Darling

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.

Moorabbin

 

I actually didn’t want to go to Moorabbin. I was intending on going to the Waves Leisure Centre as part of my quest to visit all of Melbourne’s swimming centres for my ‘Cool Pools ‘ guide I am hoping going to make. But it looked a pretty lacklustre walk from Highett station to the pool,  so I got off a stop early and see the old home of the Saints (from 1965 to 1992) on the way to the pool.  Moorabbin is also one of those mythical, vowel filled Melbourne footy words like Jezzalenko or Kotoufites that you didn’t really understand up in Sydney, but they sounded sort of important to the sport of Australian rules football.

The station was big blue painted concrete walls and closed up concourse shops. I looped out to the left and did a lap of the civic district.  There was a City hall, a big clock on a particularly plain rectangular tower/plinth and the arts centre, which was closed, but did have a poster on its front windows advertising a photo competition where you had to capture port Phillip Bay and how it interacts with the natural environment.  But mostly the image featured on the poster was three pelicans sitting on poles, my favourite summer holiday vista ever.

There was an unremarkable strip of shops down the other side of the highway, so I crossed over to the other side of the tracks. There were some great footpath tile mosaics of the contributed by local students variety,  an excellent looking animals protection society op shop and some old time service type businesses. The back streets had a bargain shop and a nail salon, a very well frequented BWS and one awesome looking Japanese Cafe restaurant. I headed through agapanthus and three car house suburbia, there were lots of grey pathmads out for their dusk stroll,  nodding politely as they passed. Two late teens rode past on bikes far too small for them spitting and cussin and then just stopped, threw their bikes into the back of a green P plated Ute,  high fived, exclaimed,  yeah let’s do it! Jumped in and fanged off leaving rubber around the corner.

I walked through a narrow laneway flanked in tagged walls, it gave way to a cul-de-sac tenanted by low rise industrial units, a cool mural and burnouts on the asphalt.  The street opened out onto a dry and scrubby looking park and to the right, light towers and a dilapidated grand stand. A semi trailer with Go Saints slogans affixed to the side and an old poster with the black and white face of a player with the slogan oh I want to be in St Kilda. There were cobwebs covering the windscreen wipers and spinifex growing around the edges of the car park.  The St Kilda social club was open, a sandwich board outside listing a number of snacking options in faded chalk.

There was a power generator box painted to resemble changing room lockers,  famed names of Saints history daubed against the brick in spray can cursive,  a mural and a slogan on the other sides.  The former grand stand entrance was chained and stained with pigeons expression. Most of the windows were broken, and only a solitary row of seats remained of the terraces.  The oval looked in pretty good nick at least, and a couple of fellas were doing some pretty serious pre-season training,  another group were doing some shirtless soccer shooting between the big sticks. You could kind of go up the stand, but there were a lot of padlocked wire gates and not much to look at. A gym and physio room looked semi recently used, but the coaches boxes and commentary boxes were long lost to the fight against dust and obsolescence. There were 51,370 people to watch the first game here in 1965, a record that was never bettered. Hard to believe now looking around at the bare grass hills, and the 11 or so faded blue seats remaining on the terrace.

I wandered around the back and was having a sticky beak around the front of the social club foyer when a gruff female voice inquired if I could be helped? ‘Just looking around’ I murmured, and signed the visitors book and wandered in after inspecting the few display cabinets, which should be subtitled ‘ode to 66!’

Do you have a bistro? I offered to the lady who was equally bemused and baffled to see a strange visitor to the club half the age of the rest of the clientele.

“Nah, we haven’t had one of them for years” she replied. Then I noticed the pie warmer on the bar, which had some party pies and sausage rolls in there that were also an ode to 1966, as that was seemingly when they were first put in there. I bought a party pie out of sympathy, and a Coke Zero out of pity and slowly pottered around looking for a  seat. There were only four in the whole room that weren’t directly in front of a pokie, and they were facing Fox Sports which was showing a special on Shane Mumford, former Swan and now full time Western Sydney thug.

