Scumshine, Smelltona, Fear Park – What’s in a name?


    Hazel Lekkas

    Returning to Sunshine, where I spent my childhood through to my early twenties, brings with it much pride. More so now that I have become a mother, as there is something intrinsically satisfying to introduce my little ones to the people (the Sunshiners), and the places I used to romp. 

    At times though, I get a slap in the face. There is an insulting word I hear from time to time from bad-mouthers. Where are their manners? Who do they think they are? It’s a nickname that cries foul. Worst still, I resent it because it takes aim at the ‘people’ of Sunshine. These people include my parents (residents of 43 years) who are a far cry from the derogatory term. I should know better than to let a word(s) hurt me and just let sticks and stones break my bones. 

    The name I am referring to is ‘Scumshine’. Just saying ‘scum’ somehow uncontrollably rolls off the tongue with scorn. How dare someone think that my good natured, hard-working and law-abiding parents are worthless people. It’s why the slap leaves a burning sensation on my cheek. 

    Nicknames of suburbs pop up all the time. Some stick, some change, and others fade. I am not aware of when ‘Scumshine’ first appeared in the vernacular of Melbournians, but rather than take it as an insult and keep it on lists that appear every few years in newspaper articles and talkback radio shows, let’s take it as a half-truth. I take that back. Let’s take it as the truth. I will only, from now on, let sticks and stones break my bones. Let me explain.

    There have been residents of Sunshine with a shady past, many of whom are pushing up daisies for dealing with the devil in the underworld, but, none of the criminal figures I knew, ever caused me harm (although I do not condone gangland killings). Notorious, yes, indeed. Unfortunately their choice to live in the dark in a place called Sunshine was short-lived and a lesson to others about how not to lead your life. They made the majority of Sunshiners look squeaky-clean, which we were. And still are. 

    There were and still are many residents of migrant backgrounds who operate small businesses with little to no English, with both spoken and written communication. Imagine turning up to work without being able to have a meaningful interaction with your English-speaking customers and colleagues yet skip along home with pennies in your pocket to pay your bills, put food on the table and take a trip back to where your mother tongue is spoken. Residents of non-English speaking backgrounds just get on with it. And they contribute to Sunshine’s diverse linguistic community. I know Sunshiners whose roots stretch to most of the world’s continents. 

    And now to Sunshine’s landmarks – and the ‘people’ who shone or shine their light on them – that are the jewels in the crown. HV McKay Memorial Gardens established in 1909 serve as a lasting reminder of (up to 3000) workers who put Sunshine on the world map of manufacturing. (Hugh Victor McKay would be rolling in his grave at the thought of Sunshine’s nickname.) 

    There is: Kororoit Creek with its overly committed and tireless volunteers; Sunshine Library with staff members who bend over backwards for you; Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Primary School whose school community proudly celebrated 100 years of education in 2019; Visy Cares Hub whose Case Managers support young people; and small businesses such as the little hardware shop in Sunshine West that was established in the 1960s and run by hard-working local families for decades. I could go on about Sunshiners but we are not conceited people. Oh, and I dare you to find a scumbag at any of these places mentioned. 

    Us Sunshiners take that which is covered in scum, and turn it to its sparkly, shiny best. To all the belittlers out there, take that. Or perhaps, us Sunshiners should not consider whoever coined the nickname as thoughtless or offensive, but point them out as a wonderful wordsmith who came up with an oxymoron to help us Sunshiners look on the bright side of life’s challenges. Like Shakespeare’s question about the name of a rose, you can call our suburb and our people what you will, but we’ll always be, well, us, smelling just as sweet, and otherwise. The good people, past and present, of the suburb are not defined by their name, or nickname. We are just who we are.

    Coincidentally, Sunshine, up to 1907 was called Braybrook Junction. I wonder what offensive nickname would have been given had the suburb’s original name remained.

    I encourage the good folk of Sunshine’s neighbouring suburbs to own their nasty nickname, too. Let’s hear it from those in Smelltona (Altona), Fear Park (Deer Park), Footscrazy (Footscray), Swappers Crossing (Hoppers Crossing), Lavo (Laverton), Meltdown (Melton), and Snorbans, or Stab Albans (St Albans). Apologies if I have missed any suburb’s nickname. I do not for a moment mean to ignore you, degrade you or push you to the side. It is just not what Scumshiners do. 

    Instagram: hazel_lekkas_author 

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