Who and what makes Sunshine ‘shine’? 


    By Hazel Lekkas

    Sometimes I wonder what Sunshine is synonymous with. I pointed out in a previous issue of The Westsider that it is not authors, or books. It is not Australian Rules Football that is proudly celebrated in neighbouring Footscray with its mighty Bulldogs. It does not match the vibrant arts and café scene in Yarraville. It is certainly not known for its maritime history like Williamstown. It does not have a notable feature like the international airport of Tullamarine and the Open Range Zoo in Werribee. 

    I have come to the conclusion that what makes Sunshine shine is its residents, many of whom are working class migrants with roots from all continents of the world. Of course I will not gloss over the fact that some people associate Sunshine with characters who have a shady past. These folks simply have not quite found the light within them try as they might. Some Sunshiners are clouded by thick, dark clouds. They are who they are. Their sunlight just cannot be seen or we have to look a little harder for it in them. 

    But all this brings me to the question, Who makes Sunshine shine? Where do I begin? Shall I look to the past? Unquestionably. The 2,500-3,000 employees of Hugh Victor McKay’s Sunshine Harvester Works were the pioneers of Sunshine’s industrious landscape. In the early 1900s Sunshine boasted the largest factory in Australia. Then there is John Flynn (1880-1951), who, educated in Sunshine, went on to become the founding member of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the world’s first air ambulance; he is the chap on our current twenty dollar note. 

    Or do I go with the obvious? My parents, who have a long-standing connection to their local community with their little hardware shop, along with several owners of countless small businesses over the years? We cannot ignore Harvester Technical College, the senior secondary facility in the heart of Sunshine which specialises in pathways into traditional trade areas including engineering, electrotechnology, carpentry and plumbing, to strengthen our workforce. 

    Is it the green thumbs of Kororoit Creek who tirelessly nurture Sunshine’s waterway with the outstanding efforts of Jessica Gerger who kick-started the voluntary work of Friends Of Kororoit Creek? Could it be the people of the community organisation Sunshine & District Historical Society Incorporated, who collect, preserve and display items of historical interest? Is it Sunshine’s Maltese community, being the largest in Melbourne, some of whom make the best ricotta pastizzis I have ever sampled, hands-down? Could it even be Sunshine’s Vietnamese residents who have opened groceries and restaurants, working long hours, to tantalise our tastebuds? There are Gareth Crawford and his friendly staff of Sunshine Social who make everyone from far and wide feel like they belong to the Sunshine collective. Could we consider Elzette Bester, visual artist who put Sunshine’s little sister, Ardeer, on the map with her community spirited initiative that fostered human connection and mindfulness during Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdowns, teaming up with (former) café Three Zero Two Zero? 

    These suburbs are known for the sunny souls who carry with them a most beaming work ethic. 

    Or could it be the responsibility of one pint-sized Sunshiner Evie Groves, who if the sun was to stop shining could easily step in as the Earth’s biggest star? Evie recently brightened the lives of residents with her radiant smile as part of long-time resident Melanie Etheridge’s continuing and selfless contribution to the area’s solid community spirit with the Sunshine Sunflower Project. And just as The Open Invite’s post on Instagram (@ theopeninvite) poses the question: ‘Have you ever met someone that was sunshine in human form?’, Evie is undoubtedly IT. Oh, and there is Evie’s mother Samantha Groves. This woman, despite personal struggles, followed the sun spurred by a dream to become a retailer (having had no idea that Sunshine even existed!), and opened The Leafy Home Co in Sunshine North two years ago, for all lovers of plants and sustainable gift ideas. Yes, that is you. She may be doing it tough during today’s tough economic times but her tenacity and perseverance are what being assiduous in a township like Sunshine is all about. She is the perfect candidate to become a genuine industrious Sunshiner like her predecessors, particularly paying homage to past residents of Irish descent given her familial background. 

    Surely it is not just one of these residents whose sole responsibility it is to shine a light from this 4.9km2 pocket of the western suburbs. It is not an easy task for a single person to take on, day in, day out. And I should know because the people who reside in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, where I currently reside, know full well that after the little effort we put in to help the sun rise in the east as we wake from our slumber. It takes more effort to keep it shining than lull it sleep in the west by the residents in the aptly named suburb, Sunshine. Yes, I have found the answer. Sunshine, Sunshine West and Sunshine North, are recognised for being industrial hubs, from small businesses to manufacturing giants. These suburbs are known for the sunny souls who carry with them a most beaming work ethic. People make a place what it is, after all. And while love took me outta Sunshine, nothing can take the sunshine outta me. 

    Instagram: hazel_lekkas_author 

    Our content is a labour of love, crafted by dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the west. We encourage submissions from our community, particularly stories about your own experiences, family history, local issues, your suburb, community events, local history, human interest stories, food, the arts, and environmental matters. Below are articles created by community contributors. You can find their names in the bylines.

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