I sat down to crunch through my meat pie fossil in front of the most amusing machine I could find  ‘Australian Hunter’ where if you got three scattered kangaroos you won a free desert pea . But the machine was so old that it wouldn’t accept one of the new fangled plastic five dollar notes.

There was a few signed jumpers scattered around the place, one from cult-mulleted Frazer Gehrig, and of course the ‘Team of 66’. There was also a limited edition print of ‘that behind’ which won them the 1966 flag.  Up one end next to a long-still chocolate wheel was a rare blank wall filled with a handful of signatures. The bemused players who did so didn’t seem particularly enamored with the settings for their scrawl, the messages include “Keep Up the good work, pokies rule”, “Good Luck With the Slot Machines” and “Go Saints – In Need of a Jackpot”.

I left and wandered around the oval, a lady in hot pink scalloped shorts was doing squats and leg raises on the play equipment whilst her kid got bored going up and down the slide. A shirtless man played on his phone whilst his brindle pit-bull cross ran and jumped against my leg.

There has been much speculation and scheming for a return to Moorabbin for the Saints, it seems such a waste that it was only 2009 that the ground was being used for training and even a pre-season game but has just been left to rot as the club chased the sand and sun and council dollars at Seaford. With most of the suburban ovals remaining in Melbourne you can at least get a glimpse and some imagination-prompting clues from the skeletal remains of seats and stadium as to how the atmosphere would have been. But there were no glory day remnants here.  The ground was infamous for being over-watered to counter the generally more skillful opponents the Saints would be facing. But under the summer sun, the surface just looked green and slightly overgrown if anything. St Kilda still have twenty-odd years to go on the original 75 year lease they signed for the ground, and are still paying the council some rent and maintenance for it. Probably more than the social club and heritage museum are currently returning.

I walked down a quiet street that explained all the elderly pedestrians, boasting a sprawling retirement complex and seemingly the most hotly contested avian turf in the area. About nine magpies were perched in the bare branches of one of the trees, another four menacingly prowled the ground beneath it, a sleek black crow jostled for branch space and a cheeky mynor bird was trying his luck on the garden fence near two squabbling magpie larks.  It was a scary mass of squawking stand-off.

The front yards of the retirement units were filled with lovingly tended roses, and at the end of the street was a 4 Star grocery and a bottle shop boasting in large chalkboard letters ‘EFTPOS Available’

A blue sign |Steam Locomotive S.V. > on one of the crossroads was quite intriguing. A quick google search revealed it was the headquarters of the Steam Locomotive Society of Victoria.  Who actually put on miniature steam train rides once a month for any small scale rail enthusiasts.

But I had no interest in boilers of any size and kept walking, the wrong way as it turns out and ended up at the highway instead of the pool. So gave up on laps and hit the Highett shopping strip, which was awesome in an almost rural High Street sort of way. There was checkerboard concrete footpaths, mural-painted telegraph poles, the old service classics – newsagent, butcher, baker, hair dressers, Chinese Take Away, op shop and a few niche retailers – such as a store dedicated exclusively to basketball jerseys and a martial arts school!

The closer it got to the station the hipper the shops, and the shoppers.  A fancy bar named after and containing the latest overdone food fad – Hawkers street food – a fancy burger bar and quite strangely, ‘That 70’s Fish Shop’. Was fish better then? I wasn’t alive for enough of the 70s to remember? They certainly had cooler fonts anyway.

After the station was a big Woolies and pharmacy and it looked a bit dull, so I back tracked to a pretty great looking local Thai restaurant and sat in the window and watched the steady stream of very casually dressed local folks who haven’t succumbed to Uber Eats or Menulog yet come and pick up their takeaway meals.

I luckily got back to the station two minutes before the train did and the sun set quite splendidly behind the clock tower of the Caulfield race course on the way home.

Some good further Moorabbin reading here.

 

 

Escape From Chadstone

Subtitle: If you don’t Scoresby here, you’ll never score

My mum and sister were visiting, and they love Melbourne for its shopping. So I found myself joining them on the ‘Fashion Shuttle’ with numerous middle aged ladies, some phone screen teens, one poor husband – and an even glummer looking brother, and one super cool looking Japanese tourist with long dyed hair and a leather jacket.

