win but it sure made us all so proud.
All that palava about another depression, well you couldn’t feel it here in St Kilda. Not in the beginning anyway. Young Freddie had done well, the marble portico and his beautiful banqueting hall he added another 29 rooms so now Freddie’s missus had 169 rooms to clean, I am sure she had help but I’d see her runnin from room to room makin sure they were spotless for the new guests. The townhall finally got its portico as well. In 1931 there was this parade called the queen of the flowers, it was to celebrate the end of the winter and the coming summer. Always a bit hopeful in Melbourne. The queen, I would have been the better choice had I been alive and young but she was all flowy and queeny driven by 4 white horses along St Kilda road followed by pipers in kilts, I loved a man in a kilt, floats from the matches place Bryant and May, Robur tea even had a float On arrival at Albert Square The Queen declared winter gone and the summer carnival season shall commence. There were stalls on the esplanade selling funny noses and masks. There was a battle with rose petals, the yacht club members dressed as pirates, Luna Parks dome were glowing, coloured lights festooned the park there was bunting and thousands of flags. St Kilda was ready for summer. I had a ball the festival lasted all week. The streets were lit with kerosene flares and roman candles, the Hawthorn banjo club played outside the swimming baths, banjo music wasn’t my scene really but I did a few jigs for the audience, a dog started barking at me, he could see me dancin. The best bit was at night when you could sit on the beach and watch the amazing fireworks that were set off from boats in the bay. Oh, it was beautiful the night sky lit up with bursts of colour, I would sit with families havin a night picnic. During the day there were swimming races, swimming displays, water polo at the baths. best bit was the beach fashion parade, I modelled my weddin dress seein that’s all I could do, the latest swimwear was on display and believe it or not the hot fashion product was the Kingsford Smith bathing cap. To me it was the most unflattering thing ever hidin lady’s lovely hair, the stall selling them sold out and many orders were taken. I thought about those early days when the girls and I would bathe naked at midnight with our hair flowing in the lolling waves, to stick your hair in a cap makin you look bald I couldn’t understand but it was fashion who am I to judge walkin around with a bustle for 70 odd years.
Another new trend brought out from America was midget golf, suddenly by the end of 1930 there were 14 midget golf courts on the Esplanade built on empty blocks of land. I counted them and had tried to get a hole-in-one on all of them by holding hands of the players only the handsome young men ones tho’.
The baths had been revamped hailed as the most modern in Australia, young Freddie said it cost 60,000 pounds to upgrade it. There was separate bathing for men and women, apparently there was a big tado because they wouldn’t allow mixed bathing. Our puritan ladies of the Women’s National League banned it.on the grounds of decency, they also complained of the men sunbaking with their Vee’s off, disgusting. To them but for me well I spent a lot of time sittin with these unclothed men. Oh those women obviously the daughters of the former members who banned swimming in the sea all those years ago. So couples that wanted to swim together went into the sea, so the profit they were going to make dwindled.
The Catani Clocktower was finished. It is in Alfred Square and was dedicated to Carlo and designed as if it was Italian. I loved sitting under this remembering this great man who I had watched change the seascape of St Kilda. They started to introduce Australian trees into the Blessington Street garden, I followed the planters and watched these little saplings be planted, I loved the smell of the gum leaves and looked forward to sitting under them one day.
Dancing and jazz were still my favourite past time and there was a multitude of places I could dance at. Wattle Path was still going, The Mayfair Theatre with its pretend moat and 3 floors but the Palais De Dance was still my favourite.
The Victory Theatre had been remodelled with potted palms , comfy lounges a small baby grand and flowers, a bit like the Alex Theatre lounge where I live today. Everyone would dress up in their finery, diamonds and furs for it wasn’t just a film you went to see at the Victory, you would be entertained by the resident band The Victory Concert Orchestra run by Harry Jacobs. Harry would put on a show before the film and the audience never knew what it was, once he had elephants there, finally, I saw one after imagining them, they were so big how Harry managed to get them in the theatre and out boggled me . After the show many of the orchestra would go and play at the Palais De Dance, sometimes I wouldn’t get back to the George until daylight dancing all night, goin to a jazz club after comin home smellin of tobacco.
