79 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

This terrace shop has had a variety of uses over the years including as a bar, the headquarters of the Aboriginal Housing Board, a newsagent and a fish shop.

Google Image – July 2019. 79 Gertrude is the one with the awning.

Early years

James Gall designed the terrace from 79-85 Gertrude Street and it was built in 1871. “Gall was the architect of over forty houses and public buildings in Victoria built over 1868-1890, including 16 and 88 Collins Street, a house in Lennox Street, Richmond in 1869, and the Italianate mansions: Mintaro at Monagetta (1881-1882), Noorilim at Murchison (1879), Frognall (1888-1889), 54 Mont Albert Road, Canterbury, Illoura in St Kilda Road (1889, demolished c1965), and Parlington and Frognall in Camberwell in c1889″ (Richard Peterson, Fitzroy History Society Newsletter, August 2022).

79 is one of five shops.. and five similar shops are at nos 55-63 Brunswick Street. The shops and other extensions to the former Rob Roy Hotel (now the Workers Club) were all built in 1871 on the generous stabling yard of the hotel. The Rob Roy was licenced in 1857 and was owned by the Castlemaine Brewery, who also owned the 10 shops, until the 1920s.” (Richard Peterson, Fitzroy History Society Newsletter, August 2022).

The properties 75-79 Gertrude Street were owned by the Castlemaine Brewery until the 1920s. It was a stationery shop and a newsagent and from the 1940’s a fish shop. In the 1970s the building was listed as ‘old and poor’ and the fish shop closed in 1977. (Gertrude Street, Jill Robertson, 2008)

Photo of 79 and 81 Gertrude street between 1970-1974, State Library

In 1967, the property was purchased by Evangelos Vosnakis, a green grocer. But after 1977 it sat empty until it was sold on 16 April 1985 “to the Victorian Government’s Director of Housing, and the interesting young firm Robinson & Chen Architects & Builders altered it into stylish officers for the Aboriginal Housing Board.” The drawings are dated December 1985. (Richard Peterson, Fitzroy History Society Newsletter, August 2022).

The Aboriginal Housing Board (1985-1995)

Photo by Terry Nott, 1987 after completion of architect works

The Aboriginal Housing Board was established in April 1981 by the Victorian Co-operative at 108 Smith Street, Collingwood. “Following a National Aboriginal Conference meeting in Swan Hill in June 1978 a meeting had been convened in Collingwood to deal with housing issues. Two years of meetings ensured before the Aboriginal House Board was established… This history is acknowledged in a plaque fixed to the building in the City of Yarra.”

Robinson & Chen designed its shopfront window generally in the form of the aboriginal flag, which some remember being painted in aboriginal colours, although paint scrapes which were made did not reveal this. Eight years later, Ian Robinson later used a similar motif in his firm’s design of the first floor window of Tansy’s Restaurant at 161 Spring Street in 1993, which became the Melbourne Supper Club. Most of Robinson & Chen’s work at 79 is now lost, but both of these windows survive.” (Richard Peterson, Fitzroy History Society Newsletter, August 2022).

The Aboriginal Housing Board moved into 79 Gertrude Street in 1987. Following community protest about evictions from premises, there were a series of community meetings in each of the Board’s seven regional centres: Mooroopna, Morwell, Dandenong, Mildura, Ballarat, Warrnambool and Gertrude Street… In February 1995, the Aboriginal Housing Board moved to Scotchmer Street, and 79 Gertrude Street was sold” (Richard Peterson, Fitzroy History Society Newsletter, August 2022).

Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (1995 -1996)

Graham Carberry bought the property and it was proposed to accomodate the collection of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives (now the Australian Queer Archives, AQuA), for which Richard Peterson, Architect prepared a design, working drawings and called for tenders for the work.

Roadrunner Records (1996 -?)

In the end Carberry decided not to proceed and sold the property to the architect who had prepared the design. Richard leased the as offices to the heavy metal CD label Roadrunner Records which had launched in 1980 in the Netherlands. “Its initial business was importing North American metal-band recordings into Europe. In 1986, Roadrunner opened its US headquarters in South Bend, Indiana and later opened offices in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, Denmark and then in Canada. It handled the early Metallica releases from Scandinavia. In c1989, Roadrunner had already released two albums that are now considered classics of their respective genres: Obituary’s Slowly we Rot and Sepultura’s Beneath the Remains. In 2006, the Warner Music Group purchased a majority in shares of the International Roadrunner Music Group BV. In 2008, Roadrunner was voted the Best Metal Label by Metal Hammer at their Golden Gods Awards”. Eventually Roadrunner had to relocate due to expansion. (Richard Peterson, Fitzroy History Society Newsletter, August 2022).

ANEX Needle Exchange (?-2006)

The building was then occupied by the secretive government agency, the ANEX Needle Exchange programme. (Richard Peterson, Fitzroy History Society Newsletter, August 2022).

The Radio Bar (2006-2017)

Richard Peterson requested that Joseph Reyes, M Arch, design a conversion of the building from offices to a cool bar. This was opened on 21 July 2006 as the Radio Bar. “It featured a marvellous visually enhanced skyline view of Melbourne extending along a wall. The business was operated by three former bar people from Rue Bebelons, 267 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne’s second ever laneway bar (1996-2013), now demolished.” The bar was later further altered to create more bar space. The Bar was used regularly from 2010 to 2017 by the popular show ‘Offspring’ which was run on Channel 10, and mixes conventional narrative drama with flashbacks, graphic animation and fantasy sequences. The show featured lots of Fitzroy where Nina (Asher Keddie) and the Proudman family live. (Richard Peterson, Fitzroy History Society Newsletter, August 2022).

On 3 June 2016, Peterson sold the building and in early June 2017, the Radio Bar relocated to 357 Brunswick Street, where it still operates in 2023.

Radio Bar, photo by Richard Peterson
Radio Bar, photo by Richard Peterson

The Ends and Means, Cocktail Bar (2017-?)

The building was entirely renovated and reopened at the Ends and Means cocktail bar in late 2017. It retains the front window.

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