While poking about in the shed last month in hope of finding the perfect nut, bolt and spring washer to repair a broken scissors, a receipt from 1978 came to light amidst the cobwebs. It was for a Victa motor mower, the sum a quite staggering $379, purchased by the machine’s original owner from McEwan’s in Bourke Street, the hardware emporium that was a Melbourne institution until it went out of business in 1993, when the chain and its flagship were purchased by Bunnings. Passed to the Professor via a Springvale garage sale for a much more reasonable $30 in 2006, the mower came with the original receipt, which the elderly former owner had taped to the handle. Thirty five years after being unpacked, the lusty four-stroke still does a fine job of cutting the grass.
What brings this to mind is a story in today’s Age recounting the travails of the developers who purchased the McEwan’s building, just up the Bourke street hill from the Mall outside Myer. Their tenants went broke for want of passing traffic and the former emporium, which was supposed to become a chic, three-storey bazaar, is empty and covered with graffiti. Reporter Chris Vedelago also quotes a 2010 judgment in a case brought against the then-landlord by a disenchanted tenant: “‘There was virtually no pedestrian activity, either by reason of customers coming to deal with businesses in the Foundry,’ as it was re-named, ‘or by reason of the so-called 'ant trail' [a new retail thoroughfare created between Bourke and Little Collins streets],' the judge found.”
While the Age report goes on to note that the site’s future is in doubt, the opportunity to suggest a fresh use was missed, despite an obvious and compelling alternative.
Why not re-christen it The Lord Mayor Robert Doyle Institute For Really Stuffing The CBD?
For those not blessed to live in Victoria, know that Doyle was the former leader of the parliamentary Liberal Party while Labor premiers Bracks and Brumby were feather-bedding union mates in projects that ranged from the still-unused $12 billion desalination plant to the re-development of the MCG. A preposterous figure, he would rise in the Legislative Assembly to make a point, be dismissed as a pompous featherhead by the governments of the day and melt meekly back into his seat, a gelatinous pool of spineless irrelevance topped by an empty skull and an inflated sense of self-worth. If he showed any life at all it was when there was a bit of a sort in the public gallery and he craned his neck to take in the spectacle. Doyle was such a lousy leader of the Opposition that his replacement, the hapless and hopeless Ted Baillieu, constituted an actual improvement.
After failing in Spring Street he found his niche at the Town Hall, much as the more problematic lumps sometimes lodge in the S-bend, where his only worthwhile achievement has been to turn loose police on the Occupists in the City Square, and even that took him four weeks to authorise. Other than that, he has been a very good Labor/Greens mayor, which is certainly not what voters had a right to expect when they voted for a Liberal.
LaTrobe Street has been converted under his leadership from a broad and free-flowing thoroughfare to a single lane of cars. The rest has been given to bicycles, as you would expect to happen with a CINO (conservative in name only) mayor at the city’s helm. Worse than that, parking fees have been hiked, hiked again and then hiked some more. Once upon a time, all of Melbourne looked to the CBD for its first-order shopping needs. Now only an idiot ventures into the CBD if there is alternative source of the desired good or service – the former McEwan’s building being the proof of that. For decades the store thrived. Now it is empty and ugly, with no hope of ever again hearing the tinkle of money in a merchant’s till.
It should take a lot to ruin a city, but Doyle demonstrates -- and the CBD's plethora of empty shops prove it -- that even a man of the most meagre talents can achieve that end.