I have been curious about the Spanish history of Fitzroy for some time, and have been doing some research on the topic. I was prompted again recently by a friend who asked me if I knew why a series of seven Victorian terrace houses on the south end of Brunswick St are called ‘Barcelona Terrace’. I didn’t and decided to find out, and this enabled me to learn many other fascinating things.
According to Museum Victoria, Spanish people first came to Australia during the gold rush of the 1850s. The Victorian population of Spanish-born people increased from 135 in 1871 to 252 in 1947. It must have been a small community where everyone knew everyone.
The Spanish Melbourne site published by the Consulate General of Spain states that “some [people] were drawn to the goldfields, [and] many became involved in the hotel and hospitality sectors and in the development of the market gardens which serviced these sectors.”
Francisco Parer “bought 40 acres of land in Box Hill in 1870, established a market garden, and donated two acres of his land to build a Catholic church and school – St Francis Xavier – still in operation today.”
The Australian heritage database reveals that “Barcelona Terrace, 25-37 Brunswick Street was erected in 1881 by Thomas Cockram for the Parer family. The terrace is named after the Parer’s native city in Spain.” Parer must have been very successful to afford to build such impressive houses.
The Spanish restaurateur Esteban (Stephen) Murell was also influential. His Melbourne born son, Stephen Joseph Morell, became lord mayor of Melbourne.
It was post-war immigration that dramatically increased the Spanish born population of Melbourne, and this is most likely responsible for the endurance of Spanish culture in the Fitrzroy area. Museum Victoria says that a 1958 Spanish-Australian migration agreement resulted in the population increasing from 374 in 1954 to 3143 in 1966. These new arrivals would have been drawn to an area that already had contained Spanish speaking people.
Today, Spanish cultural traces remain obvious in the Fitzroy area, from the Spanish restaurant in the Robert Burns hotel on Smith St Collingwood, to Casa Iberica and the Spanish club on Johnston St to Canals seafood (established 1917) on Nicholson St North Carlton.
The Consulate General of Spain also recommends two books I want to read: The Presence and Contribution of Victorians of Spanish and Latin American Origins, 1901-2001 (2002) by Rafaela López, and Cosmopolitan Melbourne (2001) by Jack Collins.
In a previous post on the Johnston St Spanish Fiesta I argued that the future of Fitzroy’s Spanish precinct is uncertain. Muesum Victoria explains that Melbourne’s Spanish-born population is aging and decreasing. The sale (and closure) of the Spanish club is symbolic of this decline, which was also mentioned by the Age in 2006.
Despite this, enthusiasm for Spanish food and culture remains strong in Melbourne. The arrival of bars and restaurants like Movida and Añada suggests to me that Fitzroy and Melbourne will retain traces of Spanish culture for many years. At the very least inner city foodies will keep Casa Iberica in business, and there’s plenty of young diners in the tapas bars on Johnston St.
These are the places in and around Fitzroy where you can have delicious Spanish food: