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.

40 Boys in 40 years

I have just reached a ‘milestone’ birthday. For some reason the round numbered ones make you particularly conscious of how much time has passed. So I endeavoured to try find pictures of myself for each year I’ve been hanging around on earth, to visually represent the time passing and the places I’ve been, the cool shirts I still wish I had, and the haircuts I can no longer do!

Roll on the misty-eyed  memories.  Will hopefully track down some more, especially those awkward teen years, once I find my old School Days photo album, and hope to add in more travels and good times for a few more years to come.

If anyone happens to have any photos of me from these missing years, send them over!

Warburton

Queen’s Birthday Monday was a good day to leave the city limits. The diluted winter sun tried its best to warm a still, cold morning.

Pictures first for those short of time/attention span. Story below.

 

 

I completed the public transport trifecta getting to Warburton, first leg, a tram to Box hill – and a lap around the awesome and exotically dated food court and market (the ‘vegetable puff’ highly recommended for time constrained consumers), then a train to Lilydale. The Warbutron buses are only once an hour, so had a bit of time to kill. Crows circled and prowled the bus bays, foraging through bins and emitting their curdling calls from the roofs of bus shelters.
I strolled up the highway, past the string of fish n chips shops and the stately Olinda Creek Hotel. I turned into the parklands and showgrounds. Corrugated pavilions standing long empty, waiting for their one time to shine in November at the annual show.
The swimming pool was closed, the water greying and neglected, a family of ducks had moved in. There was not much to see at the museum, the footy oval sits beside the station, and has a lovely line of towering trees along one flank, low slung grandstands are dotted around one end. There was a man in active wear sitting on one of the interchange benches and a huge black mass of circling crows above. The crows noisily passed and were replaced by the shrill screech of cockatoos.
I walked back to the bus stop where a scruffy haired lady of indeterminable vintage was intently pacing back and forward. She asked me the time, and hearing my response muttered about the bus being late. She strode past again lamenting the cold, and inquired as to whether a half-finished can of Cola Cola ™ on the other end of the seat from me was mine. I replied that it wasn’t and somehow on the next lap past she knocked it over.
She made a big fuss of picking it up and taking it to the bin, and skulled it in one big gulp before disposing of it. You can’t blame her, have you seen how expensive Coke is these days? I saw a 600ml bottle being sold for $5.75 the other day, and it wasn’t even at the footy, but at the super market!
Anyway, the bus arrived after about 26 more passes by my freshly caffeinated fellow commuter, and the driver was instantly enlightened by a particularly long story with the end result being my new friend needed to be told where the stop was for the caravan park. Something the driver was only too happy to do. In fact there wasn’t a single thing that the driver wasn’t too happy to do, and he knew pretty much everybody by name that got on and had a nice yarn or message for everyone too. It was really nice. He even gallantly lifted one commuters trolley full of fresh produce both on and off the bus and even had a cheeky salutation for one local who was getting the bus home without her fella “When the cat’s away, the mice will play, aye!”
The scenery too, was pretty damn decent. A few clicks out of Lilydale as if on cue as we rolled into ‘the country’ there was a kangaroo and its little joey standing there in a paddock, just standing around looking at some horses, who themselves were just standing around looking at some grass. It was very rural.
We passed the historic Sam Knott Hotel which dates back to 1860, and if you were wondering, like I just was, who Sam Knott is, then you’ll be amazed to discover that he is that beardy bloke in the old Carlton Ale posters with the catch phrase ‘I allus have wan at eleven’. Read more of this great story here
There was some more rustic scenery around the next bend, a timber farmhouse was slowly fading back into nature behind a front yard filled with clapped out vintage cars with chickens pecking around the wheels.

