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Words by Robert Chuter

Art by Robert Scholten

Charlie Dickon Bitzer didn’t scream or wail like most of the other children would have done when the garden spike pierced his eyeball. The fall was so quick and hard he, mercifully, passed out. It was only when he woke in the hospital to find his eye sealed shut that it all hit him at once: the pain, the dizziness and the dreaded realisation that his fate was now set.

Naturally, his other eye followed and what precious little sight he had now had become total blindness. It was the 19th century after all and despite the leaps made in the medical field, surgery was still inelegant at best. Given his blindness, employment options were limited and Charlie found himself withering away to poverty. By luck, he stumbled onto Eildon, once a thirty room mansion the grand renaissance-revival building that had since been subdivided following the death of its former owner – the renowned Western pastoralist John Lang Currie.

Eildon was in the centre of the declining bayside suburb of St. Kilda. No longer the fashionable getaway for Melbourne’s wealthy,  the suburb now was becoming rundown and in some areas derelict.  Amongst the low-life’s and eccentrics who moved about the streets, Charlie stood out.  He was a tall, stick-like figure, clad mainly in urine stained and ill-fitting clothes.  Refusing to use a walking-stick, he would constantly be walking into walls and street posts, making him a comical, if slightly frightening local character. What added to his infamous persona was his stubborn refusal to admit that anything was wrong. Anyone who laughed or even pointed out this defect would be met with Charlie’s fierce temper, erupting after years of bullying.

It wasn’t just his temper that was a little frightening. Contrary to the firm denials of his affliction, he would often gently caress and pat people’s faces whilst talking to them. No doubt this was to give himself a better understanding of what his peers looked like, but it was often without warning or consent, startling anyone he was in contact with. Children were scared of him and would scamper around corners when Charlie appeared.

He was eventually married to a woman named Belle who died twelve or some months after their wedding.  Some say she died of chargrin, some say of Tuberous Sclerosis.  Little else is known of her.  Weakened by disappointment and grief, Charlie retreated back to Eildon rarely coming out. Eildon itself was also disintegrating and years of neglect was taking its toll.  The landlord found the only way to raise revenue was further subdivision, resulting in the formation of Eildon Road and the loss of two-thirds of the property.

Enter Florence. Flo, who was affectionately known as “Auntie Florrie” was short, moustached and like some grotesque character out of a Dickens’ novel.  Charlie married her believing she was a pretty thing, but course, in reality, it was a different thing altogether. Auntie Florrie was half-blind herself, so it was a case of the blind leading the blind.  She used to lead Charlie around the streets of St. Kilda hand-in-hand often having collisions with street poles and the iron fences of Eildon. 

Not all of Auntie Florrie’s domestic flourishes could be considered savoury. Charlie’s favourite culinary treat was prepared by her regularly and consisted of homemade rissoles floating in thick two-week old fat.   If she and Charlie would have a disagreement she would rearrange the furniture to punish him.  Disoriented and without any defence, Charlie would be forced to relent to Auntie Florrie’s side of the argument regardless.  On the occasional summer evening Charlie, with Auntie Florrie always by his side, would perch himself outside Eildon and sing old songs acapella surrounded by a sprinkling of residents drinking bottles of Vic Bitter. Apparently, his singing was wonderful and quite moving.

Eildon became owned by the Ymer family from 1951. Mr Ymer and his wife successfully ran the boarding house from the 1950s-80s. 

Charlie had a saying, he used to repeat often to people: “There are two things that are important – sickness and death – and seeing you don’t have either of them you should be very happy…” With declining health, Charlie Bitzer slept his way to death alongside his snoring wife in 1974.

In the later years, the boarding house business declined, as did the building so two of the owner’s sons carried out renovations in 2004 and converted Eildon into a backpackers accommodation.  Then in 2006  Eildon was purchased for a reported $4 million by the Alliance Française as its new Melbourne headquarters and implemented extensive renovations and restorations. Today it remains an icon of St. Kilda.

What happened to Auntie Florrie?   Sadly, no one knows.


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