I consider Footscray as my home town, and when I eventually first got myself a passport, I insisted on including Footscray as my place of birth on it (I think I could have probably gone with the more generic Melbourne, but I was proud to insist on what is written on my birth certificate).
However, I have called Avondale Heights home for the past 18 years. This is not exactly a hardship – a first cousin lives a few streets away, one of her sons is just around the corner, and my godparents live (as they have for my whole life) not far from St Martin’s church (I was going to go there tonight for the Italian version of the Stations of the Cross, but piked).
A friend of mine recently wrote a review of Nick Gadd’s book ‘Melbourne Circle: Walking, Memory, and Loss’, which is about the author’s walks around the inner suburbs of Melbourne from Williamstown til Elwood, with his wife. The wife died just after the walks were completed, and the book is like a moving love letter to his late wife.
As long standing Yarraville residents, the Gadds walked around a lot of Yarraville, Footscray, and Braybrook. He writes of his wife’s sudden middle aged conversion to rabid Western Bulldogs fan circa 2014 and their watching, with 9000 other fans, the 2016 AFL Grand Final at the Whitten Oval (I was at the MCG that day with my brother cheering the Bulldogs on). He writes about the ETA factory in Ballarat Road (I do not remember there being a big Christmas display there in the 70s and 80s, but we only ever passed that way when we visited my aunts in St Albans and North Sunshine every few months and I always got a thrill at looking at the ambulance station). He goes into great detail about the White City greyhound track on Sunshine Road (I learned of this track about ten years ago, but just remember there being a train station there that the train did not stop at in the 1970s when we would go to St Albans – the station was removed in 1982).
And then Mr Gadd writes about Avondale Heights (or, as he titles the chapter, ‘Apocalypse Heights’):
‘Something happened in Avondale Heights.
A war, plague or tsunami. Or perhaps an explosion that killed the populace, but left the buildings standing. Or perhaps aliens took everyone to a remote planet.
Because some time between 2011, when the census was conducted, and today, 10,990 people were spirited away.
There must be some explanation. Because there’s no one here. No one visible anyway.’
A note at the end of that short chapter indicates:
‘One notable inhabitant of Avondale Heights, according to Wikipedia, was pilot Frederick Valentich, who really was abducted by aliens. Maybe.’
I do take exception to all that. Mildly. Although I am grateful of course that anyone will actually mention Avondale Heights in a book – it is a pretty obscure place with one bridge and main road, separated from the rest of the Western Suburbs on three sides by the Maribyrnong River.
Well, someone walking down Military Road who does not actually live here will not know that there is actual community. I know all my neighbours, like the elderly couple next door who have been here since 1972 and the young couple on the other side who are expecting their first child and who decided not to sell up after all. Or the several police officers living at various houses on the other side of the streets who occasionally offer me a lift to the tram terminus. Or the bogan two doors down with his family who makes some spare cash out of scrap metal foraging and who knows everything that is going on within a 1 km radius.
Or the bloke who built some town houses on the site of his former home and then moved off to some acreage, but then came back just before lockdown because he and his wife missed the suburb where they had grown up and all the people they know here.
Whenever I see people on the bus (like the bloke who has lived here since 1954 and is a treasure trove of living history about the area) or at the local Thai restaurant where I am a regular (like when I ran into my former neighbours there celebrating their son’s 16 birthday), or just walking down the street (especially in October 2016 where every familiar pedestrian face suddenly and unexpectedly was wearing their Bulldogs members’ scarves or hats), there is community. Elderly ladies I have never met before stop me and ask me how my mother is doing as they have not seen her in a while (FYI she has not visited my home since the plague started a year ago – I visit her!).
We do know each other, and it might take a while for people to get used to a 1960s brick veneer suburb which lacks a pub, but it is not a bad place to live. Nor are the streets really lifeless and empty.