Melbourne’s early multiculturalism revealed in beautiful children’s book celebrating the history and magic of Little Lonsdale. Yarra Riverkeeper, and now children’s book author, Andrew Kelly yarns up on 3KND's Big Brekkie with Gman. Andrew Kelly teamed up with fabled illustration team Heather Potter and Mark Jackson to uncover and celebrate the history of Melbourne’s famous Little Lonsdale Street with his new picture book, Little Lon – published by Wild Dog Books in July. (Little Lon is how the locals referred to the area around Little Lonsdale Street.)
Little Lon is the story of community in early Melbourne, revealing the city’s rich multicultural history. It is a joyous story of growing up in an area that others thought of as a slum, but that locals adored, with the area’s rich multiculturalism already in abundance back in the 19th and early 20th century. The crisply written and evocatively illustrated picture book is based on the childhood memories of Marie Hayes. Marie grew up in Cumberland Place, a lane off Little Lon, in a timber house (“You walked right into the front room from the street”), built in the 1850s and lived in by her family for more than 100 years.
Marie recalls all the people from different countries who lived, worked and operated shops in the area, the street food, the hawkers, fairy floss from Queen Victoria Market, playing in the street, her school, and her family’s weekend activities. “One time, my brother John had a party in the backyard. Kids came from everywhere. Look at our names. Billy Argenzio, Bertie Dearsley, Phillip Torbey, Brightie Lagruta, Mamie Bracchi, Nata Palermo, Marza Amed, Emily Sedewei, Katie McDonald, Winnie Lee, Minnie Haddad, John Gye and me, Marie.”
Growing up in Melbourne of the 1960s, Kelly watched the transformation of society with post-war immigration. He was startled to discover when he came across Marie’s story that the heart of Melbourne had always been vibrantly and richly multicultural. Says Kelly, “Behind the staid colonial fronts of the city of Melbourne’s main streets, people from all over the world made a life and a community where they lived happily, and children grew up safe and well cared for. Uncovering this story challenged my preconceptions. It was a pleasing shock for someone who grew up in the suburbs.” Little Lon is out now, available from all good booksellers through Wild Dog Books, an independent Australian publisher based in Melbourne.