Despite where I’ve usually been ending up on these daft endeavors, I would actually like to go to a nice, pleasant place most of the time. My ‘start at work and zoom out’ method saw me chance upon Heatherdale, which sounded olde worldly and quaint, a place of gardens and blooms, big houses with open fire places and hearths perhaps? But knowing my luck, and as confirmed by the workmates, it’s most likely a desolate industrial area with few redeeming features.
Anyway, the Lilydale line is a bit of a charmer in autumn, lots of vivid red and yellow leaved trees sticking out among the stone chimneys as we go through the olde English enclaves of Canterbury and Surrey hills. There’s a line of strangely symmetrical palm trees planted all in a row atop the embankment beside the rails as you get into Laburnum, dome topped and lumpy, standing guard like a line of sentinels over the train line. Then you get to the ones adjoining the road, and they are scabby and barren, mostly bare branches.
There’s a baseball perched on the stones between the tracks, I wonder if it was hit out of the park, but google maps tells me the nearest diamond is 9km away, some swing.
I get off at Mitcham, it’s nice, the sun is setting in Fanta coloured tones, I wander down to the reservoir, which is not unexpectedly fenced off, can’t see a drop of water. But there’s an awesome old water tower slowly being draped in ivy. Grand gates are the only remains of what must have been a sizable estate across the road, now just overgrown emptiness awaiting tawdry town houses. I do the block back to the main drag, there’s a Permit Shop, a sizable local pub, and a nice little row of takeaway restaurants. For a suburb that has a whopping highway running through it, Mitcham feels like a quite nice little village and is pretty quiet.
I visit an exotic supermarket that could be a goldmine for your canny/brave shopper, they had numerous items at ridiculously discounted prices, however the catch was, it was all past the best before date. The further back its best before, the cheaper it was! I think the earliest date I saw was last June, and the slightly dusty packet of noodles bearing it were 40c! Risk/return! I got some udon (full price and best before 11/05/2017, but it felt like the whole store was just one step up from dumpster diving.
There’s an outdated mall with a heritage information sign I reckon I’m in a very exclusive club to have bothered reading. It gave a dry history of old pastoral families of the area and an underwhelming coverage of the convergence of shops around the main streets. There was a notice board with community news and lots of local groups offering crafty courses. There’s a series of rom coms playing at the local council hall, life drawing, amateur theatre, bike riding and half a dozen other wholesome activities in the city of Whitehorse. There were two dogs tied to the trolleys outside woollies, the smallest and most cuddly looking one restrained by a muzzle. A theatrically voiced man hollered high pitched instructions at the dance school across the lane, “you’ve got fifteen minutes, ladies!”
Back to the highway, there’s a few shoe shops, a florist and the usual array of financial and real estate agents. Things give way to tile town, including the brand of the dubiously distinctive Frank Walker (Helloooooooooooooooo) of national tiĺlllllllllllles. He’s a cult hero of bad radio. Which is really one of the most tenuous reasons I’ve ever found to walk down a particular road; just to walk past a closed tile store, but you know, everyone needs hobbies! Plus attractions were pretty light on, and I had to have something to talk about as opposed to – walked alongside a dark busy highway. I sent a picture of the National Tiles sign to my GoldFM listening colleagues at work, they were almost mildly impressed. I recalled that one of the Unicorns cricket team works here, I asked him once what Frank was really like and if he talked like that at work, too, and if he answered the phone like that etc hoping to get an insight into this eccentricly voiced god of the radio jingle. ‘Nah he’s a bit of a c*** and doesn’t really talk to anyone’ was the bubble bursting reply. One of his nearby competitors is having a toilet tile sale, it’s not very exciting.
Next comes the health district. Judging by the amount of briskly moving, lycra clad people jogging past me or dog walking, it seems they have a captive and large market of pavement pounding fitties. The tenants of the next two blocks read like the optional extras on a private health policy. Physio, osteo, chiro, naturopath, acupuncture, Golf World, Smiles All Round. There’s even a Pole Dancing academy nearby if you’re into that sort of thing.
The other side of the highway seemed to be a bit more blokey; BBQs-R-US, the Healey Factory (classic sportscar specialists who have been here almost thirty years!), Watyl Paint, Total Tools, the Roof Rack Superstore, Rapid Tune and Outdoor Furniture.
