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(3121, 3 km E, Yarra City)

The Melbourne inner suburb of Richmond grew around a picturesque hill that early caught the eye of affluent settlers seeking a vista to the Dandenong Ranges and elevation above the effluvia of the poor. By the 1860s industry seeking easy waste-removal had also discovered its river flats, and its fate as an industrial suburb was sealed. As the Hill became studded with mansions, villas and wide terraces, the lower ground was a maze of narrow streets with tiny cottages and single-storied terraces. Churches also found sites on the Hill - St Stephen's Anglican was the first - but the pride of place was later taken by William Wardell's magnificent St Ignatius' Catholic Church, built for the Jesuits (1867-).

Richmond was one of the first suburbs to establish municipal government. Self-governing by 1855, it became a city in 1882, and its population stood at 40 000 by Federation. It was a self-sufficient community, where most people lived and worked within its boundaries, and the ruling elite were to be seen at church as well as at work and on the council. The 1880s land boom saw terraces and villas erected on better ground by building societies and speculators, and some of the gold-rush cottages demolished. Subdivisions of larger blocks served by lanes and rights-of-way produced instant slums, which were to be a refuge of the very poor until the reclamation programs of the 1950s and 1960s.

Richmond's descent into a fully working-class community began in the 1890s depression. The genteel sought refuge in the garden suburbs, and many of the grand homes became boarding houses. The rise of working-class politics, led by the Political Labor Council, moved the business elite off the council and out of Richmond's parliamentary seats until it became one of the nation's safest Australian Labor Party (ALP) seats and most notorious hotbeds of factional politics.

With politics went religion. While Catholics remained a large minority in the suburb, they came to symbolise Richmond's character and culture. The traditions of Irish rebelliousness and machine politics were cultivated by both Labor supporters and detractors. ALP preselections were fiercely contested as ambitious but thwarted working-class men yearned for office either on the city council or in parliament, and allegations of impropriety dogged the Richmond ALP and local government for over 70 years. As a poor community made poorer by the great depression of the 1930s, petty gangsterism, SP bookmaking, sly grog selling and small-scale political corruption flourished in the absence of jobs and profits.

Industry expanded into larger scale manufacturing. The outworking boot, shoe and clothing trades were converted into deskilled factory workforces. Matches, processed foods, heavy engineering - all grew in the first two decades of the 20th century, and the city council was caught between encouraging industry and protecting living conditions.

The aura of sleaziness in public life exacerbated tensions between sectarian antagonists, and between the respectable and the less respectable. In residential streets, strong community feelings were created by shared problems and enforced intimacy. In hard times, few went hungry as neighbours and extended family helped out; but social ambition, quelled by the insecurities of the 1930s, reawakened after World War II. Richmond industry boomed during the war in the Pacific and its workers had never known such wages. Thwarted social aspiration combined with fears of communist influence in the Labor movement to make Richmond one of the fiercest battlegrounds in the 1955 Labor split.

Richmond was transformed by postwar immigration: first from southern Europe (Greek) and later from South-East Asia (Vietnamese, and East Timorese refugees from Indonesia). Housing Commission of Victoria slum-reclamation cleared entire blocks of workers' homes in north Richmond, replacing them with walk-up flats and tower blocks, but the first public-housing estate, built on the site of John Wren's old pony race track, shines as an example of the best city planning accomplished by the commission. The final transformation was gentrification. As industry left for cheaper, larger sites outside the inner city, and as middle-class Melbourne discovered the charms of inner-city living and Victorian architecture, Richmond was socially reinvented. House renovation has given way to warehouse conversion as some of the industrial landmarks have become luxury apartments, and Richmond's Yarra River precinct is returning to residential use.

Janet Mccalman

McCalman, Janet, Struggletown: public and private life in Richmond, 1900-1965, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1984. Details