Reality Check

Suburban Stickiness

My friend Louise has a strict “no crossing rule” in which she refuses to cross the imaginary border between South East Melbourne and anywhere past Lonsdale Street.

Getting her to attend functions and events in suburbs like Collingwood or Footscray is an act of mammoth undertaking. She hates the North and would rather believe the West didn’t exit.

She’s not alone either.

Why is that some, once they settle into a particular area, really don’t like to leave it?

Melbourne’s inner suburbs have as much personality as the spectrum of people that inhabit them. Like cultures, they’re stereotype forming, and each locale’s cast of characters tends to act as road markers on your drive between them.

Start seeing an abundance of beard sporting, barista working hipsters? Probably driving through Northcote or Fitzroy.

Girls who go to the gym looking like they’re clubbing? Probably South Yarra.

Getting mugged? Probably out West somewhere.

Yet while we’re all drawn to our own comfort post codes, one discovers that venturing far out of them presents many richly rewarding things you’d never find confined within your own suburb. By venturing out, I don’t mean a Sunday trek to a revoltingly hip Thornbury café from your Hawthorn safety net, but rather picking up and moving from North, to South East, to West, or any combination of the above.

That’s what I’ve done since I moved to Australia. It’s worth it, and you really get to know the city and the weird, wonderful and differentiating qualities of each compass point. You discover hidden treasures that exhibit the quirks you tend to only find in the Northern or Western or South Eastern suburbs.

Sure, it’s easy to stick to what we like and become regulars, to get caught up in suburban stickiness. But from my experience, Melbourne is a much better place to live if you’re willing to transplant yourself every few years.

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Photo by: Mat Connolley

Preston, or Depreston, was the first place I lived in Australia and won’t ever land itself on the list of upcoming suburbs of Melbourne, but it’s not without its charms (no matter how far and few they may be). The suburb was ranked pretty low (all the way down at #145) in a 2011 survey of Melbourne’s suburb liveability, and I don’t think there has been much development since.

Median house prices are still decent for Australia but you can’t escape the dilapidated air of oldness that permeates through the area. I suppose the most endearing part of it was seeing the very worst before working my way up.

However, the one good thing about Preston is its proximity to some of Melbourne’s most hip-to-be postcodes- most notably Northcote and Thornbury.

Some of Melbourne’s coolest and most talked about venues are scattered through the North. Music, food, drinks; you really can’t go wrong with what you can find on Smith and High Street following its resurgence in 2005.

My two personal favorites continue to be the Northcote Social Club, where I saw a host of incredible bands come through and play and the Wesley Anne. The latter, a converted old church turned into a bar/restaurant, boasts a great outdoor area and terrific food. Both are great places to hang out, drink and if you’re so inclined, see live music.

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Moving to South Yarra from Preston is the difference between New York and New Jersey, night and day. The architecture is much nicer, the people are better looking, and you get the sense that you’re actually living someplace instead of being part of the background montage of the “Streets of Philadelphia” video.

You really don’t understand how convenient South Yarra is until you someday leave again, with the wealth of everything literally at your doorstep. Trains at an abundance and trams criss-crossing in every which way, the suburbs locality is its biggest asset. Sure, things are a little dearer on the wallet, but the advantages of convenience often outweigh monetary concerns (otherwise, how would 7-Elevens stay in business?).

South Yarra station is great because it is just a few stops away from Southern Cross station, meaning people too cheap to pay for a cab to the airport are within reach of the much more affordable SkyBus option.

Food was always great living in South Yarra. No matter your tastes, there’s something in the area to fill your stomach. My favourite was Pacific Seafood BBQ House, a Chinese joint that boasted cheap $10 meals and the pricier gourmet banquet style dishes. The hostess was the grouchiest, unhappiest person in the world (in 3+ years, I didn’t see her smile once) but getting your fill for a single bill in the area was always worth it.

South Yarra continues to rank high in its liveability but unless your bank account is constantly in the 7-8 digits, you can probably forget about owning property around here.

However, unlike Toorak’s glamorous living, South Yarra still has its character. Whether its cool bars like Maya Bar or affordable restaurants, they are hidden in plain view alongside the glitzier facades that line Chapel Street (avoid).

You can walk to just about everything in South Yarra, something you can’t say about a great majority of locales around Melbourne outside of the CBD.

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The trembling the West can cause to some…

I heard it all when I first arrived in Melbourne; don’t go out West. Terrible place everyone said; “unsafe!”

Truth is, anywhere in Melbourne can be unsafe if you’re not smart about it. And the kaleidoscope of culture you can indulge in over the West Gate Bridge is something well and truly worth your time.

I moved out to the postcode which this site is named after with Ms.3013 and while there are still severe rough patches that plague the West, there are so many great gems that one would be amiss not to discover them.

Sure, you could be happy living in the confines of the Yarra (South), but then you wouldn’t be just a walk away from places like the Cornershop (best scrambled eggs with parmesan, cavlo nero & soft herbs in the business) or the majestic old Sun Theatre. Lately, Yarraville Park has become home to a host of food trucks that make any weekend night a perfect outside spot for food ranging from American BBQ to Vietnamese street food. And who doesn’t like indulging in freshly torched crème brule from a tiny truck with the entire neighbourhood?

We’ve found a little space and a little quiet this side of town and while there’s a lot of work to be done Westside, there is an air of ascendance in its optimism- that these suburbs really are up and coming.

No matter which part of Melbourne you currently call home, there should be no reason to confine yourself to any boundaries.The best parts of the city are scattered all across its landscape.

Why would you limit yourself?


 

Photos credits:
St Kilda: Donaldytong
Smith St: Mat Connolley
Chapel St: Stonnington Council
Sun Theatre: Grayline

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