The “let us rock” connection and other secrets behind Melbourne’s laneways

Degraves Street is no longer a well-kept secret of Melbourne but still somewhat Melbourne-in-the-know!

Only a few steps away from the crowded Flinders Street train station, but a very different world exists in this narrow laneway where open-air Parisian charm co-exists with gritty street art.  It’s a bustling pedestrian-only lane that is at the heart of city’s café and bohemian culture.

Acting also as a pedestrian shortcut between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane, you can always find the strong aroma of freshly ground coffee, and as you meander your way past the many cafés, including The Quarter, Degraves Espresso and Cup of Truth, you’ll run into friendly proprietors of all things Mediterranean delicioso sometimes with an Australian twist, and a few hidden shopping gems, Il Papiro (artisan stationery), Sine qua non (handmade jewellery), and Clementine’s (locally made gifts) amongst them, whether for diversion or for serious shopping.

Hosier Lane, also a central city laneway not far from Flinders Street station (it is right opposite the entrance to the Atrium at Federation Square on Flinders Street), is famous for the ever-changing and the often political nature of its street art.  OK, some of us know this alleyway as the place for MoVida’s Spanish tapas …. but this bluestone cobbled vehicular and pedestrian laneway is also a much celebrated landmark for its sophisticated urban art.  The graffiti-covered walls and art-installations have these days become a popular backdrop for fashion and wedding photography.  Indeed, this city’s growing reputation for its street art even inspired Banksy to visit in 2003, famously leaving behind various stencils including several parachuting rats.

Melbourne’s laneways are also known to be filled with ghosts … Hosier Lane itself is said to be haunted by the ghost of Frederick Bailey Deeming, a sailor who brutally murdered his wife and four children while living in Melbourne and is also suspected of being Jack the Ripper.

Melbourne also acquired some fame for being one of the first cities to name a street after a rock band: the city’s council approved the name change of Corporation Lane to ACDC Lane, after the rock band that performed It’s a Long Way to the Top on a flatbed truck travelling down Swanston Street in 1976 and wrote most of their first album in Melbourne.  Apparently, the name change was “in tune with the city’s historical and cultural policy”, as the band has strong links with Melbourne and the lane is in the heart of the city’s bar and rock district.  Melbourne’s daily newspaper, The Age, did its part by pointing out there is already a street named Calle de AC/DC on the outskirts of Madrid.

If you are amused by the idea of a street named after a rock band, then you might want to know that ACDC Lane is a short, narrow laneway, running south from Flinders Lane between Exhibition Street and Russell Street, amongst the most prestigious business addresses in town.  The “rock ‘n’ roll” connection was “cemented” by the city’s then Lord Mayor John So who launched the new name with the words, “As the song says, there is a highway to hell, but this is a laneway to heaven. Let us rock.”

Our take: if your ancestors named streets like “King” and “William” and “Queen” and “Elizabeth”, naming them after a rock band probably isn’t such a bad idea!

Our second take: in defence of the street-namers: we do like the idea of “Little Collins” that is the narrower street parallel to Collins, and we see the clear logic too, except when we need to remember which comes first: is Little Collins “below” (i.e. south of) Collins or “above” Collins?