I was driving up Gower St the other day. I alternate between Gower and Murray, just to vary the trip to Jess’s school and back.
At a red light, in a car facing ours, I see a mum with her three girls. I know her but I can never remember her name, or the names of her daughters. The girls all go to high school now. There are P plates on the car window. The eldest daughter is learning to drive. My kids have known these girls since primary school. They have run in sports carnivals together, laughed together, been in the same class, and perhaps even swapped a lunch box fruit strap for a packet of chips at some point in time.* This family, like many others that we know, are in the traffic-filled grid system of the lives that we live. Because we live in Preston, which is essentially a hole surrounded by traffic and filled with good people, traffic is our constant companion.
We inhabit the north side of Bell St. Bell St is a huge busy road. If you close your eyes, you can almost make believe that the traffic noise is the roar of the ocean. The smell of petrol fumes spoils the illusion though.
Bell St is also the place where you see people standing and sniffing the air: It’s coming, they say as they sniff. Yep it’s definitely coming.
Many Prestonians agree that any day soon, the whiff of soy chai lattes will cross the Bell St divide and descend on our neighbourhood, our property prices will rise and Preston will have finally joined hipstergeddon.
Suburbs are often defined by a symbol, a flag or a logo which is indicative of the kind of the suburb that you are in. Hobson’s bay has a yacht, Brighton (though I have not seen it) probably has a silhouette of an ash blonde lady with slightly pursed lips.
The symbol of Northcote – two suburbs south of us – has its suburban symbol on a flag and it is circles drawn again and again, almost child like. Clearly, a group of local government workers got together and, after much consideration, drew a series of circles, as if to say: We are all in this together, we are all in this together. Given the ratio of not-for-profit workers and lesbians in Northcote, a concentric circle is indeed a fitting symbol. It’s all very right on there with its plethora of vegie patches, backyard chooks and hand crafted clothes peg holders – all defining that Northcotians are in all in it together.
The next suburb up is Thornbury. Thornbury has a flag emblazoned with pink candy stripes, like you find on the canopy of a big tent. They gave the good people of Thornbury this symbol for their suburb, as they probably all want to run away to join the circus, because they don’t live in Northcote.
Next up is Preston. Ah Preston, you sassy suburb you. The symbol for Preston is not one, not two, but three shopping trolleys. Why three? Because the good people of Preston are essentially greedy bastards. And why wouldn’t we be? We have ‘the Land’ – a temple of consumerism. We flock there, and genuflect when Myers has a sale. There’s also the Preston Market. I was at market just the other day. At the butcher, there was an A3 laminated photograph of a baby, and underneath it the words ‘It’s a boy’. Though it did look tender, I still didn’t like to ask how much it cost per kilo. And we have Aldi, of course. We go in there for apples, dishwashing liquid and tomatoes and we come out with extendable garden shears, ski poles and a collapsible garden shed.
Me, the kids and two of our neighbours kids, have over the years created a tourist guide to Preston. It is the contemporary version of the Seven Wonders of the World. Obviously Aldi, the Preston market and ‘the Land’ are high on the Wonder list. Also on the list, is the intersection of St Georges and Murray Rds, fondly known as the Bermuda Triangle. Though there have never been any fatalities there, people have been known to go missing whilst waiting for the lights to turn green.
The swing at the Park on Wood St is also included in the Seven Wonders. We call the swing at the park The Face Swing, because it has a face on it. We know it was put there by council for the families that can not afford to go to Luna Park in St Kilda. Fun? I’ve seen kids come off that swing cross- eyed.
Hot Bargains, close to the corner of Murray and High, nestled between the Ugg boot shop and Noodle Kingdom is number six on the Seven Wonders list. This shop should have a registry for every occasion: weddings, christenings, batmizfas. Everything I tell you, everything, can be bought there.
