by AJ Place
Our second winter as inner westies rolls around and the shorter days draw me towards the seasonal slowdown; my natural state. I’m not sure if it’s complacency, laziness or content. This is my third time as an ex Adelaidean living in Melbourne but my first as a mortgage holder. Barely out of my teens in the ‘80s, I spent my first year as a new grad overwhelmed and wide eyed, working shifts in a job I was patently ill equipped for. Deer in the headlights wide eyed, not the excited variety.
Living a few suburbs from my workplace but not wanting to walk alone after dark, I collected almost daily parking tickets. Occasionally, with my house-mate, we went to Lygon Street for a bowl of spaghetti. Driving past Footscray and Sunshine on my way back to Adelaide, I gave the western suburbs little thought, other than it was an unfamiliar area to navigate through to leave this city.
Twenty years later, work sent us back to Melbourne. It was (and still is) a competitive rental market, with many houses presented in disrepair – cupboard doors hanging off, grubby, outside loos. We were finally successful applicants at the 100th house we looked at. Like a woman possessed, I had taken to clutching onto property manager’s arms, begging them to help us find a home. Unfamiliar with Melbourne demographics, we landed in one of the leafy suburbs on the eastern side, in a partially renovated house; an area well outside our affordability, should we have wanted to settle. The day we arrived, we sat on the front fence for six hours with our furniture, waiting for the builders to pack up. We spent those two years determined to make the most of the experience of living in a different city; each weekend, choosing a different area to explore with the kids. We walked or rode along the esplanade from Port Melbourne to St Kilda, wandered the streets of Camberwell, Balwyn and Fitzroy; drove to the Dandenongs, Yarra Valley or the Mornington Peninsula. We didn’t spend much time over in the west, except again, to connect to the road taking us home to South Australia.
This time, we took a little while to put down our roots, initially renting for a few years, not sure if we would be staying. No longer with young children; we sought a compact, west side house with a nearby shopping strip, far away from the verdant suburbs of our previous Melbourne stay. With the regular pull of visits back to family in Adelaide, time spent at our home in the inner west has become enough; the need to wander, diminished. As the winter sets in, I have almost come to a standstill; embracing a slower, not smaller, life. By staying local, we shop more consciously, buy and throw out less and reduce wastage. There is an abundance of choice for gifts, home-wares, coffee, food, wine and flowers – happy stuff, in our Seddon neighbourhood.
On Victoria Street, we can drink good coffee, brunch or lunch at one of the many cafes, dine finely or grab a pizza, pasta or souvlaki. Stunning flowers line the shelves at Clover Flower Co. Between the Seddon Wine Store and The Vin Wine and Spirits, all our beer, wine and gin desires are met. Happy Apple sells the ‘cow friendly’ milk we prefer. At Pompello, a friendly welcome accompanies an array of fresh, seasonal fruit and veges and bright bunches of native flowers. LoveLuvo, a retail social enterprise store offering employment to people living with disability, stocks locally made soaps, body and home care. The products are eco-friendly and fair trade and the helpful staff offer a ‘bring your own container’ refill service. When our dog was badly injured, turning us into blithering fools, we had quick access to compassionate care at Seddon Vets. Next door, is dog treat nirvana.
Around the corner on Charles Street, several take away or eat-in options are available; Thai, burgers at Slider Diner, crispy chips and gravy from Saint Charles Fish and Chippery, or Miss An’am’s for a sushi roll and decently priced coffee. Cakes and Vases, sells flowers, plants, slices and cakes for special occasions. Luxsmith has recently added a bar and wine store facing Charles Street. I’ve had fabulous, quirky lamp shades made at Far Fetched Designs and found unique, handmade presents. I could spend hours looking at pretty things in Sedonia on Gamon Street. Next month I plan to go wild and venture further afield to the Slow Food Melbourne Farmers’ Market, in its new home at the Spotswood – Kingsville RSL. I’m keen to check it out. It sounds my pace.
It’s a different Melbourne, than those I previously experienced, or perhaps noticed, when I was distracted by a busier life. The roads are more congested. The vulnerable, more visible. On this wet winter solstice, companion animals and their owners experiencing homelessness, face a bitterly cold Melbourne night without shelter. I am conscious of my ignorance, thinking it was desperate times when we struggled to find a rental, years ago. More recently, a glimpse into the barriers facing pet owners trying to rent, revealed the impenetrable, unaffordable market this presents for those with limited options. When facing tough times, staying with a pet who provides stability, companionship and support may eclipse refuge – a choice many of us can’t imagine having to make. The absolute privilege of being a mortgage holder in the inner west of this divergent city does not escape me.