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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some good further Moorabbin reading here.