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When I was young I selected books based on the topic they covered. Then I started following certain authors. More recently I've started following boutique publishers. I regard most books published by Black Inc. as worthy of serious consideration. I'm now starting to pay attention to Arcade Publications, the publishers of Melbourne Remade by Seamus O'Hanlon.

Arcade Publications describe themselves as publishing "short reads about Australia's past", "always inexpensive, usually irrelevant... comprehensive but idiosyncratic". That taps into my interest in Melbourne history.

Melbourne Remade is a tiny (A6) and cheap ($20) book. I almost overlooked it, assuming it was going to be one of those little books published from time to time with a list of places to buy handicrafts (handmade shoes, pottery, macrame etc.) from little stores scattered around and about. Instead it's a long form essay (... ok, with six chapters) about the change of Melbourne from being an industrial city to its current form.

Its starting point is a couple of photographs taken in 1973 from the top of the newly completed MMBW Building at 120 Spencer Street and the top of the Mobil Building looking down on the factories that inhabited the place that would become Southgate/Southbank. It covers a range of building booms and busts, the emptying out of factories, the fear that Melbourne would become a city with permanently high unemployment filled with empty and decaying buildings. Detroit on the Yarra. Along the way we get descriptions of the arrival of the City Square, Collins Place  ("state of the art [when it was planned] in 1971, by the time it was finished it was passé", the Rialto, Southgate, the revitalisation of the Yarra, warehouse conversions, the opening up of laneways and a whole lot more.

It's interesting to reflect on what a different place Melbourne was in the 1970s. In 1971 there were 16 people working in manufacturing for every person who worked for "cultural and recreational services". Since then, the number of people working for museums, performing arts, sporting venues etc. has grown by 300 percent: four percent of all jobs in the inner city.

Something else of interest is the extent to which so many features of modern Melbourne (laneway cafes, small alcohol venues, major events and cultural and sporting infrastructure) were started by the Cain/Kirner government and then continued by the Kennett government. These days the Kennett government gets a lot of credit for those changes, but there was more continuity between the opposite sides of parliament than we often suppose.

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Anthony Holmes November 2nd, 2010 02:36:10 PM

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