A real tedious feller got on the train at South Yarra, just sat down and started talking, or rather, continued talking. Hands free, and interest free for everyone else in the carriage
“They say by 2018 the average email turnover will be 141 per day” was the only remotely interesting thing he said the whole journey.
There’s an expansive footy ground on the approach, a decorative Buddhist temple all gold leaf and ornate roofs laden with statues and dragons next to a symmetrical Greek Orthodox structure of worship.
Springvale station sits low under two concrete walls so you go up the stairs and are spat out on the suburb’s namesake road. I initially head east away from the city centre – and there’s some low slung shops, Barbara the Barber is an excellent business name, and they still advertise cheap flat tops. There is a baffling vaguely medical looking office with a hand textad sign ‘What Will the Future Bring’ and a phone number.
I go to the excellent Vinnies, get some footy shorts for coaching, an excellent ‘Australiana Postcard’ drinks tray, and a double Carter Brown book, all for a tenner. I wound back through the sports district, past numerous soccer fields along a bike path running beside a canal which backed onto industrial units on the other side of the trickle of discoloured water.
Just to the other side of the canal overpass some kids played a game of their own invention in a dusty circle that sort of looked like marbles An astroturfed rectangle attracted a sideline full of spectators as two guys played volleyball with their feet, soccer trick kick style. The bigger kids played two on two volleyball the proper way, with each spiked ball stirring up great clouds of dust from the ground. A small gathering of veiled girls talked and giggled under a tree nearby.
The streets adjoining the park were home to all manner of hoarders and machinery strewn front yards. Families talked and ate together on expansive front porches. As I got nearer the station, there was a growing divide between the right and the wrong side of the tracks. On the nearer to station side a stately European looking manor, all concrete yard, hedges and fancy fencing and neat streets of new Lego brick-looking units. Across the road cacti prickles shone in the sunlight and a cyclone fence surrounded an empty concrete and foundations littered block of what was once a quite sizable building. But now offered nothing but vacant space and a view to people hanging out their washing out the back of the adjoining flats. A teddy bear lies face down in the gravel verge, abandoned alongside overflowing bags of ill-fitting nineties fashions cast aside in front of an electricity substation.
Wikipedia warned “Springvale is usually very crowded, especially on weekends”, it’s a weeknight tonight and it’s only when you get near the station you can see what they’re getting at. In amidst auto repairers lies an ‘ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE’ which comprises about ten local chaps standing around a faded felt pool table, whilst seventies snooker stars and eighties soft drink models stare down from time bleached posters on the walls. There was a hip nu burger joint that a touch prematurely had its year of establishing painted proudly up: 2015. Wait at least two years will ya? There’s nothing impressive about being open for just three, or at most fifteen months!

Anyway surely no one would come to Springvale for brioche buns and buttermilk chicken n’ slaw when the whole culinary world is at your disposal in the lanes, arcades and malls that spin in all directions off the main drag.

Though Melbourne seems to be in the grip of burger-mania if you were to believe the blogs.

The suburb centre is a bustling and lively mix of mostly Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai restaurants. Footpaths are filled alternately with stalls heaving with market garden greens and lady finger bananas, or alfresco tables full of slurping soup eaters. Buckingham Avenue is a treasure trove of gold-fonted eateries. I do a lap around and past a slightly fading square and car park anchored by the Walrus BBQ Restaurant and a Thai massage place with cartoonish depictions of people in all manner of prone relaxation.

Theres a fantastic eighties shopping centre with a grand open dome and not many shops open except for a large supermarket. I stock up on some soba noodles, and a packet of no doubt heart-stopping broad bean things with various exploding flames and rockets drawn on the front in vivid red that I haven’t dared to open yet.

Walking out of the dining district, there’s an amazing church with coloured panels, a sturdy old brick primary school then comes the service area of town; a newspaper office, petrol station, police, Centrelink and the Town Hall.
The titular road of the suburb takes on a different tone again, with sweet treats from the subcontinent dominating the culinary fare. I call into a quiet little store with an overwhelming array of Indian delights, the lovely shop assistant sensed my baffled naievete and gave me some samples before sending me on my way with an orange and white thing “made with milk” and a small tube thing and something small and crunchy I’m not even going to try recall the names of.

There was a more modern mall, some cafe-clad lanes and a jovial and communal vibe in the air. Old men crowded around some footpath domino games, families and groups of friends chatted over dinner or dessert, intoxicating smells seeped out and Springvale was a mighty fine place to be as the sun set over the noodle houses.

There was one family and foodie favourite Pho restaurant boasting five star reviews and no empty seats. With people still lined up outside waiting for a table as the night crept in. I settled for a less crowded, but equally authentic looking Vietnamese restaurant and had my order misconstrued as a combination Pho (which, is thankfully a better word to type than say, as a friend pointed out, sure you can say ‘fer’ and be correct, but also be a wanker, or just say Pho and know you are wrong, but be a less annoying person). Anyway it was really good, but by gosh there were all sorts of things in it I didn’t even dare nibble on – including the strange purple square thing, and a greyish lump of dubious texture and composition.

Apart from the food, the other main attractions of Springavle are numerous venues where things have an opportunity to go really fast in a circle. There’s the Sandown International Motor Raceway, and inside that, the Sandown horse racing track, and across the road from that, the Sandown Park Greyhound track. There happened to be a meeting at the latter that very night, so I ambled over.

The greyhounds used to enjoy that sort of widespread nostalgic naff appeal. ‘The little horses’ and little Aussie battlers done good with a fast bitch or two. It felt a bit more honest and approachable than the horses, and obviously less rigged than the trotts.

Me and my dad even had one that one of his running mates trained for us way back in the 90s (Velvet Array, ran about 4 times, once the wrong way). But a bit of a bust for live baiting among a fair few trainers last year – which is utterly horrible, but probably sadly just an entrenched way of doing things since the sport started that no one ever thought to discontinue – cast the sport in a dicey light.

The Sandown track is strange in that it is almost entirely enclosed. It’s like a huge glass fronted restaurant just facing out over the track. No one really even gets up from their tables, and most people just watch on the screens above them. There’s only two totes, and one old timey bookie. Most people are betting on their phones or the self-serve machine. You can’t even really watch the stir up – where the lure does a practice lap and the dogs watch and jump about and park and go a bit excitedly silly – or the parade to the boxes. Where inevitably one of the dogs would stop for a dump and some wag would say something like, oh better change its weight in the racebook!! Or, oh, ‘it’s likely to go faster now’, depending if they’d bet on it or not.

I only stayed a few races, it just seemed devoid of character, and characters. Just another product to keep Sky Channel filled with near constant racing for people that will bet on anything. It was off to the races for me as I dashed across the carpark to Sandown Park station and managed a Myki top up and touch on a nose ahead of the train arriving.


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