The Commonwealth Block, Melbourne

A Historical Archaeology

Tim Murray, Sarah Hayes, Geoff Hewitt, Justin McCarthy, Richard Mackay, Barbara Minchinton, Charlotte Smith, Jeremy Smith, and Bronwyn Woff

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Format: paperback
162 pages
ISBN: 9781743323694

Publication: 01 Mar 2019
Series: Studies in Australasian Historical Archaeology
Publisher: Sydney University Press

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For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, Melbourne’s Little Lonsdale Street – locally known as ‘Little Lon’ – was notorious as a foul slum and brothel district, occupied by the itinerant and the criminal. The stereotype of ‘slumdom’ defined ‘Little Lon’ in the minds of Melbournians, and became entrenched in Australian literature and popular culture.

The Commonwealth Block, Melbourne tells a different story. This ground-breaking book reports on almost three decades of excavations conducted on the Commonwealth Block – the area of central Melbourne bordered by Little Lonsdale, Lonsdale, Exhibition and Spring streets. Since the 1980s, archaeologists and historians have pieced together the rich and complex history of this area, revealing a working-class and immigrant community that was much more than just a slum. The Commonwealth Block, Melbourne delves into the complex social, cultural and economic history of this forgotten community.

Each chapter is authored by researchers who were responsible for the management and execution of the excavations and analysis of the Block. The authors outline the history and methodology of each stage of the project, and consider changes in theory and method (and inspiration and aspiration) in response to other studies, and to the changing disciplinary context of urban archaeology. This book makes an important contribution to the archaeology of the modern city.

Barbara Minchinton is an independent researcher and volunteer at the Public Record Office Victoria. Since completing her doctorate on settlement in the Otways under Victoria’s 19th century land acts she has worked on projects including the urban archaeology of Little Lon, soldier settlement in Victoria after the First World War, and women as landowners in Victoria.

Bronwyn Woff graduated from La Trobe University with a Bachelor of Archaeology, and completed Honours in 2014. Her Honours thesis explored the reuse of glass bottles in early Melbourne. She specialises as an artefact cataloguer and analyst, and worked as the research assistant for the La Trobe University Commonwealth Block project between 2015 and 2017.

Charlotte Smith is Curator Emeritus, Museums Victoria. Before her retirement in 2016, Charlotte was Senior Curator, Politics & Society; a significant aspect of this role was the curation and management of the museum’s extensive historical archaeology collection. She is a Partner Investigator on the ARC Linkage Project How Meston’s ‘Wild Australia Show’ Shaped Australian Aboriginal History and was a Chief Investigator on the ARC Linkage Project An Historical Archaeology of the Commonwealth Block.

Sarah Hayes is a historical archaeologist who researches quality of life and social mobility in 19th-century Victoria through the lives, homes and rubbish of everyday people. She works within the Heritage and Indigeneity stream of the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation.

Geoff Hewitt first graduated in metallurgy and pursued an engineering career in the shipbuilding and repair industry. An active diver, his first taste of archaeology was shipwreck excavation as a volunteer. This led to undergraduate and postgraduate studies in archaeology at La Trobe University and a new career as a contract and consulting archaeologist.

Jeremy Smith is Heritage Victoria’s Principal Archaeologist, and has been a member of the Archaeology Advisory Committee of the Victorian Heritage Council since 2002. He has worked on sites throughout Australia and the Middle East, and has contributed to a number of publications on significant excavation projects in Victoria, with a focus on the archaeology of early Melbourne. He was also a key contributor to the award-winning book Ned Kelly: Under the Microscope (CSIRO Publishing, 2014).

Justin McCarthy is an archaeologist and the managing director of heritage consulting firm Austral Archaeology Pty Ltd. After graduating from Sydney University in 1982, he was archaeological consultant to the South Australian State Heritage Branch from 1983 to 1987. He directed some of the earliest and largest excavations in South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. He has been a member of Australia ICOMOS since 1981 and is currently an Adjunct Research Fellow at Flinders University. Austral Archaeology is currently an industry partner with Flinders University.

Richard Mackay AM is the founder and ‘Director of Possibilities’ at Mackay Strategic and an adjunct professor in the archaeology program at La Trobe University. He is a Member of the National Executive Committee of Australia ICOMOS and a Casual Member of the NSW Planning Assessment Commission. In 2013 Richard was the inaugural winner of the Australian Heritage Council ‘Sharon Sullivan Award’ for his contribution to Australia’s national heritage. In 2003

Tim Murray joined the Program in 1986 as Lecturer and was appointed to the Chair of Archaeology in 1995. He has also taught at the University of New South Wales, the University of Sydney, Cambridge University, the University of Leiden (The Netherlands), the Université de Paris 1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne), and the Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales (Paris), Peking University, Goteborg University, the Institute of Archaeology, University College London and the Nordic Graduate School in Archaeology. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 2003 and Fellow of the Academy of the Humanities in Australia in the same year. He is editor-in-chief of The Bulletin of the History of Archaeology. From 2009-2014 he was Executive Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and in 2010 was made Charles La Trobe Professor of Archaeology. In 2015 he became Director of the Centre for the Archaeology of the Modern World (CAMW) based at La Trobe University.

List of figures
List of plates
About the authors

1. Introduction and context
 Tim Murray
2. Agencies of change: government perspectives on Little Lon
 Kristal Buckley and Jeremy Smith
3. The first campaign: Little Lon
 Justin McCarthy
4. Assemblage analysis and outcomes: phase 1
 Tim Murray
5. Smaller investigations between phase 1 and phase 2
 Tim Murray
6. The second campaign: Casselden Place
 Richard Mackay
7. Assemblage analysis and outcomes: phase 2
 Tim Murray
8. Little Lon and Museum Victoria: a tale of benign neglect, restoration and a bright future
 Charlotte Smith
9. Diversity and change in Little Lon: ongoing historical and archaeological research
 Sarah Hayes and Barbara Minchinton
10. An update on the Commonwealth Block project: a second phase of targeted feature cataloguing
 Bronwyn Woff
11. The 2017 excavations: 271 Spring Street, Melbourne
 Geoff Hewitt
12. Little Lon and the archaeology of the modern world
 Tim Murray


"Overall this is a valuable addition to the greater corpus of material relating to Little Lon, which helps to contextualise and understand the development of the project over time. Anyone with an interest in urban archaeology and subaltern people will benefit from reading this."
Sean Winter   Australian Archaeology

“Where the volume excels is in showing the extraordinary growth and development of Australian historical archaeology since the late 1980s … As a summary of site history (in both senses), method, and theory, it has considerable merit”
Alasdair Brooks   Post-Medieval Archaeology

' ... the authors provide several different research angles and cover a wide range of topics and themes that revolve around the Little Lon project. The outcome of this book is a detailed synthesis of research addressing a variety of themes that exist within Australian historical archaeology and urban archaeology.'
Hannah Craig-Ward   Australasian Historical Archaeology

Format: paperback
Size: 297 × 210 × 10 mm
162 pages
6 colour illustrations and 66 b&w illustrations
Copyright: © 2019
ISBN: 9781743323694
Publication: 01 Mar 2019
Series: Studies in Australasian Historical Archaeology