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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

End of the Line – South Morang

I didn’t really want to go to South Morang to tell you the truth. It was Good Friday in what had been a bit of a bad news week. My first intended destination was Scoresby, which had a lake, and a roller skating rink and a Carribean Market and sounded like a whole day full of fun. But alas, all the fun things were closed.

With not much time or inclination to think of a back up plan, I figured on just getting on the nearest train and heading to the end of the line. ‘So I went down to Rushall Station’ which wasn’t as interesting as the album of the same name, but then again, not many things are.

There’s a really fabulously painted muscle car just after Northcote station #suburbanautos, but mostly Northcote and Thornbury look much more glamorous by tram I must say. Their back skirting is all busted fences, graffitied walls and general discarded disarray.

The suburbs spread out a bit past Preston. Big roads and strip shops with everything shut. I almost disembarked at Epping, which shares a name with the suburb next to the one I grew up in, but figured I may walk back to there instead.

So you’re spared a whole day of contrasting Sydney V Melbourne namesakes. Though the Tuffy Muffler hard-arse koala logo sign would fit right in the Melbourne one.

South Morang is well and truly the end of the line. You get out of the station and look up and theres just seemingly endless powerlines stretching far into the distance.

There’s a Westfields which is refreshingly empty. A murder of crows is pecking at something on the ground. As I get nearer I see it was a recently full packet of Smiths Crisps, BBQ flavour. About seven crows scatter and retreat to the roof in a flurry of sleek back feathers and guttural squawking. Claws scrape on metal guttering as they land above a fading Coles sign. The two biggest birds stay to polish off the chips. I veer past into the vacant parking lot being stared at by intense black eyes. To be fair, I was kind of feeling like chips.

The exterior of the rather sizable mall had nothing but bin-strewn loading docks and abandoned alfresco dining areas. I was the only one about save for a few dejected drivers, quickly leaving once they realised there was nothing open.

I finally got out past the masses of car spaces and across a scrubby nature strip and into suburbia. There was a ‘Crust’ Pizza shop open, a fire truck parked across the road as the firefighters attended to their lunch inside.

I was scuttling through pleasantly non-descript streets of well kept nature strips and hedges. Two fellas walked past me headed into a house with steaming wrapped parcels of Fish N Chips I smelt before I saw, one offered a cheery “hello there, how are you going? have a great Easter won’t you”. I inquired as to where the shop was they got their food from, he replied with about five steps of directions and about three too many streets far away for someone with no car.

I was wondering though, about what would be open, particularly as nothing except identical house-filled street greeted my every turn. I eventually came across an old time corner store/milk bar in both style and stock. Some of the best before dates ended in 14, and most things were coated in a fine dust. Strangely however, you could rent a segway here if you so desired. I unadventurously got a killer python and walked out on my own feet.

I found myself at a big park which had a whopping great lake in it. It was excellent; ducks, majestic black swans, elegant white geese and some cranky water hens scooting about, an ornithologists dream. There was also a very informative sign detailing the history of the area, which was the impressive pastoral holdings, hunting grounds, dairy, stables, shearing sheds and horse racing and training facility for Henry ‘Money’ Miller. It wasn’t a half-arsed nickname either – Henry was a founding director of the Bank of Victoria, and was the founder of the Victorian Fire & Marine Insurance Co, the Victorian Life & General Assurance Co and seven Building societies.

His two sons Setpimus and Albert Miller, not only had terrific moustaches, but were pretty handy horse trainers. Their most prodigious galloper was Redleap, which won the Grand National Hurdles twice and the Grand National Steeplechase, and now has a street and an oval named after it.

Septimus, Albert and ‘Moneybags ‘ Miller

After the excitement of a lap of the lake, even better was the fact there was a shmick footy ground right beside it. I popped through a few goals from the pockets with a mini footy (which along with a rabbitohs scarf was the only thing I bought along, not anything useful say like a hat, book, water, or snacks of any sort!) as a heavily tattooed man sat disinterestedly on the interchange bench, glaring out behind dark ‘speed dealer sunnies’.

The former horse stables have now been transformed into the ‘Stables’ shopping centre, which had about six Fish n Chips shops, two charcoal chicken joints, a bakery and a Thai restaurant all vying for the plentiful Good Friday custom. I made a particularly baffling culinary choice of potato bake, as the first bit of the stables I encountered had but two shops open, and it wasn’t until I walked through and around the other side, I got to see the plethora of options listed above.

One of the places open was the Plough Inn, I briefly noted it mentally as at least being open and a place to potentially watch the game, but it wasn’t until I walked out of the centre and saw all the anti pokies signs (The Plough Inn takes $60,000 a week out of our community) taped to fences that I paid it proper attention. Sadly, pokies are just a way of life in Sydney, it’s just another income stream for places. They used to at least only be confined to clubs, which at least had a requirement to return part of that income back to the community, and people looked out for each other a bit more. Then they were allowed in pubs, then came the Casino and out went lots of live music. But pokie places are seemingly utterly detested in Melbourne – the reopening of the Croxton Park Hotel as a music venue was most often greeted with a scournful ‘that pokie place?’

