The origins of a conservation ethos in the urban Australia of the late 1960s and early 1970s is commonly assumed to stem from international influences. Yet there is also a local cultural element to this urban conservationism, the recognition, celebration and preservation of historic environments, which pre-dates the 1970s popular heritage movement. A generation of postwar urbanists espoused ties between the preservation (or creation) of monuments and the purposeful promotion of nationhood and “national character”, proposing fresh understandings of the value of the Australian urban environment. This paper considers the mid-twentieth century and the nascent recognition of the potential value of urban-historic environments in Australia. It examines the role of Melbourne’s prolific and diverse Bread and Cheese Club, which was at its most active in the 1940s and 1950s. In publishing and otherwise discoursing on issues not just of urban decay and the loss of nineteenth-century city fabric, but also of the broader urban experience, the Bread and Cheese Club’s membership provide a record of the polarised attitudes toward the city among literary nationalists in the mid-twentieth century. The literary suppression of Australian urban life, that of Sydney’s “Bush Bohemians”, was largely overcome by this Melbourne literary set. The Bread and Cheese Club’s archives illustrate an older ambivalence, but also a new-found affection, felt by women and men in mid-century Melbourne towards “progress”, “modernisation” and “heritage”.