Originally named Brooklea, Brooklyn is one of the suburbs whose industry (and sewers) helped to give the ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ of the late Victorian Era (and in Melbourne, it’s always the Late Victorian Era, the city having existed in a state more like undeath than life since at least 1957) the unkind but not inapt sobriquet of ‘Smellbourne’. But it was not always so.
Brooklea was a charming hamlet of a few sleepy farms as recently as 1885. It specialised in growing sheep, and made a healthy living from wool and lamb alike. That all changed in 1888.
No one knows exactly where they came from, but in 1888, a veritable plague of thylacines – better known as the Tasmanian or marsupial tiger – descended on the Western suburbs of Melbourne. Although their advance was halted at the bridges of the Maribyrnong, the thylacines wreaked not inconsiderable havoc on the west of that line. According to contemporary records, at least a dozen human lives were lost, with larger numbers of sheep and natives also being slain before the beasts were put down. This single event was probably more influential than any other in the extinction of the beasts on the mainland, but it also spelled the end of agriculture on Melbourne’s western fringe for many decades.
And by the time that agriculture came back, the fringe had long since moved. Miles of factories stood where once sheep had grazed. And Brooklea had been renamed to Brooklyn.
No one knows exactly why it was renamed, although the best known story of how and why it happened is found in the writings of the self-styled ‘professional larrikin’ Al Stimson. Stimson claims that he persuaded the occupants of several local pubs – the Rising Sun, the Half Moon and the Guiding Star – to start calling it that solely to annoy an American named Doug, with whom he competed as a suitor in the Twenties. Stimson records that it cost him four week’s wages worth of beer, and that he was ultimately successful in bedding the young lady in question, who turned out to be a dud root. However, his account should be taken with a grain of salt, as he is the only source for this tale.
By this time, Brooklyn had become largely industrialised, with many companies keeping factories, warehouses or both within its bounds. The smell long associated with the suburb changed accordingly, slowly transforming from one whose major component was effluent, and one whose major component was smoke. The only form of ecological control that has ever changed the smell has been unfettered capitalism: today, as a result of globalization and off-shoring, more and more of the once-proud industrial buildings of Brooklyn stand empty, and the area’s characteristic smell is coming to be dominated more by the odour of rust than of smoke.
Brooklyn today teeters endlessly between two states: that of being an industrial wasteland and that of being a post-industrial wasteland.
Suburbs near Brooklyn: