Cato Street Carpark, Prahran

In early 2017 archaeological excavations were undertaken by Dr. Vincent Clark & Associates in a section of the Cato Street Carpark, behind the corner of Commercial Road and Chapel Street in Prahran. The site is included on the Victorian Heritage Inventiory as H7822-2343. The study gave a fascinating insight into the history of early, inner suburban Melbourne, with the remains of multiple structures being uncovered as well as over 10,000 artefacts. This precedes the intended Cato Square development by City of Stonnington of the carpark, transforming it into an underground carpark with a ground level urban square and green space for the community.

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The 1895 map of what is now the Cato Street car park

Removal of the asphalt surface layers and gravel bed beneath revealed three phases of European occupation: the bluestone foundations of 19th century terrace houses, concrete footings of early-mid 20th factories and evidence of an 1850s structure, possibly a farmhouse. A huge number of artefacts were also recovered, including a coin, a bone comb, children’s toys, personal items such as clay pipes, buttons and fragments of a lady’s purse, and a wide variety of household ceramics and glass bottle fragments. A selection of the finds from the site will be available for viewing by the public in a temporary exhibition.

It was remarkable to see the personalities of the different residences. The majority or the toys such as marbles and ceramic doll parts came from a single residence , whereas the residence next door had a large number of clay pipe fragments and metal artefacts, perhaps suggesting there was a young family occupying one residence with a childless man in the adjoining one. There was a huge diversity of ceramics, much of it being imported tableware. Analysis of the material from the site has only just begun and further detailed background research will also be conducted. The material culture is overwhelmingly working class and shows the humble beginnings of the precinct.

An exhibition is planned to begin on 19th October 2017 as part of local history week at the Prahran Mechanics Institute. A public talk by Dr Michelle Negus Cleary of Dr Vincent Clark and Associates will be given on the 19th October and will be about the site, its historical background and the archaeological investigations. Artefacts will be on display for the community to view at the Prahran Mechanics Institute.

A second phase of the investigation is planned for the future, prior to commencement of construction. The DRVCA team is excited to continue the work and to be able to give greater understanding of the early history of Prahran and Melbourne.

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