I wandered past the delightful looking Plenty Valley FM then came back into main road/powerline territory. I cut across the baseball diamond (past the leisure centre, left at the lights) to the Mill Park Reserve, it’s showpiece attractions – namely the native woodland and remnant vegetation sections were all burnt out. I wondered if it was daft backburning or arson, a scorched Fanta can laying among the blackened grass was the only clue.

I went on the swing in the unburnt playground. It was fun for perhaps the first seven seconds, then it was just going too high and fast – I never remember from childhood how you are meant to slow a swing down, just the extend and curl bit for your legs to make it go faster. So I scraped my hells on the downswing a bit then launched a stilted attempt at dismount. That was enough excitement for one day. Just as well as I next headed to Epping where there was no excitement at all.

An overgrown buffalo grass lined path skirted the railway line/creek. The places nearby sounded nice – Peppercorn Park separated from Sunbird Garden Park by Greenbrook Drive, but it was a bit grim really. Overgrown litter strewn reeds, a wild-growing huge clump of cacti, and a shopping trolley and two BMX bikes semi-submerged in a canal under a graf-covered concrete bridge were just some of the attractions along the way.

Epping itself was all just big intersections and crossroads. The Epping Hotel was seemingly open, it’s Sydney namesake was a regular haunt, as sponsor of the Macquarie Uni Kookaburras, and venue for many a post game Saturday evening as well as dicey nightclub/music venue Tracks.

But this one was rather unmagical. The main bar itself, plus the ‘sports bar’ and all the dining options inside were all closed and only the pokie section was open, and sadly for Good Friday, pretty well populated. My inquiry as to if any of the TV’s could be put on the NRL were met with no sorry love, we’re contractually committed to show Keno and the Races on them. Gambling does ruin lives!

On I trudged past the tyre retailers, industrial units, distribution depots and homemaker centres to the only other option in the area – the Epping Plaza Hotel, which as the name suggests was a pub in the carpark of a shopping mall. The game was on, but didn’t have any volume, unlike the nearby screens for the races at Singapore, that pretend races thing called Trackside, Keno and the pokie jackpots board that were all noisily buzzing away. The game was terrible and one-sided, some bloke struck up a chat asking if he reckoned Souths would score again when it got out to 30-something nil to the Bulldogs. But as I found out later as the bunnies manged a couple of late consolation tries, he wasn’t asking out of compassion, he’d backed the Bulldogs to win he second half, so went off muttering while trying to find some winners in the sixth at Singapore.

DSC_4161 Epping – close to nowhere.

There wasn’t a whole lot else to do, so once the game was over I just headed home. The near half an hour wait at a mostly abandoned station made all the more adventurous when a friend replied to news of the fact I was out at Epping with “Don’t die out there”.

Both the Tramway and Monty’s were open that evening at least, so it was a pretty good Friday eventually.

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.”

Carrum

 

My day started at the Sticky Institute, fulfilling another of my new years resolutions to buy a few new zines per pay.

I had planned to peruse them on the train, but I just sat and stared as the city gave way to the suburbs, and the suburbs spread into factories, bushland and coastal scrub. The glimpses of turquoise water all rather exciting as the train made its way down the Mornington Peninsula.

Frankston had certainly been busy in the two decades since I’d last been there. It had a big shiny mall for one, where were the spittin and swearin youths? The cool second hand record store, the king of Savers stores? Nowhere to be seen – just paving and chain stores everywhere. It was a bit disorientating, as the whole focus of the place now seems to be the Bayside Shopping Centre, as opposed to the water.

But I soon found the water front, and quite soon after that found the Water Front Festival. There were carnies, rides, and the ubiquitous twisted potato on a stick tent – which seemingly has left Gozleme for dead as far as food choice people want to shove in their face whilst walking around fairgrounds goes.

There was a small stage to the side with ‘youth’ bands (that’s where they went!) another even smaller stage with even smaller performers – those ChildStar types – that dress and gesture and sing lyrics about adult life, but still get dropped off and picked up from primary school.

Then there was the particularly baffling ‘Swim With the Mermaids’ attraction, which had these two women of indeterminable age and unrealistic tails just sort of lying around and lolling about in about 15cm of water beside the pier, encouraging small children to get their photos with them.

Another lap of the festival and a lap of Frangers (as the locals call it) and I was about done, but found a bus going out to the Mornington Regional Gallery, so jumped aboard. The exhibition was On the Beach, and really terrific actually. Some really iconic photos (Max Dupain and Rennie Ellis) as well as some commentary and more challenging works regarding the place of the beach in Australian culture, particularly in light of the Cronulla Riots.

