Bourke Street: then and now

0 Posted by - 22 May 2018 - Feature stories

In most major cities, if you’re looking closely, every now and then you’ll come across an enchanting little detail that brings to mind images of the city’s past: an antique light fixture hanging discreetly over a storefront, an intricately patterned row of tiles, or faded patches of paint where the name of a local business once proclaimed its presence in bright and bold colours.

Throughout its history, Bourke Street – one of Melbourne’s most iconic streets – has been home to some fascinating things, including billiard rooms, rifle galleries and cigar dens. It was also home to the world­ famous Cole’s Book Arcade, a multi­storey imaginarium said to have once been the largest bookstore in the world, which featured a fernery, a funny mirrors section and even a live monkey display, in addition to the thousands of books for sale on its shelves.

In just a few photographs, it’s not hard to see how much Bourke Street has changed. Here are four of our favourites, going as far back as the mid­19th century, when the now popular shopping district was notorious for tavern brawls, a concentration of brothels, and general late­-night public disorder and debauchery.

Bourke Street circa 1920-1950 by Rose Stereograph. Image courtesy of State Library Victoria


Bourke Street, mid 19th century by Charles Nettleton (1826­1902), courtesy of State Library Victoria.
Bourke Street between 1870 and 1890, courtesy of State Library Victoria.
Bourke Street circa 1920-­1950 by Rose Stereograph, courtesy of State Library Victoria.
Bourke Street August 2017, courtesy Executive Media.

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