It’s true that COVID-19 shut down travel plans for many, but with that has come some unexpected bonuses. For starters, we’re appreciating our own country more than we ever thought possible. From being astonished by close-up-encounters with native wildlife, to revelling in glimpses of seldom-noticed architectural gems, it seems New Zealand has a lot more to offer than we ever realised. As for travel a little further from home, while the world awaits a country-by-country virus elimination or a COVID-19 vaccine, the most likely foreign travel destination Kiwis will be permitted to undertake is a ‘trip across the ditch’ to neighbouring Australia. If and when that happens, Melbourne will be one of the closest places to fly to. A city full of history, one of its biggest boasts is The Block Arcade.
The Block Arcade
The Arcade can be found in the heart of Melbourne, just a few minutes walk from Federation Square. It’s four entrances open onto some of the city’s best cafe-spots (Collins and Little Collins streets) and connects the 1890s Victorian-era Arcade with bustling Elizabeth Street.
The Arcade is a visual feast. Its floors, which were designed in the United Kingdom, are beautifully decorated with colourful Italian mosaic patterns. And, astonishingly, the Arcade’s management still has replacement pieces of the tiles in store!
The arcade, which is built in an L-shape, is amply lit by natural light which floods in via a glass-topped canopy held aloft by wrought iron arches and stone carved architraves. Light also enters through a magnificent glass-topped dome in the central atrium.
When visiting Block Arcade, be sure to arrive close to the hour for an intriguing demonstration of clock chiming. Head toward the central glass-topped dome, and look up to the large black-faced clock perched on the wall beneath. It is flanked on either side by two 2-metre high, medieval warriors whose job it is to strike the bells within reach using their mechanical arms. The warriors are the mythical giants ‘Mog’ and ‘Gog’, and their likenesses are taken from similar characters which have guarded Guildhall in London since the 15th century.
Walk the Block!
The Block Arcade was not always known by its present name. While it was being built, it was referred to as ‘Carpenter’s Lane’ but when the work was over and the artisans and labourers gone, local retailers lobbied for the name change. The present name refers to the unusual tradition, before attending Australian Rules football matches, of men walking in one directing around the block, and women the other!
The Block Arcade today is fringed with trams, cars and bustling pedestrians. To imagine it as it once was, find a quite spot to stand for a moment, and picture the horse-drawn carriages that once glided past its entrances, stopping to let elegantly-dress women alight. Follow the ladies with your eye as they make their way into fashionable tearooms while their merchant husbands tip their hats to friends or march off to the wharves to conduct their business. Melbourne’s Block Arcade is where history comes to life!