You could see signs of the depression hitting us slowly. The rich still danced and smoked but there were more and more people askin for sustenance. This sustenance thing was, as I heard the now not so young Freddie tellin folks about it if they needed a handout to go to the Town Hall were the St Kilda Ladies Benevolent Society would hand out sugar bags filled with tea, sugar spuds onions and the like to those that were struggling in these hard times . If I needed intellectual stimulation, I would go to the debating Society at Wittcliffe House but they were segregated, those puritans again, so I’d only go to the men’s meetings.
In 1933 Frank Thing took over the Wattlepath Theatre and turned it into a movie-making theatre making it the largest in Australia, he made 16 films there, I helped direct most of them. I heard all the ladies wanted their daughters to be a star in Mr Thrings movies, I had already starred in Australia’s first moving picture so had no desire to take to the stage again, dancing and directing was my thing I decided. Mr Thring wasn’t the only movie maker in town. Amalgamated Theatres took over the St Kilda Theatre in Fitzroy Street converting it into a modern soundproof studio where they made all the local news reels for Cinesound., They offered facilities for independent productions in return for release to the Greater Union chain. The Lyric even changed its name to Earls Court.
I continued to support the mighty saints and they were still losing, They played a match with North Melbourne that turned into a brawl with 15 players only without a bruise or cut, the players were heroes and the theatre even produced a short film of them playin it was a hit but they still were loosin all the time so a new committee was formed, I wish I was at that meetin, one of Freddie’s regulars was and he said it was a real bun fight, even the cops had to be called ‘cause you see the old committee treated the players like servants and told them they could be replaced at anytime which wouldn’t have done much for moral in the end a new committee was formed with aspirations to support the players and even offer work to outsiders that were good footy players. But they still lost.
There was a whole lot of different folk coming to town, Mr Kostas a Greek man opened a fish shop, it was very popular and I would sit inside just smellin the fryin fish, the Capicchiano brothers from Italy opened a fruit and vegie shop and the Chinese had laundries and cafes.
When the depression finally hit it hit this carnival town hard. With so many musicians out of work they had to depend on their landlords dropping the rent, sustenance and friends to survive. I noticed less and less holidaymakers and day trippers coming Apartment and boarding houses started to close, lookin rundown. The George survived as he had long-term boarders that could pay their rent . . They now called the Esplanade the Boulevard of Broken dreams. One bloke for the first time in the 16 years since he started couldn’t pay his way. A lot of soldiers were hit with no work many questioned their service to the government, why had they wasted away in the trenches, now the only support for them was a sugar bag with tea and sugar. Others turned to crime there was gang the Bosses of Balaclava I’d see the buggars stealin stuff but couldn’t do anything could I. They’d sneak into fancy parties and steal fur coats from the cloakrooms, they got chased one day but the copper ended up in the horse trough so they got away. Little barefooted urchins would make billycarts each morning go down to the beach to collect bottles left by overnight revellers, though there wasn’t many of those anymore as not many could afford a beer. They would also steal poodles and wait for the owner to put a lost poster up with a reward and they would then collect it. How profitable that was I don’t know as you didn’t see many poodles around. Beggars would accost rich folks going into the Palais, sometimes the toffs would throw the odd penny at these poor buggars.
They now called the Esplanade the Boulevard of broken dreams as amusements closed, boarding house were boarded up, St Kilda as a pleasure resort was now getting its pleasure from cocaine, becoming the shrine of pleasure for a completely different reason from the vision the man who termed those words imagined.
Back at the junction well it hadn’t changed that much since my day even with runnin water and electricity. filled with sly grog shops, I’d see the dealers selling the blow for two bob in a paper twist they called it two bob joe blow, or snow, prostitutes started frequenting St Kilda a lot more as there had been a bylaw passed in the Melbourne city council givin the cops the power to suppress immoral houses, sending these sinful women t my sisters, into convents to make themselves pure, what a lot of puritan rubbish. I being a lady of the night enjoyed the company of these ladies.
I still loved Linden House and Mr Michaels family still lived there, I heard talk there one day while I was sittin under me favourite tree, about the first Liberal Jewish congregation being created, bridging the gap of the Orthodox congregation. Temple Beth Israel was the place where women were accepted as equals.
