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Books as self-defence – an interview with Thalia, Sumeyra and Jamie

book

Hi, I’m Thalia and I’m 15 years old. I've lived in Collingwood for six years. 

I’m Sumeyra and I've lived in Collingwood for 17 years, and I’m 17.

I’m Jamie, I lived in Collingwood for eight years and I’m 15-years-old. 

Interviewer: How do you get to school? Do you walk along Hoddle St?

T: We live in the flats and Hoddle St is just there.

S: We usually just use the park, that’s right behind the flats. But if I’m staying at a friend’s house we’ll always come through Hoddle St to get to my flats or the school. Yeah, I use it quite a lot. 

J: A lot of people cross Hoddle St to get to the train station mostly, because that’s the only connecting main road to get across. Or the park, the one behind the Town Hall. The one where the train tracks are above, right across from there.

T: We call it Station Park.

S: Yeah, that’s what we call it but we don’t really have a real name for it. A lot of people go there to just chill. Yeah, it’s pretty cool.

T: I go over the footbridge by myself, when I’m not with my mum, because she’s scared of heights.

J: I hate that bridge.

S/T: I love that bridge.

J: When I was a kid, I used to call it the Bridge of Terror. I always thought something bad was going to happen up there like the bridge was suddenly going to crack or a truck was going to flip over it. 

T: He was always scared when we were going over that bridge.

J: And it was just going to break down and we were all going to fall. I was just always scared of that bridge.

S: I used to love that bridge as a child. When I was on top of it I would feel like I’m flying. I used to call it the Airport Bridge. 

T: I just sit there. Sit in the middle. It’s fun.

S: When I was like 5-years-old that’s what I used to do. 

T: At night it was pretty fun.

S: I took a photo of the traffic. It was like it was coming and…

T: There’s people in the cars…

S: They keep looking at you like, 'What the hell?'

J: They get worried someone’s gonna chuck rocks. They do it a lot on the freeway. Chuck rocks. Spit. People do that. They go through windshields.

S: Hoddle St leads to a lot of main roads so you can just quickly get to places really quickly. We use it a lot, my family uses it a lot.

T: It’s got everything. There’s pools…

J: I think it’s really good because it connects straight to Richmond. It’s just one straight road down.

T: And Clifton Hill.

J: Clifton Hill the other way. The freeway. Anywhere you need to go. It’s put in a good spot.

S: That’s what I’m saying it connects to really good main places.

J: Yeah, you can just follow that line all the way down to St Kilda. I think it just works really well. I used to live in Collingwood. I used to live down on Gold St, down there. And we used to use Hoddle St a lot, me and my brother. But I moved out down to Doncaster. My mum lived around here when she was young. She lived in Abbotsford, so she would use Hoddle St all the time and she remembers all the stories about that guy, the stabbings and all that.

S: My mum remembers that too because she’s lived here since she moved to Australia. 25 years ago I think.

J: My mum went to this school when she was younger as well. She tells me all the stories about how in Clifton Hill, all the things that happened down there, even the stabbings, that happened down there, she remembers. She said she would’ve probably passed the guy in her car, like a few minutes, or she would’ve walked past him. She was there when it happened, she was walking around there. So if she had walked any minutes later, who knows what could’ve like happened? 

S: My mum was like at the park when that was happening. So she heard the noise and then she just went upstairs to the house and was looking out the window. She was like, 'I didn’t know what was going on but I didn’t want to know.' Because she heard gunfire and all that. So she just, she locked the doors.

Interviewer: Living up in the flats, can you hear the noise from the road?

T: Yeah, I live high up – there’s 20 floors – and I can hear everything.

S: Depends on the side of the house you’re on. Where you are, you’re facing the road.

T: I’m facing both ways. I’m the corner.

S: You’re the corner so you’re facing the school and also the road. 

T: And also the park. 

S: On Saturday nights you can hear the traffic.

J: Saturday nights definitely.

S: Yeah, Friday and Saturday nights. It’s packed.

J: It’s a real connector from the freeway because I live down… If we come through here we go down Hoddle St to get to anywhere, especially if you want to go down to St Kilda, or Elwood down there. Especially in summer, that’s when it’s really busy. And you can, you can notice it. After school, every day is quite busy, but I think Saturday nights…

S: Friday and Saturday nights is just…

J: It’s not banked up but it’s just consistent. 

