Historian Meyer Eidelson believes every Melbourne street is a theatre
Local naturalist, historian and storyteller Meyer Eidelson has a theory that there is no absolute truth in history. There are just a thousand fascinating stories and unknown facts about familiar landscapes. That’s why he runs Melbourne Walks – a choose-your-own-adventure style tour through the city focusing on its heritage and environment. Popular escapades include Rooftop Tours, where mysterious access routes lead to historic high places, and 1880s Dunny Tours, where participants become members of a newly formed sanitation crew.
Eidelson set up Melbourne Walks with his partner Amanda to offer people a direct experience of the city under their feet. He has written 14 books concerned with the natural, cultural and social history of Melbourne. Both his books and his walking tours touch on themes such as immigration, working people, the foreshore, flora and fauna, waterways and Indigenous history.
“You can stand anywhere in Melbourne and go back to the beginning of time,” he says. “Every walk is a once-only theatre of the street.”
Born and bred in Elwood, Eidelson spent his childhood playing in the vast green expanse of Fawkner Park. He was shocked as an adult to discover that the area was once an Aboriginal reserve.
“I didn’t know the faintest thing about it. You have to remember, there was virtually no recognition of Aboriginal culture in Australia until very recently. That’s why all my walking tours have a strong Aboriginal component. It’s fundamentally the foundation of everything here.”
Eidelson worked closely with the Wurundjeri Council and Aboriginal elders in the early '90s to write a guidebook to the Aboriginal places of Melbourne. He initiated local community projects as President of the St Kilda History Society for nine years. He even wrote a book about a bloody-minded penguin called Alfreda to promote a penguin rookery in St Kilda as a convenor for Earthcare.
In between his environmental and historical pursuits, he worked as a social worker in Melbourne’s western suburbs. In 1985, he was featured in the Herald Sun for trekking through the terrain where a man called William Buckley once took refuge from a convict sentence by living with Aboriginals. The pilgrimage further opened his eyes to the vital significance of Melbourne’s ancient past in its continuing present and paved the way, so to speak, for his Melbourne Walks.
Just a short walk away from his home and office is St Kilda, at which Eidelson recently completed a film project with his teenage son to commemorate the centenary of Luna Park.
“A happy person is an obsessed person,” he says. “I’m crazy about this city.”
Melbourne Dreaming is out on September 1 (Aboriginal Studies Press, $29.95). You can take the Melbourne Dreaming walk with Eidelson at Melbourne Writers Festival on Sun Aug 28 at 1pm. Meet at Federation Square box office. $30 kids, $40 adults.
1969 Is expelled from school for “political subversion”
1985 Spends six weeks retracing the footsteps of a former convict who guided Batman’s landing party
1990 Begins work with Aboriginal and multicultural communities to record the stories of the city landscape
1991 Founds Melbourne Walks
2001 Receives the Australian Centenary Medal for his contribution to community tourism