The ‘Hill-ites’ and the ‘Flatties’ – how the rise of Balaclava diminished tensions

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By Michael Townsend, Director of Hodges St Kilda

The recent, rapid gentrification of the Balaclava area has put an end to an ongoing tension that has a long historic link to St Kilda’s past. From the starting days of St Kilda’s development, there has been a rich history of how the property market reflected class issues.

Rapid growth in the Balaclava region can be easily sighted with the spring of fro-yo bars, cold-pressed juices, cafes and boutique shops speckled down Carlisle St. What used to be a Red Rooster is now the art deco inspired fine dining restaurant; Ilona Staller.

This progress has attracted the attention of developers and has created another high value area for St Kilda. But these changes are also seeing to the end of a long-running tension in our community.

From the beginnings of St Kilda, wealthy landowners built up their Victorian properties atop St Kilda Hill, some of which still remain today. The area was highly desired to avoid flooding and to remove themselves from the marshes of the Balaclava and Elwood regions.

These wealthy estate owners then dubbed themselves as the ‘Hill-ites’, and appropriately coined the term ‘Flatties’ for their working-class counterparts housed in the flatter areas of St Kilda. This in turn cultivated an ‘us VS them’ mentality.

This rivalry ran through St Kilda’s history for a long time, but only started to shrink when St Kilda Town Hall was built on Flattie territory, on the corner of Brighton Rd and Carlisle St, where it remains today.

The prestige of St Kilda Hill was also diminished in the ‘60s and ‘70s when old estates were torn down to make way for garish apartment blocks.

Yet the Flattie area did not thrive until it saw an influx of young, affluent, and middle-class couples, attracted by the low-density blocks and the challenge of renovating old cottages.

Though Balaclava is still well in the process of its growth, its expanding value has put a rest to the historic claims of rivalry and classism in St Kilda.


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