Millgrove is particularly well named, it’s got a saw mill, and great damp piles of lengths of timber that had at some point in the distant past, been through the mill more tree shaped, and less rectangular. There was an eccentric looking shop called Mt. Little Joe’s Music and Nursery with its hand drawn and painted signs promoting wares including guitar strings, drums, blues harps and musical accessories that I definitely would have stopped into had I been in a car instead of the 683 bus.
One potential attraction of the area was the Blue Lotus Water Garden – which quite unluckily was closed, as lotus season only runs from December to April! It sounds pretty great though, with a GIANT Amazon Lily, and 14 acres of loti to look at. All just made by a feller who got sick of fishing, and cabbages.
Other places I would have also stopped if I was driving included Glady’s Bakehouse, The Upper Yarra Museum, the great looking old Cunninghams Hotel, an Irish pub with a faded ancient Guinness sign out front, and some colourful characters within apparently and the German Clocks Cafe.
The Yarra loomed on the left and the township of Warburton soon followed. It was bustling – people, cars and colour everywhere. And history, I lobbed off the bus and landed in the Lace And Things shop, which was a passion project by local lady Valda Street. She had the old Boot Shop at Walhalla – a former gold mine town, now turned ghost town/tourist attraction – relocated to Warburton’s main street and it was now a museum of not only boots, but thimbles, and needle things, and buttons, lots and lots of buttons. As well as the shelves and shelves of 1800s ephemera, there was a recreated kitchen and a special display of Valda’s own working life as private secretary to decorated surgeon and second world war hero ‘Weary’ Dunlop. It was so good I gave $2 in the gold coin donation box.
There was an Old Tea Shop, lots of ‘rusticly quaint’ cafes, an old timey lolly and confectionary shop, rural gift and homewares, one of those mumsy clothes shops, new age stuff, an antiques and collectible store, which had a strangely strong amount of KISS merchandise in among the old tea towels, bakelite, dusty books and trinkets.
The Arts Centre looks like it’s a vital social and creative hub of the area, with posters for all manner of excellent things filling the front window and notice board. But nothing on today. I went over to the ‘high’ side of the highway, which had a visitors centre – from which I grabbed a few maps and pamphlets – which are probably still scrunched up in the bottom of my bag now. They also had a ‘habitat centre’ which had lots of taxidermed Australian critters and laminated signs with snippets of information all about the walls. They also had a gold coin donation box to use the bathrooms, I didn’t go. There were also some excellent ‘community art’ pieces decorating the steps of the bright colours, shapes and random phrases variety.
The old siding of the no longer present Warburton railway station was now sections of murals, there was also a bunch of carved wooden totem poles and a pretty terrific view from where the platform used to be over the town and across to the mountains.
Lots of lycra-clad people were undertaking the 38km Warburton to Lilydale rail trail ride on their bicycles. Not me, I was headed to the river. Back on December 31st, I as ever, over-optimistically gave myself a New Years challenge. As well as some actually achievable things, I vowed to attempt to walk the length of the Yarra River in 2016. Which is 241km – most of which is inaccessible or restricted areas due to being water catchment areas. Anyway, I made it as far as Heidelberg, and now am just visiting towns along the way where I can actually get beside the banks.
Even better I had to go past the bakery on the way, where there were pies and bikies in abundance. The Yarra is actually clear here! You can see the bottom! Amazing. The first section of the Yarra Walk takes you to a near right-angled bend and some rocky rapids. There are large strangely geometrically straight-shaped rocks poking above the rushing water, and dead trees and branches fading back into the banks. You go behind a superbly scenic footy oval, and through a strange fenced-off vacant lot that has an old rusting and graffiti tagged ‘thing’ of some unknown (to me anyway) formerly industrial type use.
Then there’s another of many ace bridges, a timber-made swing bridge that gives a nice gentle sway as you make your way across. There was a seemingly often overlooked ‘Nature Walk’ to the right on the other side, I had ventured not more than 50 of its 500 metres when I came across a particularly striking King Parrot sitting about minding its own business. Good stuff.
Back to the Yarra and the sun was streaming down over rambling gardens and towering trees. Age old sediment has created numerous islands in the stream and the water swirls and rushes through the narrows, or reflectively shimmers like frosted glass in the deeper, stiller water. It almost feels like a rain forest at some points, ferns and fungi in among the vast grey gums.

There were some parents taking their hesitant kid along the walk and getting her to pose for photos standing daftly on all manner of rocks. A family had a sprawling array of foods filling the BBQ area table, the adults sat and sank beers on camping chairs whilst the kids ran amok all around them.

The best of all the bridges is revealed after a long sweeping bend of the river. You first see a splash of orange leaves, then the white framework pokes out and reveals itself as a simple, but grand river crossing, connecting the picnic area and the tennis courts, but at a height safe enough from flooding. I continued on to the next, and last bridge, and crossed over and connected up to the rail trail. It was some nice flat walking, all paved path and cuttings. There were some alpacas, and generally excellent scenery. I walked a long while, and eventually came close to the road again, and saw a bus was soon arriving, and a minute later was headed back to Lilydale. This driver didn’t know anyone’s name though, and even told some kids to ‘get the next one’ as there wasn’t enough room in the lockers underneath for their razor scooters.
It was kind of disappointing to be driving back towards civilization after seeing such nice, natural things. But the hydroponic strawberry farm was the last gasp of rural Melbourne, before hitting the outer suburbs, then the huge crater of earth that is a lime mine and later a solitary brick chimney standing stoically in a huge vacant lot, the last remnants of a brick pit kind of curtailed the idyllic scenes of the day. And by the time the tram was clanging through the Victoria Street traffic on the city fringe I was back in my own little world checking my phone and ignoring everyone else’s presence like all the other urbanites. Had to see if the Dees beat the Pies after all. Was good while it lasted though. Happy birthday Liz.

