Bendigo Street Richmond
To most Melburnians the words ï¿½Bendigo Street Richmondï¿½ mean just one
thing. Channel 9ï¿½s television studios. It hasnï¿½t always been that way. Early
last century a ï¿½colourful identityï¿½ 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 ï¿½three parts Timor Ponyï¿½.
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 Wrenï¿½s 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
Australiaï¿½s greatest musician ï¿½
Percy Grainger. Before
long, every aspirational family worth its salt had a piano in the lounge
room bearing Hugoï¿½s name ï¿½ Wertheim. So highly regarded was Hugo that he
became a member of the Melbourne
Club ï¿½ 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 ï¿½ 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 ï¿½You only get one Alan Bond in your life and Iï¿½ve had mine.ï¿½
Maybe it was the ghost of John Wrenï¿½s pony track that led to on of
Packerï¿½s 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
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 wouldnï¿½t 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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Other articles in the series Seven Lost Icons of Melbourne:
Bendigo Street Richmond