This is what Google thinks North Melbourne’s shopping strip, Errol St, looks like.
We don’t always have the same quality of decorative cloud and the shadow suggests early-ish in the morning, but that’s essentially right. You can glimpse the grand heritage Municipal Buildings on the left and the hodge-podge on the right. It also offers a minor puzzle. While it’s not always like this, despite being one kilometre from the edge of the hurly burly of the central business district, two from Fed Square, it’s quiet. You need to keep your eye out for 57 trams trundling through, but you can just amble across the street and that’s what most people do, following their noses with few constraints.
‘Desire lines’ are a world-wide phenomenon, but only academics and novelists looking for an easy title call them ‘desire lines’. Cow paths, goat tracks, wombat pads, social trails, kemonomichi (beast trails), chemins de l’âne (donkey paths), Olifantenpad (elephant trails) or, my preference, hoon tracks. They can be found all over the world scarring pristine lawns and worming through bush. The track for Mt Oberon at Wilson’s Promontory is a fine example: formal zig zag going up, unruly cannonball coming down. They appear anywhere people want to walk — wherever, whenever, however. Some view them as evidence of pedestrians’ anarchic inability or unwillingness to do as they’re told. Others believe that they are clear indicators of design flaws in the constructed environment which should be more attentive to human wishes and requirements. This has significant consequences for the geography of commerce.
From the evidence in the photo above very urban North Melbourne’s shopping centre could be in a country town. There is, however, at least one major point of difference.
Within 200m. of the location of the camera taking that photo there are 15 shops serving and selling espresso coffee. No. Wrong. I’ve forgotten Queensberry Street: Lulu’s, French Quarter, ElCeed, 20 and 6. And of course Di Bella’s round in Leveson. That’s 20. Saluministi. Is that still going? Not sure. But a lot. Each with its own clientele and style.
This is very much a matter of opinion but I’d say Fandango for the wraps, Errol’s outside for perfectly satisfactory coffee, the passing parade (along with a cloud of cigarette smoke) and being open 365 days a year, Di Bella’s for seriousness of purpose and their chips. The Auction Rooms draws the crowds. It is a staple of media lists of ‘Melbourne’s 10 best coffee shops’ (from a densely crowded field, 2385 in the CBD alone in 2016), and deservedly so. The food is consistently interesting and excellent, the coffee fine, the service prompt and friendly.
Featured here are the magic fingers of a senior executive from the Findlay Films organization, but as well, aujourd’hui nous avons pour votre plaisir: Corned beef brisket + hash: shredded cabbage + leak, poached egg, pita bread, Sriracha hollandaise 20.5; along with Braised Wagyu meatball sub-roll; fior de latte cheese, napoli sauce, polenta chips, jalapeño aoli 20. Washed down with a glass of Fighting Gully Road Aquila you’d be a curmudgeon to complain.
Asian girls with Canon EOS80D’s love The Auction Rooms and go ape over a spread like this. But Kurt won’t eat here. Too pretentious. I think it was almond milk that did the final damage.
But while The Auction Rooms may have the fancy food, Trutrack has got Sam.
This is a photo of himself that Sam likes: mmm what? slightly goofy philosopher? But he usually looks more like this: the big sparkly grin is as good as a signature. Cute as … well, cute as he actually is.
The photo to the left includes his brother and his dad. Sam is on the right with, he says, ‘yeah cannelloni in the hair’ (for the curls). He’s probably been a naughty boy in his day, too much cheek for the formalities of schooling for example, wanting to get out into the world and taste its flavours. Years ago he made a mess of himself on a motor bike, ‘smashed everything’, even so he’s now a compact ball of genial muscle as well as a serious and thoughtful student of human behaviour.
We love Sam. All his customers love Sam. After rolling his eyes over the ever declining margins he says: ‘It’s the people that get me out of bed. I love ’em although there’s the arseholes too that drive me mad. But sometimes people just appreciate what you’re doing. When that happens it’s magic. Magic.’ And so it is. At Trutrack the interface between the management and the custom has exactly the right degree of fluidity. It’s transparent, and what you are looking at is a desire to strike just the right note of hospitality — warm, open, but not intrusive.
