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 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.
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.
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.
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 fact. Perhaps its a discovery still waiting to happen. If proven the city of Melbourne needs to claim ownership to it just like it does with dim sims and pavlova.
This dig shed light on a community which time had forgotten. Early in the 20th century, 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. Here is a short video about the dig by State archaeologist Jeremy Smith http://museumvictoria.com.au/learning-federation/video-temp/excavating-little-lonsdale-street-video/
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.