La Trobe University

Few now in Melbourne remember Antoni Gavarro, and yet this Catalan farmer has been rather more influential in the city’s history than it would at first appear. One of the first settlers in the region, his farm occupied the slopes of the narrow creek bed that runs to the east of La Trobe University, through modern Rosanna and Macleod. But his reach extended much further.

Although his farmed hillsides were fertile, they were also steep and prone to mudslides. Gavarro soon realised that he would have few customers if he did not make things easier for them. And besides, his farm was making a profit, and he wanted to expand. He soon laid claim to the flat plain that stretches across from the ridge line now occupied by Waiora Road to the eastern banks of Darebin Creek. And to the north, just beyond the place where the creek curved westward, he created a market that attracted farmers – and their customers – for miles around.

An intensely social man, and all the more so due to his general unluckiness in love, Gavarro thought of the market less as a place for commercial activity and more a place for social and cultural activities. He paid for the construction of an ampitheatre modeled after the classic Roman agora, and in general tried to attract people to the site. Uncounted weddings resulted from the meetings of young couples at the weekly dances, although Gavarro’s was never among them. Not that this ever dismayed him, at least not publically – not until his death by suicide in 1849.

Without the strong impetus of Gavarro behind it, the market – named The Trobar by Gavarro, after the Catalan word for meetings – began to fade away. Its decline was exacerbated by the Gold Rush of the 1850s, which drew away many of the former attendees, and saw Gavarro’s farm, like others in the region, increasingly used for residential or industrial purposes rather than agricultural ones.

By 1873, the once-proud Trobar was falling into ruin. Only the Starwatcher clan of mystics still used the land, and they were preoccupied with attempts to create a portal to (or possibly a manifestation of – accounts differ) what they referred to as The Radiant City of the Universe, a platonic ideal of urbanisation which they believed to be the seat of God. It is unclear whether or not they succeeded, as infighting among the mystics led to the group fissioning on multiple occasions over the subsequent decades.

But surely neither they nor Gavarro could have seen that one day, both their ideals – The Trobar and the Universe-City – would find new expression in a combined form.

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