We went there originally because it’s the closest coffee shop to our place, but it has it’s own particular fragrance. Trutrack? Wheel alignment of course. The cafe is a corner cut off one of the many car mechanics shops that populate this part of North Melbourne. Ralphy, Sam’s forever mate who runs the mechanicals, would like me to add FLASH (‘prestige’) cars: Bentleys, Rollers, imported Chevs, hot rods, antiques and Mustangs like the one out the front in the photo above. This is Ralphy out the back.
After ten years working round the fringes of the electrical trades, Sam joined Ralph, a couple of Sicilian boys, at Trutrack. The cafe came a few years after.
‘The customers would come in, we had a percolator over in one corner. They’d sit around, a bit of banter, chat away, and we thought why not do it properly? Three things I was always interested in: coffee, hairdressing and menswear. I got stuck at the coffee.
‘We shaved the concrete and epoxied the floor, did it up and there it it was.’ On a boat full of migrants coming out from Sicily, Sam, aged three, got lost. He was found two decks up in the ship’s night club with a bar that glowed orange with which he was transfixed. This explains the main decorative feature of Trutrack, a spectacle of lit orange fibre glass.
This window goes through to the back. A hotrod with a luminescent, and lurid, pink paint job is on the hoist. Kara is making coffee. An artist from Northern California, she has contributed a big chalk drawing of Sam’s mum on a Vespa to the decoration of Trutrack. She’s gone now, and is much missed, but that’s how staff works in North Melbourne’s coffee shops. Churn, roll over, a new bunch — students, backpackers, the casualised workforce. Sam trains them and then off they go. ‘I’ve got to teach them my vision for the place. Some of them get it. I hate saying goodbye to good staff. Over the years a lot of them have touched my heart.’ Sam says things like that, and without varnish or qualification they are true.
After 17 years he thinks it’s getting harder. ‘Outgoings. They just kill ya. This street, all round this area, used to be full of small businesses, printers, engineers, badge makers down the street. So they’d come here for meetings. White collar stuff. But the street is all changed. You think you’re going to get more business out of all these units going up, but the people who live in them don’t eat breakfast or not with me anyway, they’re not round here during the day and by the time they come home I’m closed. Same with all the businesses in this area.’
So now it’s North Melbourne footballers (at left) and the Regulars. ‘I’ve got people who come here from Tullamarine (half an hour away) to have their coffee.’ And we come and Robert and the boys on their bikes and the people from the hairdresser’s over the road. They all come. The tailor pops in, still mobile at a very advanced age. And we all come by choice, not happenstance. As well as his livelihood we’re his friends.
It’s a narrative that runs on, a dependable narrative that you don’t want to finish because your expectations and your view of how you want to live would be interrupted. It mightn’t be good for business but it’s great for life.
• • • • • • •
When I was a worker, dry cleaning of men’s clothes was a weekly matter. In North Melbourne I began with the ‘Happy Hanger’ but they always came back smelling just too mercilessly of dry cleaning-ness. Went round the corner into Victoria St and for years went to ‘Lyn’ because the delightful Thai proprietress was so cheerful and friendly and there was a parking spot at the door. The dry cleaning, sent out, was just fair. Then one day I got my trousers back and they were in exactly the same condition as I had delivered them. Untouched by any sort of hand and, although my heart was troubled, I moved up to the ladies at BrownGouge which takes you to a part of the street to which you otherwise would not go.
Past the TAB, a manicurist, a supplier of dog grooming needs, a Subway (with associated smell), an Indian takeaway and something called The Academy inside which anything could be going on. You don’t have to tiptoe past, but you won’t be rushed off your feet. You’ve gone round the corner you see. You’ve left the mainstream of life.
