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Leisure and Recreation

The Europeans who arrived in Port Phillip in 1835 brought with them established practices of labour that assumed times of rest. Foremost among the pastimes of the predominantly male settlement-at-ease was the consumption of alcoholic beverages. In 1836 when Captain William Lonsdale arrived, there were already a number of public houses serving the expansion of the pastoral industry and one of his first official acts was to issue three licences and control the smuggling of liquor.

Gold-rush Melbourne saw the licensing of numerous hotels, from Mac's Hotel in Franklin Street to Johnson's on the corner of Swanston and Flinders streets, the expansion of theatre and entertainment in Bourke Street (for example, the Theatre Royal, opened 1856), and the development of Stephen (later Exhibition) Street as a recognised brothel area. All expressed ideas of recreational pursuits for a largely male immigrant population with money to spend.

The gradual adoption of an eight-hour day from 1856 and a compulsory half-day holiday on Saturday demarcated the week firmly into work and leisure for the waged labour force. The development of leisure pursuits in 19th-century Melbourne owed much to these achievements. But Marvellous Melbourne was also at the forefront of other political change and commercial initiatives and Melburnians, through their access to novel ideas and technologies, now framed leisure in ways that expressed contemporary ideas of identity. The individual assumed greater importance. The Education Act 1872 enshrined literacy and numeracy as a basic right of the population, higher standards of living contributed to better health and manufacturing to employment for young women and men. Leisure practices in Melbourne, therefore, developed as a wide range of activities that expressed both social change and individual initiatives in the pursuit of pleasure and self-satisfaction.

Civic authorities, drawing on British precedent, fixed ideas of leisure and recreation in the physical environment through the allocation of space and resources. A green belt to the south, east and north of the city and land in the suburbs were set aside as parks and gardens, and important cultural institutions established for the use of the respectable families of the city. They offered a mix of physical and intellectual pleasure. At the Royal Botanic Gardens, Ferdinand von Mueller, director from 1857, aroused the curiosity of visitors with his constant introduction of new species and the establishment of the National Herbarium, while William Guilfoyle, from 1873, developed a picturesque landscape of lawns, paths and lakes. The provision of a Public (State) Library, Art Gallery, a museum at the University of Melbourne in the 1850s and exhibitions in 1854, 1861 and 1866-67 recognised the self-educational potential of recreation.

A significant area in the suburban parks and gardens was given over to organised sport that took shape in the late 19th century, assisted by defined hours of work. In Fitzroy's Edinburgh Gardens, a cricket ground was laid out in 1863 and a lawn bowls rink in 1877 for gentlemen of various ages to play on a summer's afternoon. Australian football began to be played on the cricket ground in winter, and a club was formed in 1883 to formalise the arrangement. In 1885 a tennis club was added, bringing women into the sporting arena. As Melbourne expanded, each suburb replicated this pattern, producing a strong community sporting culture that was oriented to male-team sports.

If new forms of physical activity established sport as a social institution, there was also excitement for new products and services which brought both women and men into the public spaces of the city. Each afternoon and on Saturday mornings, 'doing the Block' in the city attracted a fashionable crowd as Charles Carter observed in 1869, 'hosts of ladies flitting about in the most airy and fascinating style', and on Saturday nights 'an endless concourse of people' packed the Eastern Market and the Coles Book Arcade, 'a crowd as dense and as motley as that of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road combined'. In the suburbs, too, shoppers flocked to the major thoroughfares - Smith Street in Collingwood, Chapel Street in Prahran and Nicholson Street in Footscray. The theatrical entrepreneur, George Coppin, purchased the Cremorne Gardens in Richmond in 1856 to expand the range of amusements offered to the public. New technology was always of interest: in 1858 the first hot-air balloon flight in Melbourne was staged at the Cremorne Gardens, and in 1869 a 'velocopide' race at the Melbourne Cricket Ground provided another sensation.

The new consumer ethos was also expressed through the rise of the number of sports spectators. As early as 1838 a racetrack was laid out to the west of the town reserve and sport began to attract an interested audience. However, from the 1860s sport as a spectacle emerged as a new phenomenon. From its inception in 1861 the Melbourne Cup drew large crowds, and in 1861-62 the visit of an English cricket team attracted unprecedented attention. By the end of the 1870s the games of Australian football on a Saturday afternoon had created 'barrackers', spectators whose emotional commitment brought them out each weekend to support their team. The expressions of loyalty of followers to their teams, based in the suburbs, gave a distinctive style to Melbourne's winter public leisure patterns.

Leisure opportunities for the middle class proliferated. There were excursions by railway to the beach at St Kilda or Mentone or cruises further afield by steamer to Sorrento and Queenscliff. In 1894 the first walking clubs were formed, and the appearance of the bicycle allowed respectable women as well as men to explore the scenic Dandenongs as tourists, complete with camera to record the occasion. Improvements in communication encouraged a profusion of letters and postcards that announced holiday destinations safely reached and life milestones passed.

