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BOOK REVIEW: Melbourne Remember When by Bob Byrne

| 29 July 2021 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Melbourne Remember When by Bob Byrne

NewSouth Books
December 2019
Paperback, $34.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-fiction / Local Interest Topics

75% Rocking

Bob Byrne is no stranger to commemorating the past. The radio DJ has written five books where he has looked back at Australian life in the good old days. This has included a volume dedicated solely to Adelaide and its past. His latest offering, Melbourne Remember When, continues in this tradition with a look back at some halcyon days in this city and its surrounds.

Melbourne Remember When is full of beautifully sentimental memories – most contributed by over 200 regular readers and followers of my Facebook pages ‘Melbourne Remember When’ and ‘Australia Remember When’…
It is unashamedly nostalgic, filled with photos and recollections, lost treasures of a bygone era. It’s a pictorial reminder of a different generation, of beach pavilions and ballrooms, of stately old buildings, department stores that are long gone, old trams and trains, legendary personalities, magic moments in sport, serials on the wireless, black and white TV, family cars and holidays, rock ‘n’ roll music and so much more!

This book would make a nice gift for people who are interested in a light take on history. It is a good length at 250 pages. There are many photographs – mostly black and white ones – that are printed from the collections of various archives and museums. Each entry is interspersed with a key fact or some other colourful reference, including an anecdotal memory or two.

It’s been more than 20 years since the last conductors worked on Melbourne’s trams and some of the people who were around back in those days will tell you that they are still sorely missed.
Affectionately known as ‘connies’, they carried maps in their letter bags which they used to ensure that travellers were on the right track, so to speak!…
Many connies loved a chat and some even became quite famous. ‘Frenchie’ from Malvern Depot used to do magic tricks, Domenic from Brunswick Depot sang, while Malcolm from South Depot recited poetry. They brought personality and life to tram journeys.

A downside of this title is the lack of structure and index. It is not organised in a linear way. This means that the time periods jump all over the place. This means you are drawn into the thirties and then fifties, and back again in a heartbeat, which can be jarring to read.

There’s also no structure to the entries. You can be reading about Ansett planes and chocolatiers one minute, and the Dunny Man the next. While this makes the volume easy to dip in and out of at leisure, it means there is repetition (the Olympic games are referred to many times- sometimes with the same facts). A more organised set would make things more cohesive, and ultimately a more satisfying and immersive read.

The topics in this book cover a broad base including sport, theatre, music, and architecture. There is information about famous landmarks and Melbourne personalities. This book also goes into some detail about the changes in work and home lives. It’s a fun and nostalgic romp for readers, even though some things will resonate more with certain readers. There are moments (however, this may be only youngsters) where they may feel like outsiders peering in because their experiences will likely differ from Byrne and his contributors.

The Moomba Parade is traditionally held on the final day of the Moomba Festival which falls on the Labour Day public holiday in March…
The floats have an annual theme, usually an elaboration on ‘Let’s get together and have fun’ which was assumed meaning of the Aboriginal word ‘Moomba’. However in recent years it’s thought that the true meaning of the word is ‘Up your bum!’

Some slang language is used like “Yanks” and “Pommies”. These sections as well as the following description about Chadstone can seem quite dated rather than nostalgic:

Built by Myer with a cool price tag of £6 million, Melbourne’s first suburban shopping centre opened in Chadstone on Monday, 3 October 1960.
Advertised as a ‘new era in suburban shopping’ and as a ‘suburban housewife’s dream’ it was developed on a 30-acre site that was previously owned by the Convent of the Good Shepherd – land it sold specifically for the development.

The memories of the contributors can be intriguing to read. It is disappointing that the following one had two spelling mistakes in it:

This [the Shrine of Remembrance overlooking Kings Domain] is a place to pause and reflect on the enormous sacrifice soldiers have made and continue to make, for our freedom. I had an Uncle who was lost in the Second World War and on Anzac Day, as a family we would go (sic) the Shrine to pay our repets (sic). It was always a very moving experience.

Melbourne Remember When is a gentle look at a bygone era. Readers with an interest in these slices of 20th century life will enjoy this stroll down memory lane. One thing this book does well is show us that things are not all or nothing: there are some things worth remembering about the past, just as there are things that have improved today. In all, this book proves that the old advertising slogan was right: you’ll love every piece of Victoria.

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Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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