Down one end of Errol there’s a busy IGA supermarket. Over the years, it has gone Indian and this is not to its disadvantage. Indian plus a ragged Skip who Myrna once taught, and my Greek mate who got in narrow-size Gladwrap when I asked him to. Fruit and veg: good. Maybe as good as the market and it doesn’t take you forever to look. Back the other way there’s a Foodworks. I have a view that the Foodworks is better for cleaning goods on the basis that they sell packets of thick sponges, but it’s better for nothing else and I don’t know who shops there. Isolates perhaps. Plus it’s a living exemplar of issues related to the sale of fresh fruit and vegetables. Unless there’s a big turnover you just can’t do it. It’s a downward spiral, one which ends, I hope, fruitfully. But, bang! It’s round the corner in Queensberry you understand. Bang!! Location, not ripeness, is all.
Maurice knows this. Maurice knows the street.
He’s the cultural centerpiece and working machinery of The Barber’s Saloon, North Melbourne — a very superior hairdresser. He started working here 21 years ago because his uncle Phonse needed a hand. He’d previously been cutting women’s hair in high end salons. Maurie lives down the bay — it takes him an hour to get to work, he listens to the radio — with his wife and two lovely daughters who conspire to keep him poor. Because that’s what wives and daughters do in the world of barbershops of this vintage, although interestingly enough about five or six years ago the lad mags disappeared from the reading material.
You don’t need reading material because Maurie will tell you what’s on his mind. None of this ‘How’s your day been?’ rubbish, just straight into a blow-by-blow of a dud job by a plumber or the perils of parking out the back. What’s on Maurie’s mind is not predictable but it often relates to the recently observed foibles of humankind. It could be advice about a trip to Bali, issues of television reception, the latest rent rises, his own delightfully tangential take on what’s going wrong at Collingwood, management of adolescents’ mobile phone ownership and the cunning with which his older daughter has approached this issue (among others). ‘Too smart for me Davey. She just goes to her granma — Christmas this is — and says this is what I want. Next thing you know she’s got this new iPhone 15 or whatever, and it’s a better phone than mine. Than mine! I’m supposed to be her dad! And sure you get the phone, but who pays the bills? Maurie does. Know what I mean?’ (It’s not a question.)
Recently I was apologetic about being sweaty and smelly. I’d just come from the gym. ‘Nah Davey. That’s not an issue, and anyway you’re not too bad. What is an issue it’s the tradies who come in here with concrete dust in their hair. Their hair!! You hear it grinding the clippers and it’s too late by then. Whaddya gunna say? No more haircut? Who says that? And then you know what? You put some water on it, and what have you got, concrete and water. Cement head …’ There would be more but he’s finished with me. The talced brush has had its requisite number of outings. ‘There. That’s a haircut. That’s why you come in. You didn’t think you needed one and look at that. Much better. You haven’t got much on top Davey and it looks a lot better if it’s short.’
Maurie knows the street. He has theorised it, and it’s worth listening.
‘It’s pumping on this side [of Errol St, in the main block, west side], Davey, Pumping.
Other side, dead. Dead. Stone dead. In the sun, in the shade, doesn’t matter. People shop on this side of the street.’
And the shops in the Municipal Heritage buildings? ‘These beautiful shops over the other side. They’ve got 14 foot ceilings, open fireplaces. But they’re dark and cold you know, all year round but in winter especially. Even in summer facing west. You could put a KFC over there and still no one would come. Except you couldn’t, because you couldn’t put an industrial kitchen in there. They wouldn’t let you. See what I mean? All heritage. Can’t do a thing to ‘em. When there was a newsagent over there, one time they wanted to put air con in to keep them warmer in winter. Had to go right through the building to the back and it’s about 40 metres, way way back. They’re long blocks those ones. And you’ve got to put pipes in, and they’re not going to let you Davey. No way. The Council owns the building so no changes, and no sub-letting either.
‘And over there, what are you going to do? Go to the library? How many people do that? The physio? How many people at a time do you have in there? I never see anyone going in there. And next door who wants boots at 450 bucks a pair? You don’t. I don’t. There is no way. And that restaurant … It’s the third lot in there in two years. They just can’t make a go of it.
