I’m not originally from Melbourne but I’ve lived in Abbotsford long enough to appreciate the charm of Nicholson Street with its post war homes, blue stone guttering, and those classic pubs, including The Retreat Hotel that crowns the street up near Johnston.

Further down toward Langridge, there was a school called St Josephs Technical College that operated from 1893 to 1990. I would walk past this school on my way to work each day and though it was no longer in operation it seemed to just belong there. Bolted to the facade of the admin building was a string of large metal type that read “PLEASE SHUT THE GATE”, gothic style with slanted crossbars on the es. It was like a brand. I never really understood it and I didn’t bother to look into it at the time. That iconic statement was just part of the texture of this place.

The texture of Abbotsford  is changing. Gentrification is inevitable. St Jospeh’s Tech was sold last year for $9m to developers and has since been demolished to make way for luxury apartments starting at $679K, last time I checked. The previs renders of the new architecture on the developer’s website look like some kind of mothership, landed, taking passengers wealthy enough to some other place, not Abbotsford. And the slick branding of the apartment complex–the billboard with a naïve and sexualised schoolboy in low-key black and white–blatantly taps into the heritage of the college in an attempt to reconcile the gouging of our neighbourhood.

Last year I was lucky enough to enter the school with my camera before the real demolition began. Photographing the decrepit buildings reminded me of how significant our built environment is to our lives and how we too easily take the texture of our surroundings for granted. I was too late to get a picture of that sign and I may never know why it was so prominent. Only in its disappearance does it take on meaning for me–pay attention, “please shut the gtate”.

This is St Jospeh’s Technical College in its final throws.

(click/tap on the images for larger view)

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