It inspired me to want to go to a beach at the very least. Got back to Frankston and was pondering a dip at Chelsea, but new years, new suburbs! gave Carrum a go instead. There’s not much doing as far as the strip of shops on the highway, just Thai and a fancyish cafe, but the beach itself is a little bottler. Big multi-coloured umbrellas give the entrance a jolly tropical resort vibe, the water is clear as if it came from a tap, the view sweeps out round the sand in each direction; the sun was on the last of its downwards descent over the bay, giving that crushed diamond sparkle to the water, and there was a wedding going on.

The water didn’t get past my knees deep until about 50 metres from shore and the waves just sort of gently swelled a bit and pushed forward, rather than breaking, so it was great swimming. Though the translucence of the water actually made me a bit more paranoid about what may be lurking within it, as you could see every little thing in there. Sometimes it’s just better not to know.

After a jolly great paddle, I ventured into Carrum proper. It was just a short strip of shops, but it felt communal, and all useful. I settled for the art deco-looking fish n chips and wandered along down to the park overlooking Pattersons Lakes for some alfresco dining. It felt nice walking around. There’s something about beachside areas, their houses seem to be outward looking, big windows, verandas, and outdoor furniture suggesting that having to actually be inside is an inconvenience rather than a choice.

A bit further along the park was the sports district, tennis courts and a beaut footy/cricket oval, which a movie has given me some apt vocabulary to describe – ‘A Field of Dreams’. There’s a pavilion bustling with mingling cricketers, former opponents now all together in the temporary brotherhood of post-game beers. Almost half the perimeter of the ground s filled with ads for local businesses ‘proudly’ sponsoring their local team, a lovely pine-tree backdrop down one end and gracefully aged old stands and scoreboards at the other.

Doing a bit of research and it was quite the dream. The area had a local footy team in some form since 1902, eight decades of playing in the local leagues netted them seven flags, but it all came to an end in 1996.A couple of likely local lads put some feelers out and 20 blokes showed up for kick-to-kick that Sunday, and it grew from there, 45 showed up for pre-season training and the Lions were reborn.

I had just enough time to squeeze in a pot at The Wishing Well, a homely local pub. It had two taps (VB and Carlton) a motley crowd of regulars, darts, a pool table, faded sporting memorabilia, one of those ‘Pick A Number’ machines and no doubt the echoes of decades of yarns and laughs told over the well propped up bar.

MU

Melbourne isn’t really a see the sights sort of town. There aren’t that many ‘things’ to go gawk at, pose in front of and instagram, unlike say the tourist trifecta of Sydney – the ‘bridge, the opera house and Centrepoint. The Manchester Unity Building though is properly iconic. It never fails to pause me in my tracks, nor cause me to shut a shutter of some sort in its general direction. I remember back in my Cityscope days, I actually entered the sale of the building into the system, and the subsequent transformation of the tower up top into an apartment, something which instantly gave me a new aspiration in life – to own it – and an answer to those – what would you do if you won lotto? type questions. The tower is now part of a dentist’s office – may be the only way to get me to go? – but has graciously been lovingly restored (see some pics here, as I couldn’t manage to wrangle my way in there on my stroll)  and maintained by its owner – even to the point of hand-sourcing period glassware, cutlery etc and using only lettering and fonts of the era from when it was built. There is still a legendary conference room in its original state with a six metre table that had to be built in-situ, due to its huge size and volume.

The building itself means, and meant a lot to Melbourne. The corner is sits upon was renowned as a meeting spot for promenaders, and had the nickname of ‘puppy dog corner’ due to all the swoony couples who would gather there, and also Stewart Dawson’s Corner after a business located there. The building was constructed for the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows – a membership based friendly society that has benevolence and empowerment as its core, but a slightly shady, undocumented, yet long history, but as an organisation has dwindled in relevance in today’s world. Not too much is known about how the group came to Australia, but the Victorian order dates back to 1850.

What was significant about the Manchester Unity building, was its granduer and speediness of construction at a time when the country, and indeed most of the world were reeling from the Great Depression. The grand gothic styling, and the fact it was the tallest building in Melbourne, and constructed at a rate of one level per week and was completed in an astounding eleven months acted as a beacon of hope for the city of Melbourne, and restored the faith in future prosperity, literally and figuratively as it’s imposing tower was first illuminated on December 17, 1932.

As well as boasting being the tallest, it provided numerous firsts including the first ever use of as escalator in Melbourne, a pioneer in automatic cooling, rubbish and postal chutes on all floors, and had the largest generator in Australia providing backup power if needed.

The building today has an uneasy mix of dentists and jewelers, a coffee academy, and some scattered small services including hair dressers and diamond setters. The inside is ornate in a fading splendor sort of way, with art deco details lingering throughout, and the ground floor arcade a wonderfully lavish array of marble, wood, and tiles. I mention the outside, just so I can use the phrase ‘flying buttresses’ – but it is world renowned and thankfully protected on the national and state Heritage Registers for its unique use of terracotta faience and vertical columns in creating a masterpiece of looming gothic drama. Even the big MU signal glows blankly over the city hinting of strange bygone days, but still proving hope to the beleaguered people below and evoking mystery at what transpires in that imposingly splendid tower.