We finally had a break in the rain last Saturday, so my father and I decided to head into the city to try out the Strange Tour of Melbourne's Secret Past. The virtual tour – which you can download onto your smart phone – takes you to some of the most infamous spots in Melbourne and reveals the sordid details behind each of the locations.
The tour begins at 32 Bourke Street; a former brothel that is just down the road from the old Parliament House. If you listen to the designated audio track, you will find out that this building played an important role in the disappearance of the Parliamentary Mace on Friday, October 9th, 1891. Rumour has it that a very important minister gave the mace to a prostitute by way of payment for her, um, services. Now there is no way of knowing if any of this is true, but it does make for a cracking story!
The next stop on the Strange Tour of Melbourne's Secret Past is Celestial Avenue; a small alleyway that runs off Little Bourke Street. This eerie place used to be home to one of Melbourne's top Chinese restaurants. Then, starting in November 1926, customers complained about the taste of their Dim Sims for several weeks. It was later revealed that the owners of this particular restaurant were helping the mob dispose of its victims. Needless to say they went out of business when those headlines started making the front pages of all the newspapers.
Stop number three on the Strange Tour of Melbourne's Secret Past takes you down into the Bourke Street Mall. If you stand next to the information booth and look across the street at David Jones, you will see and old sign for Buckley & Nunn. That's the place where the temporary police recruitment centre used to be held. While looking up at the sign, stick in your headphones and listen to the true story of what happened when, during the Spring Racing Carnival in November 1923, the Melbourne Police Force went on strike.
The next thing you will want to do is find the Wills and Burke statue that is situated on the corner of Swanston and Collins Street. Once you've found it, turn around and look up to the top of the Manchester Unity building. Apparently there is a metal staircase inside the building that leads to a secret tower. That's where a boy hid to watch the parade held on June 6th, 1964 to mark the Beatles tour of Melbourne. Rumour has it he was found by police with a gun in his hands. Apparently he had been planning to assassinate one of the band members to teach his girlfriend a lesson. Creepy.
Now take a tram down to Queens Street and find the two winged lions that look out onto Collins Street. Plug in your headphones again and listen to all of the secrets these magnificent statues have been keeping over the last hundred years.
Keep walking down Collins Street to Kings Street where you will find the entrance of the Rialto Towers (which is right next door to a really awesome cupcake shop). This is the next stop on the Strange Tour of Melbourne's Secret Past. Look up at the building to the 38th floor. That's where the offices of One Tel used to be before they went bust in 2001. Plug in your headphones and be transported back in time to the final night of One Tel. It's a terrifically tragic story. On the morning of May 26th, 2001, One Tel sent all of its employees home from work, most without their final paychecks.
The sixth and final stop on the Strange Tour of Melbourne's Secret Past is at number 331 Flinders Lane where the Tasty Nightclub used to be. Police raided the Tasty nightclub on the night of August 2nd, 1994 and subjected all 463 patrons inside to a humiliating strip search. The Victorian Police were later sued and forced to pay the victims $4 million in damages.
The Strange Tour of Melbourne's Secret Past offers participants a unique insight into the history of our glorious (or maybe not so glorious) city. If you are going to attempt it this weekend, I recommend you by a tram ticket and wear comfortable shoes because there is a lot of walking involved. Please visit the True Detectives website for more information and have fun.