‘Then you go round the corner [left, towards the city] into Victoria Street … just give it away. There’s parking. It doesn’t matter. Anything. You can not make it work. Rubira’s was there right? Went into that big building that keeps turning over. They’ve got another restaurant in Port Melbourne. You have to queue round the block to get in. It’s two storeys and packed every night. Come here, went broke in a year. Someone else had a go — I forget the name — what happens? Dead. Dead. They can’t do it. People. Just. Won’t. Come.
‘This side it’s all mix and match. Some people paint the shops themselves. That one’s got gold decoration, this one is red and blue, tiles, whatever. Might be falling apart like this joint. But this is where the people come. The Hot Poppy up the end, it’s like hippy stuff. BUT he owns the Hot Poppy and the wine bar next door and the pizza joint next to that so he can put tables right along the street, and it’s cold and not comfortable. But it’s swarming with customers. Over the other side you offer couches and open fires so you can be comfortable. Do you cross the street. No you don’t. Why Davey? I don’t know.’
Maurie’s street: pumping on the west side, The Auction Rooms exerting a pull on the other side of Queensberry, the IGA making things happen down the Victoria St end on the other side. Amiconi (an Italian restaurant — ‘buddies’, ‘mates’ — which hums in winter) just keeping things ticking over on the south side of Victoria. But you turn those corners, ‘and, bang you’re dead. Dead.’
Why? Maurie is being disingenuous. He has theorised it.
The Municipal buildings are grand but not welcoming and their tenants restricted in what they can do to them. (That doesn’t explain that restaurant that has never worked in the 15 years. Maybe it’s just waiting for the right tenant to come along. Maybe.)
But what Maurie knows is that most of us want to be part of the passing parade. I want to do what everyone else does. I want to go where the action is. I want to be caught up in the busyness, be a part of common humanity. My desire lines are set, and they might go along the eastern side of Errol St on the way home from the IGA but, except to see my mate Andrew the Optometrist and Linny his superstar sidekick, I don’t go in. My hoon track will take me past, round the corner, down a block and across the road to Sam’s. And that is Just. How. It. Is. And I don’t want that to be interrupted by changes, at least ones that I haven’t instigated.
• • • • • • •
Although the traders may tell you otherwise, lack of custom doesn’t seem to be a problem at the market. Besides the regulars, it’s a tourist attraction. 58% of all international visitors to Melbourne go there, a higher proportion than any other of the city’s ‘attractions’.
Not in doubt is the fact that it’s big: 17 acres (7 hectares), the largest open air market in the southern hemisphere. (Nothing in Tierra del Fuego can touch it.) For that reason, novices or even irregulars will be tempted to buy far more than is a good idea. I speak from personal experience.
However we’re now regulars. It’s a ten-minute walk from home, and we have a track (yes, a ‘desire line’ more than decade old now) that takes us to Coffea for initial fortification, Nut Trek for dried fruit, nuts and buckwheat, Caiafa’s for bread, assorted goodies (although you get your corn loaves elsewhere) and a quick review of the fortunes of the Tigers and the politics of the market, The Chicken Pantry for chooks and eggs. It used to be Steve’s The Epicurean for cheese, olives and cold meat but we’ve had to think about that now he’s sold up.
His brother is still on the opposite corner and might be better. The Very Expensive Place for steak for special occasions; the Eye-Wateringly Expensive Place for steak only for viewing. Stunned. The Chinese opposite for sausages, although the British Continental up the other aisle can be good. Fish from the top corner — less chat, more action. A tour of the organic fruit and vegies just to see what’s good at the moment. Tomatoes, white cucumbers and Victorian asparagus from the Tomato Palace, but for most fruit and vegetables we end up at Chinn’s.
‘Toorak’, George Chinn says it’s called — the aisle that runs down the middle of Shed H connecting the main traffic coming in off the Queen St plaza with the ‘Dairy Produce Hall’. (What part of a cow do spinach boreks come from I wonder?) It’s where all the action is. It’s where people stand in clumps in the middle and take photos of themselves with selfie sticks or absently meander trailing shopping trolleys behind them.
