Get comfy, this’ll be a long one.
Sometimes, it’s not so much about what a place has become as it is about how it got that way. This is certainly true in the case of Auburn’s Melton Hotel. Ordinarily I, like any passer-by, would take one look at the Melton and think ‘I value my life too much to go in there,’ subsequent to the instinctual thought of ‘Just another pub.’ Situated along Parramatta Road at the corner of Station Street, there’s just nothing that sticks out about the hotel in any way; not even the jovially named ‘Hey Hey Kebab’ adjoining gives cause for anything more than a mild double-take.
So why, dear reader, am I subjecting you to this dry account of a seemingly humdrum pub? Well, what piqued my interest (as I’m sure it will yours) was the simple fact that the street running parallel to the hotel’s side of the block is called Melton Street South.
This got me thinking: why was the pub named the Melton Hotel if it wasn’t actually on Melton Street? Clearly it was time for some field detective work, because I knew if I didn’t solve the mystery it would bother me all day. I couldn’t find anything about anyone named Melton in the area’s history (it’s not even clear to historians why the area itself is named Silverwater), but I had a feeling if they were honouring some local hero, they wouldn’t just name a pub and a street after them. First port of call: the Atlas of the Suburbs of Sydney, ca 1885-1890.
This map of Auburn shows that neither Station Street nor Melton Street South existed at the time. Today, they’re located between the map’s Stubbs Street and Sutherland Street (now Silverwater Road).
Next: time to research the pub itself. Thankfully, the pub in question has an illustrious history; according to the hoteliers, its license dates back to 1811 (when it was owned by Samuel Haslem, of Haslem’s Creek fame), attached to an inn located not too far from the current site. In 1877 a former jockey, Fred Martineer, became the licensee of the Melton Hotel and held that position for over 30 years, firmly establishing the pub as a favourite of the area’s myriad meat workers.
Tragedy struck in 1914 when, after too many cases like this…
…the public was swept up by a need to reinstill a sense of public decency via a series of local option acts. The acts enforced a six o’clock closing time for pubs and resulted in 293 hoteliers losing their licenses, including Martineer. Despite the pub’s closure and with flagrant disregard to the after hours prohibition, he continued to live in what became known as the ‘old Melton Hotel’ until his death in 1918:
The Old Melton had been named sometime prior to 1895, when it appeared on that year’s list of Hotel Licensees. It’s this hotel that sat on the corner of Melton Street South (then Melton Road), so from this we can assume the street was named after the pub. But, like me, the Martineers couldn’t let it go. In 1929, the Martineers built the NEW Melton Hotel at its current location, which at the time seemed to take up the entire section of Parramatta Road between Melton Street and Station Street.
That’s all well and good, but today it’s a very different story. Nothing remains of the Old Melton, the New Melton is nowhere near the corner of Melton Street, and there’s a string of dingy shops between it and its namesake street. What happened?
Discounting the obvious greed associated with subletting the Melton Street side of the block to said dingy shops, the true answer seems to lie in the Melton Hotel’s parking lot. The hyperbolic claim of “stacks & stacks of parking” is betrayed by the truncated nature of the car park itself. Here it is, seen from Station Street:
…is all that remains of this side’s former life as an entrance/exit to the Melton’s car park, and indeed of the Melton’s connection to the street it inspired. A closer look at the other side of the fence backs this deep bit of insight up.
The kerb is clearly a lighter shade of cement, indicating the spot where the driveway used to be. The two bushes are doing a laughable job of hiding the wooden fencing that blocks off those driveways.