The historic Antonio Park would probably be really terrific in the daytime. Seven hectares of remnant bushland, walking trails and a historic cottage that dates back to the 1860s. The cottage was at various times home to people with such stirring names as August, Pauline, Wilhelmina and Dorothea and John Kruse. They pretty much built from scratch not only the cottage itself, using stones quarried nearby and the timber from the trees on site, but also operated and farmed fruit trees, vineyards, a dairy, bee hives, poultry and partook in their own wine making. But in the dark there was just creepy shadows, uneven ground and about one metre of visibility to contend with, and so I walked back to the highway having to absorb the history of the spot from a faded plaque, and the internet just now.
I crossed Deep Creek Road and made it to the leafy streets of Heatherdale. There was the Quality Hotel Manor and picket fences aplenty. It was fully dark now, with only the dim pools of streetlamp light and the glow of the Eastlink illuminating the residential streets. Silhouettes behind blinds or shadows moving behind curtains were the only signs of life about, as people clattered about in kitchens or absorbed the glow of flat screens. One place had five cars in a cavernous garage/man shed.
Back to the highway and towards the station there was a nick-nack filled hairdresser and a Mexican restaurant, a Hungry Jacks stood on the corner, a bit of colour in amid a drab street of mechanics and electric transformers. Heatherdale’s heights up from the station had lots of liquid ambar trees, with their different coloured leaves glowing in the lamplight. Some of the bigger ones had huge circular chunks carved out of them so the powerlines can pass through.
I walked a couple of blocks, just so I could walk down ‘Good Governs St’ then back up Heatherdale’s main drag, which mostly comprises an electricity substation. Michael’s is pretty much the only place to go to eat of an evening, a nice family-friendly pizza and pasta restaurant that was bursting with big groups.
Heading towards Ringwood, there was a spacious gravel car park backdropped by powerlines and transformers, and would be my location of choice to do burnouts (if I had a car). Wicked Adult Shop was the only business open, but no one was feeling very sexy seemingly. Next along is the smash repair district, then the sprawling silos, ramps and sand-filled yard of the pronto concrete plant.
The World of War gamers lair was open, with a few roleplayers lording over a board in chairs resembling thrones. There was an impressive Japanese restaurant – the Suishaya Inn – and a brace of big op-shops and then ‘The Big Cannon’ camera atop Kirks Photography. Five Star music looks like it would have been responsible for launching the careers of numerous local bedroom guitarist and garage drummers. This review sums it up pretty well “…very helpful staff especially Dale (amazing skills on acoustic guitar.”
Club X casts a pink neon glow across the highway, the Clocktower in front of the station has a bit of Back to the Future about it, and then theres Eastland. An absolute behemouth of a mall that takes up half the suburb. It’s mostly deserted inside save for some bored security guards and some late night supermarket shoppers. It takes about fifteen minutes to get through and around it. It’s getting a bit late now, and the dining options were drying up. The Firehouse comes highly regarded by the types that like reviewing things on the internet, it’s described as a “Trendy Cafe with clever Med-Style Fair”. Clever? Are my vine leaves going to ask me about trigonometry? Anyway, I found the place and it’s this amazing restored old fire station, the restaurant is filled with what can only be described as gaiety, as beaming couples and jovial families eat their clever food in candle-lit delight. I catch a glance at my reflection in the front window as I peruse the menu there, I’ve been wandering aimlessly for nearly three hours, I’m looking a bit bedraggled, and windswept, and I don’t think it would be right to lower the tone of the place.
See also this curmudgeonly rant from the very great Cook Suck site: “Why are you even at this restaurant? No-one wants you here, the establishment has catered itself for people of a certain socio-economic level – chances are if a venue feels fancy to you no-one wants you there. You know that feeling you get when you see an ice addict on a train during peak hour with a longneck and a pram abusing his 17 year old girlfriend? That’s you and your peplum wearing fiancé at a restaurant with a scoopon voucher…”
I wander further with Ringwood City limits fast approaching, there appears a light down further, I press on. There was a strange ‘Private Dining Kitchen’ of some sort of Asian cuisine, which has all the lights and specials an ‘Open’ sign and most things that would suggest it could sell some sort of food, except perhaps for a subtle handwritten ‘Closed Tuesdays’ sign. Shiv Indian Cuisine was two doors down and looked really promising, I may very well have been their only customer that evening, as three different family members all combined to take, fulfill and deliver my order (Pumpkin masala, saffron rice and stuffed naan fyi) with every bit of attentiveness that you could hope for. And it was great. ****.
I forewent taking in the Ringwood lake and walked past the skeletal exterior of Eastland to the station which had a very civil waiting room, as all the chairs on the platform had been removed as part of the recent upgrading. After twenty minutes of communal phone staring I was on my way back to Flinders Street. Onya Ringwood, I’ll hopefully be back.