The development of suburban Melbourne also defined leisure in the 19th century. In the inner suburbs, the narrow streets and the presence of a corner pub invited residents out onto the streets, but the new suburbs enshrined private space. While the wealthy indulged in more formal exchanges of carte de visites and invitations to dances and balls, for the families living in the new suburbs from Essendon in the west to Camberwell in the east, front parlours and the verandah were sites for more informal conviviality. Afternoon tea after a stroll around the garden or a game of cards, music and talking followed by supper at night made the home a site of diverse interests where women's crafts were always on display. Although public lending libraries and Mechanics Institutes offered sites for reading material, the increase in the mass circulation of daily newspapers (the Argus, Australasian and Age, the latter's circulation increasing from 14 500 copies per day in 1860 to 120 000 in 1899) expanded reading into people's homes. Publishing houses began to produce books for the Australian market and printed music scores for the piano assumed pride of place on a Sunday evening when family members gathered round to sing of deeds of Empire and hearts torn asunder.

Yet the appearance of mass leisure and an ethos of consumption with its appeal to the individual sent shock waves through the middle class. The Australasian newspaper of 11 August 1883 reported with some anxiety on the novelty of the working man spending money in public places in his leisure: 'Melbourne is practically given over to him on Saturday night, and with his family ... he fills its bright and busy streets almost to the exclusion of every other class. He crowds the theatres, he throngs the shops, he and his are legion in the cheap restaurants.' Towards the end of the century and with the onset of the 1890s depression, fears such as these became major tensions. Part of the political struggles of the period were the successful crusades against drinking and betting and gambling, both seen as inappropriate forms of leisure. In 1910 gambling was limited to racecourses and during World War I, when patriotism was invoked to curb all commercial leisure activities, legislation in 1916 enforced the closing of hotels at 6 o'clock.

After World War I these prohibitions remained. In 1920 the residents of the City of Camberwell succeeded in banning pubs and wine-bars in the municipality altogether although drinking into the evening and gambling survived as underground activities. Melbourne's rigid observation of Sunday as a day of rest curtailed public leisure activities, elevating mowing the lawn and cooking the Sunday roast to major recreational pastimes. However, some public spaces survived as acceptable sites for leisure: the Melbourne Zoo, Luna Park (opened in 1912), the beaches and venues such as the Hawthorn Tea Gardens where a walk along the Yarra River after Sunday School might even take in some sedate boating. Golf and tennis continued to be played on a Sunday within the comfortable retreats of private clubs.

There was, however, much contentment with the rituals of leisure that were consolidated between the wars. From 1924 when 3AR broadcasts started, the radio appeared as a welcome addition to the home. Dad and Dave with its theme song 'Along the Road to Gundagai' was the most popular show but music, theatre, debate, quiz shows and sport could all be heard within one's lounge. The 1930s depression strengthened the proclivity for leisure activities that contributed to self-sufficiency. Gardening and tinkering for men directed from their tool shed, and sewing, embroidery and knitting for women gave satisfaction as well as providing utility items.

Saturday was the day out. Going to the 'footy' at Glenferrie Oval, Western Oval or Windy Hill sustained thousands of families. There was some variation: for the more active, there was organised sport; for children, the movie matinée; and for men, the pub with the radio on the horseraces in the bar and the SP bookie in the back lane taking bets. Then, dances at a local hall or for a big night out, Leggett's at Prahran or a couple might go into the city to the theatre, the Tivoli in Bourke Street for variety or a play at His Majesty's. Night spots like that at the Chevron Hotel opened in 1934 in St Kilda Road, offered a gleam of glamour.

It was also the epoch of the picture palace. In 1926 Hoyts new picture theatre at Bentleigh seated over 1000 people, while in the city the lavishly decorated Capitol opened in 1924. The Regent and the State in 1929 accommodated eight times that number. Although there was some Australian films, such as the popular On Our Selection released in 1932 and Cinesound and Movietone newsreels with their complement of sport and royalty, well over 90% of all films screened in Melbourne were American.

Increasingly, motoring along the bay to Frankston, up the hills to Healesville or down the coast to Lorne for leisure extended horizons. As well, women laid claim to public space. Eating out in the Mural Hall in Myer's or the cafeteria in Coles brought them into the city during the day but, even at night, women went off to the movies without inviting moral censure. Also, women increased their participation in sport and usually it was women who controlled the ubiquitous box brownie camera that now appeared to record, predominantly, the leisure activities of friends and family.

