Uniquely Melbourne: Alternative St Kilda


Ah, St Kilda - surely the place in Melbourne with the richest combination of social ingredients. Glorious, diverse, artistic and a little bit seedy, Melbourne's young bohemians started flocking to St Kilda and its bay beach after the Eastern Europeans who settled there after the war gave the suburb its alternative cache.

Traditional Jewish food culture flourished in the delis and Hungarian restaurants of Acland Street, musicians played at the Espy, penniless artists rented out crumbling old-style apartments for a song, the windows of the cake shops became a drawcard for tourists and the Kooglhoupf made its appearance on Melbourne's Sunday lunch tables.

St Kilda's popularity has changed the suburb, which is much more upmarket these days. But when I went in search of its soul recently I didn't have to go far. There's plenty of life left in St Kilda, as these small cafes and retailers attest. Come with me on a journey to the soul of St Kilda. (As you can see, my photography skills are still 'evolving'.)

Before we hit the shops, let's stop at a hidden oasis south of Acland Street, the Blessington Gardens. I once lived opposite them, and they weren't as superbly maintained then as they are today. There are several discrete sections - a rose garden, an area of native Australian plants, a rotunda for weddings, and a lake with white ducks. Here's a pleasing vista.

Now we're ready to hit the road. Our journey starts at a charming group of cute little cafes bunched together in Blessington Street. Kotch Lane is arguably the sweetest of these.

The cafe has some lovely personal touches.

Next door is the famous Lentil as Anything with its 'pay as you feel' philosophy. There are no prices on the menu - instead you decide how much the meal is worth. There are now three Lentil as Anything restaurants in Melbourne, and St Kilda was the first. The 'pay as you feel' model has since been adopted internationally.

Below is a shot of the restaurant's interior.

It's now time to cross Barkly Street, lured by this charming clothes store, dot & herbey, on the corner of Barkly and Blessington.

dot & herbey is an independent Australian label, with all clothes manufactured in Australia.

Crossing to the corner of Acland and Barkly streets, in need of refreshment, we find Leroy Espresso Bar, which takes its coffee very seriously. Manager Sam obliged with a pic:

Striking exposed brick walls make the interior of this cafe distinctive, giving it a warehouse feel.

Here's the cute tiled exterior.

Wandering in a north-westerly direction up Acland Street, we hit the group of cake shops that first made the street famous. One of these is Monarch Cakes, which has apparently been recommended by Tourism Australia as one of the top 25 places to visit in Australia. This cute window display caught my eye.

This store interior definitely retains the feel of 'old St Kilda'.

Crossing the street, we come to the St Kilda RSL on the corner of Albert Street, where we find the Southside Handmade and Vintage Market. This is held on the last Saturday of each month (except September and December) on the first floor of the RSL, a charming art deco building. It's the perfect setting for the market, which is full of lovingly crafted clothes, soft furnishings, jewellery, knick-knacks and vintage fashion. There's even a cafe at the back.

Wendy Scully's wonderful hats, Chapeaux by Wendy, caught my eye - the hats are all handcrafted original designs, and there are plenty of summery designs as well as the winter ones shown here.

We then head off to the Galleon, a long-established cafe around the corner from Acland Street, in Carlisle Street. I used to come here in the late eighties - my favourite dish was the spanikopita, which was about four bucks! The Galleon is still a retro oasis, much-loved by the locals; the ones there on Saturday looked as if they had settled in for a good few hours.

The bold use of colour gives a funky feel to the place.

Soon after this point in our travels we meet Rebecca Kennedy, a creative fashion stylist known as the 'style guru' who lives in the area. (I'd never met Rebecca but thought she looked amazing and had to stop and ask for her photo. As I had unintentionally added an arty setting on my camera, the pic doesn't do justice to her great use of colour but it shows her amazing style, which I'd describe as 'street glamour'.)

It's time to leave Acland Street and head off down Barkly to the corner where Inkerman Road becomes Grey Street. This is a groovy corner indeed and the hilly topography combines with the terraced shop fronts to create a village-meets-inner-urban-cool atmosphere. Scout House is a charming homewares store in Grey Street that has  a carefully curated collection combining the old and new.

Here's part of the store interior:

Next door is Mollisons, a contemporary homewares store with a shabby chic feel. I fell in love with this charming group of knitted light shades in the window.

So ends our visit today, but I've really only scratched the surface of the soul of St Kilda. There's still a lot to discover in this town.

BTW, if you're in Melbourne, the StripFest festival, in Acland Street and surrounds, runs until 30 August.

Until next time!

If you enjoyed this blog entry, you might also like Uniquely Melbourne: Alternative Carlton.

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The Golden Mean – Using Ancient Wisdom to Curb Your Spending

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Are you trying to be more frugal? If so, you probably feel overwhelmed with all the advice about it. A good way to start is to look at how you think about spending and shopping, and about how much ‘stuff’ you actually want.

The ancients knew a thing or two about budgeting. There’s an age-old concept that can help you make that change the way you think about spending. It’s called the golden mean.

It’s not just the advertisers and retailers themselves who urge us to buy. Governments do it too. In 2006, with fears of recession looming, President George W. Bush urged Americans to ‘go shopping more’ to keep the economy ticking over. To head off a recession following the Global Financial Crisis, ALP Prime Minister Kevin Rudd simply handed out money – and much of it went to big retailers like Harvey Norman. But we don’t have to be obedient over-consumers. We can take control.

What is the golden mean?

Forget the traditional sense of the word mean. The golden mean simply refers to the middle way between two extremes. Aristotle praised the golden mean, but a similar idea can be found in Confucius as well as Buddhist philosophy.

How does the golden mean work?

I discovered the golden mean for myself by accident. It was the first time I’d sold anything on eBay. I was selling a Victorian white-painted cane ‘what-not’ (a silly name for decorative shelving).

The person who eventually bought it had recently purchased a holiday house and was looking for quaint ‘pieces’ for it. My piece suited her perfectly.

I can remember watching the amount increasing as the bidding began. In the end I think the final price was about fifty bucks. This felt like a fair price for both of us. It was enough for me to feel that I’d made a nice little profit on something that I loved but had no place for – there were just no convenient corners in my flat for this piece, and it was impractical because the shelving didn’t hold much. And it was a low enough price for the buyer to feel that she was getting a slightly battered antique for a reasonably cheap price.

In other words we were both happy. Neither of us felt ripped off.

This was a revelation to me – it was possible for both buyer and seller to be happy with the deal. This is the golden mean at work.

This point came up again a few years later when I was discussing apartment rental prices with my brother-in-law (family members are great for refining views in this way :)). Tax arrangements in Australia favour property investors over first home buyers, and there are no restrictions on rent increases. In a tight market, this makes most landlords profiteers by default.

From our discussion it soon became clear that my brother-in-law’s only conception of fairness was a landlord asking the maximum amount that the market would bear. For him, there was no grey area between making a killing from a rental property and offering rent so low that it was basically charity.

But of course there is a place in between. This is where a landlord offers a middling rent because he or she values a happy, long-term tenant who will look after the property, and presumably doesn’t want to make the tenant’s life so miserable that they move somewhere cheaper. This isn’t charity, it is fair dealing. It is also the golden mean at work.

How do you incorporate the golden mean?

The golden mean can be applied to all areas of buying, selling, and preparing your budget. Here are some tips for incorporating this classic idea into your life.

Reduce your spending. If you spend excessively, rein it in, but don’t go overboard. Find a middle way between splurging and being so strict you buy no treats at all. If you’re on a strict budget for financial reasons, make sure you include regular small treats.

Reduce the time you spend shopping. If you spend too much time shopping (as opposed to too much money), reduce the time and use it to develop hobbies or to improve your health and wellbeing.

Don’t be too focused on money. We all have to survive, and getting your finances sorted is essential for your long-term wellbeing. But money is not the main point of life. A sole focus on money making is a short cut to a poor quality of life. Strive to add balance to your life with some fun and healthy activities.

Become a good time manager. It’s hard to lead a balanced life when the world is set up to encourage us to run ourselves ragged with work. Learn to work smarter rather than harder.

Set a fair price. If you sell something, set a fair price rather than one that’s too high or too low.

Don’t always buy the cheapest product. There are many reasons not to always buy the cheapest product. Buying Fairtrade goods that provide a fair price to the people who produce them, and supporting small independent retailers are two ways to use the golden mean when choosing where and how much you spend.

Find the balance between too much stuff and no stuff at all. In recent years minimalism has become fashionable. This is an understandable reaction to our obsession with ‘stuff’. But there’s no need to throw things away that you might need in future – use your intuition to decide what you can let go of, aim to bring less stuff into your life in future, and make use of what you already have.

Never forget there is a golden mean, and that it does not make you mean at all. Instead it empowers you to spend in a way that is right for your purse, the environment and the person from whom you buy the product.

Until next time!

If you enjoyed this blog entry, you might also like Are Any of These Negative Beliefs about Money Holding You Back?