S: Yeah, it just keeps going on. It just keeps coming…

T: Beeping and…

S: It keeps coming, it does not stop. It’s like a flow of cars.

T: You can hear people talking…

S: Yeah, if they talk loud enough, you can actually hear them.

Interviewer: From your flats?

S: Not if the windows are closed, but if they’re slightly open you can actually hear them very clearly. So if I really wanted to I could actually find out if someone murdered anyone. It’s actually that clear.

T: The school speaker, like, if they were asking for my name, I’ll be at home and I’m just like, 'Whoa.'

J: A lot of people, when they go out clubbing and they take Hoddle St to get straight to the city, you can hear their music. The doof doof. My brother has that. They’ve got their sub-woofers going. You can hear that a lot.

S: You can hear it so clear.

T: You can hear that bar across the street.

S: You just open the window and you don’t need music, you can just listen to that and dance to it.

T: There’s a bar across the street near the bridge on Hoddle St and you can hear people playing their music.

J: Is it the bistro? The bar bistro just off… Just next to Collingwood Station when you come straight out, just across there, and it leads to the side road, to the main road across there, there’s a bar down there.

S: We used to have stories, I just remembered one. You know those really, really big party balloons that you used to have? That you could even bounce on them. I used to have one and I was walking down Hoddle St with my mum, because we were just out on Johnston St, we got something from there, from the little grocery shop there. So we were walking down Hoddle St and then I let go of the balloon and it flew onto Hoddle St. And I was running after it. And if my brother didn’t catch me I probably would’ve got hit by a car. And then my brother was like, 'Don’t run anywhere.' And then he went and got the balloon and came back. And my mum’s going ape-sh*@t. And I’m like, 'Mum calm down, I didn’t die.' I was four. 

T: I remember walking my sister’s dog. 

S: Please don’t say the dog died...

T: No, it nearly got hit by a car. My sister asked me to walk her dog. I was like, 'I might take it to Station Park.' Walked it there. I went over the footbridge, the overpass, because I didn’t trust crossing Hoddle St. And then I went to Station Park and then I walked her and she wanted to go home. So I went to walk through the crossing out front of the flats, on Hoddle St. And then, she bolted in the middle.

S: That’s why I prefer cats, you don’t have to walk them.

T: She bolted in the middle and I ran over the footbridge and then I dropped my phone off the footbridge and it cracked. It landed on the grass and I was like, 'Yes!' Because the dog wanted to go home because she wasn’t used to, like, walking with me and she just ran across Hoddle St. I was just standing there. I was like, 'Oh no.' Because my sister's other dog passed away so I can’t let this one die. My sister was like, 'How was the walk?' I was like, 'Great.' And then these people were jumping out of their cars trying to grab the dog. All the cars stopped. No-one got it, it just ran to the front of the flats. Sitting there.

S: No-one stopped to help me.

Interviewer: Are you guys footy fans?

J: I am.

All: Yeah, Collingwood.

T: Because we see Collingwood football players around.

J: They used to actually come down to the school. They used to do this little thing called the Breakfast Club. Every week, two or three of the players used to come down and meet all the kids.

T: They still do that…

J: Not like they used to.

T: Not like that, but last time was the captain of Collingwood. And the boxer.

J: That was just one guy, they used to do the team. The whole team.

S: That was when Collingwood was here.

J: That was when they used to practice…

Interviewer: At Victoria Park.

J: Now they just do the occasional rock up. 

Interviewer: Do you guys go over to Victoria Park at all?

S: I actually go to the Collingwood Club there, because it’s quite an old place. And all my friends who used to live in Collingwood, when we meet up we’d go there to just hang out a bit, and then we’ll go to the city. All my brothers and my family used to go. It’s kind of very important for us. Our family friends moved out a long time ago to buy a house. It’s like a little tradition that we go there.

J: For us, I have a brother and a sister, and the house in Collingwood was just a bit small. And I was sharing a room with my brother at the time and then, he’s about five years older than me. We decided that it’s getting a bit crammed up in there and then we’ve moved out now. But we’ve still got the house, we rent it out. And my brother works on Wellington St so he always goes past the house and sees how it’s doing.

