THANK YOU FOR HELPING TO SAVE ME: A LOVE LETTER TO THE INNER WEST

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By JC Clapham

This will be my final column as a full-time resident of the inner west. I’m moving further out west, beyond the fringes of Melbourne, to be nearer where my kids go to school and have their extra-curricular activities. The driving back and forth was fine and manageable, but with my eldest starting high school this year, it’s going to get trickier and I’d like to spend less time in my car.

My dear inner west Melbourne, you beautiful patch of suburbia. The time has come for us to part ways, at least on an everyday basis. We both knew this time would come at some stage, and it’s a little sad we won’t live together anymore. But you have a piece of my heart and I promise to visit regularly.

You’ve been my home and my suburban sanctuary these past four and a bit years. I came to you as a broken but determined human to piece myself back together again, and we did that together. So many places have become part of my day-to-day, and I want to thank them for being there for me.

Newport has been my home and my anchor and I’ve loved it a great deal. Living around the corner from Newport Lakes was a huge treat, especially during the locked-down months of last year, but the whole time, too.

My kids and I have enjoyed picnics, daily walks with our dogs, meandering strolls around the whole reserve and lakes, and we got into park-run and trained for several 10km fun runs there. We met lots of friendly dogs and their people, climbed on the piles of bark. The late Ozzy the bulldog loved having a go on the seesaw, and over the years my kids grew big and strong enough to go all the way along the monkey bars, which as a cuddly-ish man nearing 40, I know isn’t easy!

The library was a place of study, work and quiet reading for me, and The Backyard café kept me caffeinated. Star Pizza and Pasta was one of our regular Friday takeaway treats, and Mama Theresa, too.

Newport’s grittier cousin, Altona North, was where we did most of our shopping and we watched as the older Bunnings at Miller’s Junction went from an empty warehouse to a pile of rubble to a construction site, and now to a growing shopping precinct. The newer Bunnings kept my animal house making, gardening and sausage-consuming needs sated.

Hobsons Bay Dental fixed my teeth and restored some self-esteem after Ozzy the bulldog ‘hid’ my partial denture and left me a bit gappy just as we went into lockdown (thank you for face masks!).

Chemist Warehouse kept me in stock of the anti-depressants that keep me on a more even keel, and in supply of beard oil when I decided to try growing a ginger bush during 2019.

Habitat has kept our dogs, chickens, rabbits and turtle with food, supplies and toys.

Williamstown has long been a favourite, even before living nearby, and we won’t be strangers in the future.

We spent hot days at the beach, more pleasant sunny days eating ice creams near the pier, and several evenings leading up to Christmas each year driving around looking at the pretty incredible lights in the area. We loved the enormous Santa in one house along The Strand, and the kids nicknamed him ‘Mr Big Old Fatto’ – a festive term of endearment that’s now a part of our family vernacular.

Spotswood was where I got my hair cut at Rockafella Barbers, and we did Scienceworks during a couple of school holidays, and spent the good part of a day there each time. Great cafes along there too!

Yarraville… you’ve been a second home suburb in recent years, and I can’t ever say a full and final goodbye to you!

I love, love, love the Village, the closed-off streets with so much bustling and life. Great cafes and restaurants, and two of my favourite places to spend some time: The Sun Theatre and Bookshop – both the original and The Younger Sun. I’ve taken myself on quite a few solo dates to the movies, and rewarded myself with new books as I’ve ticked of progress and achievements these past few years.

Westside Tyre and Auto has kept my car going, and I couldn’t have found a more trustworthy mechanic and good bloke than you, David. Thank you.

There are two special creative entities in our neck of the woods who have welcomed me and given me both opportunities and audiences during my time as a resident, and I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart.

The first is a person, a powerhouse of artistry and community, who I’m so chuffed to have met and collaborated with. And that’s my fellow Newportian Stella Kinsella.

I met Stella when I wrote a piece for The Westsider about the Newport Comedy Room she runs. This comedian, performer, author, writer and artistic director of WillyLitFest, has been so good to me and given me encouragement and the opportunity to submit writing to festival competitions, but most incredibly, offered me the chance as the support act for Tom Gleeson when he headlined in late 2019. What a bloody great night I had, and it’s one of my personal highlights not only as a storyteller/comedian, but just as a person. I loved it and the audience were so bloody awesome!

The second, but biggest and bestest love of my time as an inner westie has been this paper, The Westsider, and the people who produce it and read it.

This isn’t a Westsider goodbye as I’ll continue to write for you from my further-out new digs, but I really want to thank every single Westsider reader for all the really kind and encouraging feedback and responses you’ve shared with me. I write about real stuff, challenging stuff, and try to be as raw and open as I can be, and I’ve had nothing but positive reactions from people. Writing what I do for this newspaper has been a really important part of me rebuilding myself, and it means so, so much that people have come along with me as I pretty much journaled in public one a month or so. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

The people who make The Westsider are pretty rare gems and I’m so grateful to be among their number. Editor Derek Green is patient and understanding when I submit things later than he’d like. And he’s welcomed me into the fold with open arms and I’m very appreciate. Thank you Derek.

The wider Westsider team are all good people who love this part of our world, and

My final note of gratitude is for the paper’s founder Kelly Kayne, and sales & advertising tsarina, Lena.

Four years ago I was a shell of a person and really struggling with my mental health, as well as my place in the world. I genuinely didn’t know how much of a future I might have, though I desperately wanted one. And Kelly and Lena, whom I’d worked with in my former corporate life, knew I wrote some stuff and asked me if I’d like to do something for an upcoming issue of the paper, maybe a profile piece and something else, just to see how it went. And from then, I’ve been all-in on Team Westsider and grown as a writer and person and been very fortunate to have had other opportunities come from that. Kelly and Lena, you’re both beautiful people and I’m sincerely and eternally grateful for opening the door to me that you did.

Thank you inner west Melbourne… you’ve been f*cking awesome to me, and I promise to come and visit and hang out lots. For real. Xx

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