Melbourne Remember When

Bob Byrne


Foreword by Steve Vizard in Melbourne Remember When by Bob Byrne

The photographs of our youth are compelling, elusive and cunningly tricky. Each photograph in this wonderful collection powerfully evokes half-remembered truths, halffaded yearnings, at the same time tempting us with a honeysweet nostalgia for places and times that can never be found again. The captivating enigma of these images is not simply what is frozen, but what is stirred.

I grew up in my Grandfather’s bluestone house in Creswick Street, Hawthorn, and from the vantage of my bedroom window, high above the Yarra River, the magic of postwar Melbourne unfolded and teased. To the north, just beyond the grey and rust of the Vickers Ruwolt factory, the Skipping Girl sign flickered and stuttered. To the south, five streets away, the spidery tower of GTV 9, proclaimed the kingdom of Graham Kennedy, Bert Newton and their fuzzy electronic black and white joy, all of which miraculously appeared each night in our ‘good room’ on Mum and Dad’s new 17-inch screen Radiola television.

Ours was a sun-drenched era of self-reliance and improvised play. We filled the heat of long summer days with our invented games, secret clubs, dress ups and cubbies.

If every suburban street was a playground of backyard cricket and paper rounds, not far beyond, only a tram ride away, was the magical hinterland we explored by season; by Spring, the Royal Show and the stench of cow dung and licorice showbags; by Winter and Autumn, the leaf-kicking paradise of the Botanical Gardens, and the vast spectacle of the MCG, Four’n Twenty pies and crepe paper floggers; and by Summer, the call of Rosebud, or a day off school to visit ‘Town’, our antipodean Camelot to which all tram tracks led.

Every photograph and memory reproduced here is a window to the Melbourne I remember. And to the Melbourne I forget. The visual language of my memory is the language of all Baby Boomers; of occasional grainy photographs, captured on rolls of Agfa or Kodachrome film, and developed by a local chemist. It is the memory of morsels and omission. Where now Millennials record every moment in selfies, the photographic evidence of our childhood is precarious and intermittent. We filled the vast gaps between each frozen image with that most precious of things – imagination.

There is golden nostalgia within these pages. In one way these superb photographs are full of life. In another way they are an invocation for us to give them life with a thousand eloquent tales of that trip to Luna Park or that summer at Cowes. Like Bernard the magician, these photographs cast a spell. How could it be otherwise? We are remembering not simply a time and a place. We are remembering our youth.

Bob Byrne's book Melbourne Remember When will be published by NewSouth in December 2019.