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.

$166K

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.

Russell and the kebab van, a modern parable of success and failure.

Keen observers of this blog may have noted that we are moving out of our house while we renovate. One thing I wanted to do before we moved out was to take some photos of various Preston landmarks and institutions as a bit of a keepsake. I had a mental list of photos I wanted, but one was of Russell the Big Issue vendor at the Preston Market who I buy my magazines from…and the other was Haci’s Kebabs, a kebab van set up opposite McDonald’s on the corner of Bell St. and St. George’s Rd. As it turned out, my attempts at getting these photos met with very different results…but I did learn quite a bit.

Russell

If you have ever been to the Preston Market on a Saturday, you would most likely have seen Russell. He sets up shop just near the entrance to the deli area, and has a steady stream of regulars. He is a genuinely amazing person. He’s worked with Brando, met the real ‘Red Dog’, has excellent musical taste…and regularly heads down to Apollo Bay (and Johanna if the surf’s good). He’s cheerful, energetic, always chats with the kids when we see him…and doesn’t complain too bitterly when they take the magazine but refuse to hand over the money.
However, at what point do you ask someone who you only really know through a weekly conversation that you’d like to take a photo of them? Do you just rock up with the camera one morning and spring it on them? Do you plan it out in advance? What if they say ‘no’? In the interests of not creating a scene…and having a 6 month period when I wouldn’t see him (while the renovations are being done and my Preston Market visits are curtailed) so that if he said ‘no’ there wouldn’t be awkwardness. I chose to ask him the week before we moved out if it would be ok to take the photo on the following week. He said ‘yes’, and so the following week I took my camera (and my new 50mm lens) with me to the market.
I’ve taken plenty of photos of relative strangers for work…and that’s been fine, because that wasn’t being done for me. It was for an event, or a work video, or for them to take home…but this was the first time I had asked a relative stranger to give up some of their own time so that I could take a photo of them…and I won’t lie I was very nervous. But Russell was of course the consummate professional, and when I finally got to look at the photos on a decent screen (3 days later as a result of moving house), and had a play in Lightroom, I was absolutely rapt with the results.

 

┬áHaci’s kebabs

On the way to take my photos of Russell I saw this ice-cream van in the car park

I had the camera so I took a quick photo, but I had my heart set on another fast food van; the Haci’s Kebabs van. For those not familiar with Haci’s, it’s a relatively unremarkable take away kebab van located on the corner of St. George’s Rd and Bell St. What makes it remarkable is that it is set up across the road from a 24 hour McDonalds. Of all the places to set up a fast food van, why would you set it up across the road from the only McDonalds in miles? Surely there’s no way it could survive. But it does. In fact when coming home from work late at night when I first moved into Preston, there was always a bit of a crowd around the van. When I walked our kids along St. Georges Rd to get them to sleep in the dead of the night…there were always a few people there enjoying a late night feed.
So when I was thinking of Preston landmarks to take a photo of, Haci’s had to be on the list. In my mind I thought of a long exposure shot at night of the van all lit up and a few people standing around having kebabs. It was nothing original…but it was going to be a good shot. All I had to do was get down there and take the shot. But in the week leading up to our big move, I simply didn’t have a chance to get down there. Then suddenly Saturday was upon us, and it was the last night we would be in Preston. If I was going to get the shot it would have to be tonight. So having spent all day moving house, at 10pm I grabbed my tripod and camera, and with my 10 month old sleeping in our baby carrier on my back, I trekked down to Haci’s.
When I got there I went up to the van to make sure it was OK to take the photo and said “Hey do you mind if I just take a photo, I’m just…” but before I could even finish the guy behind the counter said “Yeah, we mind.” And with that, I realised that the photo I had in my mind was going to have to stay there. It never even occurred to me that they wouldn’t want me to take a photo, and I’ve got to admit I was devastated…and not a little pissed off. As a few photographers told me after the event, I would have been totally within my rights to take the photo from the footpath. But I really wanted these photos to demonstrate a sense of pride in my suburb and the people who live there, and taking photos of people who had already said they didn’t want photos taken was going against this. Plus, I got the feeling that if I did try something like this, I would have found my tripod inserted somewhere painful.

So what have I learned from this? Well, it always pays to check with your subject before you take a photo. A brilliant photo in your mind, remains just that unless you actually get the shot. But most of all, if you ever have $5 in your pocket…buy a Big Issue from Russell and not a kebab from Haci’s, it’s a much better investment.