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Book's front cover features George Hotel and Grey Street c 1880s Book's front cover features George Hotel and Grey Street c 1880s

St Kilda 1841–1900: Movers and Shakers and Money-makers 

Written by Carmel McKenzie, this full-colour hardcopy work - packed with vivid anecdotes and fresh historical insights - was published in mid-2023 and has since won the Victorian Premier's History Award ($5000 prize), the top award at the Victorian Community History Awards on Friday 2 February  2024. The Awards are presented annually by the Public Record Office Victoria in partnership with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria.

The St Kilda Historical Society assisted Carmel with funding in 2021 and successfully auspiced her application to the City of Port Phillip’s Cultural Development Fund for additional funding later that year. Society members and supporters, John Bennetts and Ann Ryan, also provided a generous private donation to help bring this work to fruition.

We believe this work on the 19C period of St Kilda surpasses the work done by John Butler Cooper In V1 'The History of St Kilda.'  Carmel's book provides us with a fascinating history of the city's development alongside an understanding of the human history and therefore sits nicely alongside the final volume of the history of St Kilda done by Anne Longmire. Carmel's fascinating history covers many topical issues including the living conditions and treatment of the Indigenous people of the area: the Yaluk-ut Weelam clan, the lot of women generally and in particular the disadvantage suffered by domestic workers. It also covers the lives of the very many barristers and politicians living in St Kilda at a time of great bounty, who variously created the foundation of Victoria's political and legal system.

The book probes darker aspects of the culture the elite carefully cultivated, including the oppression of servants and the alienation of the Indigenous, the Chinese and the disadvantaged, before revealing how the lifestyles and choices of the upper echelon unwittingly hastened the collapse of St Kilda’s ‘golden age’. This is the vivid backstory to contemporary St Kilda, the beneficiary of the suburb’s extraordinary nineteenth-century rise and fall.

The high standard of dedicated research includes 185 high quality images (many of which were not previously open to public view), adding immeasurably to the visual appeal of the book, a valuable bibliography spanning more than 250 works, and nine pages of carefully referenced research end notes.

A long-time local resident, Carmel began researching the former mansions and grand homes of St Kilda and East St Kilda as a personal project to satisfy her curiosity. After uncovering a wealth of new information about the owners and occupants, Carmel became fascinated by the broader themes and social dynamics that gradually emerged. In particular, she became intrigued by the manner in which St Kilda’s upper echelon sought to frame and embed a dominant culture, and decided to expand her research and write a book in 2019.

The resulting narrative builds seamlessly over five chapters:

  1. Clean, Green and Isolated: 1841-1850
  2. Fear and Flux: 1851-1855
  3. Transformation: 1856-1864
  4. ‘An Embarrassment of Riches’: 1865-1884
  5. The Icarus Years: 1885-1900.

In her introduction, Carmel writes that she hopes ‘this account of [St Kilda’s] extraordinary nineteenth-century rise and fall stimulates and intrigues you, moves and amuses you, and enriches your own experience of St Kilda’. The book delivers on all counts. Some of the cultural skirmishes that ensued as the elite attempted to wrest and maintain the upper hand make for frankly amusing reading, with the benefit of hindsight. Other aspects of what we would today term social engineering are indeed disturbing and her accounts of measures introduced to control public space – including the alienation and displacement of the Indigenous, the Chinese and the disadvantaged – make for uncomfortable reading. Throughout, Carmel deftly connects events in St Kilda to a broader context, leaving readers with a rich appreciation of the way nineteenth-century St Kilda reflected–and affected–the social, political and economic history of Victoria.

The book is available for $59.95 from Readings, The Avenue Albert Park and the Royal Historical Society of Victoria and for $49.40 from Booktopia.