Tag Archives: Andrew Brown-May

Fragments from the history of Melbourne’s graffiti

Graffiti, fly-pasting and stencil advertising have been around in Melbourne for a long time, at first it was mostly advertising. The traditions and media of Melbourne’s street art were created by the advertising industry, only the product changed, from commercial to self-promotion or art.

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It was also the advertising industry that brought the law down on these techniques as Andrew Brown-May in his book, Melbourne Street Life (Australian Scholarly, 1998, Kew). “In 1920 some men who had stencilled the footprints of a dog in whitewash on the footpath from Flinders Street to the Majestic Theatre could not be prosecuted under clause 32 by By-Law No.134, as no obstruction or annoyance could be proven. This lead to the creation of a new By-Law No. 156 ‘for regulating or prohibiting the writing, painting, printing, stencilling, placing or affixing of any letter, figure, device, poster, sign or advertisement upon any footpath, street, or road within the said City, or upon any building, fence, or other property vested in the Municipality of the City of Melbourne.'” (p.50)

Later, after graffiti became illegal, there was protest graffiti and tagging in Melbourne. This was painted with a brush and can of paint or written in ink and sometimes documented by Rennie Ellis in three paperback books of photographs of graffiti: Australian Graffiti (1971), Australian Graffiti Revisited (1979) and The All New Australian Graffiti (1985). In 1971 as part of Anti-Vietnam War protests the word “PEACE!” was painted in large white letters on the pillars of the north portico the Shrine. Tagging and slogan writers had no limits, there was graffiti on Vault in the City Square and even more when it was moved to Batman Park. For more on this phase see my earlier post Remembering Australian Graffiti History.

At the start of 1980s aerosol hip-hop style graffiti started in Melbourne. An early article to explore Melbourne’s graffiti culture in depth was Chris Everett, “Adrenalin” (Youth Issues Forum, Dec 1988 – Jan 1989). “As a result of the pervasiveness of rap, spray can art ‘crews’ sprang up in a wide range of often contrasting areas around Melbourne. These areas are possibly best delineated by the railway lines. In 1984 crews were most active along the Belgrave, Frankston and Hurstbridge lines. These were their home lines and the artists tended to work within these boundaries. Home suburbs included West Heidelberg, Macleod, Burnley, Elsternwick and Mentone. By 1985 crews were leaving their mark on most other lines though some, such as the Gowrie line have remained relatively untouched. Lines which have produced the most crews comprise all those from Epping to Frankston inclusive.”

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In the article Everett points out some of the standard elements of graffiti youth culture, especially the conflict between the graffiti artists and the rail transport authorities, laying the blame this on the heavy hand of the transport authorities. Aside from the heavy hand of transport authorities and police Melbourne was receptive to the new graffiti style. There was a graffiti wall in the original City Square that along with Central Station Record’s shop creating a hub for graffiti writers. Everett mentions exhibitions of graffiti at the National Gallery of Victoria and the City Gallery but doesn’t give any details about either of these (I’m guessing that the NGV exhibition might have been Keith Haring painting the water wall window in 1984).

There was no mention in Everett’s article of the anti-American attitude in Australia towards aerosol graffiti that was seen as an imported cultural product along with the rest of the elements of hip hop. But Everett does make one interesting cultural point about graffiti writers in Australia. “Their continued confidence and desire to have their bold art ‘on display’, whether on walls or in a gallery , needs to be nurtured in a country notorious for its cultural cringe and tall poppy syndrome.”


Melbourne’s Favourite Drink

It gets hot in Melbourne, hot enough that the tar on the road bubbles and your eyes dry out. Walking around the city you need a drink and the all time favourite drink in Melbourne is water. With the ubiquitous bottled water you might think that there are no drinking fountains in Melbourne but there are drinking fountains all over the city, from the antique to the ultra modern.

The Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain, 1901, corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.

The Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain, 1901, corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.

I’ve been looking at Melbourne’s drinking fountains; researching the history of Melbourne’s drinking fountains, testing which ones are still working and surviving without a water bottle. There is more to it than taps and bubblers, there are decorative drinking fountains and strange organizations like the Independent Order of Rechabites and the Anti-Sweating Labour League of Victoria.

Since ancient times a city’s prestige has been measure by the quality of its public fountains. The fountains tell a history of the city.

In the 1850s the Melbourne City Council was loath to erect drinking fountains, as publicans dominated the council. The earliest drinking fountain in Melbourne is the Victoria Fountain, opened 9th August 1859. It was erected in the centre of Collins and Swanston St. surrounded by bluestone kerbing and iron railings and was used by both people and horses. In the 1860s the lamp pillars in the city had water taps and ladles. Horses had their own drinking troughs and there are still a few operating water troughs around the CBD.

Horse trough in Melbourne's CBD

Horse trough in Melbourne’s CBD

The earliest of Melbourne’s proper drinking fountain still in use is the 1876 Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain at Nelson Place in Williamstown. It is a rare surviving example of an imported cast-iron ornate drinking fountain manufactured by Walter Macfarlane & Co of Glasgow.