Interviewer: Do you have any stories that you remember when you were living here, particularly on Hoddle St?

J: There was a bit of a shaky one. I was at home with my brother, we were on Gold St, and we knew everyone around Collingwood, we had all our mates from school. And we hear a knock at the door. This was on a Saturday. We hear a knock at the door, go and get it, and it's our friends. They have this look of fear on their faces and they’re panicking. We go, 'What happened, what happened?' They go, 'This guys was gonna stab us on Hoddle St.' He was following them. He said, 'Give me your wallets or I’m gonna stab you.' They were going down to the Collingwood pools, just near Clifton Hill. We were shocked, we didn’t know what to do. The scary thing is, he was out the front of our house, he was standing there looking at the house. Our friends came past the house, he must have followed them. He stopped in front of the house. I was about six then. My brother would've been 11 to 12. We were at home, just us.

T: My mum whacked a guy with her bag…

S: Yes, my mum did that too.

T: The guy got out of his car and he was like, 'Give me your bag.' And she’s like, 'Nuh.'

Interviewer: She used her handbag in self defence?

T: Yeah, she used her bag. Then we recognised him and he was living in the same flat. But he never came.

S: The guy who tried to rob my mum actually wasn’t living around Collingwood. He was living at Richmond or something. He got caught though. He had a knife in his hand and he’s like, to my mum, 'Give me all your money.' And my mum was like, 'No!' And just got her bag and started whacking him. Apparently she had like books from the Collingwood Library in her bag, so she was like hitting him with it. I don’t know what happened. I think the guy just ran off. I wasn’t even there, I was at school when this was happening.

Interviewer: Are there any changes you'd like to see on Hoddle St?

S: It’s changed…

T: We were all happy when there was a McDonalds. We were happy.

S: And the pizza.

T: And Hungry Jacks.

 

Interviewer: Can you tell us more about Station Park?

T: It’s a meeting-up place.

S: You call up your friends and say, 'Hey, meet me at the Station Park.' And they’ll come. Even if you don’t live in Collingwood. Like if they live in Broadmeadows and you guys are meeting up in Collingwood they’ll know where to go.

T: They’re coming from the train. And, after school at three o’clock, there are a lot of parents around with their kids. 

S: Even on Sundays, there’s a lot of parents doing picnics and having fun with their family.

J: It’s good down there, they have a boxing gym that we used to go to. Right across from the station, it’s like an old, white building, if you look from Collingwood Station. I used to go there. They renovated. I got a bit over it. They used to, occasionally, if it was a nice day, you’d go to the park and do some sessions out there. It was good. It’s a very open. There’s one part for the younger kids and there’s this big open space. You can take your pets there, anything you want.

The great divide - Dale's Story

fence

One thing about Hoddle St is that it does create a major divide for us at Collingwood College. It almost becomes a hard boundary between this part of Collingwood and Abbotsford. And also Victoria Park. Strangely enough it’s like having the Great Wall go through the middle of the wider community. It’s quite strange to have a school that sits on the boundary of this arterial road. It causes problems for us because of noise and traffic and sometimes pollution, but it’s not too bad.

And that’s why our parents, 10 years ago, built this very high, natural wood fence to try and separate it from the major road and the ugliness of heavy traffic going past the school everyday. But blocking it out has meant that people don’t know we’re here. So here we are, on the boundary of this major road, and people can travel up that road – and I hear this story time and time again – 'Where are you?' And I say, 'Opposite the Town Hall.' And they give me this puzzled look, as if, 'I’ve been travelling that way for 20 years and I’ve never seen the school.' They didn’t even know the school is there. 

There’s a carpet place directly opposite, on the other side of Hoddle St, that’s been in business for 32 years. I went in there one day and asked for a quote for some carpet for the school. He said, 'What school?' Again it’s another example of how this road can create a huge divide. And one side doesn’t know very much about the other side. It’s quite strange. What’s worse for us is that there’s another big divide with the freeway. So we’re in the corner of these two big roads, pathways, that create divisions within the community. Which is a little bit sad because the demographic on this side of the road is changing a bit, but the demographic on the other side has clearly changed. It’s amazing what a road can do to a situation like that.

