Flat White

The renovation memory hole

10 August 2018

3:41 PM

10 August 2018

3:41 PM

Anyone hip enough to know inner-suburban Melbourne knows the Gatwick Hotel.

It is (or was) that sleazy, abandoned, druggie flophouse in Melbourne’s now ultra-cool St Kilda. In the good old days when gentrification was first becoming a thing, you could still enjoy your soy flat white while witnessing a sore-flat-on-face heroin addict lying outside the building while awaiting the paramedics.

The trick back then for those with no conscience but wanting to appear cool was to step around the body while making sure you didn’t spill your coffee.

Back then this was called ‘keeping it real’ but these days it’s property developers making it ‘go away’ and that’s why TV hit show The Block has taken over the Gatwick for a few months and handed it over to another kind of ubiquitous modern-day addict – television contestants hoping to win a lot of money fixing up old buildings.

If you were to believe what you see on television these days you would think this has always been the great Aussie dream. Along with finding your soul mate on The Bachelor and proving how manipulative you are on Aussie Survivor.

I think Robert Menzies might even have spoken about this in his famous 1940s Forgotten People speeches when he outlined our core national values. But it took television – not our politicians – to bring all these intrinsically Aussie qualities together.


The Block has been down this path before – but everyone is doing it so it isn’t there fault. A couple of seasons ago they fixed up the equally decrepit Hotel Saville motel in South Yarra –that odd looking octagonal motel block every Melbournian knows but most famous for the 1990s vampire gigolo killings where a woman was assaulted and the perpetuator later gunned down before his day in court.

This is the modern zeitgeist where you build, renovate and sell anything that isn’t nailed down to get ahead in life.

On television, it’s the Gatwick but recently it is also Melbourne’s infamous Pentridge Prison that developers are now turning into a luxury apartment village with art-house cinema where no doubt they will show Indi films about the misery of being stuck in a suburban prison cell that you didn’t have to pay for.

There is a lot of pain in these stories and property development is a kind of memory hole where all our unpleasant history can be forgotten and then refurbished into something quirky and appropriate for a glossy advertising brochure.

‘If these walls could speak’ is often the spiel even though they really wouldn’t want them to if they could.

People complain about cultures being appropriated but what do you call it when property developers appropriate other people’s misery? Back in the 1980s, they did a similar thing in the fashion industry – publicists invented a thing called heroin chic: beautiful catwalk models made-up, starved and photographed to look drawn and emaciated in $3000 outfits.

Then there was ‘shabby chic’ where you trash the furniture rather than the humans to make it look like your worn-out ottoman has a personality.

What’s next? Well, I really think those new safe injecting rooms in Richmond need a good made-for-TV going-over. News coverage suggests many of the locals don’t like their new neighbours at this prestigious inner suburban location and no doubt the addicts would like something more spacious with maybe a water feature to make it all a bit Zen.

Michael Scammell is a freelance writer

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