A lot of landlords lowered the rent just so they could try and survive without closing, the council stalled rates as not many had the money to pay. There was a job advertised for one factory worker and 800 people turned up for the job that was how things were, depressing. Was it the same as the 1890’s in a way yes but we were in more modern times with more people so it felt worse to me. Mr Jacka the Mayor passed away in 1932 he was only young and a handsome man who did only good things for the village, he was hailed as The helper of the helpless.
Things improved in 1934 with over 100,000 partygoers coming to watch the fireworks, new brochures were made claiming it to be the Lido of the South, I don’t know what a Lido is and I never found out and the other brochure featuring a bathing beauty on the cover called St Kilda The Beautiful. Mixed bathing was introduced at the baths and was very busy all the time, I would often just go to watch the men without their Vees. Those old bats must have moved on to Toorak where things were more proper, although a few complained mixed bathing remained. It was also Luna Parks Silver anniversary celebrating with 5,000 balloons, that was a lot of bloody balloons, you should have seen them I pity the poor buggar who had to blow them up.
Frank Thring moved his theatre to Sydney, the theatre was turned into a skating rink called St Moritz, I tried my hand at skatin or floatin but it was bloody cold. The Prince got rebuilt with fireplaces and fancy lounges, Freddie didn’t mind he was comfortable his clientele wouldn’t run off to The Prince. A new coffee palace opened and it was my favourite called Kynges Galleone Coffee Lounge or the Galleon as us locals called it. It was like a ship inside and they payed jazz afternoons and evenings, sipping coffee, smoking cigarettes listening to jazz while I sat on some handsome man’s knee it was my thing.
Me bein a lover of dresses and the like I was excited when G.J.Coles opened a big store on the corner of Acland Street and Barkly. I would cruise the racks of dresses, try and smell the perfumes look at all the sparkly jewellery mingle with the customers, it was part of my day wanderin around, reminded me of Levi Bros back in the day when Theo had given me money to buy my trousseau.
Traffic was becoming a problem, it was hard to cross the road with all the cars and trucks zoomin by so the council put in traffic lights at the junction and Stop signs everywhere, it did make it easier to cross not that it mattered if I got run over but I still got the shivers every time I did, dyin while crossin the road as I did.
Now that swimwear had much less material a long way from the neck to knee 20 odd years ago now women where wearin their backless bathers in the street, even I found this rather shocking, of course those wowsers complained and the council passed a by law saying that folks must wear a wrap to cover their near nakedness.
Everything was settlin down but in 1937 a polio epidemic spread through the town, the toffs thought only the poor folk could get it and many servants lost their jobs cause the bosses thought they were carriers, but then the toffs started to be afflicted.
At Freddie’s I’d hear talk of this man called Hitler in Germany who had ideas about the Jews. A lot of these Jews fled to Australia. You could pick em out on the street waving their hands about wearing long black coats. And then the war began.
It was a time of shiny big black Buicks, suede high heels and Jazz. Although we could see the backs of the soldiers heading of to war in their khaki uniforms bound for the other side of the war St Kilda became the best liberty port in the war, or so I often heard the visiting very cute army men say to each other. The threat of war was more apparent this time around, after the last one we had no troops visiting for their Rand R then but now boy was it a good time. We read about the scores of soldiers killed or injured but somehow with the visiting troops it seemed like a holiday camp. We had massive brownouts all through 1941 dimming the lights of St Kilda. At dusk I’d walk the streets and see the shop owners covering their windows, one street lamp in every 4 were turned off, I was used to the dark as you know but so many had accidents, tripping over in the darkened streets breaking arms and sprained ankles. All the neon signs that lit up the esplanade were turned off and Luna Parks roller coaster hovered in the darkness. It was still open during the daylight hours. I would see harried mothers scrambling for food in the shops, trying to be there before the bread run out. A lot of the women were now working long hours trying to take up the void of the troops who had left the shores. Danger was lurking in those dimly lit streets.
Here in the best liberty port in the world the soldiers would party and even they played their weird football called grid iron and soft ball. I’d see them out in the parks playin.