This is the aisle, but it rarely looks like this when we’re there. I had got up early to talk to George.
I had seen a photo of him (at left) in some protest literature and we were talking about what was going to happen to the market. I’m pretty sure he was talking about the impossibility of removing and replacing the rivets that currently hold the iron girders of the sheds together, that and the exposure to lead paint that was likely to occur. We were talking about how long he’d been working at the market (70 years!) and he happened to mention that he arrived in Australia on Boxing Day 1945. Boxing Day 1945! And, what did you say?! On an aircraft carrier? Whaaat? How on earth had that happened? I thought I’d like to find out.
One of the reasons we started shopping at Chinn’s was its convenience to our route. Kingston’s smile and constant good cheer was another reason, but I think my attention was caught as it sometimes is by turning round to hear this broad Australian accent coming out of an Asian mouth. Delightfully incongruous, or actually incongruently delightful.
George, with Kingston topping onions and grinning as always. Boxing Day 1945? That’s just a couple of months after the war had finished. ‘Oh yeah, I know. We arrived on the aircraft carrier ‘Vendetta’. It took us two weeks from Hong Kong.’ But how on earth was that arranged? Migration didn’t really get underway till the ’50s. The White Australia Policy was still in place. ‘I was born in Hong Kong and I was eight when we left, but my parents were coming home. They worked for the government.’ Which government? ‘Oh the Australian government of course. My grandfather came to Australia round 1860.’ It’s so easy sometimes to make assumptions.
From some written information George gave me:
Maa Mon Chinn (1846-18 May 1923) was a highly respected clan headman, storekeeper and tinminer who lived in Weldborough, in Tasmania’s north east, for most of his life. Weldborough was one of the centres of a community of over 700 Chinese miners who worked the tin fields along the valley of the old Ringarooma River, from the 1870s to the 1910s. He came to Tasmania from Guangdong province with his father, and older brother, Maa Pahn, in his mid-teens. They were among the first Chinese to emigrate to Tasmania. The father died in Weldborough (believed to have been murdered on his way to Morina), and was initially buried there. Later Maa Pahn returned to China and took his father’s bones back with him to be reburied in the family’s village.
Lula Kow Yonn (aka Lula Mak) (1870-1951) migrated directly from Guangdong to Weldborough in 1886, at the age of 16, betrothed to marry Maa Mon Chinn, then 40 years old. Over the next 22 years, they had a family of seven sons and four daughters. As tin-mining declined, most of the family migrated to Melbourne in the 1910s, where the middle and younger sons developed a fruit and vegetable wholesaling business in Little Bourke Street. Although the family name was Maa, they adopted Chinn as their English surname.
The family lived in the former Munster Arms Hotel, at 104-106 Little Bourke Street, behind Her Majesty’s Theatre. Partly because of the size of their building, with its many rooms, and partly because of the community spirit of the fourth son, Frank, the Chinn household became a central focus for community activity in Chinatown from the 1920s to the 1960s. Meetings, table tennis games and small parties and dances were held there.
At age eight George’s family lived in the inner city and, getting up at 5am or before, he sold papers. This thing about work, what’s that about? ‘I didn’t want to stay home. I wanted to be out in the mix of things. Be a part of what was happening in the world.’
His family moved to Franklin St (very near the market where he still lives) and bought property in Peel St (one of the market’s boundaries) where a whole community of Chinese Australians lived. ‘Old uncles running the wholesale market that used to be here. They had a saying: “In Australia you walk out your front door into a gold mine.” I’ve watched a whole cycle go through the market: Chinese to Italian to Greeks to Maltese and others, now back to Chinese again.
George trained as a mechanical engineer and worked for the State Electricity Commission. ‘But my family had had a stand at the market since 1932, horse and cart days, and I started working at the market when I was at primary school [aged 10, and yes, 70 years ago!]. Those early mornings, or late, I’d be sound asleep on the cart and the horse would find its own way home. When I was at the SEC office in King St I could still work at the market before work.
