20 years in Preston

I’ve been pretty disappointed that the media seems to be fixated on the 20 year anniversary of the Sydney Olympic games…when something of equal importance happened in September of 2000, Katie and I moved into Preston. So to celebrate, here are my reminiscences on the last two decades in Melbourne’s North…based on the numbers.


In much the same way as I laughed maniacally when my parents spoke of buying a house for $40K…it now seems surreal to think that we were able to buy a house in Preston for just $166K…and we got it in this delightful colour!

According to the computer at Bunnings, this paint colour is called ‘Whose idea was this?’ green
Moving in to yellow
Now hiding it with trees
2000 – Some beautiful concrete in the backyard
2020 – Believe it or not, we planted those two gum trees as tube stock when we moved in

Joni Mitchell metaphors – 0, Carparks – 2

While Joni Mitchell may have sung ‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot’ as a metaphor for change, she only ever had the courage to sing about it. Preston, on the other hand, has put this into action!
This is the Bingo hall at the Preston market

The Preston Bingo Hall in 2009

In a rare moment of clarity, this hall was transformed into a little hub where brewers and food vans could sell their wares. There was amazing food, great beer… and you could even get your haircut upstairs!

They even got local artists to paint the walls

It was the sort of place that those of us on the Northern side of the hipster proof fence (aka Bell St) were crying out for! On a Summer’s evening you could head over, have dinner, have a beer and the kids could frolic freely! Unfortunately they opened it during the middle of winter, when no-one wanted to venture out to a carpark to drink beers…and by the time Summer rolled around…it was gone, and so was the Bingo hall.

We did gain some precious car spaces though!

At the TAFE we also decided that despite they’re being; a train station, 2 x bus stops, and tram stops all within walking distance…and a bike path right out the front…it was probably time for some more car-parking spaces. So we lost a full basketball court and a tennis courts.
Yay progress!!

2 + 1 = 21

To the untrained eye, this equation may look wrong…but NOT if you’re a property developer in Preston. Here you can see 2 houses and 1 hundred year old tree:

By the power of Preston…I give you 21 townhouses in their place!!!

We also converted a lawn bowls club into a multi-storey apartment complex…but the Trugo club and Girl Scout hall have remained derelict. We don’t like being predictable here in Preston.

100% increase in songs written about us

Yes, yes, yes, I know…”the house in ‘Depreston‘ by Courtney Barnett was actually about a house in Resorvoir”…I don’t care…’Dereservoir’ would have been a stupid name for a song.

50% reduction in lawnmower shops

There is a strip of shops on Murray Rd, just across from Preston West Primary School, that has retained its charm over the last 20 years. When we first moved in, of the 8 shops that were there…two were lawnmower sales and repair shops. Now admittedly I had seen other shopping strips that may have had two hairdressers…or perhaps two restaurants of the same nationality and not really batted an eyelid…but the fact that there were two lawnmower focussed businesses within 20m of each other always made me wonder what the back-story was. Had the two proprietors conspired to establish a lawnmower sales and repair hub in Preston that would draw people from near and far…or had one of the owners arrived at work one day, looked a few doors down and seen that a new shop had opened and was selling the exact same niche product that he was, and thought ‘Oh for F$&*s sake! Why here?!!”
Sadly one of the lawnmower emporiums is now gone, and with only about 6% of the population still having a lawn, I don’t know how long the other one will remain. But back in the day when we used to have a back lawn that justified the owning of a lawnmower…I wheeled my lawnmower through the streets of Preston and got it serviced there and had the blades sharpened…and it was magnificent!!!

The remaining mower shop…and the cafe that was originally called ‘The old lawnmower cafe’…despite not being an old lawnmower shop
I love that this old-school milkbar still exists. It’s been a rite of passage for my kids to head up here and buy milk (and usually get given lollies by the family that run the shop!)

There’s only 1 Preston Market

My Mum used to take me to the Preston Market every Thursday as a kid. So there are shops at the market that I’ve been going to for over 40 years.
I freaking love the Preston Market!
Whether it’s homemade sausages from the butcher, or wallaby shanks, or the ‘Royal mix’ from the nut shop, or fresh fruit and veg from Paradise Fruit, or pasta, or cheese, or coffee, or felafel or legit French pastries…the Preston Market has it. And I will fight to the death to keep it!

100% improvement in coffee

For some reason Preston resisted the urge to provide decent coffee for quite a while. There was always coffee on offer, but it tended be at a strength that would appeal to interstate truckers…and a temperature designed to invite a lawsuit. But about 13 years ago it began to change. The first place to start making the coffees I had been travelling to North Fitzroy to purchase was ‘Tasties’…then ‘Pomona’ started roasting and serving their own coffee, then Pam Lane opened at the market and ‘Himalaya, Heralaya’ achieved caffeine perfection.
But I will throw in an honourable mention to the coffee and biscuit place at the Preston Market (Coffee Central) whose lattes and Italian biscuits got this guy through a LOT of painting and renovating.

