While driving through Richmond recently on a visit to Melbourne, I took a detour to check out the former GTV9 site in Bendigo Street. It’s a place that holds vivid memories, when as a child I often visited the studios with my father, Denzil Howson.
My father enjoyed showing me around during those pioneering early days of television. The most interesting part was the technical hub sandwiched between the two studios. This housed the control rooms where the directors pushed the buttons to select cameras, the audio control rooms with their tape recorders and turntables, the telecine and videotape area and tele-recording where “kines” were made. In another wing of the building was the film department with editing equipment and “moviolas”.
There was the 3AK studio on the ground floor of the northern wing, which I can remember visiting during construction. My father wanted to show me how it was a “room within a room” that floated on rubber suspensions to eliminate noise and vibration.
There was the props bay and scenery storage, the scenery workshops, the small studio used for film work, and the special sound studio, “Studio 4”. On a visit one morning after there had been an overnight power outage, I was taken to see the auxiliary power generators which had been running for hours and were hot and smelly.
GTV9 subsequently grew and grew, gobbling up adjoining houses and filling out the “back lot” with more buildings. The ad hoc expansion was not what could be called an “architecturally sensitive” adaptation of the old Wertheim Piano factory.
It’s reasonably well known that GTV9 vacated the site a few years ago and that it has been re-developed as an up-market housing precinct. This is what I wanted to see on my detour through Richmond.
It has certainly seen a big makeover. Apart from the iconic GTV9 signage moulded into the outer brick walls, there appear to be very few remaining vestiges of the GTV9 era.
At the intersection of Wertheim Street and Jago Street, where the GTV9 entrance gate was in the early days, there is now a lane called Barnet Way which runs south to join Khartoum Street. This bluestone-cobbled lane runs right through what would have been part of the northern wing of the old factory and right through what would have been Studio One or the original technical area. It looks like it’s always been there. Perhaps it was, buried under the old factory buildings? But I suspect it is a brand new construction in the old style of Richmond laneways.
West of Barnet Way are large multi-storey apartment buildings that seem to fill every square metre of that part of the old site.
The front part of the building to the east of the lane, which is the most historically significant, has been restored and converted into up-market apartments and community spaces. The architects’ reference seems to have been the original building from the Wertheim era, rather than the later Heinz or GTV9 modifications. Online you can find photos, drawings and architectural documents detailing the restoration work.
I drove past the Bendigo Street façade, which has been cleaned up and renovated and looks very smart. It appears to have new windows throughout. What used to be the GTV9 front entrance has been opened up into a covered lane that leads through a brick archway to an open courtyard between the southern and northern wings of the old factory. I recall this courtyard as the former site of the GTV9 swimming pool, and Graham Kennedy’s “caravan”. Perhaps this entrance was originally an access lane during the Wertheim era?
The renovations are undoubtedly attractive and will give the site a new lease of life as residential apartments, appropriately titled as “Studio Nine”.
My other thought on witnessing the vast changes wrought to the site was just how easy it is to erase history. Apart from the new residential apartments being named “Studio Nine”, there is very little to tell the modern visitor that this was once the site of a thriving, bustling, creative mecca of Australian television.