Living in Fawkner Street, South Yarra, and attending South Yarra Primary School during the mid-1960s meant that I had to cross Punt Road every day to attend school.
Punt Road, South Yarra, was a busy and dangerous stretch of road with many accidents and road fatalities.
We used it to take the bus to Richmond and Elwood Beach. Often used to walk up to the Botanical Gardens or to Domain Road to watch the last stages of the Moomba Parade or to play along the banks of the Yarra River.
The two milk bars on the small strip of shops at the pedestrian crossing opposite South Yarra Primary were a meeting place for many of the school students both before and after school.
I recall meeting school friends at one milk bar in the mornings sitting on the stools watching the cars and pedestrians on busy Punt Road with each of us buying a small bottle of Fanta and having a sculling competition. Being a migrant kid I didn’t realise until later in life that, by doing this, my friends were imitating their dads at the pub.
I also recall that we were obsessed with football (Richmond in particular) and going a few times to the MCG on a Saturday to watch Richmond play. We would meet on Punt Road outside the school at about 9am (I was about 10-years-old proudly wearing my Richmond scarf that my mother knitted for me) and catching the Punt Road bus which was one of those old English buses (single level not a double decker) to get off at Swan Street, Richmond.
We would meet up with another friend from school who lived on the army barracks on Swan Street and kick the footy before walking over the bridge to watch the reserves and then the firsts play.
After the game we would take the very crowded Punt Road bus back home with many passengers who were drunk, abusive and scary – to me at least but not to my Aussie mates who would laugh and not be afraid to answer them back. At the time, being a migrant kid, I couldn’t understand that type of behaviour and disrespect.
When we would cross the river before going up the Punt Road hill, I thought the overcrowded bus would never make it, with the bus driver constantly changing to a lower gear.
I remember it was getting dark probably about 6pm and thinking that if my very protective Greek parents knew what I was going through they would never let me go again.
I just hoped that I would get home in one piece and that my parents would believe me if I said the bus was late and that I was always safe. Now that I think of it, they probably never believed me since I smelt of cigarette smoke and beer from the Punt Road bus ride.
I recall every Thursday morning in the winter months, our grade walking up Punt Road to Toorak Road to catch the Number 8 tram to the City Baths.
We would return by lunchtime and when we would get off the tram at Toorak Road, the teacher would let us stop off at the fish and chip shop to buy some chips. Unfortunately this didn’t last long as some of the boys, when walking back to school, decided to throw chips through every open window of the houses we passed.
I recall being chased down the road by this huge bloke who jumped out of a house screaming at us. It didn’t matter if you were or were not the one who threw the chips. You just ran for dear life.
Another recollection is the Punt Road bus ride to the beach. This was a trip taken by the Greek migrants living in Fawkner Street, en mass, carrying food and drinks for a whole day at the beach. I recall the passengers on the bus scattering, grunting and sneering at us, as we came onto the bus. This never concerned me since we had the numbers, being in the company of my parents and their friends. We were excited, loud and boisterous. I’m sure many of the passengers got off before their destination just to escape the ‘foreign invaders’ as many viewed us.
We sometimes walked up Punt Road to the Alfred Hospital. I recall my mother telling us how my father carried my seriously ill brother, who was about 10 at the time, some 2km up Punt Road all the way to the emergency department of the Alfred Hospital. I can only imagine the fear and panic he felt and how long that walk would have seemed to him.
Another memory of Punt Road was in the late 1970s when I was driving home from a party very late at night in my VW 1500 Notchback. It was about 3 or 4am, not a car on the road, driving up the Punt Road Hill with too many passengers in my car. The car was on its last legs, sounding very sick and struggling to get up the hill.
According to one of my passengers the reverse gear was the strongest gear in the car so we turned into the first side street and then reversed up the Punt Road Hill. Only a couple of cars drove past us but no one stopped or reported us.
It must have looked crazy but we did get up the hill at which point, we reversed into someone’s driveway and continued down the other side of Punt Road.