As the daughter of Cypriot migrants, growing up in Melbourne was a confusing time. Unable to comprehend the fear my parents had for this foreign land, I existed in a cultural bubble, with little knowledge of anything outside it. We envied the Aussies for the freedom they had, yet we were proud of our heritage and never wanted to be them.
Culturally, boys could do what they liked. They could hang out with girls. They had their feet up while the girls had to do the housework and be good virginal girls. It was common that girls were not allowed to watch sex on TV, or have boyfriends, or even have guys call the house. But when you don’t know much outside of this world, you don’t question its validity. You just accept it as the norm.
Yet us girls, we had this deep yearning to explore our femininity. So the white lies began. Metro, now The Palace Theatre, held a day-time underage techno dance party once a month on a Saturday. I was sixteen. I wasn’t allowed to go. But when you are continually denied permission, a curious teenager finds a way.
Outside of Metro I had to be the good Greek girl my parents and my culture expected of me.
We all did it, yet we wouldn’t admit it. Lie to our parents, to live our lives, to explore, to be ourselves. I’m going shopping in the city with my friends but instead I happen to go to Metro. We told lies to gain our freedom. Fast forward to the age of 18 and I was finally allowed to go. I’ll never forget what it was like walking into Metro. It was exhilarating. The darkness, the strobe lights, the socialising. It was like being stripped of your fear. Outside of Metro I had to be the good Greek girl my parents and my culture expected of me, fearful of the repercussions of stepping outside the boundaries. But once I entered Metro I could be me. I could meet boys. Kiss boys. On the dancefloor at Metro I could be free.
When I heard The Palace Theatre was purchased by developers to turn into apartments I was devastated. It was like they were demolishing a secret part of my youth. Relief came when the fight to save it began. From this fight, stories have emerged:
Madeline Wong immigrated to Australia in the 90s from Singapore. “There was no youth culture in Singapore and the government was highly disapproving and suspicious of ‘decadent Western values’,” she says to me. “Any semblance of a ‘scene’ was tenaciously cultivated by the few indie kids but they needed government-issued licences. Going to Metro was a revelation and a freedom. It was like escaping ‘Footloose’!”
“Metro was like a religion to me.” Ms Georgiou is Australia of Cypriot descent. “I would go there every Friday like a devout Catholic attends church every Sunday. It should be saved so the next generation can enjoy it as much as we did.”
Rebecca McCallum is of Maltese and Italian descent. “Amidst exams, part-time work and arguments with the parents Metro was the Friday night ‘beacon’ I looked forward to. Outfits, transport, hair and make-up would be carefully planned each week and even a broken leg could not keep this 18-year-old girl away! When you hadn't had a chance to see friends during the week you could count on Metro to bring you all together and we danced well into the night with the best DJ's in Melbourne! Demolishing Metro would be like removing Flinders Street station.”
Melissa B who is of Italian descent says, “The name ‘Metro’ still brings a smile to my face. It was my motivation to get through the school/work week. So many friendships made, hearts broken, and even fiancés found! It is such a beautiful designed building on the inside. ‘Metro’ was a part of Melbourne's soul.”
MP, of Croatian descent says, “We stashed our money in our bras and danced all night long. No bags and definitely no phones. We were so innocent and it was all about the music. If we wanted to give our numbers to a guy we'd have to go to the bar and ask for a pen and paper. We all lived for Friday night ‘Joy’. We always had an awesome night, and always had a story to tell on the way home. It was an institution for us all and needs to be reborn for the next generation”.
Once I entered Metro I could be me. I could meet boys. Kiss boys. On the dancefloor at Metro I could be free.
The fight to protect The Palace as a heritage building has been going for three years, with a decision from VCAT due any day. It was first erected in 1860 but a destructive fire had it rebuilt in 1912. Structurally, the interiors are stunning. I have yet in my lifetime been inside such an eye-pleasing music venue. But aside from the breathtaking architecture, what draws me to The Palace is the stories. I have been working on a novel called Misplaced which features The Palace and I dream of making a film one day. If I have such a powerful cultural pull to it, how many other untold stories are there where The Palace has featured as a place of transition? Structural buildings are important, but what about our stories, culture and memories?
Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance columnist, poet, writer, actor, performer, screenmaker and author of Love and F**k Poems.