Livin’ in the ‘70s

If you are feeling discomfited by the Metro tunnelling, take heart, it has all happened before.

Back in the ‘70s the City Loop was built with the first sod being turned in 1971 and Flagstaff Station not opening until 1985. 

This photo was taken around 1970 just prior to the city loop being built. The photographer, Horrie Lee Archer, is standing in LaTrobe St west of its intersection with Elizabeth St. 

Horrie has trained his lens eastwards towards the dome of the State Library of Victoria and the Coop shot tower with the Manchester Unity Oddfellows building to its rear. You can also see the ANZ Bank, cleared land and buildings being demolished for the Melbourne City Loop (and the later Melbourne Central development). You can just see a hoarding advertising the City Loop on the Elizabeth St corner. 

Of the three new stations built for the City Loop, Museum Station (now called Melbourne Central) was the only one built using the cut and cover method in a 26 metre-deep box, while Flagstaff and Parliament were excavated using mining methods. During the excavation of Museum station, LaTrobe St and its tram tracks were temporarily relocated in 1973 to the south onto the site of what is now the Melbourne Central Shopping Centre, and was moved back in 1978. The shot tower, with its heritage listing was left teetering on a pedestal while all around was excavated. 

Coop’s shot tower (1889) of course is now encased in Melbourne Central’s glass cone and its fascinating history can be found on line at

The 1970s in Melbourne were much more than the building of the City Loop. They were a time when there was optimism that strength in numbers could effect change although many battles which were waged were lost against large-scale development. 

On the economic front, unemployment was at 1.8 per cent in 1970. A turbulent decade for the economy, including a mid-decade recession, pushed this figure up to 6 per cent in 1980.

An exhibition, Putting it out there: Melbourne in the 1970s, curated by Zoe Henderson at the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, sets out to capture some of the many faces and moods of Melbourne in the 1970s – from bold colours and strident voices to thoughtful discussion and sparkling creativity, from Sharpie cool to crocheted hot pants. 

The protests were many and varied including the battle for Alexandra Parade, the Esso pipe-line across Port Phillip Bay and the fight against the F19 Freeway. Residents’ action groups and historical societies sprang to life in the late 1960s and early 1970s, usually prompted by concerns for local heritage buildings, environment or community. 

Melbourne, of course, is no stranger to crowds of people gathering together to express their support for a particular cause. 

What marked the protests of the 1970s was their scale, diversity and frequency. The largest of the protests were the Vietnam Moratoriums of 1970 and 1971, and possibly the Labor rallies after the Whitlam Dismissal in 1975. Environmental protests also attracted large-scale support, particularly the anti-uranium mining demonstrations. 

Marches usually drew in a wide spectrum of groups, with many of these groups supporting a variety of causes. Debate was sometimes vociferous and sometimes obscure.

Although a “decade” is a convenient way of thinking about the past, in reality constant change makes pinpointing beginnings and endings rather more complex. So, for many of those looking back, there is a certain nostalgia for the time when they were young and taking on the world. “Their” canvas will be the events that shaped their lives.

Today, traffic spews into Alexandra Parade from the F19 (Eastern Freeway) and the community that fought so bravely to keep its peace has been fractured. Melbourne’s citizens have embraced many social and cultural changes during the turbulent seventies and this vibrant city will embrace many more.

This exhibition invites you to look back and reminisce!

Putting it out there: Melbourne in the 1970s

Royal Historical Society of Victoria

239 A’Beckett St, Melbourne 

Mon-Fri 9am - 5pm. 

[email protected]

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