Yarra Riverkeeper and now children's book author Andrew Kelly has teamed up with fabled illustration team Heather Potter and Mark Jackson to uncover and celebrate the history of Melbourne's famous Little Lonsdale Street with his new picture book, Little Lon – published by Wild Dog Books in July. (Little Lon is how the locals referred to the area around Little Lonsdale Street.)
Little Lon is the story of community in early Melbourne of the last century, revealing the city's rich multicultural history. It is a joyous story of growing up in an area that others thought of as a slum.
The crisply written and evocatively illustrated picture book is based on the childhood memories of Marie Hayes. Marie grew up in Cumberland Place, a lane off Little Lon, in a timber house ("You walked right in to the front room from the street"), built in the 1850s and lived in by her family for more than 100 years.
Marie recalls all the people from different countries who lived, worked and operated shops in the area, the street food, the hawkers, fairy floss from Queen Victoria Market, playing in the street, her school and her family's weekend activities.
"In Exhibition Street, just round the corner, there was a special place where you could go on a Sunday and take your roast leg of lamb or beef, and your potatoes, and they'd cook it for you. You dropped if off on the way to church and picked it up on your way home. I remember that Mum always used to say that when she went in, the man would give her an extra potato from someone else's dinner."
Kelly's fascination for history and archaeology inspired him to dig deep into Marie's story and uncover the world of Little Lon through her eyes. Says Kelly, "I am a passionate aficionado of the history of Melbourne. I heard a radio program on Little Lon, about imagining its past through objects that had been dug up by archaeologists. I became intrigued and, searching further, came across Marie's story. It was perfect material for a picture book. The pictures by Mark and Heather bring Marie's story and Melbourne's history to life."
Little Lon is out in July, available from all good booksellers through Wild Dog Books, an independent Australian publisher based in Melbourne.