Who’s Saint Kilda?
If you’ve never heard of a saint called Kilda before, it’s hardly surprising. This strange name doesn’t appear on any calendar of saints and was actually the result of a cartographer’s transcription error! This is how, long ago, a small Scottish archipelago took the name of St Kilda instead of the Viking word Skildar. In 1840, a ship christened the “Lady of St Kilda” left UK waters to conquer Melbourne’s majestic Port Phillip Bay. Today, St Kilda is known to Aussies as one of the most famous districts of the Australian metropolis.
This charismatic, half bourgeois, half bohemian suburb is the lair of Melbourne’s young and not-so-young “Bobos” (bourgeois bohemians). Whether or not you like this concept coined by author David Brooks in 2000, it’s hard not to appreciate the cheerful beach with its many welcoming cafés and restaurants with influences from all over the world, its wild festivals, organic gardens and multicoloured parrots.
From Scots in boats…
Let’s spend a day in St Kilda to find out more about the young but fascinating history of this district, starting with the famous pavilion at the far end of the pier. Many Scots who had come to make a better life were quarantined here. If you’re in luck you might catch a glimpse of a few penguins who have taken up residence in a small nature reserve. Before you lies the ocean and behind you the Catani Gardens, one of St Kilda’s green areas and an excellent place to relax or take a walk. Take a seat on the grass for a while on any weekend and you’ll see the kitesurfers invade the beach and the sky filled with fluttering kites.
No sooner was this suburb created than the gentle sea breeze and panorama attracted Melbourne’s wealthy middle classes. Mansions and gardens sprang up during this period, shaping the district’s present appearance. A pleasant stroll along the beach takes us to the iconic Luna Park with its eccentric gateway, better known as “Mr Moon”. This ultra-kitsch theme park is a testament to the people’s infatuation with the seafront after the creation of a tram line linking St Kilda to the heart of the city.
… to Bobo St Kilda!
We reach Acland Street, where a delicious smell of coffee emanates from the cake shops for which this street is famous. There is a relaxed, trendy vibe in the ethnic shops, cafés and restaurants. People come here for a drink before heading off to the Espy, a real Melbourne institution when it comes to concert venues. The evening’s not over yet as the peckish make their way to Fitzroy Street for a snack, where Mirka Mora’s hotel – now a four-star establishment – is a reminder of the area’s hippie and artistic vocation in the 1970s.
For about twenty years so-called “young urbanites” have been settling in St Kilda, cultivating organic gardens, devoting themselves to sport and flocking to the numerous festivals that punctuate the calendar here. The district’s precarious little aboriginal community, larger here than elsewhere in Melbourne, is a sad reminder of the far from glorious past of the Australian colonists in relation to the native populations.
Like its rollercoaster, this district has a history of ups and downs, but is today a symbol of good living and leisure. The Australians love it and so do we! In turn bourgeois, red light, bohemian and Bobo, St Kilda is, in a way, to Melbourne what Montmartre is to Paris, with the Pacific thrown into the bargain!