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Help End Puppy Farm Cruelty (Content warning: upsetting image & descriptions of animal welfare conditions)

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The cute puppies frolicking in the window of your local pet shop seem happy. But there is a grim story to how they came to be there.

Victoria’s puppy farms are cruel places. So cruel that the Victorian Coalition government went to the last election promising drastic improvements to the laws governing puppy farms.

But the government’s revised Code of Practice for the Operation of Breeding and Rearing Businesses actually reduces animal welfare standards.

Dogs and cats are sensitive, intelligent animals who feel pain, extreme temperatures, hunger and fear just like humans. Yet in Victoria’s puppy and kitten farms they exist in conditions we wouldn't condone for the most ruthless criminals. This is not the behaviour of a civilised society.

If the revised code becomes law it will worsen the current horrific conditions and appalling situations for dogs as well as cats. The RSPCA’s verdict is damning: ‘this code legalises some of the abhorrent conditions and practices regularly seen by our Inspectors at puppy factories’. (Ironically, Victoria’s premier, Dr Denis Napthine, is a veterinarian by profession.)

Recommendations in the revised code include the following: 
  • If litters of puppies are included, the ratio of carers to animals could be as little as 1:500 outside business hours.
  • ‘Humane’ methods of death aren’t defined, and the minister has said they could include shooting or a blow to the head, causing incredible suffering.
  • There will be no requirement to provide cooling and heating, leading to the possibility of extreme temperatures.
  • Maximum litter numbers for females will be increased while males will have no maximum number.
  • There will be no maximum breeding age or period that an animal could be bred from, so these animals could potentially spend their entire lifetime confined to farms.
  • Breeding between second-generation related animals will be acceptable.
  • Tethering is allowed (except for some categories of breeding females). RSPCA Victoria advises against tethering.
  • The code will allow working dogs to be housed in small raised pens with wire floors.
  • Breeders, rather than vets, will be able to declare an animal fit for sale. Not only do breeders lack the appropriate qualifications to do this, but this may also mean that neither the animal nor the buyer will be protected from post-sale welfare or return issues.

The campaign for animal welfare standards in breeding farms is being spearheaded by RSPCA Victoria – more background can be found here.

The government is calling for feedback on the revised Code of Practice, and the deadline is 9 am on Wednesday 14 August.

Sign the petition!

I’ve created a petition on this issue through GetUp! Please sign the petition to demand that the Victorian Minister for Agriculture, Peter Walsh, include in the code of practice the minimum animal welfare standards recommended by the RSPCA. (It would be great if you could sign before 14 August, but the campaign will continue after this date.)

Please also share the petition on Facebook and Twitter. 

You can also write to the Minister directly and to the Premier, Dr Denis Napthine.

Ultimately puppy and kitten farms should be abolished, and this is the aim of the Oscar’s Law campaign (and RSPCA Victoria). But  in the meantime breeding dogs and cats must be legally protected by meaningful animal welfare standards.

Pet shops and puppy farms

Another way to stamp out cruel puppy farming would be to make it illegal to sell dogs in pet shops.

Dogs in the windows of pet shops encourage impulse purchases from people who have little idea of what looking after a puppy actually entails, and dump them when it gets too much. Hundreds of thousands of companion animals are abandoned each year in Australia. In 2011-12 the RSPCA rescued almost 37,000 dogs and more than 50,000 cats Australia wide; around 38 per cent of those dogs and 50 per cent of the cats were ultimately euthanised.

In other words, many animals are being bred in the prison camp conditions of puppy farms only to ultimately die after being abandoned by their owners.

Petition reminder

Just to remind you, the petition can be signed here.

Please share this far and wide using the social media buttons below.

Until next time!

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Uniquely Melbourne: Alternative Carlton

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Carlton is one of Melbourne's most treasured suburbs. On the fringe of the CBD, it is the city's Italian quarter but is so much more than that. Settled by the Jewish community in the early twentieth century, discovered by Melbourne's bohemians and uni students in the sixties and seventies and treasured by the masses for his pizza, gelato and macchiato, the suburb's foodie headquarters is Lygon Street.

While Carlton is long gentrified, it continues to provide rich atmosphere, authentic Italian fare and shades of its older, scruffier self.

The council has ensured that Lygon street retains its essential character and the high-rise public housing, students from nearby Melbourne University and strong Italian presence keep the street buzzy and lively. The Nova Cinema in the plaza and the iconic Readings bookstore ensure a constant stream of hipsters and progressives.

So, do Carlton and more specifically Lygon Street retain some of the excitement of the sixties, seventies and eighties? The answer is yes, but you have to look for it. I went in search of old Carlton and unfortunately the battery of my camera died, while some of my photography efforts veered towards the abstract! Where was my beginners' luck when I really needed it?

