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Champagne Socialist
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Kicking along fine at 150
By Martin Boulton
April 23, 2005

The famous Skipping Girl Vinegar sign on Victoria Street.
Photo: Paul Harris

If Jack Dyer's ghost has anything to do with it, there will be two reasons to celebrate in Richmond this weekend.

If the Tigers can claw their way over the top of the Saints at Telstra Dome on Sunday evening, Richmond will notch its fourth straight win on the same day the suburb celebrates its 150th anniversary.

Named in 1842 after Richmond on the Thames - where the first Tudor King, Henry VII, built his palace - Richmond became a municipality on April 24, 1855.

By the following year, the suburb had four tanneries and 40 hotels.

Tomorrow night, Yarra Council wants residents to help mark the anniversary with a community celebration to reflect the suburb's rich manufacturing, cultural, political and social history.

"It's a great opportunity to celebrate how far Richmond has come," says Yarra Mayor Kay Meadows.

In the late 1830s, when Robert Hoddle surveyed the area in anticipation of a population boom, wattle trees lined the Yarra River.

Today, the Skipping Girl sign in Victoria Street, the Punt Road Oval and the famous black and yellow colours of the football club are as much a part of Richmond as the river.

The suburb has been shaped by waves of immigrants who came to live in its narrow, cobbled streets and work in nearby factories. David Langdon, of the Richmond and Burnley Historical Society, says the area attracted Greeks, Italians and Yugoslavs after World War II.

"It was close to work, housing was cheap and people would share houses, until their families started growing and they had the funds to move to the suburbs," he says.

"Then in the 1970s we saw Vietnamese immigrants move to the area . . . they got into property acquisition in streets like Victoria Street, which had been based predominantly around Turkish and Greek culture."

Politics also has played a major role in shaping Richmond's identity.

The first council meeting was held in 1856 at the Star and Garter Hotel, now a clothing shop. Since then, Richmond's politics have been a melting pot of personalities, ideologies and controversies.

An influx of Irish Catholics in the late 1800s helped shape the local political scene for much of the next century. The decline of the professional elite's power and the Labor Party's council dominance from the early 1900s also played their part in weaving Richmond's social fabric.

In her book Struggletown, Janet McCalman says that when Labor gained control of the council, "local people with political ambitions saw no alternative to being 'Labor' (and) being loyal was the highest virtue . . . 'being Labor' was like barracking for the Tigers".

This brings us back to football. The famous Richmond Football Club joined the then Victorian Football League in 1908. Since then, no player has embodied the Tiger spirit more than Jack Dyer, who made his debut on the same day in 1931 that Doug Strang kicked a club record 14 goals.

Dyer, or "Captain Blood" as he was known, owned a milk bar in Richmond after serving in the Victoria Police. He was known for his deep passion, not only for his club, but for the place that gave it its name. If the Tigers win tomorrow, there will be all the more reason for Richmond to party.

The free community event will run from 5pm to 7.30pm at Citizens' Park, Highett Street, featuring world music, big band jazz, children's activities, a sausage sizzle and fireworks.
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