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

One of Melbourne’s most beloved landmarks, the Manchester Unity Building was once the tallest building in Melbourne. Now housing a luxury hairdresser and a dental practice, the rooftop terrace on the twelfth floor once hosted Melbourne’s first tea room.

What we know:  Dr Kia Pajouhesh of Smile Solutions, one of the buildings custodians, mentioned the café in an extensive interview in Domain 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.’

If you want to find out more about the Manchester Unity Building’s fascinating history, book into a meal and tour experience run by 1932 Cafe & Restaurant, located on the ground floor arcade of the building.

An old photo of a rooftop cafe

The rooftop café in the Manchester Unity Building (estimated date 1960-1969). Photo: Harold Paynting Collection, State Library of Victoria

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

Pedestrian traffic between the glossy, pink-tinged walls of Campbell Arcade has changed over the last 50 years. Now home to a group of eclectic shops, it’s rumoured an abandoned bowling alley lies somewhere hidden behind its walls.

What we know: Unconfirmed, although this report from Culture Victoria suggests a mysterious blind alley within the arcade might have once been the entrance.

Princess Theatre ghost

Along with some of the best international productions in the world, the Princess Theatre is supposedly accompanied by a friendly ghost. Frederick Federici, an actor who suffered a heart attack in the final scene of Faust, enthusiastically watches every opening performance. The theatre even saves him a seat (we’re not kidding).

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

There used to be a 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, which ran during the Christmas shopping period, featured a petting zoo, carnival rides, ponies and more. Recollections from those who visited at the time recall a Ferris Wheel virtually hanging over the edge of the building. The carnival was part of Foy & Gibson department store, which once stood on the corner of Swanston and Bourke Street.

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

An old photo of a fun park with different carnival rides

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.

Oasis once offered to buy the Cherry Bar

The Manchester-based song-writing duo Noel and Liam Gallagher attract fierce loyalty. The Oasis siblings allegedly tried to buy Cherry Bar in AC/DC Lane, and asked Jet to support them on tour.

What we know: the Oasis legend, once reported in The Age, has since become part of Melbourne folklore.

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. Find out more on the Museum Victoria website.

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

The first dedicated film studio in Australia remains largely preserved in the Salvation Army building at 69 Bourke Street. Named the ‘Limelight Department’, it was responsible for a number of productions including over 300 films.

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