One of the more interesting aspects of all of this is the sign that once guided thirsty drivers into the parking lot. Hidden by overgrown branches and worn away by years of neglect, there’s no real reason for the hoteliers to have left it there – least of all what it’s advertising. After all, if it hadn’t been for the sign, I never would have stumbled upon this madness in the first place. No, for me, the real gold is the sign’s reverse side:
While it would be nice to think that this was Tooheys doing its part to avoid another 1914 Local Option fiasco, the way the ad puts a jokey spin on drunken violence and employs a disturbing tagline clearly aimed at the breathalyser crowd suggests a more cynical set of motives. For better or worse, this didn’t take, and by 1995, 40 years after the Local Option acts were repealed, 2.2 was 6.0 feet under. It’s worth pointing out that 2.2 was supplanted in 1998 by Hahn Premium Light, which is now Australia’s top selling light beer…and owned by Tooheys. A fascinating trail of the significant episodes of 2.2’s short life can be found here (WORTH READING). I think the lesson here is don’t give your beer a name that invites terrible Richie Benaud impressions.
But back to the Melton. Also of note are the apparent remains of either a garbage can or a phone box (remember those?) located between the two driveways.
Let’s stop for just a second to process this. Regardless of whether this was in fact a garbage can which spent countless nights being chundered into by melting Meltonians, or a phone booth which spent its Friday and Saturday nights listening to endless pleas by hopelessly pissed pub patrons for their wives, girlfriends, parents or less drunk mates to come and pick them up, and then being chundered into, the fact remains that it was located BETWEEN the two driveways. How is this a spot for either of those objects which both appear as bright flames to drunken moths? The line for the phone alone would have been both long and drunkenly ignorant enough to queue across the nearest driveway. You can’t tell me this didn’t cause at least one clipped wing.
Even worse is the pub’s proximity to Auburn North Public School. Anyone foolish and drunk enough to ‘breathe easy’ and attempt to drive home via the Melton Street exit (or entrance, depending on the level of drunkenness) on a weekday afternoon ran the risk of knocking over a kid on their way home. If it didn’t happen or nearly happen, I’d be surprised.
With these reasons in mind, it’s easy to imagine just how and why the Melton would have had these driveways sealed up, thereby severing its ties to its own history. It’s also easy (and funny) to imagine particularly OCD and DUI pub patrons attempting to drive out of their usual exit and smashing the fence, otherwise why the need for the bushes and the potplants? Sure, the Melton could have chosen to seal up the Station Road driveways, which face the old Joyce Mayne complex, but it turns out that a child’s life is worth more than that of a shopper looking for bargain whitegoods. Who knew?
And all because some public spirited men didn’t know their limits and couldn’t hold their beer.
Of course, I could be wrong about everything, and I might owe both the Melton and overdrinkers everywhere an apology, but have a look at this:
You may have just read all that and be wondering ‘what was the point?’ or ‘where’s the remove bookmark button?’, but more inquisitive (or less demanding) readers may be wondering ‘What was so drastic that happened to Melton Road to cause it to be split into Melton Road South and Melton Road North?’
Next time, baby.
A fact which escapes many people is that Rookwood Necropolis, located in Sydney’s west, is the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s huge. It has its own postcode. Originally named Haslem’s Creek Cemetery, it opened in 1867 as a replacement for the close-to-capacity Devonshire Street Cemetery, itself a replacement for Sydney’s old burial ground, where Town Hall now stands. For once, they chose a winner – nearly 150 years later and it’s still not full.
A visit to the cemetery makes clear that although much of it is made up of graves from the distant past, it’s still a working cemetery and there are new additions all the time. But back when cars weren’t so commonplace, the easiest way to get a corpse and mourners from point a to point b was by train, and the premier way to do that from 1867 onwards was by rail. Trains would depart from Regent Street’s Mortuary Station and deviate at Lidcombe to the Rookwood line.
