Fitzroy: Melbourne’s first suburb

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Fitzroy, Melbourne’s first suburb, has had a chequered history. It was never lacked characters: the top-hatted gentry, the factory girl, the small-time criminal, the mother in the slum battling from day tot day to bring up her children, the so-called young professionals, the café set. All these and more, for Fitzroy has seen immense diversity both over time and at any one period.

In the early years of European settlement, Fitzroy was considered such a pleasant area that large houses were built there on the fringe of the city. Many colonial buildings remain intact and, expect for the city of Melbourne, Fitzroy is the ‘most complete repository’ of the kinds of buildings erected in the early colonial years, the great period of bluestone construction. It was the first municipality to sponsor a building conservation study and was a pioneer in residents’ action against the wholesale demolition of period buildings in the name of slum clearance.

During the second half of the nineteenth Fitzroy become a centre for a few large and many small manufacturing firms, mostly labour intensive. It suffered badly in the economic depressions of the 1890s and 1930s, becoming a focus for charitable bodies and welfare agencies. Between the wars Aboriginal families came to Fitzroy, taking up the heritage of the Woiworung tribe in an urban setting.

In the late 1960s came a weave of young settlers from suburbia setting the fashion for terrace-style living and by the lte 1980s Fitzroy had become the most heterogeneous of Melbourne’s suburbs: the largest numbers are clustered in the highest and lowest income brackets.

Brought together by their interest in Fitzroy, contributors to this book include architects, historians and those who have participated in Fitzroy’s history: those who have moved through or stayed permanently in the little cottages, the shops, the housing commission flats, and the stately terraces of the suburb. The narrative is amplified and reinforced by the superb illustrations from the Fitzroy Photographic Collection.

Here then is the first general history of Fitzroy, a history which should appeal not just to those who have lived and worked there but to anyone interested in the changing face of urban life.