Category Archives: Duo Ex Machina

Research: Melbourne in 2009

The next book in the Duo Ex Machina series, Number One Fan, is set in Melbourne in 2009.

What was going on in Australia and Melbourne that year?

For a start, I found and photographed this plaintive sign which had been shoved into a bin down near the Sofitel Hotel, on the Flinders Lane side.

I never did find out why the placard had been made or why it had been dumped as though it caused the placard-maker pain, but the sign and its sad ending have always made me wonder what the story was.

In 2009, Australia’s Prime Minister was Kevin Rudd. He and the Labor Party had won government by a landslide in 2007 and he promptly signed the Kyoto Protocol, apologised to the Stolen Generations, finished pulling Australian troops out of Iraq and instigated several education and communications policies, including the National Broadband Network.

It was kind of downhill after that,  and in mid-2010 he was replaced by his deputy, Julia Gillard. But that’s a whole other year and not part of Frank and Milo’s 2009 story.

In that year, Australia was playing it’s regular game of Natural Disaster Bingo, with floods in Queensland, the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria that killed 173 people, torrential rains in NSW, followed by more floods in Queensland and NSW.

This was the year Geelong won the Septemer AFL Grand Final and Shocking won the Melbourne Cup in November.

In February, the St Jerome Laneway Festival overflowed its location after four successful years (leading to new locations in 2010 that would fit everyone). The line-up included The Temper Trap, Tame Impala and Architecture in Helsinki.

The Black Eyed Peas, Kings of Leon, Lady Gaga and the Hilltop Hoods were all over the charts. Jessica Mauboy and Guy Sebastian were in the Top 100 too.

So that’s a taste of what was happening in 2009, when Frank and Milo are recording a new album, setting up an office to deal with admin, and find themselves drawn into another maelstrom of crime and danger.

The Waiters Club

Although the sign says The Waiters Restaurant, everyone knows this place as The Waiters Club. It’s a very simple Italian restaurant, upstairs at 20 Meyers Place, Melbourne.

Image from Tripexpert

There’s nothing flash about The Waiters Club – it opened in 1947 and by 2009, it didn’t appear to have been refurbished since the 1970s, with its white walls, dark wooden tables, an arched window overlooking a burgundy canopy, and chalkboard menus. (It’s not updated its look much since then either.)

Originally, it was the restaurant inhabited by Melbourne chefs and waiters  once their own restaurants had closed up in the small hours. It served traditional Italian dishes and cheap alcohol, the latter in defiance of Melbourne’s strict and limited licensing laws. Reputedly, visitors had to give a password to enter the door at the top of the narrow staircase, like a first floor speakeasy for pasta.

The sly grog days are long gone, but the aura of a seedy past clings to the restaurant, with the owners’ encouragement, because of an incident in 1978 which began as a daring raid and ended in hilarious farce.

The Waiters Club Siege took place on 31 March, 1978. 

18-year-old Amos Atkinson, a hot-head who had fallen in with notorious Melbourne gangster Chopper Read, had a run in with the police. After pursuit, Atkinson and his friend Robert Williams pelted up the stairs and ended up taking the 30-odd diners and staff hostage. Atkinson then came up with the bright idea of threatening to shoot hostages unless Chopper Read was released from prison. 

Read had recently held a gun to a judge’s head, and so the authorities were naturally reluctant to comply. The police did nothing, leaving Atkinson hanging.

Atkinson’s next bright demand was to send a hostage out with the message that Atkinson wanted to speak to his mum.

Mrs Atkinson, bless her, showed up in her dressing gown and a hundred tons of attitude. She marched up the stairs, hit her son on the head with her handbag, told him to give himself up, and he did.

Far from trying to hush it up, the Waiters Club owner, Dennis Sabbadini, proudly has the newspaper clippings framed and hung on the wall for people to read and marvel over. Not only Dennis but all of Melbourne has been dining out on that story for forty years.

Image from Time and Tide blog

You can read more details of the most bogan siege in the history of suburban small time crooks at:

I’d intended for Frank and Milo to go there for dinner in Number One Fan but they never made it. Perhaps they’ll saunter along in Kiss and Cry.