News / Obituary

Historian was link to a disappearing working class past

Laurie Cunningham: October 20, 1933-April 4, 2024

WITH the death of Laurie Cunningham OAM on April 4, Brunswick has lost one of its great historians and also a link with the working class suburb it once was. 

John Laurence Cunningham was born on October 20 in 1933 and spent his early years in his grandparents’ house in Union Street. The family had lived in Brunswick since the 1860s and initially rented the Union Street house from the early 1930s and later purchased it.  

Later Laurie, with his parents and younger sister Patricia, moved to nearby Barry Street. Later still the family moved back to the Union Street house and Laurie remained there until about two years ago.     

Laurie’s mother Eva (nee Buhlert) was a well-known local identity who has a Brunswick street named after her.  She was born with a deformed hand and was deaf until an operation when she was in her 80s enabled her to hear.  Despite these disabilities she was involved in providing local social services. She was a socialist all her life.  Laurie was devoted to her and cared for her until her death in 1999. 

At the time Laurie was growing up it was common for different generations of a family to live near each other and also form friendships with neighbouring families.  

Phil Cleary recalls that his grandmother, who lived in Heller Street, was a great friend of Eva Cunningham and Phil spent a lot of time with ‘Uncle Laurie’ and other members of the Cunningham family when he was growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s. The families would share meals and often all piled into a car to drive off to Carlton football games. 

Apart from a brief stint in the Navy,  Laurie spent his working life as a technician at the CSL Laboratories in Parkville.  

Laurie carried out extensive research and writing on the history of Brunswick.  

He was an early member of the Brunswick Community History Group and wrote numerous articles for its magazine Fusion during the 1980s and ’90s. His special interests were football, cinemas and pubs and his publications cover all these topics.   

He worked with his friend Les Barnes to produce A Fair and Honest Game; the history of the Brunswick Football Club. Frame by Frame is the definitive history of Brunswick’s many cinemas and was used extensively by Gus Berger in his successful film The Lost City of Melbourne. 

Laurie was a major contributor to the BCHG publication Brunswick’s Hotels and published separate histories of the Union and the Carrington hotels. 

In 2019 Laurie was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his contribution to local history. 

Laurie was a great character and well-known around the neighbourhood.  He was always up for a chat over a coffee or a beer (although he was not a big drinker) and had endless stories to tell derived from his deep knowledge of local history.  He was reportedly engaged twice but never married.  He is survived by his sister and her family. 

A funeral service for Laurie Cunningham was held at St Ambrose Church in Brunswick on April 12, followed by a gathering in his memory at the Union Hotel.

Laurie will be much missed but his many publications form a lasting memorial. 

Elisabeth Jackson is president of the Brunswick Community History Group and a former Mayor of the City of Brunswick. Thanks to Laurie’s nephews, Laura Donati and Phil Cleary for providing information for this obituary.

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