Carnegie Lemon

5 August 2015

Adrian Yeung

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It’s interesting to see where place names come from. Take my hometown of San Remo, just across from Phillip Island. There’s a popular brand of pasta that you can find at most Australian supermarkets called San Remo. When I first saw it, I asked my dad if it was made locally. He said yes. When I pressed him for the location of the factory where they made it, he only ever gave me evasive responses. For most of my childhood, I searched my (otherwise uninteresting) town for this mythical pasta factory, but I suspiciously never found it. Maybe my dad lied to me. Maybe it is situated in Adelaide after all, as their packaging and website suggests.

Victoria is home to many strangely christened locales. Their names are a conglomeration of our indigenous heritage, British colonialism, and moronic city planning. There’s the in-famous Prahran, which was originally named Pur-ra-ran, an Aboriginal phrase meaning “land partially surrounded by water”. However, after designing the incredibly functional grid shape of Melbourne’s CBD, Robert Hoddle, our most esteemed surveyor, decided he’d have a bit of a laff and cause mass confusion by inserting a bunch of superfluous Rs and Hs into the suburb’s name.

Then there’s Carnegie, one of the many forgettable suburbs that inhabit the area between Caulfield and Oakleigh. I’d previously wondered if the name of the suburb had any relation with America’s revered Andrew Carnegie, and upon doing some research, it turns out that it did. Originally named Rosstown, after local developer William Murray Ross, it was developed at a time when Caulfield was considered one of Melbourne’s outermost suburbs (today it is firmly located in the inner city). At the time, it was decided that we couldn’t afford to build a new library in Rosstown – perhaps funds were being saved for an airport railway, or an East West link. In 1909, some bright spark (who was probably Monash educated… even though Monash University wasn’t opened then… meaning they were probably uneducated… meaning they went to Monash) thought that if they named the place after Carnegie, he would be flattered and fund the construction of the library. This turned out to be unfounded, because he never did. Those miserly Scots!

So there you go. For absolutely no reason, there’s a whole suburb in Melbourne named after the second wealthiest man in American history. A big believer in public libraries, Carnegie devoted most of his wealth to building libraries across America, Canada, the UK, Fiji, and even one in Mildura, of all places. This is a man who personally offered the Philippines, which is a significantly larger place than Carnegie, $20 million to buy their independence from the United States, yet couldn’t spare a fraction of that amount for a few books and tables.

Fortunately, there is indeed now a library in Carnegie (although we still don’t have a railway to the Melbourne Airport). The area is quietly becoming one of the many gastronomic hotspots blossoming in hitherto unremarkable suburbs across Melbourne, such as Foot-scray, Glen Waverley, and Malvern. It is a very multicultural suburb and home to a large Korean community. Along the central Koornang Road, one can find an abundance of cafés, Japanese & Korean restaurants and a store selling Russian tidbits… called Russian Tidbits. Most importantly, it has a Grill’d, which is the hallmark of any self-respecting suburb.

Have you ever given much thought to the name of your suburb? You really should – who knows what you’ll find? I mean, I never gave much thought to the etymology of West Melbourne, until I heard about the local Yeezus Library…