The destination was the mega mall known simple as Chadstone, Shopping Centre. Or, Chadstone Fashion Capital, and ‘the biggest shopping centre in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere’ according to its website. There were 513 shops listed on the map that the driver handed out before we embarked on our fashion journey. I looked at four of them, and three of those were in the food court, the other was the AFL shop. Mum and sis seemed like they were in for the long haul and actually had a plan, so I arranged to meet up with them later.


I escaped Chadstone managing to spend only five dollars (two sushi rolls) and having my inner wrist exfoliated and moisturised by a friendly man with impeccable skin called Ben. I managed to extricate myself from his manuka honey product demonstration at the point where he made me scrutinise my own pores. I left none the more fashionable, but had the chance to finally make the outer-suburban curio that is the Carribean Gardens.
The busride was great, if you are into highways, hills and grass. We picked up some students at the massive uni campus, but not too many people were left on by the time it terminated at Stud Park, just the studs! Ha.

The journey to Carribean Gardens wasn’t designed for pedestrians, I was stomping through overgrown buffalo grass most of the way, and sidling through narrow roadsides where the ‘path’ vanished into creeks. I even saw a fox! (on the run).
Public transport users were pre warned about having to walk up the 800 metre driveway to get to the Carribean Gardens, they didn’t warn about the train crossing, or the chairlift! Just as well they weren’t running, in fact nothing much looked like it was running, the whole place had a bit of an abandoned 80’s amusement park vibe. But the impressively large gates and numerous entry booths suggested that prosperous times were had here once upon a time.


There were mushroom rooved picnic tables everywhere, a glorious ornamental lake lined with yellowing weeping willows, ducks, water fowl a couple of goats, and most excitingly, a pelican! There was a bright orange suspension bridge (a replica of San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate) that took you across to mini golf island (closed) and the Japanese ornamental garden, a wharf for ‘Jungle Cruises ‘ (closed) however the lions, cheetahs and elephants waited stoically on the banks for the next boatload of cruisers to pass by, mostly because they were made of fibreglass.


There was Grand Central Station for the not operating train, a mock paddle steamer playground, two tanks (one which was the first Centurion deployed to Vietnam apparently (with thanks to a military history pedant on reddit), a ground cannon, some trampolines and an adventure playground. There was a big papier mache looking chef head sitting above the hamburger shop/take away, his big blue eyes staring vacantly out above three cartons of chips and HUNGRY writ large in big yellow letters.
The market itself looked promising enough from the front, a flower and plant stall had a few browsers (Safari and Firefox! Heh), there was some cutesy crafty wallpaper with hip texta drawing depictions of the various produce and goods one could possibly find within.
There was a green grocer bellowing out fruit & vegetable specials, a bakery, a cake shop, a fancy organic butcher and then there was the market proper. An expansive shed/hall expanding out from the entrance way in two vast wings.


