This gritty cop drama made such good use of Melbourne’s streetscapes that the city was almost a character in its own right
TV Show: Homicide
Date: 1964 – 1975
Of the many drama series shot and set in Melbourne, Homicide was the first to feature extensive location filming, and holding a televisual mirror up to everyday Australian life was integral to the program’s appeal. The series established a reputation for gritty realism, a major part of this being due to the authenticity of the surroundings. For the first time, Australian audiences heard their own accent, saw their own streetscapes. They saw themselves: the clothes they wore, the cars they drove, and the buildings they saw every day – pubs, milk bars, railway stations. And not only were they Australian, but unmistakably Melbourne.
From the very first episode in 1964, Homicide made extensive use of Melbourne landmarks as a backdrop to the action. While much of the location filming was done in familiar suburban locations – streets, alleys, parks – with other episodes based in country areas, regional centres such as Geelong and Ballarat, a handful of episodes featuring sequences filmed in Sydney, Canberra, and Hobart, and even episodes partly shot in Fiji and London, it was Melbourne which gave Homicide its strongest identity, to the point where the city itself was almost a character in its own right. Over the 510 episodes which were produced, the detectives made their enquiries in a variety of iconic locales, including Flinders Street and Spencer Street (now Southern Cross) railway stations, Luna Park, Tullamarine Airport, Station Pier, St Kilda Road, Princes Bridge, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Banana Alley, Victoria Docks, and far too many others to list.
It was also the variety of locations which appealed: while the headquarters at Russell Street remained as a solid, reassuring anchor throughout, scenes could – and did – take place anywhere, from a killer and victim struggling atop a city skyscraper, to car-chases through Collingwood, a bomb exploding at the South Melbourne football ground, detectives grappling with a suspect among the framework of the Nylex sign high above Punt Road, even having to spend a frustrating wait at railway crossing gates for a “red rattler” to pass.
Watching those old episodes, a powerful sense of nostalgia is evoked for a Melbourne long since lost: suspects variously hop on and off W-class trams, jump into HR Holden Yellow Cabs and flee to Essendon Airport to escape via Ansett-ANA, rob Golden Fleece and Ampol service stations, and are apprehended on the Yarra bank during Moomba celebrations (Moomba actually featured in two episodes and in 1968 the Homicide cast had their own real-life Moomba float). Even the appearance of the much-maligned and now gone Gas & Fuel towers brings a smile.
Homicide was not only pivotal in establishing local television drama, but essential in giving Melbourne an on-screen presence – and in this it succeeded quite brilliantly, still being the TV drama series most identified with Melbourne.
MAKE THE HOMICIDE PILGRIMAGE:
Featured in the opening credits for most of the program’s run was the imposing art deco Russell Street Police Headquarters – the real-life HQ of the Victoria Police. Built in the 1940s, partially bombed in 1986, decommissioned in the 1990s, and converted to apartments with a café out front, the building remains as one of Melbourne’s most readily-identifiable pieces of architecture, due in no small part to the ingrained image of the camera panning down the building from the communications antenna at its peak, to the police car executing a sharp u-turn to park in front of it, with doors opening to disgorge each detective in turn.
The closing credits were shot from the back seat of a police car travelling along Yarra Boulevard, through Richmond, and along the South-Eastern Freeway, a journey which can still be made today with little visible change evident.
Blu Point Caffe & Wine (at Russell Street Police Headquarters), 338 Russell St, Melbourne.