‘When Newport [an SEC power station] closed down I bought a sandwich bar in Franklin Street — that was in the late ’70s early ’80s — and when my eldest son finished school he didn’t have a job so I applied for a stand. [The Chinns have three, together about 12m in length.] That was the best thing I’ve ever done. I love being outside. I love meeting people. I love talking to people.’ And, at 80, he’s still at it daily. The worst thing? ‘There are no worst things about working here.’ But he’s still worried.
He’s a bit worried about the decline in the quality of the non-food general merchandise. (‘You used to be able to buy everything here but the kitchen sink. Furs. You name it. But it went a bit off when the Jews left.’) He’s a bit worried about the promotion of tourism over trade (‘all that night market stuff’), and he’s a bit worried about the ineffectiveness of the Market’s marketing strategies. But mostly he’s worried about this — the Melbourne City Council’s plans for the redevelopment of the market.
We’re looking down an artist’s imagination of what is now Therry St across what is still Queen St. The feature is a tower of controversial and uncertain dimension (8 storeys? 20 storeys? 40? 58? or, the Council’s preference, 76?) which is going to pay for a massive makeover of the market itself.
‘We don’t know anything. They don’t talk to us [the traders]. I do know they want to pull down all the sheds, put all the storage underground and then put the sheds back up. But I’ll tell you, when it’s all hidden we’ve lost everything that says it’s a market. Everything human. Once they do that, it’s had it.’
And that is what they want to do. The Council’s 34-page Masterplan could be summarised as ‘play buggery’ meaning doing everything you can think of that appears desirable ignoring any possible contradictions or cost or logistical implications:
‘Our aim is to preserve the Queen Victoria Market’s heritage and traditional market atmosphere, while allowing the market precinct to evolve and meet the contemporary needs of visitors, traders and our growing city. Improvements to the physical environment will allow a flourishing market to grow and evolve into the future (p.4).’
But in George’s mind and the minds of other traders that I talk to it boils down to longer hours, digging up their stands and sanitising the place.
Underlying it all is a suspicion that it might just be about giving developers, and one in particular, a sweet deal.
A major stoush has broken out over Melbourne’s controversial $250 million Queen Victoria Market development on the Munro site, as the city’s council refused to confirm that PDG Corporation will carry out the works.
The construction group refused to comment on plans it had been secretly appointed and could receive millions in extra payments as part of the proposal for a likely 70-level apartment tower. A spokesman also refused to confirm its official appointment would be made in the next few days.
Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said the decision to appoint a ‘single developer’ for the site was made under the local regulations, but declined to name the developer.
Under the proposal, Melbourne City Council bought the 6329sq m site for $76m as part of a plan to rejuvenate parts of the central business district. The government had originally said three groups would be considered — Cbus Property, Hansen Yuncken and PDG Corporation — to redevelop the Therry and Queen Street site.
The council said as part of the development there would be 56 affordable housing units, childcare centre and free Queen Victoria Market parking.
The proposed rebuilding has created major controversy in the area because of planned height restrictions.
Mr Doyle said the council was pleased the project could now be up to 100 metres higher, compared to the original plan of just 20m. The city’s Lord Mayor has been forced to defend the development of the Queen Victoria Market, after criticism the plan should be scrapped to save the area’s heritage outlook. There was speculation that Mr Doyle was initially pushing forward with a 200m tower. (Australian Business Review 28/6/16)
And what does Councillor Doyle say?
This month I unveiled council’s plans for Australia’s most socially, environmentally and financially sustainable mixed-use development on the council-owned Munro site as part the Queen Victoria Market precinct renewal.
I am very proud of those plans: it is the best proposed development our city has seen in 25 years.
The proposed development by PDG Corporation will deliver a $89.7 million public benefit to the City North precinct. It ticks all the boxes: architectural excellence, quality apartment design, 56 affordable housing units, a 120 place childcare facility, a maternal, child health and family services centre, a community centre and kitchen, artists spaces and city room gallery, a hotel, five-star sustainability rating and generous setbacks.