Imprisoned – Escape from Pentridge

It was worse than being sentenced to solitary confinement.  Having to line up and be exposed to the blandest of electro-chart-pop while the hum of food truck generators sound-tracked puffer jacket patents queuing up for coffee.

It was billed as Pentridge Open day, which sounded appealing,  as the place is an imposing pile of bluestone horror that subjected a hundred and forty years worth of dire and draconian incarceration to Victoria’s worst criminals. Now it’s the property developers inflicting the crimes.  Half the buildings have been torn down, the rest being absorbed into bland apartments. There was a local action group handing out flyers at the gate, and a display suite, so you could see your potential new mix tap sink , water efficient toilet and marble benchtops in amidst the slightly sinister, but historical surrounds of an old prison laundry.

There was inexplicably a petting zoo next to B Division; lots of excitable toddlers fenced in doing time with the goats and rabbits.

In amidst the local families,  there were a few hard looking blokes curious for a gander. One guy with a creased, chiselled face and a stare of steel poised and glared hard at the line and moved on. I saw him walk past twenty minutes later with a loop of razor wire he’d obtained from somewhere.  I don’t think anyone was going to stop him.

The tour itself, after an hour or so of lining up subject to the blaring music tastes of the bearded bakers,  was brief – this wing is the original bit, the other wings were added later, there’s a chapel upstairs and underground cells are on the left. Then self guided. Which was fine by me! There were three levels of barred barbarity to explore, mums were taking photos of their kids in the cells making hollow threats of this is where they’d end up if they don’t behave!  Ha. Well it was a bit funnier when one of the helpers warned don’t close the doors some of them we can’t open again.

Some of the scrawled graffiti and notes on the wall were pretty potent and made you realise there was an actual living person in these crumbling dark concrete cells, and as recently as 1997.

 

History interlude:

HMS Pentridge was first built in December 1850, crime was up in Melbourne due to the gold rush and the gaol in town was getting full. Prisoners labours were utilised breaking up bluestone rocks to pave Sydney Road. The prison was expanded from crude huts to large structures based on the infamous Pentoville Prison in England, with new theories on prisoner isolation seeing large wings with large separate individual cells. The remains of the panopticon designed exercise yard were unearthed during site clearing for the proposed development. Some famous an infamous tenants of the goal include Ronald Ryan (no relation) the last person hung in Australia, early gangster Squizzy Taylor, Mark ‘Chopper’ Read – the ghost of whom is apparently still haunting his old cell – yelling to a law week ghost tour in 2014 – “Get the F-ck Out!”. The grave of Ned Kelly is also within the grounds of the prison. How’s this for one a story of how it was discovered:

“However, Ned Kelly’s grave along with 33 others was located on the left hand side of D division. This grave was found after a construction worker on the site was killed on the exact same spot as the mass grave. Heavy machinery which fell on top of the deceased worker was dug out and the remains were found. Ironically, the surname of the deceased worker was Kelly. There is now an apartment block being built over the grave site. F Division is being renovated into office blocks and in the basement of F Division remains of a 10 year old boy were located in a cell, forgotten for over a 100 years. Also bags of human bones were located in F division. No-one knows the identity of these remains and when or how they perished.” If you thought YouTube comments section could get out of hand, check out the too and fro from a couple of ex-inmates on here

 

 

 

Auburn

 

Auburn is pretty low slung. It used to be called Red Gum Flat. Out the train window it’s row after row of all single story terraces with twin brick chimneys poking up. As you pull in the station, the skyline is dominated by the three-storey imposing pub that used to be called The Geebung Polo Club, which harks back to bygone days of early Melbourne and was so old Banjo Patterson wrote a poem about it, the club, not the pub that is.

But now Geebung just exists as a domain name only, and it’s called the Auburn Hotel again, as it was when it first opened in 1888. And there’s a ‘wine room’ in there and classy dining. This used to be a bit of a knockabout pub owned and staffed by famous footballers such as John Coleman and Jack Dwyer according to one of those small Times New Roman fonted, textured jpeg background websites of the 90s. I protested by not going in and having a beer, even though it would have been an excellent thing to do.

wp992c1218_06
Instead I headed down a semi-arterial road and was impressed by a string of super neat federation bungalows, mostly adorned with fetching lead light windows either side of their front doors.
I turned off into a sort of garden street/alleyway which was a shared pedestrian and car zone with a 10kph limit. The houses were nothing short of exceptional,  you’d go so far as call them residences as opposed to houses,  if you were a real estate novelist (who never had time for a wife). There is also the pretty much undisputed yellow jersey holder for the best garden in Melbourne with some masterful pom pom hedges.

auburn_4329
The spell of wandering through this quite exquisite enclave was kind of ruined when some actual residents spilled out of one of the ornate houses just as I was slack-jawedly gawking at it. It was two ladies and they were talking about something involving their kids and telescopes; and they didn’t even acknowledge my existence as they strode purposefully past towards their luxury 4WD.
The bright lights of the footy oval cast a magnesium glow atop the next street. It was a real nice one too, towering trees all around the boundary, a quaint pavilion stand and club rooms, a rickety old scoreboard. Training had just started as the players were still in that kicking arsey grubber goals from the pocket stage, but it looked like it was going to be a long evening around the selection table as a BBQ was being fired up and two blokes arrived carrying about seven cartons of MB between them.