Those eyes contain defeat…but that white paper bag contains delicious Italian biscuits.

Other key metrics

18 yrs of marriage
3 kids
3 dogs
2 renovations
9 jobs
2 redundancies
1 burglary
7,300 coffees consumed (citation needed)
1,560 trips to the market
0 disputes with neighbours
$16,500 The money my Mum convinced me to put towards a home deposit…instead of the modified Honda Civic I wanted to spend it on
1 Street party
17 early morning hot-air balloon spottings
2 fox spottings
23 Huntsman spiders escorted off the property
1 person who described training greyhounds as being ‘better than having a yacht and taking it out to sea and having it sink’. Which continues to be the single best reason for me not training greyhounds…or sailing in yachts.
5 geckos discovered in our shed

A hell of a lot has happened in 20 years…and yet Preston hasn’t changed that much. I can still say hello to our 90 year old Greek neighbour Peter…and then use a combination of sign language and smiles to get through the remainder of the conversation. I can still head up to High St and get some amazing Chinese and Vietnamese food, it’s just that now I can also get gourmet pizza with bone marrow…or a tofu burger. I know that no matter how hard Vicroads tries to convince people NOT to drive through the red light at the corner of St Georges Rd and Cramer St…they will continue to do so. I know that even though I’ve tried to ‘walk all of Preston’, there will still be little laneways that will reveal themselves for the first time. I know there will always be a roaring Northerly to ride into along the St. Georges Rd bike path. And I know that I will be able to tell when it’s Ramadan by the number of cars parked outside the Mosque…and when it’s Chinese New Year by the dragon dancing in the market carpark…and when it’s 11.55pm on New Year’s Eve by all of the illegal fireworks being set off at Zwar Park.
But most of all I know I’ve spent the best 20 years of my life here in Preston, and until I can work out how to permanently retire to a secluded beach shack with enough power for a coffee machine and enough wifi for podcasts, this is where I want to stay.

Of ankles and pandemics

On January the 16th this year, things were looking up. I’d worked through Christmas and New Years acting as my Director while she was on holiday, and had achieved my lofty goal of not destroying the DET website or intranet. So now it was time for two weeks of holiday, starting with a trip to Sandy Point with the family. But first we had the weekend at home to tie up a few loose-ends, including working out what the hell was wrong with the pump on our water tank.
As such, I was at the top of the ladder looking into the tank and having one of my patented conversations with a tradie, where both of us desperately wish that I knew more about what I was talking to them about. We had finally established that the pump was cactus and that we would have to get a new one installed, and that it would be about $1K, and that ‘no, it wasn’t covered by the warranty’.
I’m not 100% sure what happened next, but as I went to take the final step down from the ladder, I think my shorts got caught on a wire frame in the garden next the ladder and instead of putting the flat part of my foot on the ground (as had been my traditional approach), I put the outside edge of my foot on the ground and applied all of my weight.
There was a magnificent ‘CRACK’! from my ankle and I fell to the ground. When I was 17 I broke my collar-bone playing football and I remembered a similar sound…so I was pretty confident I had just broken my ankle. To add an awkward social angle I was still on the phone to the plumber through my headphones, and from his perspective he had just told me the price of a new pump, and had then heard a grunt and then guttural swearing. I said I’d have to call him back, and secretly he hoped that he might have thought that this was an elaborate bargaining move on my behalf and knock a few hundred dollars off.
He didn’t.
I took off my shoe to assess the damage, and was dazzled to see just how much my ankle had swollen up in about 15 seconds…and despite knowing that I was about to become a ‘middle-aged man falling off ladder’ statistic, it was off to the Emergency department.

In the waiting room
On crutches for the first time…the novelty wore of REALLY quickly

‘Good news’ can be quite a subjective term. But for me the good news was, I hadn’t broken my ankle…but I had torn a couple of tendons. So I wouldn’t need a cast, but I was going to be on crutches for a while…and running was off the cards for a lot longer.

Are you going somewhere with this?

Yes, I was just providing some narrative setup…and don’t you go pretending you’ve got anything better to do with your time!
You see, something really unexpected had happened, and I was having to face the fact that I was suddenly going to be inside a lot, that I wasn’t going to be able to just travel wherever I wanted to, and I was going to have to give up a lot of the things I really enjoyed doing.
In short, I had a sneak-peek into COVID!
Now I know what you’re thinking…’He didn’t just compare a global pandemic to an ankle injury did he?!’ No…clearly that would be insane. I’m comparing a global pandemic to MY ankle injury…which I think we can all agree is a lot closer to being equitable.
Plus there were a few lessons that I learned from my slow recovery from my ankle that I’m trying desperately to apply to life in lockdown.

Be warned…the next photos is pretty gross.

All the colours of the rainbow!

Get help

When I did my ankle, I knew it was serious and so I went straight to hospital. When I needed to talk to someone about how I can get better, I went to the physio. I had absolutely no shame about talking about this to friends, family and my employer. After all, it’s just common sense to talk to the experts when you’ve got a problem. As a result, I was back to running within 6 weeks.
But during the first lockdown I was sleeping in self-imposed exile on the couch, because I was apparently having violent hypnic jerks that were so frequent that I was keeping Katie awake for most of the night.
I cut back on my caffeine, and was still doing plenty of exercise…so the only real reason left for these nocturnal adventures, was ‘stress/anxiety’. Which meant that I while I was able to paint over the cracks of my mental health during the waking hours…it was all coming out while I slept. So what did I do? Well thanks to my experience with my ankle I was 100% comfortable calling a mental health professional to get some techniques I could use to deal with my anxiety, and as a result I…Nah! Just kidding! Of course I didn’t do that, because I’m an idiot! I just kept intermittently sleeping on a couch because that seemed somehow easier and less embarrassing.
As is so often the case, please do as I say and not as I do. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, reach out and get help.

Focus on what you can do

When facing a sudden restriction, it’s only natural to focus on the things that you’ve lost. If you’re living in Melbourne at the moment, there are a LOT of things you can’t do. You can’t go and see live music, you can’t go out for a drink, you can’t go for a long bike ride, you can’t go for a holiday, you can’t even sit down at a cafe and a have a coffee with someone.
It’s all a bit shit really.
Similarly, when I did my ankle I couldn’t walk, let alone run. But I could swim (albeit without pushing off at each end)…so I did that. Once I could walk, I could also ride my bike (although I couldn’t clip myself into my pedals) so I started spending more time on the cycling trainer in the shed. Perhaps most importantly, I really needed to take a proper break from running. But the guilt I felt about doing this, and the sense that I was going to lose all of the gains I had accumulated while training, had meant that after doing the 50km version of the Surfcoast Century…I hadn’t taken a proper break. But now I could finally do that…guilt free! (although it was telling that when I finally got back to ‘light-jogging’, I started having dreams where I was running, fast, gracefully and without effort…the trifecta of things that do NOT happen when I actually run).
So during the imposed exile of COVID, what can you do that you wouldn’t ordinarily do? Perhaps you could archive off your old photo and video jobs…or re-negotiate your mortgage…or transition from dairy to oat milk for your coffee…or grow a beard…or start writing your blog again…or use the time you would have spent commuting to work to do something you actually want to do…or start getting take-away one night a week and claim you’re doing it to ‘support a local business’…or get to a point where your dog growls at you when you go to take them for a walk because
There are still heaps of things you can do, and fixating on the things you can’t, won’t make you any happier.
Perhaps even more importantly, if you suddenly find that not having to attend social events, or your kids’ activities or having to commute to work has left you with time to relax, catch up on the last decade of missed sleep, and just do nothing…that’s OK too.
I would probably accept doing lockdown once a year if it meant that for the rest of the year, people were actually relaxed and happy instead of screaming at each other in cars.

A little exercise is better than none

While I have managed to get myself into a good routine for exercise over the last 10 years…that’s not to say that I don’t wake up every morning hoping for an excuse to just sleep in…or head to swim squad on a Monday night secretly hoping that a meteorite has hit the pool…and due to NO fault of my own, I won’t be able to swim.
So when I did my ankle, part of me did see it as the ultimate ‘get out of jail free’ card.
*sigh* “Of course I would love to do whatever exercise you’re suggesting…but you know…my ankle” *insert look of disappointment*

But I also knew that if I just sat around for 6 weeks making excuses and feeling sorry for myself, I was setting myself up for 6 months of grief.
Similarly, while this second lockdown has seen my Netflix and podcast consumption increase exponentially…and on any given day there are at least 7 good reasons why not doing any exercise would be forgiven, I know that if I don’t at least take advantage of my daily 1hr of outside time, then I’m going to regret it when this lockdown ends.
So get out for a walk, or do yoga, or pushups, or if you’re one of those insufferably fit people on my social media feed, then use your allocated 1hr of exercise to ‘work on your 15km times’. Just keep that body moving. You’ll be glad you did when we enter the next phase of this pandemic.

Of course there are differences…

I mean at no stage did people suggest that my ankle injury was a hoax, or did I insist that having to wear an ankle brace in public was a contravention of the Magna Carta…or did former Prime Minster’s insist that I had to be comfortable with a certain level of ankle injury in order for the rest of Australia to enjoy a strong economy.
But perhaps the biggest difference was that both the experts and the internet agreed that if I just did the right thing I would be back to normal within 4-6 weeks…and right now the pandemic is offering no such consensus, timeframe or hope.
For a world that has become so used to predictability and control that we have taken to electing a procession of increasingly batshit insane leaders just to make life interesting…we’re suddenly having to deal with complete uncertainty…and I for one am REALLY glad that my ankle has recovered so that I can at least go for a run and enjoy 60 mins of escape.

Wear a mask, be careful on ladders…and if you’re in Melbourne, stay the course, you’re doing an incredible job!