Once a train entered the Necropolis, there were four stations within the grounds at which to stop (that’s three more than Castle Hill ever had), with the main one romantically named Mortuary Receiving Station No. 1. Once again designed by James Barnet (currently a Rookwood resident), this was the most ornate of the four, and was a sister station to the one on Regent Street. Crafted to be reminiscent of a church, like Regent Street, Rookwood No. 1 featured a bell that would ring out half an hour before departure so as to let mourners know to get back on the train or get left behind. Looking at both this one and the Regent Street station it’s easy to see that they fit in perfectly with the Victorian era’s fascination with death and the afterlife (not to mention trains). It’s powerful imagery – your journey ended with angels holding scrolls and trumpets as you arrived at your final destination. Can’t say that about Epping Station. Once again, the station proved to be as murderous as its twin. That, or these are just some cases of people being in the right place at the wrong time:
In 1901, the line was expanded to include more stations within Rookwood, but none were constructed with such grandeur as No. 1 (which incidentally wasn’t as grand after the expansion, as part of its waiting rooms had to be removed to make way for the through line). No. 2 featured just a timber shelter:
No. 3 was the only other station in the line to have had any kind of thought put into its design, and that’s partly because it was built from the former waiting rooms of No. 1.
No. 4 was added in 1908, when the line was at its peak (particularly on Mothers’ Day). Again there’s no disguising it’s really just a shack along the platform.
As with Regent Street, as cars became the preferred way to get to and from (or in some cases, just to) a Rookwood funeral, the train line’s usefulness declined. It’s not like residents could catch the trains to and from work. In 1948, the line was decommissioned, and in typical CityRail style wasn’t completely removed until 1965 (even now, a Cemetery siding still exists off Lidcombe Station. Nice work, fellas). The stations themselves then passed on to their next life, some more interesting than others.
The site of No. 4 has since become a bus stop. Buses replaced trains as the public transport of choice to Rookwood after 1948. I’m assuming corpses still ride for free. Neither No. 4 or No. 2, the lesser stations, appear on the current Rookwood map. It’s almost like they don’t want you to know where they were, but the truth is that there’s not much at either site, so there’s almost no point in going there. No. 2, the least impressive of any of the stations, is today just a large green curve of grassy land bordered by tombstones – not exactly a standout spot at Rookwood.
No. 3, however, is a different story. Because it actually featured a building that would require things like foundations, the site is marked on the map, and today exists outside the Catholic Cemetery Trust office and carpark. It’s fascinating:
There’s no sign or anything apart from the hint on the map to let you know what this is. It’s so nothing that you almost wonder why they bothered leaving it there, but there it is.
No, the real story behind the Rookwood stations is the fate of Receiving House No. 1.
After 1948 it fell into dereliction. A bushfire destroyed all the woodwork, it became a popular place to drink at night (why?!) and, indignity of indignities, someone pinched the bell. Now let me stop this right there; someone stole the heavy bell? Who does that? How do they do it? Did they plan it? Case the bell for a few weeks before realising that the residents couldn’t do anything about it even if they tried? Did they back up the ute and load it up? Where is it today? Baffling.
The Railway Department needed to offload this bomb, and in 1952 it went on the market. It’s a strange decision; if RailCorp suddenly decided to close, say, Croydon Station, would it appear on the market not long after? Or maybe on eBay, with the Rookwood bell? Presumably because no one had internet back then, the station still hadn’t sold by 1959, when a Reverend Ted Buckle had a brilliant notion.
The station was bought by the All Saints Anglican Church in Ainslie, Canberra, to be its new building. It was demolished and reconstructed brick for brick…well, almost. Notice anything different? First off, they had to get a new bell, but second, the bell tower’s on the opposite side. Did they just forget where it had been in the first place? Didn’t the bricks not match up? Anyway, churchgoers in Ainslie still attend Mortuary Receiving House No. 1 each week, mostly unaware of the building’s history (despite the fact that it’s discussed in detail on the Church’s website).
It looks nice, and it’s very subdued. It doesn’t look out of place in the gloomy surrounds of Rookwood, and residents no longer need to worry about the noise pollution of the trains. Happy endings all around…especially for that sicko who’s out there somewhere, gleefully ringing his ill-gotten bell over and over, laughing maniacally.