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With all due respect: City lore

Every Issue

Cite as: August 2015 89 (8) LIJ, p.94

One thing unites the tribes.

I know it’s an old chestnut but Melbourne is a city of tribes. I once tried to explain the intricacies of the city’s tribal system to an overseas visitor and from the bewildered looks I realised I sounded like a Middle East peace negotiator.

If you ask a Sydneysider to describe Melbourne and its inhabitants you probably get wild and inane generalisations like “pompous, skivvy-wearing elitists”, “a café culture in search of a real culture” and “four seasons in one day – wet, cloudy, drizzly or sub-Saharan”.

If you continue reading you’ll realise I’m not the type of person to indulge in wild and inane generalisations.

Melbourne is a patchwork city. You have to live here a long time to understand the various tribes, sub- tribes (solicitors and barristers, for instance) and how the width of a road can take you into a different world.

The easiest divide to understand is the north/south one, the Yarra River being the point of separation.

WADR once had a colleague who was definitely a bayside woman, with that sleek, tanned look, expensive designer clothes and accessories bought from Chaddy. She moved to an up and coming inner northern suburb, had a family and became a different person. The clothes were still expensive but someone had very kindly damaged them to make them look like they came from Vinny’s and she had obviously spent a fortune making sure her once-coiffured hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed for days.

But it’s much more complex than the north/south divide. South Yarra and Brighton are wealthy suburbs south of the Yarra but the inhabitants are as different as Eskimos and Parisians. To WADR’s eye, the bayside suburbs around Brighton have people who seem more like Sydneysiders.

Neighbouring suburbs North Carlton and Fitzroy North may seem to have a similar demographic but inhabitants of the former are university lecturers who think corduroy is still fashionable and the latter live on short blacks and organic vegetables. And in nearby Brunswick East the tribe is always thinking about mounting a protest about something.

Cars can helpfully provide a clue to the different tribes because people can’t resist placing bumper stickers on them.

If you see a bumper sticker with ”Ski Buller” there’s a good chance its owner lives in Glen Iris, Toorak or Camberwell and it will have a neighbouring sticker reading “Go Dees”. Members of the legal profession may be familiar with these. A sticker saying “Wilderness Society” means the owner probably lives in Collingwood or Fitzroy with an outside chance of Eltham.

The outer areas are trickier to read but there are still tribes out in the ’burbs. People living in the outer northern and outer eastern suburbs are completely different. The former build houses that could be described as “mock Gold Coast” and the latter love a French chateau with a hint of Beverly Hills.

If all this sounds like a recipe for conflict and disharmony that would be a misapprehension.

The glue that holds this amazing tribal city together is footy. If you go to a packed MCG on a Saturday afternoon all you will recognise is passionate sports lovers, all different and diverse but all Melburnians.


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