The one to the right where I first ventured was sectioned off maybe a quarter of the way along. Behind that rows and rows of trestle tables, silence and space. One of the stall holders was lamenting to another it was their quietest day in ages. Some of the stalls products looked like they haven’t even been glanced at since about 1993.
There was a few big screens of stickers, car logos, clothing brands, hair metal bands, motorcycle emblems, swears and sporting teams. Next was a raft of DVDs just in their slip covers, a second hand music stall that was albums of the 80s and compilation heavy. The next shop was a curio goldmine, those pictures that go from pleasant to sinister when you tilt them different ways, eagle statues and prints, crystals, mood rings, ear and toe and finger rings, of which I bought a blue stone iron looking one out of sympathy, and some chromey looking rock that was good for positive thoughts and energy. There was incense, holey dollars, dragon figurines, swell prints, dream catchers and printed clocks. I probably could have spent at least $11 there had I felt so inclined and bought one of everything.
The other section was a bit more spread out, but had three solid rows of stalls. There was the dubiously cheap gift packed perfume shop, the cheap sock lady, racks of tracky dacks and tie dyed Santa Cruz hoodies.
The next row was a bit more homely, there was a nice old dear with hand knitted beanies, scarves and headbands, I got one of the latter in Swans colours, but couldn’t find a big enough beanie unfortunately. But at least got a laugh when I pretended to try one on that was meant for a newborn.
There was a forlorn looking kebab caravan at the end of one of the sheds, they had a really great view out over the lake, but not so much out over the heads of many customers.
The last row had a few basketball singlets, some street brand tees and some NBA snap caps, there was a guy selling all his accumulated cross stitch kits and turn of the century sheet music scores for $1 a pop. Out they go. In fact there were a few stalls of the defeated by this point, an everything $5 sign had been struck through and discounted to $3, there were a few rows of stray economy size boxes of laundry powder going for a buck, and the poor hot nuts man couldn’t even give away any of his samples (not a euphemism).
It may not sound it, but I really liked being there, and I honestly wish I could think of a use or manufacture some sort of need for some of the things the people were selling. As the market folk looked both hardy and happy, and all bonded and a tight (pearl) knit community. They all had a cheeky nod or laugh for each other, some sort of story for any potential sale maker that walked past, and they seemed resilient enough to come back every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, even though most of the world seemingly don’t have it in their diaries.
I liked the scope and ambition of the place. Someone one day had a whopping great plot of land, a few bob to rub together and just plonked down things they thought people might like. How about a lake? Sure! Dig a hole over there, turn on the hose, and off we go! What if we could play mini-golf right near the lake? Let’s whack an island in! Bridges are great, let’s get a few of them. I reckon the Golden Gate Bridge is pretty neat, can we make one of those? Sure! I went to African Lion Safari once, that was great fun! Have we got any exotic animals? Ah, nah, but I’ve got a mate who has a mate that can get some. Okay, i’ll take two lions, a hippo, some giraffes and a cheetah! How good are mushrooms! Etc etc.

That’s how I imagine it anyway.

In reality, it’s actually fifty years since the park was opened to the public. The Spooner family initially acquired the land in a 300 acre parcel and used it for farming. In the 50s a boat factory was built, and a bit of thinking outside the box meant that they built a lake to test the boats in.

Caribbean No 1

The first fibre glass boat built at Carribean Gardens
In 1966 the parklands began to be opened to the public on Sundays, and was a popular picnic place. The crowds were soon entertained by waterski spectacular shows, and the draw of the place saw it finally transformed into the Carribean Garden and Market in 1976.


In what is actually quite a common historical Australian footnote, the garden was filled with all sorts of excellent attractions, that only ceased to be when someone got a bit hurt. There was a weekly waterski spectacular, until someone got seriously injured. There was a chair-o-ride as part of the amusement rides, until it collapsed in high wind and damn near killed two people in 1997.
More recently, the markets have been the subject of scandal for selling counterfeit goods. The powerful US film industry lobby group The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) actually named the Carribean Markets was on its global list providing “detailed listing of the world’s most notorious marketplaces for the distribution of illegal film and television shows”.
Local rag the Knox Leader picked up this report and sent some undercover shoppers/journalists along in 2013 who “found illegal tobacco offered under the counter at stalls selling smoking paraphernalia including hookah pipes and “gram bags” used for marijuana packaging.
There was also a stall selling an array of vicious-looking knives behind large perspex screens – all legal according to the stallholder.

Illegal movies, including unreleased titles, were freely available and many stalls stocked fake designer-branded watches, perfumes, sunglasses and handbags labelled Dior, Chanel and Ray-Ban.”

The lake/gardens were home to the first fibre glass boat built in Australia, and Carribean has gone on to become one of our most iconic boating brands. The plant market was the go-to source for nurseries, Melbourne wide, there used to be a Futuro house here as an office, there’s a roller rink, and the Spooner family who run the gardens came in 19th in the BRW 2015 rich list of Australian families with around $626m to their name. A stark contrast to the stallholders, who I think half of whom would have barely made $40 that day.
There certainly seems, despite all appearances on the day I went, lots of life in the old Carribean Gardens, they’ve had food truck days, revisited the waterskiing spectacular, and have numerous muscle car and classic vehicle events going on. And most of the rides actually do run Sundays, weather permitting.
I passed through the last of the stalls and grabbed a pizza slice on the way out – they had been discounted to a dollar. The bakery lady was trying to upsell me to buy the whole lot (about 27 of them and a few french sticks) for $5. I took two out of pity and wandered back through the deserted lakeside to embark upon the epic bus, train, bus, tram adventure back to meet up with the family. They’d barely seen half of Chadstone Mall and were well chuffed with their afternoon’s shopping bargains. If only they’d liked pizza…

Heatherdale

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.