They reckon that in 1942 there were 30,00 troops around the area. Amalgamated pictures stopped making films in 1940 and the theatre was turned into accommodation and a mess for the US and Canadian troops. These guys sure knew how to play. Down at the beach they swam and drank wooing the innocent Australian girls with their American ways. I guess the scandal of 3 women that were murdered one in Albert Park put the willies up everyone. The girl had been walking home from work in the brownout and was found strangled like the others near the lake. They called him the brown-out strangler. I was even wary even though I was already dead. Finally, after much investigating the strangler was found. He was an American serviceman and was sentenced to hang. His trial was held in the courts by the US military. He became the first-ever US person to be hung in Australia.
The brownout lasted 18 months then the lights went on. The Americans would play jazz in the streets and on the beach, eventually clubs offered jazz to all who would listen, creating a Melbourne-type of jazz. Oh, it was great if you didn’t read the papers Stkilda was singing. Some mornings I would walk along the bay seeing huddled couples sleeping arm in arm on the beach. The guys were having fun as were the girls of St Kilda. The brownout was lifted after 18 months of darkness the streets were alive again. No movies were made in St Kilda at this time but the folks flocked to the pictures to watch newsreels and the latest American movies. The dance palaces were such fun these days Id go bustle an all and dance to the jazz bands cling on to a handsome soldier and dance the night away, sometimes joining them on the beach for midnight swims. Those years were a blur and finally the war ended, the troops no longer came and the barracks at the Amalgamated Theatre became a café called Banff, its still there today, when I go there now, I can see it as it was in the beginning, the war years and now. The fashion of the day was stark straight skirts and little cardigans all very bland but you couldn’t buy materials everyone rationed their wardrobe I certainly felt like the bell of the ball everywhere I went. Our guys finally returned this time no plague followed. They were all damaged from what they had seen . you’d see injured men strolling with their young wives getting fresh air. Some of Freddie’s locals returned to the bar, shaken and shattered some would just look into their beers without talking I could see they had hell in their heads. Then the immigrants, the refugees from this dastardly war in Europe began to arrive just having a small suitcase with their world inside like me when I arrived to the dusty roads with very little in my valise but little did, we know they would revolutionize the food we ate, the coffee we drank.
Footy was a place for all to go and let of the pressures of the war. Although a lot of our good players had gone off to war, we still had a team but didn’t win many games. There was talk that they shouldn’t be playin but the games went on. Young Freddie who was getting on would hear of a few of the blokes in Changi Prison f war camp and they had set up a league and played footy with a St Kilda player Chitty being awarded the Changi Brownlow in front of 10,000 prisoners and their captives. Everyone was chuffed, we had won something that decade. Ten of our players lost their lives in this bastard war. The George was slipping into decay, Freddie did his best but with no one to take over as he had done with his father, he was old and tired and couldn’t build it into what it once was the crown of Fitzroy Street.
The war finished, dancing in the streets but a lot of the girls were gunna miss the troops visiting the best liberty port in the war.
Freddie sold my beautiful George hotel, I couldn’t move anywhere this was my home decaying as it was but the new owners seemed ok. But I would remember Freddie 1 and Freddie 2 as the first Freddie could see me and acknowledge me and second Freddie taught me to read and speak a bit more proper when I went to school with him. I would miss them both. It was a quite place for a while as the Us and Canadian armies went back home some leavin lovers and maybe unborn sprogs. Rent was cheap as boarding houses were rundown this attracted a lot of artists and musicians for cheap housing. Although the soldiers had gone there was an influx of refugees from the war. Acland Street became very European with fancy cake shops opening and delicatessens offering very funny food. A great café society was reborn but this time with a cosmopolitan European flavour. Melbourne had the largest population of Holocaust survivors than any other place in the world.
One morning everyone was talking about the aliens landing here in St Kilda as many folks had seen strange lights over the bay the night before, we were ready, I could do with a ride in a rocket but the scientists said it was only the southern lights. Best days after everyone had settled in were the days at the beach on weekends you could walk along the sand and see families from all over the world. The Italians would play guitars and sing songs from their country. Germans singing and having picnics with their funny food. But it was the best, they even rented deck chairs. it was a sea change for St Kilda, continental Sundays on the bay, nationalities intertwined. The government was really good giving them a hands up when they arrived, jobs, houses and they all had to learn another language but they were alive and with family that’s what mattered now after the hell they had experienced. A Latvian café, I didn’t even know of a country called Latvia, anyway they introduced Iced coffee to the mouths of the tea drinkers. it looked so good, again I wished I could eat and taste but it was really popular. An Italian restaurant opened on Fitzroy Street, called Leo’s. Its still there were it began all those years ago. Earls court held dances still but it was turned into of all things a table tennis court. They still had bookings when it was taken over so they just moved the tables around for the balls and dances.
