Wesleyan Chapel mid-19th century. Image courtesy of heritage.darebinlibraries.vic.gov.au
Featured track: Paige Black- Oceans Apart https://paigeblack.bandcamp.com/releases
Narrator: You arrived at the Wesley Anne, 250 High St Northcote. Opened in 2003 the venue has long since established itself as a home for Melbourne’s singer-songwriters. Like many along High St, the building, which retains various period features, has had a long and varied history, as recalled by Darebin Libraries Local History Officer Abigail Belfrage.
Abigail Belfrage: I’d like to tell you about one of my favourite places in Northcote, the Wesley Anne. Now, for a good view of the three shopfronts that make up the Wesley Anne I suggest you cross the road and look over from the church.
Let’s start with the middle section which has the main entrance. This section was built in 1854 by the local Wesleyan Methodists as a school, chapel, and meeting place. For many years the building was called the Wesleyan Hall.
If you were here at the time the hall was built, you’d be standing by a dirt road, known as the Plenty Road, which was fronted by a handful of shops. Looking west towards the Merri Creek, and east towards the Dandenongs, you’d see the lands of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrong people, occupied by the colonists’ paddocks, their horses and cattle, and the occasional homestead.
The colony of Victoria had recently separated from New South Wales, and a gold rush was in full swing. Just a few months after the Wesleyan Hall was built the tensions on the goldfields would erupt into the Eureka Stockade.
You’d see in front of you a simple single-fronted building with two large windows either side of an arched doorway. It was made of bluestone pieces and mortar, known as coursed bluestone rubble, and had a steeply pitched roof covered by slate. Along each side of the building were five large windows. Grass, gum trees and a white picket fence surrounded the building on its block.
In 1870 the Wesleyans moved their religious services over the road to their new church – the one you’re standing in front of – now called the Northcote Uniting Church. They would go on to build another Sunday school and community buildings on this site.
Now, back at the Wesley Anne, the section to the left of the main building was added by the Wesleyans in 1888. It was made of brick, and duplicated the shape of the original building, including its steep, gothic-inspired roof. The buildings were used as a Sunday school and a day school for pupils from the district. For decades it was also used for meetings, talks, fundraisers and all kinds of social events. The Borough of Northcote, which was formed in 1883, used the Wesleyan Hall for its council meetings and offices, until the Northcote Town Hall was built in 1889.
Now, how about the little shopfront and laneway on the right-hand side? This curious component was added in 1908, around the time the Wesleyans vacated the property for their permanent home over the road. The walkway was kept as a drainage reserve. The Wesleyans leased out, then sold the buildings which operated as premises for local businesses for the rest of the century. Some of these businesses were, ironmongers and interior decorators, hairdressers, a real estate agent, a music shop, furniture makers and in the 1960s an exotic aquarium and pet supply shop.
When I arrived in Northcote in 1990, I bought my first couch here when it was the Northcote Furniture Auctions. I was delighted when Rucker’s Bar opened in the noughties, and then a new venue opened as the Wesley Anne. Each time I visit the Wesley Anne I revel in the building’s rich textures and history. I don’t think the founders would approve of people enjoying alcohol at their building, but they’d probably love that once again, it is a place for music and local gatherings.
Narrator: In its years as a music venue the Wesley Anne has played a strong role in nurturing emerging artists. One musician to have benefited from its support is soulful pop singer Paige Black, who won the FUSE festival’s Darebin Songwriters’ Award in 2020 with her song, Oceans Apart.
Paige Black: I decided to make the move to Melbourne so I could be close to the music scene and immerse myself in it. I ended up being in the Darebin area, which was kind of perfect for me, being from a small town. It was a good transition because we love being right next to the 11 tram and close to the Preston Market and Terra Madre. I think it’s just been really nice for me to have those community kind of things, all that High Street area, and so many great music venues for me to be close to and play at. It’s so easy for everyone to come along and support each other.
Those venues are so supportive, no matter if you’re an established artist or an up-and-coming emerging artist. The Wesley Anne was one of the first venues I found myself going to. It just has such a beautiful homely warm kind of vibe, I just love the Wesley Anne. If there’s an opportunity to play there I always take it up.
Funnily enough my favourite gig I’ve ever played so far was actually at the Wesley Anne. I held my debut single launch there and I played with my band for the first time, which felt so good having my songs played how I had envisioned them for so long. My bandmates are friends that I’ve met through my music journey over the past four years and it was a sold out show so my cup was pretty full. I just had the best night.
05 – Wesley Anne (250 High St. Northcote)