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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.

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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.

Echuca

Any port in a storm
Not only have the wheels been falling off V Line trains, but they’ve also not been triggering the boom gates at level crossings, so they’ve given the brave and foolhardy travelers of Victoria free services for a week. Travel at your own risk. I’m not really sure why I chose Echuca, I figured it’s on the river, has a bit of history and it would be near three hours of countryside rolling past the window to get there. And Australia Day jingoistic celebrations are not really my go. I only just made the train with two minutes to spare, it was pretty much full. Everybody loves a bargain!
I had a world champion throat expectorator behind me and a bunch of old dearies in front discussing their health foibles “She’s alright when the sun’s out, otherwise she’s as blind as me”.

The 16 metre gold statue of Heavenly Queen on the banks of the Maribyrnong and its accordant temple never fail to astound. You go past the bold graffitied fence that proclaims “West Side is the Best Side” and think they may have something as you see a flock of white cockatoos pecking about a vacant lot in front of an impressively imposing mosque.

The suburbs give out to dry, rock strewn fields dotted with power lines. Some goats are moseying about a barren field with a long-empty dam wedged between the train line and the highway. A cactus farm is strange neighbourly next to a field of alpacas.
The first buildings in twenty minutes are on the industrial outskirts of Sunbury, where new outpost suburbs are springing up clinging tightly to the base of a hill. Riddell’s Creek has lines of pines and two-toned bulls.

Gisbourne is a place I have heard advertised on low brow sports radio station SEN. The next boom suburb with the advantages of rural life, but still a close enough commute to the city. Raw land is being filled with off the rack houses. There’s two footy fields already, one has a wonky post leaning in as if it’s eavesdropping on a conversation. Bring on the sprawl, sports fans.
The trees get denser as we passed through Macedon, all towering grey gums, pines and even a billabong. Woodend was well named, the foliage gives way to streets lined with old timber houses, most with clapped out cars slowly rusting away out front. Then there’s the open fields of sheep stations (the ones you don’t play for) dotted with rolled up hay bales.

The train doesn’t stop at Elphinstone anymore. The station and its yards have seemingly been reclaimed by a master ‘tinkerer’. There’s a busted up old pick up truck, a corroding caravan and a trailer among the works in progress parked beside the rail line, and a glimpse of a strange sculpture in a shed – some kind of fantasy humanoid crafted from concrete and car parts. A great old pub lay mostly dormant across the road, a sun-bleached VB logo barely visible on the side. The thirsts would be very hard earned around here.
Coming in to Castlemaine the train passes through amazing seams of multi-coloured rock exposed from the rail cutting. A correctional facility loomed ominously on the hill on the outskirts of town, but the first impressions of the town itself are much more inviting. An emerald green footy oval, the striking timber Victorian era station building and old stone buildings cresting the hill.
Kangaroo Flat provides an opportunity to ponder Australia’s national identify. I’m sure the place was once a beautiful haven for our marsupial emblem, and the local Jaara Jaara people. But now the ‘flat’ has been leveled and a massive shopping centre stands there instead, surrounded by a suburb of people in 4 Wheel Drives that want to be close to the shops. What we’ve done and where we are heading is nothing to be proud of.
‘The Spires of Bendigo’ would probably be a pretty good title/subject for a folk song. The numerous pointed spires and steeples that dot the city reflecting a more god-fearing times.
A gang of youths waved and otherwise gestured to the train from the railside BMX track at Epsom. Piles of disassembled sheds and farm buildings lined the paddocks of Elmore with lonely wind mills and occasional clusters of sheep and cattle crowding under the shade of gnarled old trees.