This is … the largest market renewal project in the world right now.
Shaun Carney, a journalist sympathetic to the trader’s concerns, in The Sun’ (14/3/17):
Melbourne’s distinctive contribution to Australian social culture is that it knows how to create places and activities where everyone is welcome. Australian Rules football is the standout but I would nominate the Queen Vic Market as the runner-up: it’s Melbourne’s most-visited tourist destination, with more than 10 million visits a year.
The market is a place we should cherish and look after. It’s special. …
The areas near the market, especially Elizabeth St, already boast too many modern apartment towers. They’re ugly, soulless, and have added nothing good to the streetscape.
Plonking a gigantic tower on the very edge of the market seems incongruous to the point of being ridiculous.
Melbourne will continue to grow and more high-rise buildings will be part of the city’s future but it’s out of control right now. …
The genuine, enduring appeal of the Queen Victoria Market, for all of its obvious shortcomings — which do need to be corrected — is that it operates on a truly human scale.
That’s to be treasured, not messed around with.
• • • • • • •
And what do I say?
The top end of the market especially the northern corner is suffering from spreading blight. On Sundays too much of the upper market is full of really bad tourist tat. The shops down Victoria Street have got the staggers. I have no idea about how the storage and refrigeration processes work but they could probably be improved. I know the fishmongers seem to get their produce delivered from trucks parked on the Elizabeth St footpath at a corner usually frantic with traffic. I like the ideas of resiting Franklin Street and a park over the old cemetery, Melbourne’s first, where 9000 people are still buried and presumably might need exhumation. But, like George, I worry.
I’ve been to Les Halles, once one of the great markets of the world, and wouldn’t be bothered going again unless I needed a supermarket. It’s so easy to ruin these places. And it’s so easy imagining Robert Doyle and the Council wanting a big clean up so that the inhabitants of the new 76-storey tower block aren’t discomforted by the organic quality of what’s going on in their neighbourhood.
One of the things about where I live is that it is bookended by two big shelters for homeless people, the Flagstaff Shelter (once George Chinn’s primary school) and Ozanam House. Between those two is a patch of public housing. This means I share the street with people who have a much more bitter struggle with life than I do, and yes there’s beggars, eccentrics, drunks, and otherwise troubled folk. While not a threat to your safety or security, this can make a ride on the 57 tram an adventure. But it is also a constant reminder of the diversity of life and quite possibly proof, for the time being, against the tidy and sterile monoculture that further gentrification might bring. Hence, destruction of one of the very things that makes the area desirable. How many times has this story been told? Endlessly.
There is no such thing as equilibrium or stasis in the affairs of humankind. In Maurie’s hard-edged commercial calculus, you’re pumping or you’re dying. But in the hazier realms of judgment near complicated intersections like the future of the market, who owns the direction of progress? Some bits of this massive enterprise are pumping; others have got their finger on the button for life support. Hoon tracks take us where we want to go but by definition they are not the product of deep thought. Where we should go requires some further consideration.
This might mean having to rethink the idea of ‘heritage’. North Melbourne’s Town Hall and Municipal buildings built in the 19th century and National Trust-listed are undeniably grand — Heritage with a capital ‘H’. I wouldn’t want them torn down. But ‘heritage’ can also mean ‘features belonging to the culture of a particular society’, the great tangle of what we exchange with each other and what we offer to our successors: take it or, often, leave it.
It’s Maurie’s ‘mix and match’ building design and maintenance. It’s the atmosphere Sam has constructed at Trutrack. It’s the commitment and effort the Chinn family put into their work. Human scale, the very reason you can wander across Errol St … and human connection.
There’s sales, there’s price, there’s the internet, there’s the big chains, but I want at least some of my commerce fleshed out with relationships and their accompanying stories, with human voices and three-dimensional form. I want to follow my own hoon tracks, sometimes — a lot of times — out of habit, out of familiarity and predictability, although sometimes just to be intrigued by what’s round the corner.
Where I live, that’s on offer. Still. And I’m grateful.The Donald in a lane just off the market.