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Letter 2 ~ Block Arcade

The Block Arcade is one of Australia’s premier shopping destinations, opening its doors to shoppers in 1893.

The arcade was built in the late 19th century and was inspired by the grandiose Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan. The design features a glass canopy, carved stone and intricate mosaic tiled floor. 

The mosaic was designed by the UK company Craven Dunnell and each tile was imported from Italy. At the time the arcade was constructed, the Building and Engineering Journal acknowledged that the flooring contained the largest area of mosaics yet laid down in Australia.1 

Do the Block

“Do the block” was a friendly expression referring to the stylish shopping trend of the late 19th century which involved:

  • starting in Collins Street at Swanston Street
  • then moving west to Elizabeth Street
  • north to Little Collins Street
  • and back to Swanston.1 

As a grand and fashionable retail arcade, The Block was considered the place to be seen at shops and tea houses.

 

  


Gog and Magog

Gog and Magog are seven-foot-tall statues located at the southern end of the Arcade. They were carved in pine by Mortimer Godfrey and every hour, they strike bells with their arms.
The figures were installed by Thomas Ambrose Gaunt, a clock maker, jeweller and manufacturer of scientific instruments. The statues are positioned on each side of an enormous clock crafted by an employee, Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Ziegeler.
The statues are modeled after the figures of Gog and Magog that stand in London's Guildhall.

The are a number of historical legends surrounding Gog and Magog:
  • Hebrew biblical references with Gog as the prophesised invader of Israel
  • Christian biblical reference as evil forces opposing the people of God
  • Romax and Saxton reference symbolising giants who served as porters at the royal palace after their race was destroyed. 

Gog and Magog's enduring performance is a testament to the meticulous clockmaking of that era, preserving a piece of Melbourne's history for over a century.

 


Edith Onians

Edith Charlotte Onians OBE (2 February 1866 – 16 August 1955) was an Australian social reformer and voluntary welfare worker known for her dedication to the welfare of newsboys in Melbourne. She was born in 1866 in Lancefield, Victoria, to English immigrant parents, Richard and Charlotte Onians, and received her education at Fontainebleau Ladies' College in St Kilda.

In 1897, Edith began voluntary work at the City Newsboys Try Society, consequently making this her life's work.  She transformed it into the Melbourne City Newsboys' Society and supported it financially.  
She served as organiser and secretary of the society for 58 years, expanding its services to include educational, training, and leisure activities, as well as counseling and relief for newsboys and other inner-city workers. She taught them reading, writing, arithmetic and scriptures

Edith's efforts led to significant improvements in the social, moral, and spiritual conditions of underprivileged boys, enabling them to focus their energies on worthwhile endeavors. She travelled overseas to study tours to investigate social problems and welfare methods, and to investigate children's courts.  Edith wrote numerous articles and reports based on her findings.

Onians was appointed an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 1933 in recognition of her contribution to child welfare work in Victoria. She held various prominent positions, including:
  • 1927 - appointed first woman special magistrate and a probation officer of the Melbourne Children's Court
  • serving as the only female member of the board overseeing the Street Trading Act in 1928
  • Vice-president of the Victorian Vocational Training Board and the Victorian Council for Mental Hygiene
  • 1933 - appointed OBE
Throughout her life, Edith Onians was affectionately known as the "Mother of the Newsboys." Edith was still working actively with the society when she passed away in 1955, leaving behind a legacy of compassion and dedication to the welfare of underprivileged children in Melbourne.

Squizzy Taylor

The notorious Australian gangster Joseph Theodore Leslie "Squizzy" Taylor left an indelible mark on Melbourne's underworld during the tumultuous 1920s. Born in Brighton, Victoria, in 1888, Taylor's life was marked by a string of criminal activities, ranging from pickpocketing and assault to armed robbery and murder.

Taylor's criminal career began in his teenage years, marked by frequent clashes with the law. He was first arrested as a 16 year old for insulting behaviour, then  imprisoned at age 17 for theft.  In the years that followed he part of a gang that roamed the streets looking for trouble, resulting in may convictions for theft, assault, resisting arrest, offensive language and vagrancy. He later gained notoriety for his involvement in various criminal enterprises including sly-grog selling, illegal bookmaking, extortion, and prostitution. Over time, Taylor's criminal empire expanded, and he became increasingly embroiled in Melbourne's underworld conflicts.

One of Taylor's most infamous episodes was the Fitzroy Vendetta, a violent feud between rival criminal factions that erupted in 1919. The feud evolved when a tip off regarding a meticulously planned diamond jewellry robbery resulted in a series of violent clashes between the rival Fitzroy and Richmond gangs. Taylor's first wife, Dolly, was drugged, maltreated and robbed at a party, resulting in further retaliation with shootings and bombings.
Squizzy was believed responsible for a series of burglaries that occurred throughout 1920-1921. He was caught red-handed in 1921, but after being released on bond, failed to attend the trial and went into hiding. During this period, he wrote several letters to the Herald newspaper, stating that he would surrender himself when he was ready. He did so in September of 1922 at which time he informed the police that he had avoided detection with disguises, including the the clothing of women and school boys.

Taylor's criminal exploits reached a climax in 1923 when he was implicated in the robbery and murder of Arthur Trotter, the manager of a bank branch in Hawthorn. Although Taylor was initially charged as an accessory to the crime, he managed to evade conviction due to lack of evidence.

Squizzy's luck ran out in 1927 when he became embroiled in a fatal gunfight with rival gangster John "Snowy" Cutmore. The confrontation resulted in both men being fatally wounded, although Cutmore was bedridden at the time suffering from severe influenza. It is suspected that a third person was involved in the incident.

Despite his notorious reputation, Taylor's legacy continues to intrigue and fascinate to this day. His life and exploits have been immortalised in books, films, and television series, ensuring that the legend of Squizzy Taylor will endure in the annals of Australian criminal history.


Sources for images and Further Reading