Rochester looked intriguing, grand old hotels and a stately awning lined high street focused towards a noble town hall. The grass here was a bit greener, on account of the river, though it soon gave way to gravel roads and dry grass. As the voice over announced that we would soon be arriving in Echuca a large corrugated fence seemed to mark the border, the paddocks stopped and suburbia started.

The town itself starts off a bit slow around the railway station. You’ve got to go past a big open gravel patch and the Cheap As Chips warehouse (sadly closed) before you get to anything worth looking at. There’s a Woollies and a Coles in close competition and a big ole corner pub that looks like it’s been imported down from North Queensland, XXXX sign and all. High street has a strange mix of shops open for a public holiday, want some durable and inexpensive women’s fashion – you’re in luck! Katie’s is open for business, need a new pair of Asics gels and a sweatband, Riverside Sports has got your back! There was even a sanity open, which I went into for nostalgic reasons, but if there’s any reflection on the current currency of CDs, David Bowie’s chart topping last album Black Star already had a 2 for $20 SALE sticker on it less than two week’s after its release. There were only two small walls of music, the main categories ‘Dance Music Compilations ‘ and ‘Country Music Compilations’ which took up half a wall each, the rest of the store DVD box sets. The vinyl revival has yet to hit the Murray.
I popped in to the visitors centre where the lady was almost disappointed that I only had the afternoon there. She suggested a quick paddlesteamer trip and then the Holden museum right across the road from the wharf would see me through; and gave me a rather thoroughly highlighted, but short trail to follow on my map.
The Murray River is super impressive when you get your first glimpse of it. It’s impressive brown girth framed with drooping ghost gums. I wandered over the bridge towards Moama sticking a foot in New South Wales – it still looked pretty much the same, so headed back into Victoria. There was a most alluring parkland, a time-old billabong formed by the changing water courses, shrill galahs squawked about overhead, swans and ducks got about a bit more gracefully on the water’s surface.
The old port is striking indeed, all timber frame and bobbing boats, looking in it’s original gold rush era condition. You can imagine it being a flurry of activity and churned water back then, but it’s all rather still today. The whole town’s a bit sleepy really. I do the High Street block, there’s some great musty bookshops filled with overflowing shelves of old knowledge getting more obsolete by the day, whole great swathes of Mills & Boon and the biography of seemingly any semi-literate footballer/cricketer that ever played.
You’d better believe there were some great bakeries though. Medal-winning pie boasting ones. By the end of the day I’d managed a Bronze medal winner, a Silver worthy salad roll and also a Beesting from the always excellent Beechworth Bakery (three down, three to go to get the VIP Membership by visiting all six!).

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I baulked at going in to the Holden Museum, old cars are better seen on the road or in the suburbs, not in an old community centre, but I did a lap of the gift shop and perused the souvenirs that has every hard-drinkin, hard-driving, hard-rockin man’s needs covered.
I did some of the river walk, past the footy oval and holiday park, which gave me some fond bygone summer memories of times spent with Nana & Pa sleeping in the annex of their old caravan after staying up watching day night cricket back when 240 was a competitive score. Dean Jones would always get stumped charging the wicket and it was always seemingly left for a hero of villain last over featuring Michael Bevan. The big wire fence surrounding the perimeter seemed at odds with the usual free wandering packs of kids and the thong-worn routes between the nearest swimming spots and ablution blocks.

The ‘Houseboat District’ boasted tenants such as ‘Cheers’, ‘Overdraft’ and ‘Froth and Bubbles’ on the party side of the river (VIC), and the more esteemed ‘Indulgence’ and ‘Decadence’ on the apparently more luxurious NSW’s banks of the Murray. A fair few were tenanted, the barbies were still smouldering with the odd blackened snag, groups lazing about on the decking under Oz flag bunting a fair few drinks in. A family on jet skis bust open the serenity. A mostly empty paddlesteamer chugged past a handful of people mostly ignoring the Captain’s narration. Echuca was almost Australia’s capital at one point. The weather would be much nicer than Canberra’s anyway.

