I became aware of the suburb of Darling as that’s where the team I coach are playing this weekend, Darling Oval as it is known to google maps, or Basil Street reserve to the VAFA fixture. A tiny part of me had the idea that by going there I’d be able to size up the opposition sociologically if nothing else, see where they came from, what they were about, how they lived, where they hung out etc. But mostly I just wanted to get a photo that said I was in Darling. I was the only one taking photos of the sign on the platform, everyone else had probably seen it hundreds of times already, aren’t easily amused and juvenile or really just wanted to go home. I went across the overpass bridge and did a small loop of the small strip of shops abutting the station. Nothing was open, and the swell looking bakery had these suspicion arousing blinds drawn as if they really didn’t want people to know their deep dark secret, that they put shredded carrot in their sausage rolls perhaps?!
Onto Darling Road, darling, and there was a busy 7 Eleven and a handful of strangely tenanted shops where if you wanted to make a day of it, you could buy guitars, garden supplies and a billiard table.
There was a decaying sign for ‘Valentines‘ on top of a 70’s brown business centre, it looked rather loveless.
Sprawling houses gave way to ‘Dairy Park’, a quaint little block of green space, that probably had a good story behind it, but I couldn’t find a plaque. I was not very surprised to find out later on the internet that it was once the site of a dairy. The Cranbourne dairy to be exact, which won the first ever ‘Clean Milk Competition’ in 1937, in the midst of a polio epidemic, when such things were quite important I’d imagine.
I kept on, there were low, old, well maintained house, gated at the front and a smattering of autumn sprouting coloured trees upon each nature strip. As I got a bit further down the road into the swankier part of town, the front fences and gates gave way to geometric hedges.
I had left Darling and arrived in the lead glass window haven of East Malvern. There was an optometrist for animals in an old butchers shop, eye fillers not eye fillets!
It was appearing quite the stately suburb, with streets such as The Avenue and Grange Road, then I came across Emo Road. Of course I walked down there, it went no where, I felt nothing, except perhaps the shared repetitive futility as the person sweeping the autumn leaves from their driveway. They kept sweeping and the leaves kept falling, and falling and falling. There was actually a really great old catholic Church/battlement at the end of Emo Rd, I almost got run over by a sleek, speeding BMW as I stood on the edge of the footpath trying to take a nice symmetrical picture of it. That would really make you Emo.
Waverley Road’s little business strip is a bit of a ripper, two bakeries (one called ‘Loafers’), an op-shop, green grocer, Music World, the Little Flower House, an organic market called Green Onions, and most impressively a hairdresser called Tassel and Maine. All tassels, no hassles.
Then I unexpectedly found myself sitting at a table, having dinner ordered and the lightning bolt covered dilated iris of David Bowie looking down on me. I had stumbled upon a Major Tom’s A Burger Junkie, a Bowie themed burger bar. All of the burgers take the name of a song, or Bowie related person. I got the Mick Ronson, it was pretty amazing. Bowie played, ketchup was spilled, I ended up with 2 types of cheeses all over my fingers. Wam bam thank you ma’am. ****!
A most intriguing shop sits at #129 Waverley. It is a former butcher and delicatessen, as you can tell from the revealed ghost signs on the front window and awning. But inside was an array of ’star portrait’ head shots. Not quite Hollywood movie star, maybe more ‘local theatre production’ actors, or something that went straight to VHS. All framed and adorning the walls looking out theatrically onto the passing pedestrians in their black and white soft-glow finery. There was one that was in colour and more homely and beardy – then when it waved at me I realised it wasn’t a portrait at all, but a strange man standing in the shop window for no apparent reason. It was really peculiar, he gave me a look that was part ‘come in and look around’ and part ‘help me I’m trapped in here!!!’I did neither and then pretended to look at the menu of the very excellent Japanese restaurant next door whilst sneaking glimpses back at the man in the window.
Victor Express was a shop that had one man, presumably Victor, sitting at a desk, and random piles of Chinese medicine and tea and herbal products around him, and presumably a big pile of express post envelopes.
Across the road was a strange Maccas, that looked like it was built inside the foyer of a block of flats, it looked out of place and awkward, not bold and brash as per usual. Next to that was a fire station, and next to that was a store where you could complete your entire interior design desires, as long as they were ‘tribal’.
I came to the bustling transport hub of Caulfield, an intersection of highway, bus stops and train line, plus a whopping great horse racing track. It had that restaurant randomness where some would be bursting at the seams with people yet their neighbours desolately empty save for a gaunt faced shopkeeper staring sadly at their phone.
It also had three of the biggest pubs you could hope to see in a suburb, which you could imagine full of punters and millinery on race days, but with only a few committed Keno players on a cold Tuesday night.
I went under the underpass and into the straight past the racecourse, it had tassels decorating the pediments, and was open for some sort of private function.
The side streets were clean and wide and darkened rows of well to do houses with pleasant smelling food aromas emanating form them.
An amazing mansion (I was later to learn is the heritage listed ‘Kynaston’ – “a fine example of Victorian era Caulfield gentry”) had an array of coloured lights illuminating its impressive columns.
A few weeks ago, when the big cold edge of the imminent winter first descended, there were a few days at work where people would get and share hot chips around the office. Then there was a (Mr) Burger and chips at footy training whilst we did team selections. It was a pretty excellent time. And somewhere in that glorious potato filled week, I searched ‘best hot chips in Melbourne’. One of the highest rated chip dispensers was the Tuck Shop in Caulfield North – they had not once, not twice, but thrice cooked chips! And they were handcut! Plus they had excellent jaffles too, and milkshakes! But thanks to Bowie, I only had room for some chips. And they were terrific. A basket of crunchy golden dream fuel, plus there were old MAD magazines to read, but then you remember after about three pages that they weren’t actually very funny, except perhaps Spy Vs Spy. I was more a Viz comic lad myself.
The tram back to the city was just across the road, and after slightly too many chips I walked home from the last stop on the 64 feeling a bit unmagically full, but mostly pretty chipper, darling.