Flinders St from Yarra Bank, 1950

By Dr Cheryl Griffin - Royal Historical Society of Victoria

Taken in the first decade after the end of World War II, this view from Yarra Bank Rd on the south bank of the Yarra River looks towards Flinders St from King St to William St and finally Market St. 

This is probably a less familiar part of the CBD to most Melburnians, although those who travel regularly through the Loop will have looked out from their train carriage to Flinders St as they moved along the railway overpass you see here. Most of us though, are better acquainted with the stretch that is just off camera to the right of the image, the stretch that moves east along the river beyond Queen St, which is just on the very edge of this image.

If you travelled this way by train before the 1980s, you’d be familiar with the Tait train seen here, better known to commuters as a “red rattler”. Noisy, draughty, hot in summer, freezing in winter, “red rattlers” lurched and rattled around as they travelled the train network. Once experienced, never forgotten.

The King St corner of this Flinders St streetscape is dominated by Bushell House. By 1950, clothes and food rationing had ended, except for tea rationing which ended in June 1950 (and butter rationing which continued to July 1950), so the solid presence of Bushell House with its assertive slogan “Bushells is here” reflects a return to everyday life that must have been reassuring to households across the country.

We were a nation of tea drinkers and loyal to our own favourite brand of tea. So Bushells with its slogan “More cups – finer flavour” vied with the likes of Robur (“Ah Robur, it’s got the flavour”) and Tuckfield’s Ty-nee Tips tea and its cry of “Let’s have a cuppa, a quick pick me uppa” for the householder’s patronage. No tea bags in those days, of course.

Moving further east along Flinders St we come to William St with the Yarra Family Hotel on the corner. Turn up the street past C. Stokes, Customs and Shipping Agents and you come to the Union Steam Ship Company, which is arrowed in this image (reason unknown). It is the clock on the front of that building that tells us that the photo was taken at 12.35pm, lunchtime, and given the number of people walking along the street and the fact that there are no leaves on the trees, we can tell that it was a weekday lunchtime in winter.

It is hard to imagine this area as the turning point for the earliest ships that came to Melbourne, bringing with them the colony’s pioneers. Many of those early settlers lived on arrival in “Canvas Town”, the huge tent city that stretched across the area we know today as Southbank. The Customs House (now the Immigration Museum), located on the eastern edge of the image, is in the area where the first party of European settlers arrived from Launceston in 1835. It seems appropriate that the Customs House should now be the home of the Immigration Museum where Melbourne’s rich multicultural heritage is recorded and celebrated. 

Take a closer look at the image and you’ll see many ads for petrol-based products. Petrol rationing ended in June 1950 so these advertisers were making the most of their new customer-base. You’ll see Plume (owned by Mobil), Shell, Castrol, Alba (owned by Ampol), Mobil – they’re all there. 

Several small businesses are located on the south bank of the river. A brick and tile merchant selling Marseilles Roofing Tiles and other housing materials reminds us that this was a society beginning to recover from the effects of a world war. It’s the Baby Boomer era and a time of rapid housing expansion, if only the materials could be found.

Next door is the Southern Cross Service Station, which has its own parking garage. (Cost is 6d per day – about $1.25 in today’s buying power.) Service stations (or “servos” in Aussie slang) began to take off in the 1930s. They were usually attached to a motor garage, which is the case here. A closer look at the image shows the petrol pumps lined up in the front of the building with a mechanic attending to a vehicle on the left. 

Those were the days (and they continued well into the 1970s) when there was no self-service. You’d pull up next to a petrol pump, wind down your window and say “Fill her up, please” and an attendant would fill your car with petrol, check your oil, wash your windscreen, pump up your tyres, take your money and all without you ever leaving your car •

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