“I don’t think you’ll find anything interesting in Boronia” said my workmate with a slightly concerned tone in his voice. I didn’t put all that much thought into the destination in what was going to be the first instalment of my new year’s resolution to go visit a completely new suburb at least once a fortnight. I just had a glance up the train map from the line that the oft-overlooked East Richmond station – the closest to my workplace – was on, and picked the quaintest sounding place. Plus it had a cool sounding old time suburban cinema, and according to Wikipedia “over 11 restaurants”.
Quaint it ain’t. A stressed out mum with three small kids in tow screeched “Put that fuckin thing down will ya! You’ve already pissed me off and we’ve only just left the house!” Two middle-aged ladies greet at the front of a bottle shop, exchanging tales of hard days, and both about to try and soothe them from the wares within. A church with coloured flag bunting and contemporary architecture sits next door to Centrelink. Both buildings huge and seemingly well attended centres of salvation.
One house proudly had a driveway full of Holden; two Commodores and a Monaro Ute. Not to be outdone, a feller up the road has two Datsun 120y’s. There were a couple of places with caravans parked in front yards. Their owners committed to the lifestyle, one was sitting on camping chairs in the driveway another sat at an outdoor table reading the newspaper beside their mobile homes, ignoring the bricks and mortar ones behind them.
A gruff looking man trudges along about twenty metres behind me grimly clutching a brown paper bag wrapped bottle, periodically glaring at me. A lanky youth is playing basketball by himself in the front yard, across the road from a house that is seemingly trying to break the world record for the largest number of wind chimes on a front porch.
A few streets back from the station and the blocks are enormous. Worn looking fibro houses sit uncomfortably in the middle of expanses of grass and falling down timber fences. A smattering of new townhouses dot the streets, looking incongruously straight -lined and modern.
I get back to the retail hub of town. The street strips have specially shops – brewing, fishing, shooting in amid fish & chip and pizza takeaway joints. There’s still two video stores defying the Netflix and chill generation. ‘The Mall Boronia’ is sadly already closed, it’s a mix of shuttered empty shops, hand written signs, banners proclaiming ‘Good Health’ and ‘Great Shopping’ a handful of smaller services struggling on, hairdressers, nail technicians, a confectionery shop, butcher, baker, women’s fashion and a post office. A tired sounding security guard informs me it’s all closed and nods towards the exit.
I emerge into a sort of square around a car park that is equal parts cars and abandoned trolleys. Coles and K-Mart loom along one edge. Restaurants fill the opposite end. I get something fried and greasy, it seems appropriate and was still feeling a bit rough after pub cricket training lived up to its name. I messaged a friend who grew up sort of nearby if they ever came here back then. They responded ‘Yes. Unfortunately. My parents lived there before I was born. Why are you out there? So many junkies and derros”. Not much had changed.
I’d missed Star Wars already at the Metro Cinema, so did another block. There was a 700 space multi deck carpark behind the Coles, I walked up on the roof, it offered a great view of the rest of the carpark and not much else. A big, black crow sat on one of the numerous white concrete pillars, drinking water from a leaking fire hydrant while more pecked at a plastic big left in the bottom of yet another abandoned shopping trolley.
I wound my way down the wee-smelling ramps and out through the old arcade, across the main road through to the leisure side of town. There was an AMF bowling centre , mirror balls twinkling above the lanes drawing in mopey looking teens. There was a tattoo parlour amid some empty shops behind which sat a basketball stadium, and a stormwater runoff area that had been manicured to look like a sort of wetlands. Four black-clad blokes played a sledging and swearing filled game of tennis across from the silent and subdued library building.
There is a path through a grassed area which features statues of birds, castles and even a pirate ship carved from dead old tree trunks with what looks like a chainsaw. I press on into the residential streets: Cypress, Pine and Tulip, then walk up Narcissus Avenue and resist taking a selfie. I come back to the main road into town looking back at the suburb as it sits in the shadows of the Dandenong Ranges towering behind in a splendid backdrop.
There is another square littered with small cafes and restaurants , but dominated by a bustling Dan Murhpy’s that is bigger and busier than all the other shops combined. It’s getting cold and windy now, cars hoon past with V8s roaring, I bid Boronia farewell and walk down the tree-lined bike path to Ferntree Gully station.