Melbourne loves a laneway. And Melbourne loves Dame Edna Everage. So it was only fitting that on March 7th, 2007, Lord Mayor John So renamed Brown Alley after the superstar housewife.
Dame Edna didn’t attend the ceremony at this dead-end off Little Collins Street, but was represented by ten lookalikes.
John So told the ABC, “It’s ostensibly used for deliveries to businesses that back on to it and have no significant architectural features – I think she’d be very pleased with that.”
In a Sydney Morning Herald interview two months later, Dame Edna said “While I was in London doing this TV show, a street in Melbourne was named after me. I thought they’d probably rename Collins Street but in fact it was just a little lane, in the better part of town of course. It had formerly been called Brown Alley, isn’t that horrible? Luckily it wasn’t an underpass!”
I popped in to Dame Edna Place last night to take some photos, and it’s certainly not the most glamourous street in town…
There is something quite unique about this Melbourne laneway, though. Look at the image again – what’s conspicuous by its absence? Can you see what’s missing from this picture?
Yes. It’s a twenty dollar cocktail.
Dame Edna Place must be the only dingy back-alley in Melbourne without a cool carefully-hidden moodily-lit skinny-jean-wearing video-installation-loving bar in it. It does have these shiny stars, though.
There’s been a lot made out of the resurgence of the city centre through its laneway bars, yet this isn’t the first time Melbourne’s laneways have been synonymous with nightlife.
In 1998’s Melbourne Street Life, Andrew Brown-May wrote:
“In terms of the social geography of the nineteenth-century city, the little streets and the alleys and lanes which developed off them became associated with a social pathology of deviant behaviour.
“A more sinister association was made between those committing nuisances in back lanes and a dark human underworld in which night, pitch-black rights-of-way and blind alleys, drunken sailors, prostitutes and larrikins, lurking burglars and footpads, and stinking piles of unidentifiable or unmentionable matter, were all bound up in a fearful urban pathology.”
At the Spring Street end of town, Romeo Lane and Juliet Terrace were hotbeds of prostitution (one for boys, one for girls), with Juliet Terrace leading to Bilking Square, which Robyn Annear discusses in her book A City Lost And Found: Whelan the Wrecker’s Melbourne.
“…on the evidence of street maps and city directories, Bilking Square never existed. Yet everybody knew it: police, magistrates, clergymen, the newspaper-reading public… No policeman would enter Bilking Square alone. Not that temptation was their only cause for caution… all manner of crookdom felt at home in the Square: pickpockets, pimps, thieves, magsmen – murderers, even.”
Renaming these alleys isn’t new either – in the 1880s the city renamed Romeo and Juliet in an attempt to redeem them from their wayward past. They became Crossley and Liverpool Streets, and Bilking Square itself was demolished sometime around the First World War.
So standing in Dame Edna Place I had to wonder – how would these eminent Victorians have reacted to their descendants renaming the streets after cross-dressing entertainers?