1. Themes
  2. A to Z


Bohemia refers to the unconventional and, usually, impecunious artistic and literary scene, romanticised by the French writer Henry Murger's Scènes de la Bohème (Paris 1851), and celebrated in cafés, hotels, and studios. Melbourne has known several bohemias.

In 1868 the author and journalist Marcus Clarke experimented in bohemianism by forming the Yorick Club with other writers including the poet Adam Lindsay Gordon. A modestly furnished clubroom was set up at 68 Collins Street East where at Clarke's direction the bohemians drank beer from pewters and smoked clay pipes. Clarke soon became frustrated with the dilution of the club's bohemianism, decamping the following year to start another literary and drinking club, the Cave of Adullam, fictionalised in his novel 'Twixt shadow and shine (Melbourne, 1875).

An equally self-conscious bohemia flourished from the 1890s in the city's hash houses, wineshops and vacant cheap rooms, a milieu depicted in Norman Lindsay's novel A curate in Bohemia (Sydney, 1913). The more prominent bohemians of the period organised into the Cannibal and Ishmael clubs, the latter meeting regularly at Fasoli's, an Italian café and wineshop located at 108 Lonsdale Street and, from 1907, at 140 King Street. Until its closure in 1933, Fasoli's was the centre of Melbourne's bohemian and literary life. The 'Fasolians', as its habitués cast themselves, included the writers E.J. Brady and Louis Esson and the artist Percy Lindsay.

In 1930 Melbourne was shocked by the murder of Mollie Dean, an aspirant writer on the fringes of the Meldrum circle of artists. Melbourne's bohemia was then concentrated in the studios of Little Collins Street and the cafés and wineshops in Exhibition Street. On Friday evenings artists and writers would gather at Camillo Triaca's Café Latin, 206 Exhibition Street, the adjacent Mario's, or the short-lived (1937-39) but important bohemian haunt Café Petrushka at 144 Little Collins Street.

Melbourne's Left bohemia of the 1930s, including the artist Noel Counihan, the violin-maker Bill Dolphin and the writer Brian Fitzpatrick, drank at the Swanston Family Hotel on the north-west corner of Swanston and Little Bourke streets. The Swanston Family retained its bohemian reputation until its demolition in 1959.

The city's other bohemian hotel of the 1930s and 1940s, the extant Mitre Tavern in Bank Place, was the meeting place of the artist Justus Jörgensen and his circle. Jörgensen founded the artists' colony Montsalvat in 1935 at Eltham, where a burgeoning painterly bohemia was developing.

The artist Mirka Mora's café at 183 Exhibition Street was a rendezvous for writers and artists from 1954 to 1957. From the 1960s bohemianism became increasingly blurred with other emerging subcultures but remained associated with intellectual, literary and theatrical circles in Carlton. In the 1980s Fitzroy and St Kilda became the focuses for younger artists, musicians and poets. More recently the proliferation of bars and cafés in the city has revived the opportunities for 'bohemian' life.

Gavin De Lacy

Fredman, L.E., 'Melbourne Bohemia in the nineteenth century', Southerly, vol. 18, no. 2, 1957, pp. 83-91. Details