I headed back towards the station, on Station Street funnily enough, there was a string of great little cottages all with layered step brickwork roofs that made the whole street look serrated from certain angles.
Back out on the main drag there was a dress shop called the One Night Stand Boutique so I made sure to (*written for comedy purposes only*) memorize the faces of all the girls shopping there in case I saw them on Tinder!
Actually most of the shops weren’t nearly as interesting as the buildings that contained them. There was a window display in the chemist of old glass plate photos of street life in ye olde Auburn world, and the street frontages were pretty much identical now to the late 1800s just with no cars and top hatted men gamboling about as corsetted women promenaded in their finery instead of the puffer vest and puppy ladies that featured today.

There are a number of imposing churches, proper god fearing ones with stain glass in abundance and great towered steeples that loom large over the whole suburb and take up whole blocks.
I called in at a large sub-continent supermarket called Indian Shopper, drawn in by the hand-textad signs in the window that the Swami Army would be proud of. I got a samaosa and some in the pouch dinner winners and some spicy masala chip things which have been quite okay. I had a bit of a peek around the Swinburne campus, they have a flight simulator!
I had good intentions of having some sort of Mexican food (or fighting a French person), as it was Cinco de Mayo. I did pause quite longingly at the typically kawaii Japanese restaurant, it had cute anime drawings of the staff and a proverb chalked next to the specials board “the best beer in the world is the open one in your hand”.
But I ended up around the corner at Pelican fish n chips, mostly because pelicans are my favourite animal, and I love chips, me. I flicked through a Woman’s Day from February and didn’t recognise any of the celebrities who were causing scandals by wearing bikinis whilst swimming in WATER! Or being affectionate to their long term platonic partners! Scandalicious.
There was pretty much only single blokes in the shop. They knew their market well by having a wide array of ‘combo’ packs that cost a modest amount of money. I got the one with fish, a dim sim, a potato cake, chips and a can! I got Solo, I was feeling rugged. I took my potato laden parcel to the very delightful Central gardens, or as I was reliably informed, ‘Rocket Park’ as it’s known to the local kids. It was pretty delightful, I sat at an ornate metal garden table setting under the spiky shade of a palm tree and managed about 1/4 of my meal as lots of students walked past eyeing me both enviously and curiously. Then some jogging twat in lycra and some long sleeved compresso-vest with a bloody bright headlamp on sweated past and simultaneously seared my retinas.
There was a charming little brick building, a delightfully tiled roof and its sides overgrowing with multi-coloured leaved vines and surrounded by blossoming garden beds that wouldn’t be out of place on the cover of Floriade’s visitors guide. It was the public toilet! Auburn, one fancy place I tells ya!
I strolled around under the glorious canopies of some oak and liquid ambar trees and was yet again just enjoying the pleasantries of the path and gardens when the illuminated jogging prick ran past again.

I strode a few more streets, it was a really nice place and I was quite taken with it. Then, it got a bit boring and family home near good school, and I started a mental tally of Sydney Vs Melbourne suburbs of the same name, because my critical facilities have been reduced to lists thanks to social media and the internet. The scoreboard is below:
Sydney            Melbourne
Auburn (L)             Auburn (W)
Epping (W)            Epping (L)
Canterbury (L)        Canterbury (W)
Surry Hills (W)        Surrey Hills (L)
Kensington (W, just cause of Souths Juniors) Kensington (L)

Bonus story – how Auburn got its name.
Auburn was a town on the Yorkshire coast of England, but is now four metres under water! What was once prime ocean-front land was lost at a rate of more than two metres a year due to coastal erosion. Reverend Henry Liddiard (no relation to Gareth, I don’t think) settled in the Red Gum Flat area in 1854 and built a grand residence which he named Auburn Lodge after his former, once standing town. There is also Auburn House built soon after, which is now a palatial home of wealthy people.

1807harper_frances_auburn_house2

The last house in Auburn, Yorkshire, before it too fell off the cliff into the ocean.

 

and P.S. yes, I know some of the pictures came up sideways. It just does that, you’ll just have to twist your neck, sorry.

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.

mitch_4195_1_1

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.

mitch_4205
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.