Digging up the past

In the 1900s many working class people lived in the area at the northern end of Melbourne. It is possible that Gertie lived in this part of the city.
This area of Melbourne has been 'stereotyped' as a 'slum area' where crime and violence was common place.

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House at 17 Casselden Place

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Inhabitants of No 17 Casselden Place, 1870-1918

William Ford
Peffer (sic)
Archibald and Tan
Mrs. Power
Anne Armstrong
May Compton

Compare your house with 17 Casselden Place

Have a photo and a description for each area, for both properties.
  • Front of house
  • Lounge room
  • Kitchen
  • Toilet
  • Are there any areas/ rooms that you have in your house, that 17 Casselden Place doesn't have?
  • What are the main materials used in each of the two properties?

42 Cumberland place

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Tess (Marie) Hayes
Tess (Marie) Hayes

Little Lon was an area of cramped housing and multi-cultural poor community, was a focus of reformers' attention and missionary activity. Brothels, pubs and factories were there; however, it was also home to dozens of families during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Marie lived with her mother Bridget (known as Tess) and her Auntie Poll in a small timber house at 42 Cumberland Place which had first been owned in the 1850s by her grandfather. During the years that Marie lived in this house, many of the earliest small houses, (that had only one toilet between them, no back yard and were in a terrible condition) had been demolished and replaced by small factories. Chinese men made cheap furniture, Southern European and Lebanese immigrants ran small businesses, and the Bracchi's Ice Cream Factory and Ice Works was down the street in Cumberland Place.

Marie Hayes describes her house at 42 Cumberland Place:
'It was weatherboard. It had green shutters, green wooden shutters on each side. You walked right into to the front room and there was a Miner's couch and a big table with a chenille cloth with bobbles around the edge. Over on one side was a sideboard with a mirror and the boy with the cherries. And two china figurines of women playing musical instruments on either side. There was lino on the floor, that heavy lino and a carpet square which Poll bought. In the bedrooms there was lino and mats next to the beds. The gramophone was in the corner and there was a big open fire, white-washed, with a mantelpiece, mirror and ornaments on it. And poppies and gumtips from the market; you never had poppies without gumtips. Off that room was the big room with a big brass bed in it, and a single bed and a big chest of drawers with 'Barleycorn' twists, huge. Aunty Poll in the bed under the window and I slept with my mother. Later I moved into the back room. You went out of this room into the kitchen. It had a gully trap and a table and a cupboard. No sink, we had to use dishes. Up the yard, cobbled bluestones, on the right hand side, was the toilet. It had a long seat of some sort of shiny concrete. On the other side was the kitchen which was a Colonial oven, you lit the fire on the ground. There were big iron pots and the wood was kept underneath with the firelighters. I used to think it was lovely when I was a kid, I used to make toffees and lots of things there.'
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Plan of Cumberland Place. Washing, Cooking and Shopping


Only two of the houses around Cumberland Place had bathrooms. However, in the words of Marie's cousin Len Dearsley, 'a shower freshens you up but you can keep just as clean with a dish of water and a cloth'. Every Saturday night, Marie and her mother would go down to the City Baths for a 'slipper bath.'


Marie remembers:

'In Exhibition Street...there was a special place where you could go on a Sunday and take your roast leg of lamb or beef, and your potatoes, and they'd cook it for you. You cooked your own vegetables [at home]. Imagine it now, you dropped it off on the way to Church and picked it up on your way home. I remember that Tess always used to say that if she went in, the man would give her an extra potato from someone else's dinner.'


The Hayes' household had no ice chest, so shopping for perishables was done each day. Once a week Marie and her mother would take a big pram to the Victoria Market for fruit and vegetables. There were butchers in Spring Street, Italian grocers across the Exhibition Gardens in Carlton, a curry shop run by Indians, Batrouneys, in Little Lonsdale Street, and a fish shop, Chanticlair, in Bourke Street, for fish and chips. Marie's family did not patronise the Chinese restaurants and grocers in the area.

The Neighbourhood

Marie's cousin remembers:

'The door was never closed. The only thing you had to watch 'down home' was that you stepped down when you went in the door because the house had dropped. The only way we locked the door was to put a chair under it. There was never any worry about anybody, people would just drop in...'

The people of Cumberland Place often helped each other. They socialised together regularly. When Marie was growing up in the 1920s, she 'only knew Syrians and Chinese'. The Syrians in the neighbourhood had a reputation for being especially generous, 'always inviting you in to share food, like the olives they kept on the front table.

For a virtual tour of a 1900 English house, click on this site:


Little Lonsdale Street as an archeological dig

In the summer of 1987-88, a team of archaeologists and historians began an excavation of a large section of this part of the city. By examining the evidence this project has uncovered, we are now able to look more closely at what life was 'really' like in this area of the city.

You can explore some of the evidence that has been uncovered at Little Lonsdale;Exploring a Vanished Community.

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For a short (comic) history of Melbourne, click here: For a look at Modern Melbourne architecture click here:

To plan a Museum of Victoria excursion, go to this link: