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7 amazing Melbourne myths and legends

Every city has its own urban myths and legends, and Melbourne is no different. Here are some of our favourites – can you distinguish fact from fiction?

There used to be a rooftop restaurant in the Manchester Unity Building

The iconic Manchester Unity Building was once the tallest building in Melbourne. Now a private space, the rooftop terrace on the twelfth floor once hosted Melbourne’s first tea room.

What we know: Dr Kia Pajouhesh, one of the building’s custodians, mentioned the café in an interview in 2015. ‘That rooftop terrace was a truly beautiful space with an exotic rooftop garden, an aviary, tea rooms and café. The rooftop was visited by many Melburnians, who enjoyed the expansive views…with a cup of tea and scones.’

A black and white photo of a cafe on a rooftop

The rooftop restaurant in the Manchester Unity Building

There’s an old abandoned bowling alley hiding in Campbell Arcade

Pedestrian traffic between the subterraneous walls of Campbell Arcade has changed over the last 50 years. Home to a gallery, shops and hole-the-wall coffee purveyor Cup of Truth, it’s rumored an abandoned bowling alley lies hidden behind its walls.

What we know: Unconfirmed. This report from Culture Victoria suggests a mysterious blind alley in the arcade might have once been the entrance.

Princess Theatre ghost

Besides its international productions, Princess Theatre also has a friendly resident ghost. The spirit of Frederick Federici is said to enthusiastically watch every opening performance. Legend has it the actor suffered a heart attack in the final scene of Faust. The theatre even saves him a seat (we’re not kidding).

What we know: The legend is widely reported but it depends on what you believe.

The carnival on a rooftop

It’s difficult to imagine children riding ponies on the top of a city building. But Foy’s rooftop fun park attractions included a petting zoo, carnival rides, ponies and more. Visitors recall a Ferris Wheel virtually hanging over the side of the building. The carnival was part of the Foy & Gibson department store, once located on the corner of Swanston and Bourke Streets. It ran annually in the lead up to Christmas.

What we know: Yes, it did exist. And here’s a photo.

A black and white photo of a carnival on the rooftop of a building

The rooftop funpark which used to exist on the top of Foy and Gibson department store (estimated date 1960-167) Photo: State Library of Victoria

The ballroom above Flinders Street Station

Once a hub of social frivolity and grandeur, a decaying ballroom holds secrets dating back to the 1900s in Flinders Street Station.

What we know: There is a ballroom and you can see the photos here.

Hosier Lane is haunted by the ghost of Jack the Ripper

Hosier Lane is reputed to be one of the most haunted spots in the city. Many people witnessing the silhouette of a man who vanishes as soon as he is seen. A cold icy presence is often felt by those who linger late at night.

What we know: It depends on what you believe, both about ghosts and London’s most famous serial killer. A paranormal tour guide told us ‘Men who have been relieving themselves in the lane have felt icy cold hands wrap around their necks. We have identified the spirit as Frederick Bailey Deeming – a Jack the Ripper suspect!’ Read about Melbourne’s haunted landmarks.

A convicted murderer, Deeming was hanged at the Old Melbourne Gaol in 1892. Some say his presence in London around the time of the Jack the Ripper murders positions him as a prime suspect. It’s a tantalising tale but remains unproven.

A laneway at night

Haunted vibes in Hosier Lane

Elizabeth Street was once a river

What we know: The originally-named Williams Creek once ran below Elizabeth Street. Frequently prone to flooding, in 1972 78.5mm of rain transformed Elizabeth Street into a rapid torrent. Now the drain connects to the Yarra slightly to the east of the pedestrian underpass.

Australia’s first movie studio was run by the Salvation Army

Australia’s first film studio remains, largely preserved, in the Salvation Army building on Bourke Street. Named the ‘Limelight Department’, it was responsible for many productions including over 300 films.

What we know: After being inaccessible for decades, the restored studio opened to the public in 2011, according to this ABC report. Find out more about its history on the Salvation Army website.