When your child says: ‘Mum I need a costume by tomorrow morning and I have to go dressed as a Zimbabwe native dancer with Rastafarian tendencies’ There isno need for angst. No need to pull out the under utilised sewing machine, or scream banshee like, cursing public education and all the demands that it puts onto families. No, no, need at all. A visit to Hot Bargains, which is walking distance and on the main bus and train transport routes, and opens seven days a week – will without doubt stock ta dazzling aray of Zimbabwean Native Dancer crossed with Rastafarian tendencies costumes, and as the kindly Hot Bargains lady places it into a the plastic bag she will of course ask: would you like an inflatable pink elephant with that? Hot Bargains allows the proud people of Preston to feel truly blessed.
Number 7 on the roll call is our home renovation. We watched, eyes agog as the builder put the architecturally designed drawings into place. Gee, we all said, it’s all a bit posh for Murray Rd, isn’t it? Obviously doing the renovation was a good idea, not least because it gave James and me something to talk about, but also it meant that we could now say yes we have a deck, please come over for a BBQ on the deck.
James and I would ring each other up at work during the day. Just to confer on how the build was progressing:
With so many lights, including a floodlight on the deck area, do you think maybe it will cause a power drain in West Preston?
The windows are going in later this afternoon. Apparently they make a swoosh noise when you open them. The carpenter who is doing the cupboards agrees with me on the importance of a neutral colour palette in the laundry so, yes, we are going with marsupial grey.
Towards the end of the build I glanced out of a the widow, whilst wiping down my new enormous bench and I saw sparks flying. I rushed out. What is that? Did we really agree to that? What exactly does it do? The builder, a lovely guy called Adam, smiled sweetly at my wide-eyed wonder.
Justine he said, that is a steel reveal. It doesn’t do anything. It just sits around the edge of the window and over time it will rust.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was completely incomprehensible, and yet I had signed off enthusiastically on every suggestion that the architect had made. A steel reveal? Sounded awesome, but in reality it was a complete waste of time, money and sparkly-Flashdance-soldering-iron energy.
However, the steel reveal did earn us a place as one of the Seven Wonders of Preston. Friends came over for BBQ’s, scratched their heads and, like us, had no idea what it was for.
Over the years I had wandered through the suburbs of Darebin,wondered through Northcote, Preston and beyond, and had become a 40+ year old Radio National–quoting, red lipstick–wearing community worker, building capacity along the way and telling jokes at any number of not for profit AGMs.
Post steel reveal though, I no longer lay awake at night wondering about the plight of refugees, or the homeless. I now lay awake at night wondering if the steel can reveal more than a reveal can steal.
Just for the variety I did a crazy thing yesterday, I took a detour down Beauchamp Street. I discovered that it’s a really quick way to get to Woolworths. There’s a new sushi bar open at Preston Woolworth’s, it’s a bit pricey and clearly the Peoples Republic of Preston weren’t ready for something as exclusive as a sushi bar in their supermarket, because the sushi fridge at 4:27pm was still very full of a variety of exotic looking sushi items.
As I placed my shopping on the conveyor belt, Carol the quite smiley check out chick seemed dubious about the new sushi venture and commented that the people who ran the sushi bar were taking Woolworth’s longstanding staff members’ car parking spots in the morning.
A bit harsh really, I thought because Carol and her friend June, who unlike Carol is grumpy to the point of being obnoxious, have been checkout chicks at the Preston Woolworths for a very long time and despite the grumpiness have probably earned their parking privileges.
So there we were, me and Carol discussing the arrival of the new sushi bar, when the mum who’s name I can’t remember begins to unload her shopping onto the conveyor belt next to my shopping.
Me and the mum smile to each other and comment on how we always see each other there. Then I glance down. It’s probably really not ok to do that, peer downwards at someone’s shopping, but I did. And when I glanced down, I noticed that the mum who’s name I can never remember had bought some of the sushi.
I smiled at her but was at the same time thinking of the parking plight of poor Carol and June and countless other longstanding checkout chicks and I said:
Your daughter will need that sushi now she’s learning to drive.
As I headed out to the car park, contemplating whether to go up Murray or Beauchamp I thought to myself Preston Seven Wonders are just not enough.
*Chips and fruit straps are only occasionally placed in my children’s lunch boxes.