We’ve got an overpass and it hardly gets used. Back 15 years ago it was probably the right place. But now with the shift towards public transport people don’t go that way. There are hard barriers right along the road there. Apart from our fence line, there are other fence lines, that make this quite a serious construct in terms of dividing people. In some respects that’s a little bit sad. The demographic on the east is quite affluent, very different from this side, and they’re only separated by 50 metres. I’ve been in schools with big roads next to them but nothing to this effect. This is a big barrier.

There have been many well-established businesses along Hoddle Street that have survived many years. I’ve watched those businesses. It’s strange, I don’t see many people walking in and out but they keep pushing on. Whether it’s because they’re adaptable, or have been able to maintain their businesses in a different way, I don’t know. But there are also little businesses that spring up. It’s quite unique, the range of businesses, everything from printing, right through to furniture. It’s quite strange in that respect. It’s funny too that the traffic doesn’t connect with the businesses. It’s a strange area like that – the face of the local businesses doesn’t fit in with the type of people that use the road.

The road does have public transport along it. I’ve been using the public transport more. I think there is a large bus usage group that uses Hoddle St. It’s quite an important roadway. It spans quite a few suburbs. It has the ability to connect with so many other forms of transport. The public transport here connects with the freeway that then connects with Doncaster. If you get into Clifton Hill, it then connects with the West, to Moonee Ponds and all that area. It has that feeder ability to connect with a lot of other communities around.

I like the way, as you travel along, you can suddenly see a football club or two. These big institutions that have become part of the roadway. I think that reflects a part of Melbourne too. And it’s also got the multicultural aspect. And the history.

There's a book about the 125-year history of this school. In the early days, when they were trying to get it up and running, there was a little Greek school here. At that time the Greeks were pretty predominant in this area. And the Greeks actually did a march up Hoddle St. It was quite a pivotal point for their political process – it wasn’t long after that they announced that they would build a school. I think that’s how the red building got built. It came from a protest up and down Hoddle St, with all the Greek mums.

There was a girls school here for a while. That burnt down, then they moved to another temporary school, then this one was built. There’s a real history. 

There's a little doll’s house on the corner – that's a miner’s cottage. It used to be on Islington, which is the street parallel to Hoddle. Those little cottages – that’s the last one – they were scattered right through Collingwood and Abbotsford. You can see they’re tiny. I don’t think they had a floor in them. And they’re called miner’s cottages. They go back to the very early days. That was the look along Hoddle St back in those days. That’s the last remaining one.

Our kids got a grant last year, got $1000, and bought some old tables and chairs and the kitchen equipment they used, they got it on ebay, and tried to restore it inside. But that’s reflective of maybe 100 years ago, back in the early 1900s. 

I’ve been here 10 years and I haven’t seen a lot change on Hoddle St. I think it’s one of those institutions that’s going to live on forever and forever. The road itself has changed. But the people around the road, in the immediate vicinity, I haven’t seen much change.

I know when I was a kid there was all this talk about the freeway. As I said, it creates a divide. But it’s really at the top end up there. If it came down 100 metres down here I wonder how it would have changed things. So let’s see in 10 years time. But in the main stretch of things I don’t see a lot of change happening, except some roads getting bigger and wider. 

Collingwood College - Liria's Story

students

I’ve gone from Clifton Hill all the way to St Kilda. The longest trip, I reckon an hour and a half, thank you very much. Traffic, bumper to bumper. I have a girlfriend who lives in St Kilda and Punt Rd, I live in Balwyn, so it’s straight down the freeway, get off and just go straight down. But, too busy. Especially around Richmond way – Swan St, Bridge Rd – it just drags a bit. So it takes a long time. And it’s the traffic. However, let me tell you, it’s still a lovely drive down. Because you’re driving along and you look at Richmond Oval and the gentlemen’s, you know, buildings that are there for gentlemen’s pleasure. You go past the train station. And it changes geographically all the way.

Which is my favourite part of Hoddle/Punt? I think I like it from Queens Pde to just past Richmond. And then it becomes a bit sparse, a bit quieter, it turns a little bit. It’s a strange street, isn’t it?

