Published in the Weekend Australian Magazine, July 2017

Photo credit: Julian Kingma

You don’t notice how out of place 330 King Street, Melbourne, looks because it’s rendered so insignificant by its surroundings you don’t tend to notice it at all. Built in 1850, it’s the oldest residence in the CBD and has been in the same family and run as a shop since 1899. It looks like the crushing menace of the neighbouring high-rises is trying to dislodge it and pop it off into the middle of the intersection to be crushed by the number 30 tram. But it digs in. At the front door is a sign.

Russells Old Corner Shop
Luncheon Room

The tip-off came from a playwright friend. “Get yourself down to those tearooms quick smart. Run by an old theatre couple. You might get a chipped cup, but the stories are grand.”

As meek as it appears now, Russells Old Corner Shop was the heart of the community in the first half of the 20th century, when King Street was hay and grain stores, grocery warehouses, tea importers, Chinese laundries and family homes. The shop was also a home. It was an essential hub of supplies, stocked to the ceiling with honey, cheese, meats, hangover cures, and a front counter of lollies that dazzled like precious gems. It was in a hollow under this counter that a small girl would crouch, watch and listen, accepting bread and dripping titbits from her grandfather, and halfpennies from customers. The making of an actress. Today, that same girl is still in the shop, still watching, listening and welcoming customers through the door. The building is a rare period-piece somehow still standing. The girl is Lola Russell.

The irony is she looks out more than people look in. Lola was born in the in 1921, has lived here her whole life and has never seen the rule book that says a 95-year-old woman shouldn’t climb a vertical spiral staircase in a pair of bright red high heels. The ascent is so steep she uses her hands to grip the stairs above her head, like a mountain climber thwacking an ice axe into the snow, with the high heels perhaps acting as surrogate crampons. But scant regard for expectations is what makes Lola Lola…

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To donate to the cost of restoring Lola and George’s house, go to this My Cause page