But fear not, your intrepid reporter has managed to supplement her own pics with those provided by kind vendors.

And I promise to return and take some photos of the lovely architectural details that adorn the stores of Lygon and surrounding streets.

First stop: the famous Tiamo at 303 Lygon Street, a cafe and restaurant that has been providing authentic Italian fare and oozing bohemian credibility since the year dot. I used to come here for mushroom tagliatelle as an undergrad at Melbourne uni and the decor is still reassuringly the same.

On my latest visit I found sitting at the front counter the distinguished gent above. He is Bibi Succi, the owner of Tiamo, which he purchased in 1977 when Carlton was the centre of Melbourne's counterculture. He now co-owns the cafe with Giancarlo Massini, below. Giancarlo is pictured in Tiamo 2, Tiamo's sister restaurant next door, with Grace Cacopardo (left) and his niece Teresa Tron, who conduct cooking and serving duties.

This is Tiamo's interior, complete with flyers and posters on the wall and the timeless tables and chairs that I remember from uni days. My pic's not the best, but it has an artistic blurriness:

This is a clearer view of the interior:

Next door to Tiamo 2 is Readings bookstore, a Carlton icon. I still remember the original, much smaller store, which was over the road at 366 Lygon Street. On Sunday afternoons Readings is a place to linger, browse and jostle the many customers soaking up the atmosphere. Nowadays Readings also has stores in St Kilda, Malvern, Hawthorn, the State Library and the Brain Centre.

On 10 August (this Saturday), Readings is celebrating National Bookshop Day, with all-day events at the Carlton, St Kilda, Malvern and Hawthorn stores. The store has a long tradition of philanthropy, with 10 per cent of profits going to the Readings Foundation each year, and crucial funds are also raised from individual donations by Readings customers. The Foundation supports initiatives that further the development of literacy, community work and the arts.

Photo: David Collopy
Just up the road, tucked away in a hallway at the end of Jimmy Watson's pub on Lygon Street, is Hobo clothing. As owner Anna speculates, this may be the smallest store in Australia and is a fantastic use of space. Hobo sells an eclectic combination of vintage and secondhand designer gear. The store has been operating in Hawthorn for 15 years and this new branch brings a touch of modern bohemia to Carlton.

Not far away, on the corner of Drummond and Elgin streets, is Cafe Lua. It's a relaxed hangout with the retro chrome-and-vinyl kitchen chairs and tables so beloved of alternative types since the early eighties. It's a light-filled place with a laidback feel.

Behind these coffee sippers at Lua is the exterior of Lygon Court, the site of the old Pram Factory, which housed a bohemian theatre troupe in the seventies:

On the other side of the road, at 194 Elgin Street, we find Make, which sells objects from around the globe that combine strong design with aesthetic appeal, many with green credentials. The light-filled showrooms beautifully showcase the design objects:

Further east, at 134-136 Elgin Street, is Yooralla op shop, a Carlton institution. Selling a range of pre-loved clothing, books, household goods, jewellery and other items, its profits fund Yooralla's work supporting people with disability. The shop also provides vital employment training for people with disability.

Retracing our steps down Lygon Street towards the city, we find the treasure trove of the Poppy Shop at 283 Lygon Street. It's a reminder of the variety of retail stores that were available before Melbourne store rents skyrocketed.

This small store is packed with imaginative toys, puzzles and games from around the world. Owner Pat Knox, who has been with the store since 1967, once sold secondhand furniture but changed the store's direction to gifts in 1972. You won't find chain store toys here, but diverse, original items like felt bags from Tibetan refugees, fabric squares from Japan, Kenyan knitted animals, puzzles from Belgium, dolls from Spain, and Russian babushkas.

Continuing down Lygon Street towards the city, we come to Borsari Cycles at 193 Lygon, another Carlton institution.

Nino 'Cavalier' Borsari had already triumphed over severe childhood poverty to become Italy's top professional cyclist and an Olympic gold medal winner before opening up his first bike shop on the corner of Lygon and Grattan streets in 1941. As well as doing cycle repairs, Nino operated as a secondhand dealer. The Borsari name can still be seen on this corner:

His business soon expanded and in 1961 it moved three doors down, to its present location. Borsari has sold thousands of bikes over the years and the current owner, Fabian, provides cycling advice to many satisfied customers.

That ends our visit today, but I will be back, camera in hand, to snap the historic architecture and street scenes of this inner city treasure trove.

Until next time!

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