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The Hearn Brothers

Jacl, Bruce & Keith Hearn outside their Banana Alley Shop

Jack, Bruce & Keith Hearn outside their Banana Alley Shop

Jack (JWC) Hearn snr served in the Royal Flying Corps during WWI and was a keen aircraft modeller from an early age. His three sons developed their father’s interest in aviation and in aero-modelling. All three sons joined the RAAF during WWII.

Prior to the war both Jack jnr and Keith had been employed in the hobby trade in Melbourne and had talked about establishing a business making model aircraft kits. Keith and his father registered the business on 14 September 1945. It was difficult to secure a shop after the war but fortunately one of the railway commissioners lived opposite the Hearns in Canterbury Road, Surrey Hills, and was able to secure a shop in the railway-owned Banana Alley. Keith and Jack set up their first shop in the third vault, 367 Flinders Street, in January 1946. Bruce joined the business in March 1947 on his return from Japan with the Occupational Forces.


Trains over the Vaults

Trains over the vaults

Banana Alley & the viaduct in 1911.

The railway vaults were built primarily to support the rail viaduct that connected the stations at Flinders Street and Spencer Street. The structure was very strong and could support a tremendous weight as evident in this photograph from 1911. Both locomotives and carriages were often shunted here until required. The tracks were also used to provide access to the Milk and Parcels Dock which had a track running between the wide platform to facilitate the efficiency and ease of unloading.

The vaults became known as Banana Alley because of the association with snakes, spiders, rats and other vermin that were hidden in the hands of bananas brought down from Queensland and unloaded at the wharves along the Yarra then stored in the vaults.


The Flinders Shop

Trains over the vaults

The Flinders Shop

My connection to the station and the VRI were relatively minor although I have an unusual and somewhat embarrassing connection to the graffiti covered, and seemingly derelict building between the station and Banana Alley.

When I was in my 20s, I had a clever 4 step plan which went as follows:
Step 1: Write some science-fiction short stories
Step 2: Get someone to publish them
Step 3: Become very famous
Step 4: Become enormously wealthy

I devoted thousands of hours to this plan between 1978 and 1984. Steps 1 and 2 went relatively smoothly but steps 4 and 5 never eventuated. I used to write for science-fiction fanzines, small magazines written for and by, science-fiction aficionados and were normally distributed by mail. The better fanzines were produced monthly with a circulation of 450 -500 and mailed worldwide. Others were less than 100 copies per issue and were sent out whenever the publisher got around to it. In the 70s and 80s there were dozens of fanzines around although the general public, which we in ‘the know’ referred to as ‘The Mundanes’, were generally unaware of them.
I wrote reviews, articles, letters of comment and most importantly, fiction, for those little known publications. Rarely, if ever, would you see a fanzine in a retail store – the one exception in Melbourne being the Mid City Newsagency and Liberated Bookshop in Flinders Street!

The layout of the shop could reasonably be described as eccentric. Entering from the eastern end of the building, customers would take one step then be confronted by a solid wall, forcing them to turn 90° and after one more step, were in the newsagency but facing a plastic curtain less than 2 metres away. Only this newsagency in Melbourne had an oddments bin and it was to the right with the newspapers to the left and the shop assistant recessed into the wall with the pornography behind the plastic curtain.

The oddments bin was a cylinder about 2ft high and 15ʺ in diameter with green felt glued to it both inside and out, with the word ODDMENTS written in blue marking pen on the outside. Treasures to be found in this bin included out-of-date mainstream periodicals, last year’s calendars, paperback books with damaged covers, university text books on subjects no one would be interested in and back issues of fanzines, all priced at either 30c or 50c. To thoroughly check the contents of the bin, it was necessary to take everything out and lay them on the floor.

I worked at 10 Queen Street for 4 years and at 35 Elizabeth Street for another 6 years so I was never more than 250 yards from the shop. At lunchtimes, I regularly checked the bin to see if anything I had written was in there. If I found any articles or reviews I had written that was fine but if there was any fiction, I must confess to rather irrational and obsessive behaviour. Firstly I would stack the bin so that anything containing my fiction would be on the top and I would often go back, sometimes more than once each day, to see if any of my fiction had sold. The shop assistant, sitting in his little cubicle behind the Suns, Ages, Australians and, from 10.30am, the Heralds, thought I was seriously strange.

I never purchased anything from this shop although I went in regularly for 10 years. At first the guy behind the counter would nod and smile but after a couple of years, he started avoiding eye contact until he eventually he would duck down behind the cash register. I will never know whether his weak smile was of pity or fear that I was actually deranged! So much for my writing career....


~ Donald Robert Fidge