Movie making had completely died, like me here in St Kilda a big film was made with American stars, it was called on the beach but it didn’t happen here. There was a big population of my country men the Irish, they were rebel rousers and caused a stir in the workers movement these Irish nationals. But when I heard them talkin I’d get so homesick and miss my country. They had a big Irish festival there was hurling and Irish dancing which I joined in bustle an all it was a good day with me country folk, I missed Jimmy so much that day. The former mess and barracks for the Rand R guys in the war became a café called Banff, its still here in the same place and thriving.
St Kilda footy team were called perennial cellar dwellers with moments of triumph, they got a new coach in 1956 after being wooden spooners for 3 years and at the bottom of the ladder for the other years. The new coach said no one will laugh at St Kilda again He got them to the middle of the ladder. And then there were the Olympic games and with it a new thing called Television, it was like when the radio came to town all those years ago. But this had moving pictures, like a small movie theatre in your own home and people were buying them putting them in their lounge rooms so because of this a lot of theatres closed, The Memo did that was at the army and Navy Club where Id watch and dance to jazz most nights during the war.
Women were dressin up more now fashion was readily available, pencil skirts sometimes I wished I could have ripped off me bustle and be in a pencil skirt with my hair flicked back. There was talk a lot of talk about building a library near the town hall, I would love to look at books but it was out of my area of ghostly wanderings. I loved the smell of fresh bread but that all changed when TipTop bread, it was the first national brand of sliced bread in a bag everyone wanted sliced bread and a TV. Even though St Kilda was full of new colour and zest the migrants had brought it was still a seedy area because of the cheap boarding houses and a few girls of the night started plying their trade on Grey Street, girls after my own heart, I understood why they did what they did. Seedy as it was it was still the best place to be especially at the beach on a weekend eating salami and listening to the new locals singing songs from their birthplace.
They call it bohemian the new St Kilda of the 60’s no longer seedy so many arty farty types trooped in and stayed a lot of the migrants now flush with work moved to the suburbs to raise their families the beach was now full of long-haired men and girls with braids and floaty skirts sitting cross-legged playing guitars.
My beloved George was not the fancy establishment it once was but it was certainly colourful. They had strip tease cabarets nightly. It attracted many men; I was in my element. As much as I thought I could no way would I get my kit off for them blokes dancing around in me birthday suit. One of the shows was called Vanessa the Undresser, I loved watchin her and sometimes just sometimes mind I reckon she felt my presence in her dressing room ‘cause she’d turn and say I know you are there Freddie, yep that’s right she thought I was the ghost of Freddie, I’d try and move things with me mind like I’d seen at a few magic shows. But that was a failure. The ladies of the night all plied their wares on Grey Street. I got to know them all I’d stand with ‘em till they got a client, they’d jump in the cars and off they’d go . some I noticed were very fidgety and I’d heard they were on bad things, like injecting heroin, I’d see them up the alleyways puttin needles in their arms. There was a lot in the paper about the drug problems.
I’d go to Whisky agogo or Les Girls at the Ritz. how life had changed in so many ways since I arrived but people still wanted to laugh, dance and listen to music and be in company. The dances now, they twisted themselves and stomped around but I really liked the rock’n’roll dances they were more my style. It became a haven for men who loved men and women who loved women, I couldn’t get my head around it to begin with apparently it had been going on for centuries all over the world but I had never encountered it. I grew with the times and embraced the changes. It was a new community of people who were really lovely as I sat in on many a conversation, men talking about clothes and hairstyles so foreign but it became the norm. I liked the gay men so caring and sensitive. There was a craft market on the Esplanade on a Sunday, it was a lovely stroll I’d mingle with the stall holders selling their crafts as the hippies and the tourists sauntered in the sunny Sunday mornings.
They weren’t makin films but there was a film festival at the Palais de Dance and the next year it burnt down, they rebuilt it to its former glory.
