30 March 2994

Excavation Report: Carlisle Street Plaza

Door in Stonehenge

This report concerns excavations to the Carlisle Street plaza. These excavations are part of a general program to restore the ancient heritage of St Kilda. Though the conclusions drawn from these excavations are necessarily vague, they do add important data to the existing folklore about the mysterious area known as the Carlisle Street Plaza.


The plaza opens with a large bluestone rock that appears to have been taken from the St Kilda breakwater. This remains today as a cosy place for people to sit on a sunny afternoon. There are some, of course, who look for more allusive connotations. These`new age' mystics promote the power of inorganic forms such as crystals. There is no evidence for this belief at the end of the twentieth century when the plaza was constructed.

The stone introduces the offical entry point of the plaza: the triumphal arch, or as it would be known in more contemporary terms, the `trilithon'. The arch was clad in bluestone, the same material as the rock. Housed within the arch was a door. This door is mysterious in a number of ways. First, there is no evidence of walls adjoining the arch, so why was a door necessary at all? Second, nor is there evidence of any handle, lock or key to open the door. The answer to the second puzzle is easier than the first. The plaza door was of a type known then as `automatic door'. These doors required no direct contact by humans -- to open the door all a person needed to do was simply approach it. An eye was positioned above the doorway which would note the approach and draw apart the door leaves in anticipation. The `automatic door' is an example of how far advanced the technology of the period was -- most of its secrets are unfortunately lost to us today. Yet, there is a further mystery to the door's operation. The fragment of the arch containing the eye shows that it was actually pointed up to the sky, rather than down to the ground on which a person would approach the door. What then opened the door? A bird? A cloud?

People of the late twentieth-century were very practical; while it might evoke much mystery for us today, the original reason for the upward eye is likely to be quite mundane. The mystical theories about the connections between the design of the plaza and the solar and lunar cycles are based on purely circumstantial evidence. The renowned mystic Obu Buda has claimed that the arch faces the northernmost point on the horizon at which the sun rises (60 NE) Is this more than a coincidence? Buda has used this to promote the theory that the plaza celebrated the winter solstice: the point in the calendar when days ceased to grow shorter and began to lengthen again. Certain unreliable sources of the time tell of the mysterious apparently unprompted closing of the doors during the day. Buda claims that this action was the result of the sun's spirit which was housed within the arch for pursposes of worship.

While such mysticism will always attract its enthusiasts, those with a scientific belief in reason must rest with the facts themselves. It is well known from archival images of `photographs' that St Kilda was a popular location for the gathering of large numbers of people from all around Melbourne. Large groups of people once promenaded along the Esplanade, Fitzroy Street, Carlisle Street and Acland Street. St Kilda was thus a suburb where a variety of people would mix in the open air. It is quite understandable, then, that a few `cosmetic' references to the sun should find their way into the plaza outside the town hall. This `scientific' theory is well supported by the hard evidence of the words inscribed in the plates either side of the arch. The `place' plate contains names of destinations and the `name' plate different kinds of civic designations. This reinforces the identity of St Kilda as a place where a diverse mix of people would gather not to hide their difference but to celebrate the ways in which they might not fit into the rest of their community. One can imagine, therefore, that the arch performed an initiatory role in the ritual entry of newcomers to the suburb of St Kilda.

This possible ritual use of the door finds other hard evidence in the presence of the barcode symbol on the side of the arch. It has recently been discovered that barcodes originated as strips to be read by laser scanners for the purpose of tracking goods as they moved from factory to shop to home. It was only into the twenty-first century with the growth of mysticism that their symbolic spiritual meaning began to emerge. Today, the barcode figures strongly in the ornamentation of most main religions; it is ironic to imagine that it had its origin in shopping. As it is unlikely that such triumphal arches might be sold in shops, the barcode must have been used with spiritual intentions: expressing the origins of things in the dance of light and darkness. Carlisle Street Plaza is the earliest known instance of the use of the barcode in ritual architecture.


The automatic door is not the only door found in the plaza site. On the inside of the half-elipse leading to the entry of the town hall is a series of seven doors. The first door is half the size of the last. The doors are at various stages of opening. The first is fully closed and the seventh is wide open. Silver marks the inside of the doors. For the mystics fascinated by the solar symbolism of the arch, these doors are interpreted as expressions of the lunar cycle. Silver is the colour associated with the moon, which grows in size like the opening of the doors. If these, then, are lunar-operated doors, why seven?

Most conjectures have linked the seven doors to the ancient calendric cycle of the week. This cycle of seven days had no particular significance as solar or lunar a unit of change, yet it seemed to govern the entire world. If you can imagine, the collective mood depended on the particular stage of the week. Monday was a time for the `blues', while people would gather at the end of the week to `thank god its Friday'. In general, people of this period would dedicate the first five days of the week -- Monday to Friday -- to preparing for the most significant events of the final two days, Saturday and Sunday. St Kilda, in all likelihood, played a critical role in what was titled `the land of the long weekend'. Thus the seven doors represent the seven days of the week, each rising in significance until Sunday.

Such conjectures are based on piecemeal information and relate more to popular prejudice and myth than anything grounded in fact. There is little distinguish such an hypothesis from the stories told around the fires at night, like the `myth of Sanctus Kildare', the ancient kingdom where alchemists practiced door magic in the quest to recover the lost secrets of its operation.

Indeed, the most likely explanation to our minds is that the doors offered special access to a variety of St Kilda residents, from children to fully grown adults. During renovations, the rooms into which these doors opened were closed off. Shoddy workmanship of the time left the doors hanging stiffly without purpose.


It is likely that the three columns remaining in the plaza space belonged originally to a much more elaborate structure. The columns are made from the same material as the street poles, which suggests that at one stage the street actually came to the door of the town hall. One might suspect that a `drive-in' service was offered for ratepayers in the infringement of traffic regulations. The alcove doors might have been part of this. When eventually we lost the ancient skill of motor car driving, such avenues were no longer used for vehicular traffic.


Any archeology is a dubious process, especially with the rough methods we practice in our own time. It is critical, thought, that we treat the more mystical theories of the plaza with a well-deserved scepticism. In all likelihood, the plaza was the site in which the town's community might gather during the day to: hear speeches, worship civic deities (the penguin), praise local heroes, mark rites of passage, crown the new mayor of the municipality, witness oaths of loyalty, mourn the dead, petition the town hall for favours, exchange items of gossip, celebrate the winter solstice, wait for the #3 or #69 tram, ratify changes to the council's constitution, soak up the sun, perform the local dances of the region, or pay their parking fines. And at night, these same people might have congregated in the plaza to witness activities such as: displays of scientific knowledge, pyrotechnics, candlelit processions, holographic installations, narration of municipal epics, collective chanting to the evening stars, astronomical observations, and waiting for the #3 or #69 tram.