World War II, with its brownout, its trenches and thousands of American troops stationed in the city, disrupted the older rhythms. But people's leisure activities were part of longer-term changes. By the mid-20th century leisure was recognised as being of national concern, contributing to an individual's health and well-being. In the postwar period, this was interpreted for a modern society. As early as 1938 the establishment of the National Fitness Council addressed the concern that Australians were losing their physical edge. Now, new public swimming pools - from the Olympic Pool for the Games to the Springvale Pool opened in 1962 in time for the summer school holidays - combined engineering and architecture as symbols of contemporary, wholesome leisure. Music was also promoted. In 1938 Hector Crawford started Music for the People outdoor concerts, but in 1959 the opening of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl lent to this activity the sophistication of Hollywood. The Council for Adult Education, formed in 1947, with its drama and reading programs for small groups throughout the suburbs also recognised the enlarged horizons for Melburnians in the postwar period. In 1955 the Victorian branch of the National Trust was established, and in 1959 Como introduced the idea of heritage as a recreational pursuit for the present. By contrast, Moomba, from 1955, reinterpreted the older tradition of the Labour Day march as a procession with American pizzazz.

The direct and indirect influence of the United States in the expansion of the leisure industry in the postwar period was hotly debated. From 1956 television was appreciated as a means of maintaining the home as a leisure centre, but it was the American I Love Lucy, Wagon Train and 77 Sunset Strip that were, initially, the most popular programs. In 1958 when the first Top Forty, direct from America, hit Melbourne airwaves, the rock music industry was set for take-off. Glossy magazines with full-colour images of blonde, buxom American film stars pouting sex appeal appeared on the news stands. Leisure products like the record player, also emanating from American companies, supplanted the gramophone and transistor, and car radios extended sound in time and space. Old orthodoxies of restraint fell before increasing opportunities to recognise and gratify sensory pleasures.

In this period, though, much of people's time was absorbed by the suburban expansion that blended leisure with energy and creativity in a great surge of DIY building, painting, and path-laying. Again, the private space of home and garden absorbed the leisure interests of Melburnian families, the barbecue making an appearance. With immigration, backyards took on new meaning: celebrating the harvesting of the fruits of the garden or annual festivals that brought European traditions to Melbourne.

The 1954 city plan for metropolitan Melbourne that left the river valleys as corridors of green in a widening circle of brick and weatherboard from Broadmeadows to Box Hill to Moorabbin also challenged the city as the focus for leisure events. In 1961 Chadstone, based on the popular American model of the shopping mall, reinvigorated the pleasure of buying in suburban Melbourne. As well, new civic centres and the opening of Waverley Park as the centre for Australian football in Melbourne in 1970 recognised the demographic shift. The car assumed new possibilities. The Sunday afternoon drive in the new Holden or Falcon became a family ritual, while the appearance of drive-in theatres combined novelty and convenience.

But homes were changing. From the 1950s increasing numbers of married women joined the workforce, young adults began to be addressed as teenagers, and the end of the six o'clock swill in February 1966 assailed the old ascendancy on all sides. The expansion of public leisure continued to be shaped by government: in 1972 the Victorian Department of Youth, Sport and Recreation was formed to administer policies in the area. The provision of stadiums and gymnasiums challenged the old pre-eminence of outdoor and male team sports, and walking and bike tracks along Melbourne's beachfront, rivers and creeks recognised the individual, young or old, male or female, as defining their own patterns of use.

Since the 1970s the diversification of the marketplace to meet all or any of the demands for the individual to realise their full potential has many commercial permutations. The breaking of the Sunday curfew commenced in earnest in 1981 when regular Sunday matches began in the Victorian Football League. Restaurant strips developed in the inner suburbs, starting from the Italian enclave established in Lygon Street in the early 1950s and extending to Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, Victoria Street, Richmond, Chapel Street, Prahran, and Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, each offering a diversity of eating experiences. From the installation of one of the first espresso coffee machines at University Café in Carlton in 1954, coffee shops extended ideas of café society; and pub culture, centred on bands and entertainment, added to street life. At the same time, sites to promenade and to shop developed: Southbank returned the Yarra River to a site for public leisure from the 1980s and Docklands the old port area from 2003.

The State Government has recognised the economic potential of leisure and assists in the promotion of major sporting events, from the Australian Open Tennis Championships in January to the Spring Carnival in November, while the opening of the Crown Entertainment Complex in 1994 added a further diversion for local and international players. Meanwhile, homes with plasma televisions and internet access offer the most individually-tailored entertainment. At the same time, the organisation of clubs that bring together people interested in anything from roses to felt-making and singing to playing bridge have changed the relationships of leisure from the family, neighbourhood or church network to a general interest-based association.

Leisure remains problematic. Unemployment and early retirement, though expanding the numbers with free time, has not necessarily provided sufficient income to support leisure consumption, while those in work, face longer, unpredictable or more intense hours and do not necessarily have the free time to sustain regular leisure interests. The availability of recreational drugs continues to raise debates about the legality and morality of leisure pursuits. But, throughout all, Melburnians have expressed ideas of leisure that have cemented social relationships believed to be important.

June Senyard

Waterhouse, Richard, Private pleasures, public leisure: A history of Australian popular culture since 1788, Longman, Melbourne, 1995. Details