Card Practice is an architectural & urban design practice from Melbourne, Australia.



Registered Architects in Victoria (ARBV 600280)
Nominated Architect in New South Wales, James Connor (NSWARB 12246)

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture.

ⓒ 2023
Milk Bars & Melancholia

Milk Bars & Melancholia is a photographic essay that explores the decline of the suburban Milk Bar typology. With photos taken between 2015-2019, the photo essay documents over 200 inactive and active milk bars across Melbourne, Victoria.  

Type: Research Project
Location: Melbourne, Victoria
Published: The Guardian

Born out of the ingenuity of Greek migrants in the 1950’s and 60’s, the milk bar soon became the epicenters of australian suburban life. With their delectable milkshakes, endlessly-flowing soda fountains and friendly customer service, the milk bar served not only as a place to buy cheap goods but as a social hub for local communities.
Many embodied what famous urbanist Jane Jacobs would say is crucial to the success of cities and streets; fine grain, walkable places of encounter that foster interactions of the everyday.
The milk bars were social spaces; intersections of public and private life and places that supported social interaction. They became significant destinations for eating, meeting and conversing in the suburbs.
Customers would come to grab their groceries, chat to the shop owner, meet friends and engage with their local economy.
The suburban milk bars were typically built as front additions to residential properties. The owners themselves lived either behind or above the shopfront and would keep the shop running 7 days a week. The original greek milk bars offered a way for their owners to mitigate socio-economic insecurity, create an identity in a foreign place and contribute to their local community.
Large awnings provided a shelter from the rain or shady place of retreat from the harsh Australian sun. Bright, flourescent signage, coloured tiles and lighting would attract your attention and draw you inside.
Slowly the inner suburbs of Melbourne became more attractive, causing wealthier residents to move in and, as the narrative of gentrification goes, existing residents were forced to move out of their communites - leaving behind their beloved milk bars.
With gentrification came the proliferation of supermarkets and chain stores. Corporate entities such as Coles and Woolworths began to expand, eliminating competitors and phasing out local businesses. Offering convenience over community, such conglomerates forced milk bars to close or diversify.
Unlike the local milk bars, supermarkets and chain-stores disconnected consumers from their local economies and severed important social inter-relations. Their self-checkout services, automated ordering systems and enormous footprints now discourage the very ideas of social cohesion and community engagement that made the milk bars so valuable.
As new waves of migrants established themselves in Melbourne, the shop owners began to change too. Many of the greek run milk bars were sold to Chinese families, who would adapt them to compete with local chains and service stations; inserting slush puppy machines and providing a greater diversity of non-edible goods from stationery to prepaid phone plans.
Many have been repurposed and converted, with owners choosing to expand their private living spaces and seal off the milk bar from the public view. This former milk bar, is now bricked up keeps it’s curtains permanently closed.
Beneath the Peter’s Ice cream signage is a deteriorating ‘Gilmours Milk’ sign. Gilmour’s was a local dairy for the Moreland area and operated up until the 1970’s.

This milk bar used to sell gelato and milkshakes but nowadays operates like many others, as a convenience style store selling only milk, bread, lollies and newspapers.
Another former milk bar in Brunswick has been repurposed and now operates as a hair salon. Remnants of the old shop are revealed by the signage and colourful window hoods.
Abandonded stores become hotspots for graffiti and vandalism. Joe’s Milk Bar in Northcote has been closed for some years now but has recently undergone some refurbishments.
Once a busy pedestrian street, scattered with small independent businesses Moreland Road now acts as main thoroughfare for vehicular traffic. Milk Bars not located in areas with high foot traffic appear to have been the most affected. This Milk Bar has since been demolished and replaced with a new multi-residential development.
Here two residences appear to have been combined to create a single, double fronted milk bar. In July 2014 the property sold for 1 million dollars AUD, highlighing the exorbitant and ever-increasing housing prices in Melbourne.
Originally run by a greek family in the 1970’s, six weeks ago new owner Jo decided to revitalise the old corner store. Her intention is to set up the Milk Bar with the idea of recreating that ‘old school milk bar’ experience; selling 5c lollies, milkshakes and spiders like they used to.
About 10 years ago, new owner Con Koustas created a destination for locals and cafe connoisseur’s alike, the Rowena Parade Corner Store. The former milk bar was established back in 1956 and went through a period of decline duing the 80’s and 90’s. In the early 2000’s the store was resurrected, returning the milk bar to its former glory. As I chatted to the current owner Con, he recollected a time when the milk bars were the centres of community life, when neighbourhoods were walkable, and people engaged with their local communities.
Jerry’s Milk Bar is a prime example of the resilience and adaptability of such insitutions. First opened in 1964 by Gerasimos ‘Jerry’ Pantelios, the milk bar has managed to run for over forty years. With it’s original signage and decor, Jerry’s continues to offer the same food and beverages, operating as an important social space for local residents.

Over time the milk bar has been adapted to accomodate the changing neighbourhood demographic, combining the original services with those of a modern cafe.
The story of the Australian milk bar does not have a happy ending. The humble icon of australian suburbia has been in decline since the turn of the century. Few still operate today, forced out of business by corporations and decimated by the effects of neighbourhood gentrification.

Many of the original milk bars of Melbourne now stand idle, as evidence of the changing cultural demographics and economies of the inner suburbs. With the proliferation of global supermarket chains such as 711, Coles and Woolworths, the small independently-run milk bars had little chance of survival.

Often only the architecture and signage remain intact, many standing unoccupied or abandoned; relics of the past and manifestations of the rapidly changing urban landscape of inner Melbourne. 

As people become dissatisfied with global supermarket chains and begin to ‘act locally’, perhaps they will turn back to the old humble milk bar.