A band from England came, all the girls were in a frenzy over them they were called the Beatles. A few of the crowd at the George had gone, they said Paul looked at them, how I don’t know as there were thousands of screaming and crying girls. I saw their picture in the paper, not my type at all with their funny hair.
The footie club were doin ok they made it to the final in 1961 but lost, in 1965 they won the premiership, first time in 92 years the town went crazy with happiness, red white and black streamers flew from windows and car aerials it was like the best party ever.
There was a lot of protests over another war, the Vietnam war the young protesters wore jeans, yes girls in jeans it was hard to find any in-shift dresses all a bit scruffy in my opinion but they’d ply onto the trams to take them to the protests, young men were being conscripted 18 and off to war.
A model from England had been asked to attend the Melbourne cup and horror of horror she wore a very short dress, bare legs, how disgusting I thought until I realised, I was now sounding like those righteous women of the benevolent society. the papers all said the legs that stopped the nation, it used to be the race that stopped the nation.
By 1970 they named the George the Seaview. Its name when I first moved here. There was a family that had lived there since the 20’s, the Moran family they had 3 girls only one was alive to see the change for the worse. The name Seaview didn’t catch on but if you were to mention the George it conjured up prostitutes, drug deals and ultimate St Kilda seediness. They turned the ballroom into the Crystal ballroom and many new post-punk bands came to play. I loved the punks they dressed outrageously danced like mad people but they were a tribe and I liked them.
One day when I was walking back home, I saw Miss Moran reading a poster outside The George, advertising Topless barmaids, sayin Getcha gear off, oh the horror on her face, poor dear she was so old school. There was a bit of a tado when they proposed to pull the George down and turn it into a 17-storey building that would house Melbourne’s first casino thankfully the new council poo-pooed it otherwise I’d be lyin on a crap table now instead of my beautiful horse.
Finally in Fitzroy Street they planted a lot of trees makin it a real boulevard. After it was all dollars and cents now, they changed feet and inches to centimetres and metres. Glad I wasn’t at school then. The 70’s slid into the 80’s.
The Victory closed and it was resurrected as the National Theatre, there was ballet and drama classes I would often go and try my hand at Ballet but me bustle got in the way.
The all-night bars and strip clubs still attracted the crowds, the George ballroom became a haven for alternative music Ioved watching the costumes of the punks, everyone had their own style. I don’t think bustles would ever return to fashion but the hippies wore long flowing dresses so I didn’t feel out of place. The last of the Moran sisters died and with them the history of living at the George, they didn’t leave a memoir so it’s up to me, I guess.
There is a movie Dogs in Space made about the scene here in St Kilda, I’ve never seen it.
Acland Street was a crush on a Sunday afternoon, after a day at the beach or just in need of cake people would crowd the street. I would wait in line for cakes with all the Sunday tourists, one day I overheard the two black-clad old women in front of me say
“Who would have thought that when we line up for morsel of bread during the war in Poland, we would be lining up years later for cake in St Kilda. I followed them into Monarch cakes and they bought Gugelhupf and cheesecake, I’d love a bit of that Kugel thing it looked so fancy. All the cakes looked exotic to me it was a cornucopia of European confectionary.
Dance music and disco with its sparkling ball and fluoro clothes. Such a mix of music was available . The Prince and the Esplanade began having bands so St Kilda was the place to be. On the beach were families, scantily clad girls on roller blades how they did that I don’t know maybe they learnt it skating at St Moritz the ice rink, I’d never been skating the thought of ice made me cold.
The Georges reputation hadn’t improved at it was rundown like I’d never seen it before, full of wastrels and druggies, I’d step over spent syringes in the alleyway behind the George or over drunks on the corner. Adult sex shops, who would have thought the street now had them selling weird sex toys, my my. A lot of the rundown guest houses were now full of squatters, many musicians and artists all living together in them broken-down houses.
