Digging up Little Lonsdale street

Little Lonsdale Street

Little Lonsdale street also known as Little Lon will forever hold a special place in my heart  for two reasons. One it was my  first archaeological dig site i ever went to. I was nineteen years of age in my second year of archaeology at university  in 2002 and i volunteered for two weeks. Remarkably i even got paid $5 per day. You definitely don’t volunteer on archaeology digs for money. Its all for love and dedication.

Image of Early 20th century remains of light industrial buildings

Dig site taken from Department of Planning and Community Development

The second is that  Little Lon created the largest archaeological  in Victoria to date.  Over 100,000 finds from the 1880s were made. Some were household objects  like jugs and plates, jewellery and  bottles.  Sadly though i lost  my diary  and photos of the dig in an accident. It was an amazing experience digging into the Melbourne CBD soil and finding all these objects. Everyday something  was found so there was never any boredom.

Medium Jug - Whiteware, Blue, Moulded Glazed, Scenic pattern,1805- (Fragment)     Plate - Whiteware, Blue flow, transfer-printed, Nankin, England, after 1835 (Fragment)   Jewellery Item     Beer/Wine Bottle


Hundreds of  students and members of the public came on board to offer a helping hand. Even a journalist whose name i have forgotten offered a helping hand. Along with reporting he wanted  to get involved. A real adventure reporter! A hotline was set up in which one could register their details. It received a lot of media coverage. I remember watching the evening bulletin on channel 10 and  seeing the dig broadcast with reporters on site.


Image of Aerial view of Little Leichardt Street, with industrial building remains exposed

Image of aerial view of dig site taken from DPCD

The exact area which was excavated was Casselden Place, which is part of the city block bounded by Lonsdale, Exhibition, Little Lonsdale  and Spring Street. This district  was mostly working class, with cottages , simple houses, small  businesses and a few larger factories. The city’s poorest residents made their home here. The area gained the reputation for being Melbourne’s ‘red light’ district.  Various brothels were built. I got to excavate a  section of a brothel.  I found  many glass fragments from  beer bottles.  Sex and drinking was common even back then.


An archaeologist on site told me  that the word ‘call girl’ originated in this area. He said that politicians from nearby Parliament house, would sent out a request via word or letter  (a call) from Parliament house for a working girl from one of the brothels. Once a girl had picked up the call she would then make her way to Parliament house via a network of  underground tunnels leading to Parliament house. This mode of travel was taken in order to be discrete.  As far as im aware this has not been proven by actual facts.   If  proven  then the city of Melbourne needs to claim ownership to it  just like it does with  dim sums  and pavlova.

Early picture of buildings on Little Lon taken from Museum Victoria

Another picture of Little Lon taken from Museum Victoria

Photograph of women in front of Little Lon cottage taken from museum Victoria















This dig shed shed light on a on a community which time had forgotten. Early in the 20th century, the the area became more industrial, with  small cottages being replaced by factories and warehouses. In the  1960s most of these buildings were removed and a car park was laid down as part of  office buildings. The dig was made up of a partnership  between Heritage Victoria, archaeologists from Godden Mackay Logan Pty Ltd,  La Trobe University  archaeology Department and Austral Archaeology Pty Ltd.  The Industry Superannuation Property Trust, owners of the site  were also were involved.

I remember whilst digging hundreds of office workers on their way to work would stop by  to watch the dig. A public viewing platform was constructed just off Lonsdale street  so that members of the public  could see the archeology at work and follow the progress of the site. Weekly updates and information about the dig were put on display on the viewing platform. This was the era before  Facebook and Twitter. If it had been now social media would have been flooded with updates.  I love to take a walk down this area when im in the city and reminisce about my time digging. Its a pity though that the site has been built over with high rise buildings and only one cottage is left, number 17 Casseldon place, just off Lonsdale street.

Only remaing cottage at Little Lonsdale street taken from fading Victoria

Categories: Melbourne Archaeology | Leave a comment

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