From a quarry to a shopping centre
A look back at the history of Barkly Square as it turns 40
• What’s on for Sparkly Bear’s 40th birthday
Margaret Fleming and Elisabeth Jackson
Monday, October 9, 2023
SOON after European settlers arrived in Brunswick in the early 1840s they discovered that the area had rich deposits of clay suitable for brick-making and pottery.
The area now occupied by Barkly Square was the site of large-scale brickworks, clay pits and tile and brick manufacturing operating for 100 years from the 1860s to the 1960s.
John Glew set up a brickworks in Hodgson Street, where Temple Park is now, in 1854. In about 1857 he purchased land in Barkly Street east with his brother Samuel and started a second brickyard: the Brunswick Brick and Tile Co.
This pit extended east behind the Sydney Road shops and two thirds of the way across to Ewing Street. The Glew family lived in a house called Harrowgate Cottage, perched on the edge of the pit.
Another brickmaking business, Barkly Brickyard was set up in the late 1850s by William Gray who had also had an operation in Phillipstown near John Glew’s. In 1870 Barkly Brickyard was sold to Henry Barningham, who was related to John Glew and listed as Barningham and Lacey Brickworks. It was situated towards Ewing Street with frontages to both Barkly and Weston Streets.
John Glew died in 1893 and his business was sold. By 1894 it had become the Brunswick Brick, Tile and Pottery Company with George Sweet as manager.
The clay was starting to run out by this stage but some brickmaking and pottery continued on the site until about 1970.
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Meanwhile shops and other businesses were established in Sydney Road in the 1840s and ‘50s – especially during the Gold Rush when this was a major road to the diggings.
Businesses of this period included corn dealers, a grocer, a bootmaker, a saddler and a wood and coal yard.
The claypits were gradually filled in. During the 1940s the Barkly Street pit was filled with ‘unknown material’ – probably garbage. The Weston Street pit was filled more systematically in 1977 with soil from construction sites – notably the City Loop tunnel.
By 1979 Australian Shopping Centres Pty Ltd had an option to purchase the site subject to rezoning to Restricted Business Zone to allow the construction of a shopping centre. This was a practical use of the site as much of it was filled land which could not be built on and this could be used as a carpark.
Brunswick Council gave long consideration to this matter. The rezoning was the responsibility of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works but the council was consulted on the matter.
The community had divergent views. East Brunswick Progress Association was opposed to the shopping centre on the grounds that goods would be more expensive, it would have an adverse effect on shops in Sydney Road and Lygon Street and profits would be sent overseas. Brunswick Resident Action Group, composed of residents living near the centre, collected signatures for a petition objecting to the centre on traffic and parking grounds as well as the threat to Sydney Road businesses.
Another petition from residents supported the shopping centre. Brunswick had no large supermarket at this time and many people travelled to Coburg or Moonee Ponds to access the lower prices and greater convenience found at these centres.
A survey of residents in the surrounding area conducted for the developers unsurprisingly found that 90% supported the proposed centre.
Many people believed that the site should be turned into a park. Local shopkeepers offered to assist council to purchase the land for this purpose. But this was never a likely outcome due the cost of purchasing, developing and maintaining a park and its proximity to Princes Park and Royal Park at a time when Brunswick residents further north had no parks in close proximity.
In 1980 the council agreed to support the rezoning and this happened in 1981. After this a planning permit was issued by the council. The centre was approved subject to 38 conditions including restoration of the shops along Sydney Road, a traffic management plan, parking for cars and bicycles, construction of a playground and inclusion of a residential component. It was considered important that the centre have a Sydney Road frontage.
The centre was opened by the Mayor, Councillor Warren Maloney in October 1983. It had a large Coles supermarket, Kmart, 34 smaller shops and a fresh food market with 60 stalls.
Gangemi’s fruit shop and Condello’s shoe repairs were original tenants who are still there.
The centre has experienced a number of changes over the years. The fresh food market disappeared in the 1990s and was replaced by Franklin’s and later Safeway/Woolworths supermarkets. The name was changed to Brunswick Shopping Centre and Brunswick City Centre at various times before reverting to the original name of Barkly Square – known as Sparkly Bear in local parlance. There have been several major refurbishments and many smaller shops have come and gone.
During the 1980s local residents engaged in constant battles over breaches of conditions. In 1988 the Brunswick Shopping Centre Advisory Committee was set up with representatives of the owners, Council and residents to try and resolve some of these issues. Eventually Brunswick Council purchased the land at the east of the site and a playground and park were established. An apartment complex was constructed on the eastern edge and had to be demolished almost immediately due to soil contamination from the drycleaning business which had occupied the site in the 1970s. After a big cleanup operation the apartments were rebuilt.
Today the centre is owned by commercial property giant ISPT, which bought it in 1995 and redeveloped it in 2013. With 17,751 square metres of floor space and 677 car parks, it continues to be anchored by Coles, Woolworths and Kmart and has 37 specialty retailers.
The centre has been a commercial success, has not destroyed the shops in Lygon Street or Sydney Rd and has become a community focus. One local resident who bought a house here in 1981 believes that the advent of Barkly Square changed Brunswick from a despised to a desirable residential area. Cause and effect or coincidence? It certainly changed the face of South Brunswick forever.
This article is based on a presentation given to the Brunswick Community History Group by Margaret Fleming and Elisabeth Jackson on October 7.
Sparkly’s big birthday is this weekend
The owners of Barkly Square — affectionately known as Sparkly Bear — are hosting a weekend of free, family friendly fun to celebrate the centre’s 40th birthday over three days from Friday, October 13 to Sunday, October 15.
There will be live music, roving entertainment, a free donut frenzy, a makers’ market, free craft workshops and giveaways. The Big Birthday Bonanza will take place on Saturday.
Highlights of Sparkly’s Big 40th Birthday include:
- Free donuts as Barkly Square’s Donut Van sets up shop for a three-hour frenzy donut giveaway, happening from 1pm to 4pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
- The Barkly Birthday Bonanza, happening in the Laneway from 10am to 5pm on the Saturday, will feature live music and roving performers, a birthday cake cutting, food giveaways, face painting, fairy floss and more.
- Celebrated local artist Beci Orpin is holding free card making workshops from 10am to 3pm on Sunday, guiding participants on how to create their own colourful birthday card.
- Local Brunswick makers will be championed at a pop-up makers’ market, happening in the Laneway from 10am to 5pm on Sunday.
- A pop-up display, An Ode to Barkly Square, will tell the history of the site, out the front of Woolworths from Monday, October 9.
- Resident shoe repairer, Condello’s, will celebrate 40 years of business, giving away a shoe care pack to the first 40 shoppers at their store (Saturday only).
- Gangemi’s Fruit & Veg have been at Barkly Square since the beginning, and to celebrate they will giveaway 150 fresh orange juices (from 11am on Saturday).
- Dynamic jazz duo, The Jazz Associates, will keep visitors entertained with a mix of timeless jazz standards (from 3pm-5pm on Saturday and from 10am-5pm on Sunday).