Little Lon by Andrew Kelly

cover image

Illus. by Heather Potter and Mark Jackson. Wild Dog, 2020. ISBN: 9781742035970.
(Age: 5+) Highly recommended. When a new development loomed to knock down a now run down area of Melbourne to make way for the Commonwealth Building in 1988, an archaeological dig was initiated to record and preserve mementoes of the lives of people who lived in the back lanes of the inner city, lives rarely documented by historians, overlooked by the builders of memorials, statues and plaques that dot our landscape.
It is these lives that Kelly reveals in Little Lon. Just as the illustrators, Potter and Jackson, preserve the buildings in their beautiful drawings, so Kelly preserves the lives of the ordinary  people who lived there using interviews and observation. And what a range for younger readers to ponder: the Syrian family living above their shop, the boot makers from Lebanon, the watchmaker in Cumberland Place, the Chinese cabinetmakers, the Italians who made fairy floss for Queen Victoria Markets, the Hungarian man who sold chestnuts from his cart. During the day Marie went to the local St Patrick's Primary, reminded to wash her hands when she arrived at school. Each Saturday the family went to the City Baths for a slipper bath and on Sunday Mum took her roast to be cooked by a restaurant in Exhibition Street, ready to be picked up after church.
The details of the lives lived in these street will amuse and inform younger readers, making them reflect on the changes in lives through the generations, and see how different things were for those who lived in less fortunate circumstances. The richly detailed illustrations will generate a mountain of questions as readers spy the clothing, streetscapes and housing styles. They will take note of the brick gutters, the closeness of the houses, the lack of verandahs and front yards, the pinafores, rag rugs, and lino floor covering as well as the myriad of details shown on the shelves in the rooms, the detail in the shop windows, the classroom and various forms of transport. I pored over this book, reminded of things my grandparents talked of, or things I had seen for myself. Inner city suburbs are all but gone, but the remnants are still there if you look, and this book encourages younger readers to do just that. These remnants should be sought out, reminding us of change, but also of the range of people who lived and worked there and by association what happened to the houses and the people as the march of civilisation engulfed them.
Themes; Australian History, Melbourne, Cities, Housing, Poverty, Immigration.
Fran Knight