Around the year 1928, Leon Satanovich fled the Russian pogroms after seeing his family perish. He made his way to Melbourne, where he found work as a cleaner / caretaker at the Moran and Cato building in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. He became well known amongst the locals and, in typical Australian fashion, Satanovich was affectionately nicknamed ‘Satan’.
When The Great Depression hit Melbourne a year or so later, part of the building was closed and Satanovich was given the task of clearing the space. Being the enterprising grandson of a former Russian vodka maker, he found some copper boilers and water tanks and convinced the maintenance department to assist his endeavour by welding them together.
Satanovich created vodka stills in the caretaker’s quarters of the Moran and Cato warehouse. It was the time of The Depression; alcohol was expensive, and Satanovich was happy to share his creation with anyone who would help. Other workers would bring grain and keep him company through the process.
During the hot summer months, the combination of Melbourne’s soaring temperatures and the heat generated by the burners under the stills was unbearable. Satanovich often worked close to naked, distilling vodka in nothing more than his underpants. This moonshining was a guarded secret and those who came to partake, used the code phrase, “Let’s get Naked for Satan”.
In time, it became a popular clandestine destination for the locals of Fitzroy. On Sundays, when the pubs were closed, those in the know would come with empty bottles to be filled with “Satan’s Vodka”.
“Satan’s” stills served the population of Fitzroy throughout The Depression years. It is not clear why the stills were abandoned in the late 1930s, but with the advent of World War II there were dramatic changes throughout Australia and that part of Fitzroy’s history was laid to rest.