Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Melbourne's Eccentric Laneway Names


Perhaps Melbourne's most famous laneway is also one of the newest, as 'AC/DC Lane' was so named only in 2004. The name is a tribute both to the legendary Australian rock band and to the prominent position rock music holds in the city's psyche. The lane itself has existed since 1895 and was known as 'Corporation Lane' until it adopted it's current moniker. The current street sign has proved popular with AC/DC fans; it was stolen six times within two years of being put up, before it was more securely attached to the wall on the lane's edge.


This through alley in Chinatown dates from the 1840's, and so is nearly as old as the city itself. The cosmic sounding name is actually taken from a slang term for Chinese people, 'Celestials,' used in Australia in the 19th century. Celestival Avenue was so named when the first Chinese merchants started using the alley for business in the 1860's.

Celestial Avenue in 1972


Initially called 'Healy Place,' this was renamed Coverlid Place after Henry Coverlid, a British migrant who operated a barber shop on the corner of Coverlid and Little Bourke for about 30 years from 1870. Once a busy thoroughfare, featuring a number of restaurants and bars across the years, the only tenant today is an adult movie theatre.


Connected to AC/DC lane via a U-bend, Duckboard Place takes its name from the building at the lane's entrance; 91 Flinders Lane, AKA Duckboard House. 

Built between the wars and now used as an office building, after World War II Duckboard House was a popular returned serviceman's club. A 'duckboard' was a temporary wooden walkway, placed across muddy or boggy ground, common in Army camps of the period.


Built in the 1890's, Equitable Place takes it's name from the Equitable Life Assurance Buildings which used to stand on the corner of Elizabeth and Collins streets, and so backed onto the laneway.

Drawing of the Equitable Life Assurance Building from 1894.

In a historical footnote, the builder of the Equitable Life Assurance Building was David Mitchell, the father of Dame Nellie Melba.


Another lane named after a building, Exploration Lane takes it's name from the Exploration Hotel, which stood nearby on Little Lonsdale Street in the 1860's. The hotel was named to mark the ill fated cross country expedition of Burke and Wills.

A house in Exploration Lane, 1935.


Louis Kitz was a Swiss imigrant who arrived in Australia in 1853. A jack of all trades, Kitz worked as a silversmith and watchmaker before finding success in the wine business, eventually operating several profitable stores in the city (one of which was near the lane that bears his name). Kitz was also one of the entries in the first Melbourne phone book, which contained listings for only 12 people.


Research to date has not been able to source the origin of the name of this short alleyway off Little Bourke Street. A query lodged with the Melbourne City Council revealed that they no longer have a record of it's origin either. This page will be updated once the mystery has been solved...


Another lane dating from the early years of the city, this handsome throughway was originally known as Millers Lane. In 1856, the Niagara Hotel opened here, and was such a success that the street was soon renamed after this establishment. The owners of hotel had chosen the name Niagara as this was the name of the ship they arrived in Melbourne in. 

The Niagara Hotel, circa 1912.

Home to various businesses - confectioners, plumbers and restaurants among them - Niagara Lane was largely rebuilt in 1887 and turned into well appointed residences, making it one of the most desirable addresses in the city. The individual residences were sold in 1923 and converted into apartments, the function they serve to this day.


This was not on my list of eccentric laneway names when I started researching this piece, as it does not appear on any maps of Melbourne. And there's a good reason for this; Ozimek Lane is not an official street name. This tiny alley runs west off Hardware Lane and is fronted by a large office building, the owners of the which, Ossie Investments, have dubbed the lane behind their property 'Ozimek,' as a sort of shortened, slang version of their business name. The photo above shows a fake street sign that the company have apparently had made up themselves and erected on the wall behind their building. Melbourne City Council have removed these signs from this location before. The actual laneway in question, really just an access point to the rear of the building, is unnamed.


Similar to Merlin Alley, I have been unable to source the origin of the name of this lane running between Little Bourke and Bourke Streets. The investigation continues...


Named after Dutch born brush maker Jan Zevenboom, this laneway housed his factory, the first brush making works in the Southern Hemisphere, for many years. Zevenboom later served as a Melbourne City Councillor.

The Zevenboom building, corner of Little Lonsdale and
Zevenboom Lane, pictured in 1946.

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