Mel Bogard

In 1979, Mel and her partner bought their house in Mt Victoria.  “Intentionally we bought this house in Armour Avenue with another couple. . . . I’d seen the Community Caf, the western aspect of the suburb appealed to me, and I thought that’s the community I want to be part of.”

“I can remember the first time coming to this house. . .  it had just been left and the owners were in Australia and someone was handling it for them.  And there was evidence of poozelling – poozelling being stumbling round your suburb, happening upon old places and making free with what was inside. . . .  That was in August and there was an enormous daphne bush up the back and when we got back here in October the daphne bush had gone . . .  I suppose the house was a good symbol for the suburb, you know; it was tumble-down, the original owners had gone, there wasn’t much evidence of care and attention – peeling paint, holes in the floorboards, general neglect and decay.  In all the houses, not just in this one.  But yeah, I was inspired.  There were flowers in the garden, there were apple trees still in the back yard and we knew that this would be a good place to live.”

“When we first came here there did seem to be an enormous amount of taxi traffic in the cul de sac; at the far end of the cul de sac – where some of our neighbours now live.  And there were a couple of quite characterful women living up there; at least two that I remember.  And it was told to us, during that time, that the reason the taxis were coming (and certainly it was clear to us) was that they were dropping off sailors to visit at the brothel at the top of the street. . . . They had pretty astounding dyed hair and dark glasses and they would come out sometimes looking very swish and sometimes looking complete had-it.  They’d stand out on that balcony at the top there.  They looked exhausted, I have to say.  And I’m sure they weren’t rich, either.”

The communal life, sharing a house, came to a natural end as family life changed, but Mel has always had an intense involvement with the Mt Victoria community.  She was involved with a strong group of Mt Victoria women who started a number of community activities for themselves and their children; a home birth chapter, pre-school music group, toy library, childcare crèche, discussion and exercise groups.

“We were very keen on collectivism and we tried to be a collective committee in the Plunket structure and that was a bit of a disaster because Plunket’s hierarchical and really wanted us to have a chairperson and a secretary and a treasurer and we wouldn’t play ball. . . .  We tried, also, to have a collective school committee at one stage, with a facilitator instead of a chair and secretary and board and so-on. . . .  and they really tried to stay ground in what the suburb’s ethos was – collectiveness, the slight socialism of it, the anti-grading, anti-testing sort of thing; the valuing of children; the valuing of diversity in the school.”

Margie-Jean Malcolm, the Mt Victoria community worker, was a key figure at the time.  “The Melksham Towers issue in the seventies where, down in Ellice Street, there’s an enormous tower block that was built and some old houses were knocked down.  And it seemed to be at that time that Mt Victoria would go that way – would be high-rise.  And Margie-Jean was one of the people in that movement to prevent the wholesale destruction of the old houses.  So she was influential in what is still my neighbourhood, in that my neighbourhood is still a bunch of old houses, set close together and really attractive to me from that point of view.  She was also instrumental in getting the Presbyterian Church to buy the old house which is now Crossways. . . .  We couldn’t have done it without having a community centre.”

The Town Belt, and Pirie Street Reserve in particular, have played an important part in her family’s life.  “There used to be just the swings, just the seesaw and a sort of a pipe – a horse made of pipe that you could climb up and down – and an ominous sign outside the bowling club that said ‘no ball games are to be played in this playground’.  And I remember writing off to the Council and haranguing poor Mary Varnham next door and saying ‘How ridiculous!  A park with no ball games! Of course we’re going to have ball games.  That’s what a park’s for.’  And she went away; diligently investigated with someone and said ‘Just take no notice now; take no notice.’  Well, of course, we never had taken any notice of it.”

After years of walking children to kindergarten there, Mel now teaches at Clyde Quay School herself.  “I’ve walked holes in the pavement, you know – worn ruts in the pavement, I’m sure, by going up and down to school.”

Historic photographs courtesy of Mel Bogard.

Mel with her children in the garden in Mt Victoria.