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Trip to the Block Arcade in Melbourne

On a cold and very wet day in September a group of around 20 Don Hill Probus members met outside the historic Hopetoun Tearooms in the Block Arcade in Collins Street.  We watched the queues outside the door there and wondered which of the fabulous cake creations each one would select because they all looked mouth- wateringly stunning!

Annette, our guide, filled us in on a quick history of the Block.  In 1837 the area was sold to Robert Hoddle for £18 with a £4 deposit and was resold as a going concern to Henry Batman in 1866 for the princely sum of £44. The Block Arcade would have seen many a finely dressed couple arm in arm “Doing the Block,” wishing to display their finery in the Victorian era.  All this came to a sudden and tragic end at 6.15 pm on Friday 13th 1889 when a great fire destroyed most of the building owned by George’s Store causing around $400,000 worth of damage. After the fire, City Property and Co. Pty Limited, realising the great demand for shopping arcades (nothing changes !), commissioned a new arcade to be built in the centre of Melbourne. Its current form is a version of Galleria Vittoria in Milan, a Sister City with links formalized in 2003.

One good thing to come out of the fire was the creation of the MFB. Previously fire fighting had been an ad hoc and precarious business.

Annette showed us into the Crabtree and Evelyn shop on the corner of Collins Street which was closed to the public owing to flooding.  We were all taken aback by the beautiful ceiling painted by Phillip Goatcher, a well known theatrical scene painter of the day. The ceiling was reminiscent of some of the European church ceilings and it was divided into four sections- Mathematics Chemistry, Electricity and Astronomy.

By now it was 2pm so we all heard the Trumpet Voluntary played in the arcade in time with 2 moving mannequins dressed in period costume on either side of the large clock.  Many of us wondered why we had never noticed these before and found out they had only been put in place in 2015 and dressed by the resident tailor Adriano Caboni. They had been found wrapped in bubble wrap under the main floor.

The floor itself is a mosaic work of art well looked after by the current owners, the Cohen family who bought the business from the Kearneys in 2014.

We went onto the first floor of the building where there are a number of private consulting suites including, curiously enough, the colostomy society rooms. Here we saw some beautiful stained glass windows and walked on one of the first high level walkways in Melbourne from one part of the building to another.

By now we were all ready for some afternoon tea so, a couple of us pausing to admire a huge opal ( priced at $14,900),  made our way down to an English style pub , the Charles Dickens Tavern, and shared some lovely scones and tea.


Certainly a great way to spend a wet afternoon!


Jane Johnson.