What's in a Name? The Stories Behind Melbourne's Street Names

I'm sure many of us Melburnians are familiar with one or two clusters of themed street names - did noticing them make you smile? What do street names say about a city?

This is the theme of a current exhibition held at the Melbourne Town Hall.  The Exhibition (supported by City of Melbourne) features local designer and font expert extraordinaire Stephen Banham and historian Graeme Davison.
"The practice of giving a cluster of streets a single theme is suburban branding at its most fundamental and indelible. Real estate marketing, capitalising on the values and aspirations of the day, creates a new cultural landscape with nothing more than a handful of nouns on a pole. As one developer put it: ‘The names weren’t about what was already there. They were about what we were going to create.’ Thus in Elwood, a literary cluster replaced a swamp."
So what are some of the street-name clusters around town?  There are sooo many, but here's a few:

  • A 'Camelot' theme running across 38 streets in Glen Waverley
  • 'Beatles' themed streets in Narre Warren South (keep an eye out for Strawberry Fields)
  • An 'aviation' theme in Burwood (Boeing Crt, Dehavilland Ave, Ansett Cres etc)
  • Golf course-themed Kingsbury (Bunker Ave, Driver St, Wedge St, Flag St, Green Ave, The Fairway, Tee St)
  • Famous writers in Elwood and Lynbrook
  • the Ancient Greek zone of Doncaster (Andromeda Way, Artemis Crt, Olympus Drv, Antigone Crt etc)
But there are so many more.  When you go to the exhibition, you can contribute to a map of Melbourne's clusters by highlighting ones you know!

This is one of my favourites:
"In Avondale Heights the Hundred Years’ War between France and England is playfully re-enacted with 24 French streets facing off against 23 English streets"

Cheeky! But what's in a name anyway? And do clusters matter to our cities?

According to Banham, residents believe that street names (clusters) add to a sense of community.  Some say that the streets take on the persona of their namesake, for example, take this resident's thoughts "When we first moved in, it was quiet so the (literary) theme suited. It was more of an artsy area then with interesting characters so it was a good fit".

According to Banham:
"Naming is the basis of clusters. This makes them well suited to current and future ways of looking at our cities. The immediate method of locating anything – a place, a person, a restaurant menu, medical conditions – is by its name. It is the language of the online search engine, ensuring connections are made (or not) ... All of this has made the ownership of names highly commodified."

"Rather than just walking us through the narrative footprints of history, street name clusters gesture to future readings of our cities – an individualised experience made up of endless connections and patterns of information, all located by name and viewed from the god-like perspective of the satellite. In an age where people are intrigued by sharing and visualising information, the reading of clusters offers something particularly valuable – a whole new way of seeing what we thought was familiar."
Banham claims that now more than ever is a great time to reflect on street names, thanks to technology; 'the silent connections and stories that underly clusters are now more apparent than ever to the viewer'.  Certainly for those keen enough to look.

Read more from Stephen Banham here. Find details on the exhibition here.


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