Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey

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Fairy Stork

89 Acland Street, St. Kilda

Location

Western side, around 50 metres south of the joint intersection of Acland Street with The Esplanade and Shakespeare Grove.

Memories

I recall eating there, but not in connection with CDA.

Ron Bird delightfully described the owner of the restaurant during his visits there as "a jolly rotund Chinese man who I thought did a good job of impersonating Benny Hill impersonating a Chinese gentleman".

(Given this update comes about a week after the 2016 U.S.A. Presidential Election, I think Donald Trump should also get a guernsey).

The Chinese gentleman was in all probability Bob Fong, attributed in a history of St. Kilda as one of the more significant restaurateurs in the suburb.

History

To say that the southern section of Acland Street now famed as a cosmopolitan shopping and restaurant precinct has changed over the last hundred years would be a massive under-statement.

The section from The Esplanade through to Barkly Street has for the last sixty or seventy years been wall-to-wall retail or food outlets, but it was originally a fairly exclusive residential street with many large houses similar to those surviving at northern end starting at Fitzroy Street (if it isn't already, this stretch should be one of inner Melbourne's most compelling "walking tours").

The 1900 directory shows on the western side (where the Fairy Stork was situated) just 12 properties running from number 78 at The Esplanade-Shakespeare Grove intersection to 107 at Barkly Street.

The original 89 Acland Street appears to have been a fairly substantial residence known as "Wairona". - although I couldn't locate a description of it per se, a hint as to structure comes in 1918 with an advertisement for the removal of its neighbour at 87, "Northampton", described as a seven rooms, bathroom, slate roof and double-fronted with an iron balcony.

It appears to be around this time that this section of Acland Street started to be commercialised.   Wairona is known to have been used as a boarding house in 1922 and is still shown as a private residence in 1924 (with the Margalos brothers Oyster Saloon at 85-87), but by 1928 and 1932 (under different proprietors), 89 is shown as a confectioners and tea rooms.

But the problem is that 89 in those years wasn't the original Wairona, with the number of subdivisions of the larger estates forcing a renumbering of the street, by 1920 extending to 121 on the western side.

The new number 89 was from at least 1936 being conducted as a specialist eating-house - 91 and 93 to the south were shown as shops under construction.

Perhaps as a portent of things to come, it appears that 89 may have been one of Melbourne's early Chinese restaurants - although only described as "café", the proprietor was one B. A. Lee Gow.

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By 1940, but probably earlier, it was specialising in an American tradition, the name - which it carried for just on 30 years - the Hamburger Bill Café (never Hamburger Bill's, just Bill.  By the time it closed, there was also Hamburger Max at 4 Punt Road, Prahran - I haven't checked Births, Deaths and Marriages to see if Bill and Max were brothers).

I also haven't checked the exact year that the Bill arrived in Acland Street, but as the accompanying report from The Argus of 18 April, 1942 tells us it was one of a chain of restaurants, the first of which opened its doors in North Melbourne in 1934.

Despite Bailey's misfortune, Hamburger Bill in Acland Street continued trading (advertisements appeared for the sale of shop fittings for at least three of the stores in 19410.  The proprietor in 1944 was one Henry "Harry" Saunders (who had problems of his own with a warrant being issued in 1946 for his arrest on charges on non-payment of alimony and child-support), although for around the last ten years of its operation under the Hamburger Bill name, it was listed under Mrs Mabel Robinson.

It first appeared as the Fairy Stork in 1970 directories - which means Bob Fong probably opened the doors in 1969. Acland Street by this time had assumed the cosmopolitan look for which it was famous with a number of Eastern European cafes, coffee houses and cake shops, but the Fairy Stork had its own competition with two other Chinese restaurants, albeit on the eastern side.

P.S. The research reveals Acland Street took its name from Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, a British baronet and politician who owned the schooner Lady of St Kilda between 1834 and 1840. The area was named when the vessel was moored off the beach during a visit to Melbourne in 1842.

"The Oxford Dictionary of Saints" describes St. Kilda as "virtually unknown" - perhaps he was virtually unknown because he never existed!   

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St. Kilda's name is believed to be derived from a rocky island off the west coast of Scotland.  Seamen from the Scandinavian countries commonly travelled around the island, and an old Norse word "Skildar" meaning "shield" is thought be some historians as being the true name of the island based on the contours of the island at sea level resembling a shield.  

Today

I couldn't identify a definitive date as to when the Fairy Stork closed, but I did find an article in The Age in 2003 bemoaning the gradual loss of the ethnic tradition of Acland Street which noted the Fairy Stork as one of the Chinese businesses "about to close".  It certainly existed late enough for a number of business directory web sites to still include the company name, although the currency of these, like many other sites of this ilk must be a question mark.

The site's current use proved a little hard to determine, given that premises in most crowded shopping strips in inner Melbourne areas seem surprisingly reluctant to actually display the street number unless it is part of the advertising pitch.  

Fortunately, the Jewish/Continental cake shop immediately to the south shows 91, and hence 89 is now the southern section of the double frontage of Rococo, an up-market home decorating store. The facade (along with a third shop at 85 being renovated in December, 2014 as part of the same Rococo) has been totally modernised and bears no resemblance to a restaurant, albeit the Hamburger Bill or Fairy Stork.