Walking down Brunswick Street from Alexandra Parade (still in my 5km limit), I tried to spot signs specific to Melbourne in 2020. Situations we could never have imagined – such as long postponed acts at the Evelyn Hotel, or closed shops with instructions on click and collect. The Black Lives Matter posters on the walls of the fire brigade credit union stayed long enough for me to capture. A few days later they were gone, showing just how important it is to record these moments in history.
As lockdown 2 started to settle, and we were allowed out of our homes, I headed back to the top end of Brunswick Street. I wanted to illustrate the impact of the pandemic on the local community. I sat under a verandah at the corner of Westgarth Street and drew locals chatting on a mosaic chair wearing masks. Some things don’t change though. The building housed a butcher’s shop back in 1925 and it still does today.
When coronavirus arrived we all bunkered down at home. When we briefly emerged in June our little group decided to play it safe and stay away from crowds. So we moved north, and crossed the great divide of Alexandra Parade. I drew quickly, worried about another lockdown – and of course it happened. The first stop on my way out was at polyester records – closed, but within my 5 km boundary.
There is no end to eateries in Brunswick Street, but not many of them have an open fireplace like the Fitz to tempt cold sketchers on a rainy Melbourne morning. Opposite was, at one stage (sadly now gone) Attaboy Roy. It took us a while to realise we were drawing “Fitz – Roy”. The building that housed Brown and Scott’s Drapery in 1905 is now Polly Bar.
Spin around the corner of Johnston and Brunswick Street and you’ll see something completely different to draw in every direction. Change your view in a rooftop bar, and the world shifts again. That impossibly bendy IOOF building just never seems to make any sense, whatever the angle, but it and the old post office are still the landmarks they were in 1911.
Before the pandemic put an end to traveling overseas, our little gaggle of sketchers often enjoyed the company of international guests. The urban sketching community is known for its hospitality, and there is surely no better place to take a fellow artist than the Black Cat. We feel a real fondness for this Melbourne icon, and there is drawing inspiration in every direction.
The friendships I have made while sketching Brunswick Street have been an absolute joy, and it isn’t just about a shared love of art. Urban sketchers build up a mighty appetite when sitting out in the cold for a few hours, and after drawing all morning we wander up Brunswick Street for a fine lunch together. We are spoilt for choice. Of course, any café becomes another excuse for a sketch or two.
Fitzroy has been a place of constant change. The pink building crowned by birds in my drawing is almost unrecognisable unless you spot it next to Davies Drapers shop in 1861. I could see cracks which suggested a shapely curve over the windows when I was sketching, but couldn’t imagine what was missing. Sadly the beautiful draper’s shop on the corner has been torn down. What a loss.
Cohealth and the Brotherhood of St Laurence snuggle up opposite the housing commission flats. I love the green building next to cohealth and the bright red flowers flowing from the window box nearby. These must have been built after 1910, because the previous buildings exploded!
My friend Alf laughs at how long it took me to draw every building on the west side of Brunswick Street from Victoria Parade to Gertrude Street. He says it was a year, but he exaggerates – it was just six months. It was a special occasion as I picked up my sketching things and we finally crossed at the lights. Back in 1866 they didn’t seem to need traffic lights. Or did they?