The ‘Port of Echuca’ as it’s officially known is a tourist district designed to extract money from travelers by plying old-timey wares and attractions in mostly-unscathed era-authentic buildings. There’s a stoic old wood turner, a sawmill, steam display, an old fudge shop and penny arcade, a ‘Discovery Centre’, a kid-scaring magician, the Steampacket Inn historic pub and lots of garish giftware and art.
I stopped in at the Shamrock for a well deserved beer. They boasted wading pools, the hottest 100 countdown, a beer garden BBQ and backyard cricket. Most people just sat in the shade or under the mist fans, one err, ‘big boned’ chap plopped down unceremoniously in one of the wading pools, his mate, who was obviously quite the salad dodger himself yelled out “Somebody call Greenpeace!”. Cheap laughs are good laughs.

I didn’t like any of the songs I heard on the part of the countdown I heard. The over-excited announced proclaimed the average BPM of songs for this year was 20% up on previous years, maybe that’s why?

I had time to squeeze in the aforementioned Beesting at the river-side Beechworth bakery before strolling through town and awaiting the coach in the shadows of the station.
The bus ride home was a great golden-hour illuminated sojourn back through the dry, dusty fields and nowhere towns to the bright lights and big city of Melbourne. It can be best summed up with a Gillian Welch quote: “I’ve never been bored in a car. In every street sign there is poetry and history and all these beautiful images.”

On the road: Olinda

A sunny spring Sunday was a perfect time to get the Corolla rolling. One of the features of Melbourne’s roadways is long, straight roads, so much so, only four turns were needed the entire way to our first stop at Belgrave – and two of those were just getting out of our street! The best thing about these long, and not winding, roads is that suburbs just loom and pass as a strip of shops. Pubs and hip cafes signal South Yarra, jewellery, galleries, home furnishing, and various human body perfecting services at Toorak, fancry clothes draperies and financial institutions for the Camberwell off before finally a bit of suburban dining exotica in Burwood – dumplings! oh my! A Red Rooster the first sign of the outskirts, then the tram line ended, and a monolithic Westfield meant we were really in the sticks. One bit even looked like we’d inadvertently driven to Canberra, a crane on the horizon doing a decent job of impersonating parliament house at the end of a procession like hill and gunbarrel straight stretch of road. Leafiness encroached beside the lanes, and we were soon driving through a really nice part of the world.

Belgrave announced itself with a shiny silvered lettered cinema and the sound of tribal drumming. We’d have no trouble at all it seems finding the markets. Landed the perfect park on the main road then wandered the seemingly many delights in this quaint two-curve roadside strip of a town. A classic old pub, a ripping op-shop, from which I will probably regret not buying an awesome pictorial history of airline stewardesses book, and some quite well-stocked vintage type places in amidst the usual mumsy homewares stores and cheap shops. A few Puffing Billy themed tourist lairs, a nicely dusty and craggy bookstore, a quirky music venue/lounge sort of place, and the obligatory medal winning pie stocking country bakery all getting our thumbs up. The market itself was a good n wholesome mix of local growers, crafts, creative types and cute kids – one who was selling fur trees to be able to afford “a party for me and four friends, and it’s note even my birthday”. The Melways suburb badges earnt our custom, and rhubarbs and ridiculously multi-seeded bagels made for our morning snack. Then it was one last promenade down town and off on the Monbulk road., being passed the other way by a parade of shining-chromed and souped up cars, which six kilometres and a couple of helpful banners later we learnt were part of the classic car show on Monbulk’s main drag that day!

We had a quick but passive window-viewed sticky beak then made it through a most gloriously winding and tall-timber-treed forest to the National Rododendron Garden. I probably wont be using or writing that word ever gain, but they are a nice flower, which can tend to droop and look wilted, even if well watered, but instead of ill-health, is an inbuilt trick originially designed to release snow from its leaves/petals in its more colder natural climates.

