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Bourke Street: then and now

In most major cities, if you’re looking closely, every now and then you’ll come across an enchanting little detail that brings to mind images of the city’s past: an antique light fixture hanging discreetly over a storefront, an intricately patterned row of tiles, or faded patches of paint where the name of a local business once proclaimed its presence in bright and bold colours.

Throughout its history, Bourke Street – one of Melbourne’s most iconic streets – has been home to some fascinating things, including billiard rooms, rifle galleries and cigar dens. It was also home to the world­ famous Cole’s Book Arcade, a multi­storey imaginarium said to have once been the largest bookstore in the world, which featured a fernery, a funny mirrors section and even a live monkey display, in addition to the thousands of books for sale on its shelves.

In just a few photographs, it’s not hard to see how much Bourke Street has changed. Here are four of our favourites, going as far back as the mid­19th century, when the now popular shopping district was notorious for tavern brawls, a concentration of brothels, and general late­-night public disorder and debauchery.

Bourke Street circa 1920-1950 by Rose Stereograph. Image courtesy of State Library Victoria


Bourke Street, mid 19th century by Charles Nettleton (1826­1902), courtesy of State Library Victoria.
Bourke Street between 1870 and 1890, courtesy of State Library Victoria.
Bourke Street circa 1920-­1950 by Rose Stereograph, courtesy of State Library Victoria.
Bourke Street August 2017, courtesy Executive Media.

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