Henderson Memorial Drinking Fountain, North Melbourne

Henderson Memorial Drinking Fountain, North Melbourne

The only other one other cast-iron drinking fountain known to still exist in Victoria is the Henderson Memorial Drinking Fountain in North Melbourne. It was presented by the former mayor Thomas Henderson and was originally sited at the intersection of Errol and Queensberry Streets. In 1889 it was moved to make way for the cable-tram tracks and it moved again in 1917 to the footpath. In 1972, a vehicle collided with the fountain, badly damaging its canopy. In 1973 it was moved to its current and safer location outside the North Melbourne Town Hall and in 2001 a duplicate of the canopy was added – including the small figure of a kangaroo.

Changes in Melbourne’s traffic have had a big impact on drinking fountains making them less ornate. The granite Thomas Ferguson Memorial Drinking Fountain from 1912 was originally six meters high and far more elaborate than it is now. It was erected “In recognition of faithful service rendered by Thomas Ferguson, Secretary Melbourne Total Abstinence Society 1868-1904”. It was located in the centre of Russell Street opposite the Temperance Hall but was badly damaged when a truck hit in 1947. It is now in a much reduced form and safe from traffic in the middle of University Square, Carlton.

Australians think of themselves as big drinkers and the impact of the temperance organizations on local politics have almost been forgotten. The memory of the Total Abstinence Society, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Victoria and the Independent Order of Rechabites survive in their drinking fountains. The Melbourne Temperance Society building is now a cocktail club.

The various temperance organizations erected many of the more elaborate drinking fountains in Melbourne. In 1901 The Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Victoria presented the Duke & Duchess of York with a Memorial Drinking Fountain, located in Victoria Square (corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.) It is a stone drinking fountain enclosed by four turned marble pillars and granite canopy with painted gothic arches; on the top of the canopy there is a marble figure holding an anchor.

Detail Duke & Duchess of York  Memorial Drinking Fountain

Detail Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain

Andrew Brown-May in his history of Melbourne Street Life notes “although the ‘decent working people’ formed a theoretical clientele in the minds of the temperance reformers, many of the taps were the favorite haunts of groups of boys.” (It makes you glad that children today have better things to do.)

Between 1901 and 1939 memorial drinking fountains were popular in Melbourne, There are various memorial drinking fountains erected for city councilors although many are no longer functional. On of the last of the memorial fountains is the 1937 Samuel Mauger Memorial Drinking Fountain on Victoria Parade (near the Eastern Hill Fire Station) in East Melbourne. Samuel Mauger was a former Post Master General, a founding member of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and the founder of the Anti-Sweating Labour League. The Anti-Sweating Labour League was not against perspiration, it campaigned for minimum wages and other working conditions in sweat shops.

Elaborate drinking fountains ended with the era of the temperance movements and the increase in traffic. Post-1930 the taste in memorials turned to memorial fountains or pools and drinking fountains became less ornate; just a masonry pedestals supporting a basin and a Danks bubbler tap. The occasional memorial drinking fountain are still being installed, like the one commemorating a popular black swan named ‘Cookie’, who lived in the Alexandra Gardens and was killed in 1973.

In 2007 Water campaigner, Patrick Jones raised the issue of a lack of drinking fountains in Melbourne again. This time the motivation was a green campaign against bottled water. Bottled water is basically pollution; transportation, packaging, disposal or recycling of water bottles all produces various types of pollution.

Drinking fountain in Collingwood

Drinking fountain in Collingwood

Good sense prevailed and new drinking water fountains were installed around Melbourne. In the Bourke St. Mall and elsewhere you can conveniently refill you bottle at a filtered water dispenser beside the drinking fountains. And the quality of the water is excellent although at Federation Square some fathead has left their McDonalds drink-cup on top of one of the drinking fountains.


Footprints of history

Here is a bit of history for Melbourne’s street artists:

“Stencilled advertisements were a popular form of footpath advertising particularly in the more frequented stretches of Bourke Street. Little action was taken against offenders unless damage to property was incurred, though the practice was seen by the MCC as being contrary to the spirit of the advertising regulations. In 1920 some men who had stencilled the footprints of a dog in whitewash on the footpath from Flinders Street to the Majestic Theatre could not be prosecuted under clause 32 of By-Law No. 134, as no obstruction or annoyance could be proven. This lead to the creation of a new By-Law No156 in 1920 ‘for regulating or prohibiting the writing, painting, printing, stencilling, placing or affixing any letter, figure, device, poster, sign or advertisement upon any footpath, street or road within the said City, or upon any building, fence, or other property vested in the Municipality of the City of Melbourne’.”

(Andrew Brown-May, Melbourne Street Life, Australian Scholarly, 1998, Kew, p.50)

Brown-May does not have any information on when stencilled advertising began in Melbourne. Stencilled advertisements were probably used prior to 1920 but before 1870s when it would have been pointless as the sidewalks of Melbourne were in too poor a condition.

Maybe if this trail in the 1920 had been proto-street art, the work of art students rather than advertising then the City of Melbourne’s council might have taken a different view of the activity. However, there was no street art in the 1920s and advertising not graffiti was seen as blighting the image of the city. Along with stencilled advertisements there were numerous advertisements pasted around Melbourne along with people ringing bells to advertise sales. And so the City of Melbourne passed the first laws specifically prohibiting stencilling, wheat-pasting and the other techniques of street art

Advertising has long had a deleterious effect on Melbourne’s culture and on its street art in particular. Except that without the techniques and technologies of advertising, like stencils, there wouldn’t be street art. (See my post for more on the nexus of  Art & Advertising). The footprint of advertising is still on us.


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