Melbourne is a city of laneways. And many of these have exotic, unusual, and obscure names, whose meanings have been lost to history. Here are some of the best.
Perhaps Melbourne's most famous laneway.
The lane itself has existed since 1895, and was originally known as 'Corporation Lane'. Melbourne City Council chose to re-name the lane after the famous Australian rock band in 2004, to reflect the band’s connection to Melbourne; while AC/DC were originally from Perth, they played Melbourne venues regularly in their heyday, and filmed their iconic ‘Long Way to the Top’ music video on Swanston Street.
The current street sign has proven popular with AC/DC fans; it was stolen six times within two years of being put up, before it was more securely attached to the wall at the lane’s entrance.
In 2018, the Victorian State Government commissioned a piece of street art for the lane; a large scale mural/sculpture of AC/DC frontman Bon Scott, bursting through the laneway’s wall.
Another laneway named after a musician is Amphlett Lane, a cul-de-sac off Little bourke Street, named after ‘Divinyls’ singer Chrissy Amphlett.
Born in Geelong, Amphlett originally aspired to be an actress, and appeared on stage in a number of theatre productions in her twenties. She was inspired to be a musician when she saw AC/DC at the Union Hotel in 1975, and would later form the Divinyls in Sydney, in 1980.
The band became a mainstay of the local music scene, and enjoyed overseas success, before breaking up on 2009. Amphlett passed away in 2013. The following year, fans launched a campaign to have a Melbourne laneway named after her, which generated a petition containing 7 000 signatures.
The laneway was formally re-named in 2015, and features a plaque and mural, as a tribute to the singer.
This through alley in Chinatown dates from the 1840's, and so is nearly as old as the city itself.
The cosmic sounding name is actually taken from a slang term for Chinese people from the Gold Rush era; as Chinese immigrants were considered exotic at the time, they were referred to as 'Celestials'.
Celestial Avenue was named when the first Chinese merchants started using the alley for business in the 1860's.
A number of Melbourne’s laneways take their names from businesses that used to operate on them.
Initially called 'Healy Place,' this was renamed Coverlid Place after Henry Coverlid, a British migrant who operated a barber shop on the corner of Coverlid and Little Bourke for 30 years.
Once a busy thoroughfare, featuring a number of restaurants and bars, as well as the barber shop, today Coverlid Place is a standard back alley, used mostly for rubbish collection. The only tenant currently is an adult movie theatre.
Connected to AC/DC lane via a U-bend, Duckboard Place takes its name from the building at the lane's entrance; 91 Flinders Lane, AKA Duckboard House.
This smart, art deco inspired office building was built between World Wars I and II, and originally used as a returned serviceman's club. A place where soldiers back from active duty could have a drink, and chat up the ladies at one of the weekly dances. Duckboard Lane itself is a popular streetart spot, and the warehouse at the bottom of the alley is usually home to a nightcliub venue, which has had a revolving door of names over the years.
The distinctive name also has a military origin; a 'duckboard' was a temporary wooden walkway, placed across muddy or boggy ground, common in Army camps of the period.
Built in the 1890's, Equitable Place takes its name from the Equitable Life Assurance Building which used to stand on the corner of Elizabeth and Collins streets.
Built in 1896, the Equitable Building was the grandest constructed in Melbourne to that date, and some consider it the grandest ever. Built from imported granite and hardwoods, the building featured a striking entranceway; four granite columns, topped with a statue depicting ‘Equity’.
The building was demolished in 1959, and pieces of it can still be found around Melbourne; the Justice statue is in the grounds of Melbourne Uni, and pieces of the columns are in the Exhibition Gardens, outside the museum.
You can read more about this amazing old building, here.
Right next to the building I work in, in the north corner of the CBD, is Exploration Lane, a nondescript alleyway featuring a hotel and a fancy coffee shop.
The lane takes its name from the Exploration Hotel, a sprawling pub that used to stand on the corner of Little Lonsdale Street in the 1850's.
According to local legend, impossible to prove or disprove, this was the pub that Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills used to meet in, and where they hatched their plan for their ill fated expedition to the north of Australia.
When Burke and Wills set off in 1861, the hotel was renamed ‘Exploration’ in their honour.
Louis Kitz was a Swiss immigrant who arrived in Australia in 1853.
A jack of all trades, Kitz worked as a silversmith and watchmaker before finding success in the wine business, eventually operating several profitable bottleshops across Melbourne; the best known of these was near the lane that bears his name. Kitz was also one of the entries in the first Melbourne phone book, which contained listings for only 12 people.
Previously a small retail street, Kitz lane is now a dead-end stub, adjacent to a carpark.
Merlin Alley is a bit of a mystery; there is no obvious explanation for such an exotic name.
A Melbourne City Council survey of the city’s laneways, conducted in 1893, described Merlin Alley this way:
‘The lane is only 110 ft, there is no dwelling houses or family tenants-the property is only partly occupied so that there is very little use made of the lane.’
- Melbourne City Council Report
Likewise, today Merlin Alley contains the entrance to a public carpark, and the delivery bay for a large commercial building. I emailed Melbourne City Council to see if they could shed some light; they sent me a polite rpely stating that their records do not record the reason behind the alley’s name.
Who was Melbourne’s Merlin? We may never know.
Another lane dating from the early years of the city, this handsome throughway is one of the last streets in the CBD to retain its original, colonial era cobblestones.
Originally known as Millers Lane, in 1856 the Niagara Hotel opened here. It was such a success that the street was soon renamed after the establishment. The name ‘Niagara’ was the name of the ship the owners had arrived in Melbourne, from England, on.
Home to various businesses - confectioners, plumbers and restaurants among them - Niagara Lane was largely rebuilt in 1887 and turned into up market residences, making it one of the most desirable addresses in the city. The heritage listed buildings in the lane are currently used for apartments.
I stumbled across this lane while I was wandering about the city one day; it runs off Hardware Lane, in the west of the CBD.
I was curious about the origin of such an unusual name, and looked it up when I got home. There was no record of a lane with this name, in google maps, or google more generally. And there's a good reason for this; Ozimek Lane is not an official street name.
The office building at the front of the lane used to house a private investment company called ‘Ozzie Investments’. The lane was the entrance to the company carpark, and, as a joke, employees dubbed the lane ‘Ozimek’, as a kind of slang version of the business name.
The photo above shows a fake street sign that someone at the company had made up, and erected on the wall themselves. Melbourne City Council advised they have removed these signs from this location before, and told the company not to put them up again. The actual laneway, a carpark entrance only, is unnamed.
Ozzie Investments went into receivership in 2016, at time of writing the sign was still in place.
Running north from Little Lonsdale Street, in the city’s west, is another nondescript alleyway filled with rubbish bins.
In 1916 it was home to Melbourne’s first brush factory, run by Dutch born immigrant Jan Zevenboom. Zevenboom’s factory expanded into other areas of manufacture, and he was one of the eras foremost businessmen.
Later, he changed his name to 'John', and served several terms as a Melbourne City Councillor.