The Grand Lady of St Kilda

November 7, 2017 by Carmel Shute
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St Kilda identity and RocKwiz host, Brian Nankervis, will launch Acland Street: The Grand Lady of St Kilda by award-winning historian, Dr Judith Buchrich later this month.

Rachel and Markus in Bergers Delicatessen


The lavishly-illustrated, hardcover book explores the history of Acland Street since it became St Kilda’s first named street in 1842, taking its name from Thomas Dyce Acland, the owner of the schooner Lady of St Kilda which gave its name to the suburb.

Acland Street’s long Jewish history is a major theme.

“St Kilda has been the axis of Jewish life in Melbourne for over 150 years. Buildings like Linden, once the home of Michaelis family and now a council-owned art gallery, stand as a testimony to the influence of the Jewish community in the nineteenth century. Later, Acland Street was home to families like Sir Zelman Cowan’s,” Dr Judith Buchrich said.

She added“The first refugees from Hitler in the late 1930s weren’t always welcomed by Anglicised Jewish residents who were concerned that the Yiddish-speakers with their outlandishly conspicuous hand-waving gestures and long coats would incite antisemitism.”

From the end of the Second World War through to the 1990s, Acland Street in St Kilda was the centre of Jewish social life in Melbourne.

“Many Jewish refugees landed there straight off the boat. Jews who had been living in Carlton before the war also descended on St Kilda, Elwood and Caulfield and frequented the restaurants, cafés, delicatessens cake shops in Acland Street,” Dr Buchrich said.

“Jewish migrants gave the street a totally cosmopolitan flavour. Sundays morning on Acland Street was standing room only as Jewish men gathered on the street in an informal Knesset, to thrash out the politics of the day, eat latkes at the Café Scheherazade, buy kugelhopf from the Monarch, and grab the latest Bashevis Singer novel from the Balberyszski Bookshop.”

Cosmos Bookshop was established in 1963 by Hungarian Jewish refugee, Endre (Bandi) Szanto, and sold books and magazines in English, Hungarian, German and Polish together with records. Later it was taken over by Jack and Helen Halliday and now operates as part of the Readings chain.

Researching and writing the history has been a very personal project for Dr Buchrich who fled Hungary with a Communist father and Jewish mother in 1958, following the aborted 1956 uprising.

“I have been visiting the street since the early 1960s, when my parents ate at restaurants like the Scheherazade and Blue Danube where the schnitzels overlapped the plate. They bought delicious food at the cake shops and delis. St Kilda Beach was my beach in the 1960s,” she said.

“In the seventies, I was a student at the National Drama School, and often in the street before or after classes. In the 1980s I was Acting Community Arts Office for St Kilda Council.”

As well as delving into the archives, Dr Buchrich has interviewed many people from the Jewish community including comedian Rachel Berger who grew up above her parent’s Acland Street deli and has extensively mined this experience for her comedy routines plus Port Phillip councillor and former Acland Street resident Dick Gross; restaurateur George Biron whose parents owned a greengrocers and a pastry shop; and Hillel Benedykt whose parents established the famous Benedykt Deli.

Rachel Berger recalls: “Acland Street was an oasis of schnitzels and schmaltz where Jews gathered together to laugh and cry and eat… and eat … and eat…”

“Acland Street has a special place in this city’s heart – and its collective memory,” Dr Buchrich said.

“So many of the hundreds of people I have met and corresponded with over the course of writing the history love Acland Street with a passion that I have never heard expressed for any other place. Not the unpleasant passion of nationalism, but the tender feeling for somewhere that has given great joy and passion,” she said.

Dr Buchrich has made her living from writing plays and histories and explores her life in her recently published memoir, The Political is Personal.

She has written histories of St Kilda Road, Collins Street, the Port of Melbourne, Montefiore Homes, the Royal Victorian Institute of the Blind, Prahran Tech, and Melbourne University Boat Club. Her history of Ripponlea Village won the 2016 Victorian Community History Awards Local History – Small Publication Award.

Acland Street: The Grand Lady of St Kilda is published by Australian Teachers of Media Inc (ATOM), a non-profit organisation whose editor is affiliated with the St Kilda Historical Society. To fund publication, it set up a crowd funding campaign.

Launch of Acland Street: The Grand Lady of St Kilda by Judith Buchrich (ATOM, 2017)

6pm, Thursday 23 November – St Kilda Army & Navy Club, 88 Acland Street, St Kilda



3 Responses to “The Grand Lady of St Kilda”
  1. Adrian Jackson says:

    A few years ago the huge newsagency at the southern end of Acland St closed and the shop sub divided into more of the same. It use to carry not only Melbourne papers but many foreign language papers too.

    Acland Street is now mostly restaurants and cafes, tourist and novelty shops plus hair dressers and beauty shops.

    The odd fish monger and butchers exists but not as many as in the past.

  2. Adrian Jackson says:

    When I moved to South Melbourne in 1980 many Acland St shops were closed on Saturday but open on Sunday. Not good for business, locals or tourism.

    I use to drive their in the 1980’s/1990’s to buy take away from the Fairy Stork Chinese restaurant but it closed over a decade ago and has been replace with a “yuppy” place.

    The current Coles development called “Acland Court” was once a huge secondhand furniture store. Crammed with stuff and a potential fire risk too.

    This change in recent decades and the shops are all open 7 days now.

    Unfortunately in 2016 the street is blocked off to cars at the southern end which is disaster for business and through traffic.

  3. Mary Krantzler says:

    Regarding Acland Street.: I arrived in 1940 at the age of one with my parents,.
    I remember at the age of 6-7 going shopping to Acland Street with my mother to Giller’s Delicatessen
    We picked the pickles out of a huge barrel, they had the best shmaltz herring which my mother made even better. We bought a variety of lunch meats there, all kosher of course.
    We bought butter and cheeses and farmers cheese, cream cheese. You name it, they had it. I remember
    a restaurant owned by a man nicknamed “ Pipick”. I have forgotten his real name but his food was great and he was a lovable character. I don’t remember the places you have mentioned except for Sheherazard
    And the Monarch cake shop. Those were wonderful memories and whenever I return from the U.S. to visit Melbourne. I make the pilgrimage to Acland Street.
    I have been all over the world but have never found a street that compares to it.Tourists take pictures of the cakes in the windows. Yum!!!!
    Mary Krantzler ( née Urbach )
    Miami, Florida

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