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Bendigo Street Richmond

 

To most Melburnians the words �Bendigo Street Richmond� mean just one thing. Channel 9�s television studios. It hasn�t always been that way. Early last century a �colourful identity� called John Wren was barred from thoroughbred race meetings. Not to be deterred he set up a number of pony tracks where the working classes could be entertained and if they chose to have a bet via his establishment, so much the better. Pony racing conjures up images of 9 year old Esmeralda on her Shetland Pony Silvertail. In fact, pony was just the name for a horse that was not a thoroughbred. The Man From Snowy River rode a horse that was �three parts Timor Pony�.

Around the same time a German immigrant called Hugo had been importing and reselling pianos with great success. So successful was he that he embarked on a bold plan to build a huge factory next to John Wren�s pony track. This factory would build pianos and employ many hundreds. Such was the importance of this venture that the opening was attended by Alfred Deakin and Australia�s greatest musician � Percy Grainger. Before long, every aspirational family worth its salt had a piano in the lounge room bearing Hugo�s name � Wertheim. So highly regarded was Hugo that he became a member of the Melbourne Club � not a common occurrence in that period for a German Jew. Eventually, Hugo died and family disagreements led to the eventual demise of the Wertheim manufacturing empire.

By the 1950s the factory was largely abandoned and part of it was taken over by an enterprise that was to oust the piano from its pride of place in the home � television. Bendigo Street Richmond became the home of Channel 9. Before long, Kerry Packer had become enamoured of this new medium but could not pass up the opportunity to sell it to Alan Bond at top dollar only to buy it back from him three years later at a bargain basement price Kerry Packer reputedly later said �You only get one Alan Bond in your life and I�ve had mine.�

Maybe it was the ghost of John Wren�s pony track that led to on of Packer�s more controversial ventures. John Wren had set up an alternative to thoroughbred racing and eventually the establishment had to come to a compromise. Kerry Packer set up an alternative to mainstream cricket and eventually the establishment had to come to a compromise.

By the end of this month the last of the Channel 9 staff in Bendigo Street will have moved out to their shiny new premises in Docklands which has quickly become the media centre of Melbourne with channels 7 and 9, The Age, 3AW and a number of internet media organisations.

Meanwhile back in Richmond, the old piano factory has become apartments which is after all a better fit in this residential area than a television studio. However I wouldn�t be surprised if occasionally the new residents become aware late at night of disembodied voices in animated discussion. It sounds like three headstrong men each with very firm ideas discussing what the next big thing is likely to be. It sounds like John Wren, Hugo Wertheim and Kerry Packer.

Photos of the factory before it's final conversion to apartments -

 

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Two more lost icons to follow in the coming weeks so revisit this page regularly (or subscribe to our newsletter) if you find them of interest.

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Other articles in the series Seven Lost Icons of Melbourne:

Seven Lost Icons of Melbourne - overview

  1. Redhead Matches

  2. The Flying Swallow

  3. Cremorne Gardens

  4. The Royal Jetty

  5. Bendigo Street Richmond

You can find a comprehensive guide to markets around Australia at The White Hat Guide to Markets in Australia.