Immortalising Rowland S Howard

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Laneways, musicians and memory

By Andrea Baker

The recent naming of the Rowland S Howard lane in St Kilda, after Australia’s most innovative guitarist, is a tale of music heritage and community resilience.

The Rowland S Howard lane, situated between Eildon and Jackson Street in St Kilda, is near the entertainment strip of Fitzroy Street and the historical heartland of the Australian post punk scene during the 1970s and 1980s.

Rowland S Howard is “perhaps one of the most singular rock guitarists Australia has ever produced”, said prolific music writer, Clinton Walker in his 2010 book, History is Made at Night, Live Music in Australia.

Formerly of bands such as The Young Charlatans, The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party (with Nick Cave), Crime and City Solutions and These Immortal Souls, Rowland S. Howard mastered his craft in infamous St Kilda music venues such as The Seaview Ballroom on Fitzroy Street.

With band stints in London and Berlin, and side trips to New Orleans, Rowland resettled in St Kilda during the 1990s because he loved its café culture and European feel.

“Melbourne has a reputation as Australia’s great music city”, but the “local rock scene suffered a tremendous blow when Rowland S Howard died after a long battle with liver cancer on 30 December 2009, aged 50 ”, Clinton Walker said.

On a hot summer’s day (7 January 2010) I, along with 500 mourners, including the local punk and post punk music scene attended Rowland’s funeral at the Sacred Heart Church in St Kilda.

Dolores San Miguel, author of The Ballroom, Melbourne’s punk and post-punk music scene recalls that day: “The sky was a brilliant blue and the sun golden and shining bright as I stood in the queue waiting to enter [the church] a couple of blocks from the old George Hotel where it all began”.

An email from former band mate, Nick Cave, was read out at Rowland’s funeral, “Every now and then comes along a person whose style informs your own style and for me, Rowland was that person”.

Local music promoter, Nick Haines, a friend of Rowland who lobbied for over 3 years for the St Kilda laneway to have the full name Rowland S Howard, also attended the funeral back in 2010, though we never knew each other either back then.

I met Haines two years later (in 2012) when I joined the St Kilda Live Music Community, when Haines had started distributing the petition for a local laneway in Rowland’s honour.

After much lobbying, media exposure and a catalyst letter to the council by Nick Cave, on 23 April 2013 the laneway in Rowland S Howard’s honour was approved by the City of Port Philip.

But the Liberal Victorian Government’s Office of Geographic location would only approve one single name for the laneway, either Rowland or Howard for times of emergency.

Nick Haines, with support of Rowland’s younger brother, Harry Howard and elder sister Angela Howard, and former partner, Genevieve McGucken, all musicians in their own right, and the St Kilda Live Music Community, were determined that the laneway be christened in full as Rowland S. Howard.

“So we had to cool our heels and wait for a change of government, which came in November last year”, Haines said.

Under the direction of Albert Park’s re-elected State member and now Minister for Creative Industries, Martin Foley; the Labour Government overrode this decision.

Five years on (4 June 2015) the sky was also blue and the sun was shining on a cold winter’s day when the St Kilda Live Music Community celebrated the official opening of the Rowland S Howard lane.

What would Rowland say about a lane being named after him? “He would be amused”, Harry said.

“There are 2 books Rowland would never have expected to end up in, the bible and the street directory!” Angela concluded.

The naming of Rowland S. Howard Lane puts St Kilda back on the international music map; and the ramifications of this successful campaign is yet to be realised.


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