Saturday 8 September 2012

Picture post number five - Melbourne's Luna Park

Melbourne by Yekkes

St. Kilda is a suburb of Melbourne. Located on the coast, the suburb has a number of faces - that of a slightly brash seaside resort, the busy main thoroughfare of Acland Street famous for its cake shops and cafes, many once owned by European Jewish immigrants escaping Europe in the 1930's and a large number of for the most part very well maintained art deco buildings.

The Luna Park is one of the defining buildings of St.Kilda.  Opened in 1912 to the design of lead architect T.H Eslick, the original attractions were contortionists and circus performers including an enormous 12 years old boy who weighed almost 350 pounds. His stage name was Big Ben. two years later the First World War started and claimed the lives of many Australians. During the war, the Luna Park was a venue for anti-German propaganda films with the audience encouraged to throw things at images of the Kaiser. 2012 is the centenary year and the Luna Park website includes a plea for people to come forward with their memories and photographs of the park. You can read how to do this, here.

The Palais Theatre, built in 1927, stands just beside the Luna Park. I am told the interior is a wonderful example of an art deco theatre, but at the time I visited it was closed for restoration works. Rarely used for drama in recent years, the theatre now plays host to pop music concerts.  There are several outstanding examples of art deco buildings in St. Kilda, including the Mandalay apartment block which faces the sea front and the beautiful, pristine white Del Mare house.

In preparation for the afternoon I spent in St. Kilda I had read almost all of a gripping book called  Cafe Scheherezade by Arnold Zable. The reason for this was that the book is set a cafe of the same name on Acland Street. Founded in the 1950's by an emigre Jewish couple, the cafe serves as the setting for the telling of the many stories of its customers in Zable's book. I saved the last chapter to read in the cafe but couldn't find it.  That was because it had closed and moved to another part of the city. Very disappointing and I was forced to seek consultation in one of the remaining cake shops.

St. Kilda is also home to the excellent Jewish Museum of Australia which in addition to staging some great exhibitions also organises guided walks around different parts of the city. I did the Carlton walk which included some great stories about changing communities and a close look at even more art deco buildings. Melbourne, and indeed Australia has many beautiful art deco buildings and a really active Art Deco and Modernism Society (of Australia). Robin Grow, President of the Society has written the definitive and exquisitely illustrated book on art deco in this city - "Melbourne Art Deco". Highly recommended.


  1. I grew up in and around St. Kilda.
    When were you there?
    Have you heard of Meyer Eidelson? Before your next visit check this out:


    1. Hi Sophie and thanks for the comment and info. I was in Melbourne in 2009 and again in 2011 - my daughter lives in Australia. I love Melbourne - great arts scene and friendly people!

  2. Hi Adrian thanks for the mention. Spent my first few years in St Kilda. We recently held another Society walk through the suburb, starting at the Palais. FWIW, I saw the Rolling Stones and Roy Orbison there in 1965! Luna Park was also an important meeting place during WW11, when Melbourne hosted US forces. My aunt, who just recently died in Philadelphia,met a young Marine bandsman at a dance at Luna Park and they later married. When we visited the family a few years ago, she said she still missed the beach at St Kilda!
    best wishes Robin