The George was in such a state it was shut down lost it licence, it had become a derelict squat, and I lived in it. Imagine how that felt to me all alone in the dust of despair the druggies and drunks cleared out. I was really lonely in those days just me the fading furniture and my memories of the glory days. Not even a fellow ghost to keep me company. If a ghost such as myself could get depressed I would have. I sat and waited for something to happen to my beloved home. I felt no joy in those few years, even walking along the beach with its happy people or going to sit under the Corroboree tree, it was the only thing that hadn’t changed in my 150 years in the colony. Sometimes I would see the Elders sitting around it talking, they were the only ones that remained from the tribes that I first saw all those years ago. It was so peaceful and I did a lot of thinking under that tree of what happened to Jimmy and what would have happened if I hadn’t been killed on my wedding day, I call those years my years of reflection. But I’d arrive home to such sadness to my empty derelict George.
Suddenly in early 1990 a new man Donleavy Fitzpatrick, what a strong name, bought the building to transform it into a chic complex of apartments, bars a restaurant and a cinema. But he kept that raffish seen better days look to the place. it was well done That’s what my digs were turned into a cinema. All modern and shiny and there were people to follow, sit with and listen to. St Kilda was becoming a bit more gentrified like it was 100 years before. The renovations took a few years but the cinema opened in 1994. It was so good watching the fancy cocktails being drunk by patrons that dressed up a bit The George Cinema was a fancy movie theatre, very posh. I saw all the movies there one called Pulp Fiction was the first I saw I like that John fella he was hot as they say now.
Finally Brothels were legalised but plying your wares on the street wasn’t. The poor girls with their drug habits couldn’t work in them fancy bordellos so they ran the risk of getting a fine. just up the road on the corner of Dalgety and Grey was known as Hookers corner I’d go hang out with the girls sometimes wishin I could help them overcome this drug nightmare they were livin. They had to charge less than the bordello to feed their habit, cops would come cruising the streets arrestin them but they’d be back the next day poor girls so scruffy and desperate.
The beaches were busy as was Acland Street on a weekend swimming and buyin cakes. The clothes were a bit less hippy and more classic I guess you could say. People complained about rents and rates but the wage was good so people were a bit less cash-poor. Music still blurted out of cafes and bars, I would go out dancing, the amount of dancing I had learnt in my time the mind boggles, lucky I was a natural from those early days. I missed the punks with their spiky hair safety pins and chains, there were still a few around as were the hippies but there was no definite new band of folks to change the world.
I’d seen people with telephones in their ear on the street talkin’ imagine that after electricity, land phones, radio and TV something else was invented by some genius, then there was these things called Computers and you could find out anything on them.
The footy club made it to the finals but not to the top sadly I couldn’t watch them anymore as they had moved to some other lace out of me range.
The George cinema my new home was thriving until it wasn’t, so again I was alone in my salon waiting. They tried to revive it but it closed by the end of the decade. The streets were full of this new young urban professionals moving into the fancy apartments that were built. I’d see them rushing to the tram for their commute with their morning coffee in takeaway cups and fancy suits men and women all in a hurry, they would arrive back later and have a glass of wine in one of the many new little bars that opened in Fitzroy Street.
One rainy day when I was forlornly waiting for something to happen it finally did ‘ like when Donleavy came and saved me brain from turnin to mush in walked Mr Alexander Vass, he saved the day. he bought the Theatre and best of all he brought me my horse the King of Siam. He turned the cinema into a live theatre again and his first play was one of his own, versatile new arts hub off-Broadway productions that’s what he wanted to create. It was a new era for the George Hotel as well with Donleavy’s renovations these new young urbanites would call in for drinks at Freddie’s bar, yes, they remembered Freddie the only human to ever feel my presence as well as Vanessa the undresser. Until Mr Allen Rendall arrived into my life he was the first person in decades to see and feel my ghostly self.
There were rehearsals that I loved to be apart off playin the lead of course bein the most experienced actress around. There was singin and dancing plays. The cocktail bar was always a favourite of mine on opening night of a great play, the buzz and excitement after all the rehearsals. I’d dart from front of house to backstage makin sure everyone was ready, anyone nervous I’d touch their shoulders and wish them well. The place was buzzin and me and horse would watch all the happenings, piano playin in my salon.
Allen would always say good morning to me every day, it was great to be seen after all this time.
Then in early 2020 everything got quite again, plays were cancelled, no rehearsals no one came and if they did, they all stood apart from each other wearing masks, oh no not another plague but yes it was. At least I had horse to be with. All very scary but Mr K told me to tell my story so here it is.