Arriving in Melbourne, I’m welcomed by a vibrant crowd. It’s the annual celebration of the Greek community, and people doing the traditional sirtaki dance and numerous souvlaki stands have blocked the streets for two days, including a main artery that my hotel is located on.
Still groggy from jetlag, I leave the Greek festivities to find out what happened to the Hotel Sablon where Bernardo Canevascini of Tenero stayed on January 6, 1859, and the former shop owned and run by Leonardo Pozzi, another Ticino immigrant, which was located at 252 Johnston Street.
Not wanting to waste time, I head for the State Library of Victoria – a beautiful building that blends elegance with the old and the modern.
A patient member of the staff finds an old postcard of the Sablon in the library’s electronic database. The hotel is – or at least was – at the corner of Queen and A. Beckett Street. So that’s where I go next…
It’s located not far from the dock in Melbourne – the disembarkation point for immigrants. The intersection is still here, and the street names haven’t changed. Even the hotel has maintained its original facade. However, everything else has disappeared or been lost: the signs, the attendant staff and travellers passing through. The building now belongs to the Department of Defence. Out of courtesy, the Swiss officer in me suggests that this is neither the time nor the place to discuss what may become of the Sablon in future. I bid farewell.
Johnston Street is northeast of the centre. It’s a long walk following Lygon Street through Little Italy to get there. Many Italians settled here after the Second World War and someone had the bright idea of importing the first coffee to the continent. And now “Toto” claims to be Australia’s first pizzeria.
1852, 1853, 1880 … The dates inscribed on the buildings on Johnston Street suggest that the district has resisted Melbourne’s frenetic development. And so it shouldn’t be difficult to locate number 252 to find out what has become – more than 100 years later – of Leonardo Pozzi’s gunsmith shop.
It’s now a shop selling Tibetan handicrafts and furniture. Not only has the façade been repainted, but the guns have given way to cabinets and kitchenware! The owner of the premises, who has been here for ten years, says he’s never heard of the Swiss-Italians, and smiles: “Well … I just learned something new.”