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Whelan the Wrecker

James Whelan got his start in the wrecking business amid the rubble of the 1880s land boom, buying rows of spec-built cottages in East Brunswick at £5 each and pulling them down for salvage. The famous 'Whelan The Wrecker Is Here' sign first appeared in 1923, scrawled on a darkroom wall when Whelan's men wrecked a Swanston Street building to make way for the Capitol Theatre. Whelan the Wrecker spanned 100 years (1892-1992) and four generations of Whelans. They demolished hundreds of buildings in Central Melbourne alone, including such landmarks as Cole's Book Arcade (1929), Theatre Royal (1933), St 771 Patrick's Hall (1957), Eastern and Western markets (1959-60), and Menzies' Hotel (1969). Most of the residue they sold at their scrapyard in Sydney Road, Brunswick. In later years, the Whelans called themselves 'the original recyclers'.

Robyn Annear