The gardens are pretty amazing, tracks, paths and diversions shoot forth all directions, roads low and high flanked by all manner of trees, and the imposing blue-tinged Dandenong Ranges loom stoically in the background of most vistas. The Cherry Blossoms were being shy, and its annual celebration of all things Japanese had thusly been cancelled, but they were still a terrific sight with brightly sprouted daffodils at their feet. After a long and colour-drenched wander we drove down to Olinda town itself for some gold medal winning pies, some candy store treats and fancy local craft beer and lots of girly stationery/cards/cutesy things, well Amy mostly for the latter, as I pondered that the town really needed a pub for all the blokes to go while their better halves looked thru hokey homewares. Drove home into a sparkling sunset and a Rod  Stewart super special. Terrific. ****1/2

Hitting the road: Healesville

Friday saw us embark upon some Vic Roads as we headed for Healesville. Having barely gotten to grips with the motoring in Melbourne yet, with only about five streets between us we can turn into with any sense of familiarity, a rural jaunt with barely a glance at google maps directions was perhaps always going to be a bit on the optimistic side of things. So it was an hour or so into a supposed 90 minute journey that we ended up in a cul de sac in somewhere outer suburban looking at the trusty UBD figuring out where it all went wrong. Usually it’s a lack of signs, Melbourne loves keeping things a secret you see, the harder to find the better! That’s why all its good bars are in pokey lanes and its roads, and general direction giving notices seemingly restrained by some Taboo esque limitations on useful words and information. It was also pretty exhilarating not having a clue where you were even five minutes down the road from leaving home. Leafy streets gave way to leafy hills, plenty became lower plenty and winery finery filled the windscreen and windows. Healesville soon became a distance digited destination on the bottom of the sign, then an arrowed sign or two of its own and finally the name painted on the information centre. We tried not look at too much of the town driving in, saving the sights for an afternoon of promenading. After parking on a grassy verge found by only staring intently at the car in front, we stepped out to be greeted by hazy blue mountains, the smell of open-fire chimney smoke and wonderful historic hotels at each fork in the crossroads.

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Healesville itself is a small place, big on charm. Its got a main street with the usual city daytrippin targeting homeware, antiques, new age shop, and overly fancy women’s frock shop, amid those serving the more local needs, and there’s the top pub, bottom pub, rissole, greengrocer, baker, chippy and four op shops to boot. The first stop a country classic, where almost every item ever donated remains for sale at a price that steadfastly ignores the ever growing obsolescence of the object. It has obviously been well served by a volunteer with wistful, waylaid bookshop ambitions as shelf after impeccably labelled shelf bulges with strictly characterized, alphabetized and authoris-ed tomes, all seemingly of the theme bad books by otherwise excellent writers. Or sports memoirs by people neither famous or funny enough to sustain a pamphlet, let alone a thick dust riddled hardback. We ventured off the main drag, past the town’s only nite spot, past the bowlo and out through an oak- lined street into the proper country. A single lane bridge crossed a narrow, raging river, which we precariously clung to the rails of as hay filled holden utes hooned past. We then stood on the kerbside and looked out across a lush green paddock with a solitary horse, who was looking back at us, slightly awkwardly from the furthest boundary, wondering if we were worth the effort of walking over too. Crossing back we continued past a disused rail yard, relics of engines, carriages and locomotives ceding into the grass and run off the rails. We sat a while on a grassy roadside verge, reading the local paper, a magic cat is coming third in the footy tipping. Locals in various ute sizes toot us as they go past, others just stare. We’ve interrupted the monotony of the view of one desperately bored youth, who was pacing up and down between the train tracks, smoking fiercely and probably wanting to throw rocks at stuff, if it wasn’t for those bloody people sitting on the hill. We go for a swing in the train themed playground, then pop into the visitors centre where the lovely lady is helping a European lass who has had a real good go at the wineries and wants to sleep in her car so she can go visit some more. We grab some maps, have a chat and decide its pub time. The hotel of the town’s name is a treat. Local craft beer, open fire, high falutin food, and even better, its happy hour, a quarter off the price and free bar snacks for all! A wander through a riverside park, then bypassing the two main big ticket drinking amusements in town, the innocent bystander winery and white rabbit brewery we climbed up the highway as the sun set free a barrage of purples, then seeped through into a star-filled inky blue. We ducked in for a quick cheery beery with the dearies at the rissole, then after pondering the pin up salon, decided we’d been healed enough and motored back for dumplings amid the markets and malaise of Box Hill.

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