The road represents a lot. We lived in the area. I was born there in 1958. I went to George Street Primary School. And we used to go to Smith St – it was such a big thing, Smith St in those days. Which is great to see that it’s got the same sort of life now. It’s really buzzing. Hoddle St was always one of the major thoroughfares, always has been. It is a lot busier now though, more cars on the road, but it’s still a good street. And it’s an interesting street: you have little trees, the houses, and there are some shops that don’t seem to be utilised, they’re closed as shopfronts.

I've always driven down Hoddle St. Because for me to go to the city – in 1965 we moved to Balwyn so that’s always been the route that we used. Johnston St/Hoddle St or Freeway/Hoddle St. Because you go straight up to Victoria Pde and then turn to go into the city. And even now when I’m coming back from the city, from the football, from a city thing, I don’t mind Hoddle St. I know it’s busy, but you don’t mind it because you know there are petrol stations if you need. It’s familiar territory.

When I travel down Johnston St every day, it’s interesting the different pockets. When I go past Kew Junction, then up to Raheen, I always look at it and drool and think, 'When can I ever go in there?' And then when you go over the bridge, then it changes, then you see all the shops that are closed and not closed, and it’s busy and it’s older, much older. I always get into the turning lane just before Hoddle St and there’s a Persian rug place, a cafe… Even the pub on Johnston St, there’s nowhere to park. Then you turn into Hoddle and I always think, ‘Now I’m looking at the other side of the city.' It’s almost like, this is now really inner city. It sort of changes it a bit. And that’s why it surprises me sometimes when students from Collingwood College, or this area, are accepted by Kew High School. Because I think how far is Kew High School? We miss out on a lot of students here because Kew wants to keep their numbers up and take them out of their zone. Where we should be having kids in this area, they’re getting on a bus and going out. I think that’s really interesting because this is where they should be. Which is a beautiful old building and a big school.

I'm not exactly sure how old Collingwood College is but I’m sure it’s over 50 years old. It’s an enigma. An amazing school with two ovals and two gymnasiums. Someone said to me there was a Labor minister in the ‘70s who said, 'And why shouldn’t public schools have these kinds of facilities? We don’t leave them just for the private schools.' And so they’ve done that. It’s a huge school. And we can actually have 1200 students here. We don’t, we have nearly 700, but we should have more students, but they are being taken to other schools, to fill their classrooms.

The one thing I grew up with, always on Hoddle St, is the familiar sight of the housing estates. Because that’s part of it. That does something to the area. Sometimes people don’t choose the school because we have the housing estate next door and they seem to have an attitude, or a misconception of what our students would be like. Everyone deserves an education is what I say to the kids and, in fact, when I left Balwyn, teachers where I was teaching in a very elite school were really shocked that I was going to Collingwood College. And students said to me, 'You’ll be stabbed and killed.'

And when I came here, some of the students said, 'Why would you leave that sort of school to come here to us?' And I said, 'What’s wrong with you? You guys are great.' So I’ve actually gone into some of the kids’ homes and had afternoon tea or whatever when I get invited. It does attract some people who do have issues, but there are lovely families there and they’ve renovated some of the rooms and they’re great. And some of the kids are really happy. Happy to be in this school, happy to be there. It’s not a stigma. It’s just public perception.

I think developers think, god, prime real estate. When they were erected years ago… Dad came in 1949, he bought straight in Fitzroy. He left Albania when the Iron Curtain came down. He lived two years in Italy, learned to speak beautiful Italian, lived two years in Greece, learned to speak Greek. And came to Australia in 1949. So he worked on the Snowy River Project and worked in QLD on the sugarcane fields.

We all have a real love of this area, but we left when we were 5 or 6. He wanted to go out a bit. But if I had my choice of where to live, I would have said Gore St, Fitzroy. One of those beautiful terrace houses. Absolutely lovely. And even though Hoddle St is busy, well, the freeway is busy, everywhere’s busy. Try going down Swan St or Bridge Rd. So for us, when we come out of the city, it’s just quick. Go down Grey St, cut through East Melbourne and just come straight onto Hoddle St. It’s the main thoroughfare, isn’t it?