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Image: Little Lonsdale ceramics
Source: Museum Victoria
'Little Lon' is an inner-city block in Melbourne bordered by Lonsdale, Exhibition, Little Lonsdale and Spring Streets. The area, also known as the Commonwealth Block as it was acquired by the Commonwealth Government in 1948, has been subject to five archaeological excavations since 1988. Museum Victoria is custodian of the 500,000+ artefacts excavated from four of the five digs: Little Lon in 1988, Black Eagle and Odd Fellows Hotels in 1990, 17 Casselden Place in 1995, and Casselden Place in 2002.
During the mid to late nineteenth century, Little Lon evolved as a predominantly working class area. It was characterised by a series of laneways, with small properties packed together creating crowded and unsanitary conditions. In the public's consciousness, Little Lon was a slum, riddled with poverty, prostitution and drug addiction.
Little Lon was the city's 'Red Light District', but it was also home to the city's poorest residents and recently arrived immigrants from Ireland, Italy, China and Syria. And what recent archaeological and historical research shows us is that under adverse conditions, many individuals and families managed to make homes, raise children, and establish businesses in Little Lon.