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?