I moved to Perth from the country when I was eighteen to study and haven’t left. I’m thirty-six today, which means I’ve now been here half my life. I’ve lived in nine different suburbs from North Lake in the south to Lesmurdie in the hills, but it’s Victoria Park in the inner-city which has become home. My brother and I moved into a decaying weatherboard house in East Victoria Park in 2002. It was before the boom, and it cost $120 a week. There was a hole in the bedroom wall and the feel of the 1950s still in the old carpet and fittings and the overgrown quarter-acre backyard. We were shocked at the price – far beyond us – when it was put up for sale for $350,000 the next year. After a few years in share houses in East Victoria Park until I got married in 2006, it took six years to get back to the area, but Nicole and I had often thought we probably would, and now we’ve been back in Victoria Park for five years.
Thomas has been getting up at 4:30am the last couple of weeks and I’ve been trying to take a walk with him in the pram before it gets too hot. The streetsweepers are always out along Albany Highway when we’re walking at 6:30am. I’ve been so aware that the suburb keeps changing; much which defined it for me has been lost just recently.
The Christian Centre for Social Action closed down at the end of last year. It was a mad and messy beacon of hope in the old post office building. It was a place for the lonely and the homeless to spend each day, in amongst the hoarded mountain of stuff for the perennial garage sales. Peter Stewart, one of the great characters of Victoria Park, organised a protest on the Causeway each Friday morning as the clamour for the Iraq War began, and we stood there waving placards, so angry at Bush and Howard and so hopeful we might able to stop the war. I wrote about that place for years in my failed second novel.
Just down from it, McGhee’s Newsagency is closing later in 2017 after more than forty years. It has been a newsagency like one Roald Dahl might have invented, crammed with stock that could be decades old but exactly what someone was looking for. It’s the sort of shop that might never exist again and that’s a sad thing.
Then there’s a landmark I’ve never been inside but which has stood just a hundred metres from my house: Madison Ave, proclaiming itself, in case you weren’t sure “a gentlemen’s relaxation centre.” A message on its blackboard noted last month it had closed after more than forty years. It’s the sort of business that’s meant to be recession-proof, but maybe it hasn’t survived the decline of FIFO workers. What kind of operation will want to take over the lease?
Or will anything take over? As I walk down Albany Highway with Thomas, so many shops are vacant. Others have been bulldozed for developments which haven’t happened. It feels like we’ve entered a long economic winter in Perth. It’ll be hard for many people, mortgaged to the hilt for houses which are gradually declining in value, car loans they can’t pay off any more. Employment almost impossible in a number of sectors. Yet it could be good for many too. What is lost in expensive dinners and consumer goods might be gained in more time and the recovery of older virtues and recreations. There might again be affordable rundown rentals in inner-city suburbs where twentysomething writers can live cheaply and dream and protest.