To my eternal surprise, a variety of respectable and not-so respectable publications used to pay to print my scribblings. But nothing has struck a chord like The 7 Wonders of Reservoir of which over 50,000 poor sods miraculously discovered.
Like any self disrespecting writer, when the muddy puddle of ideas runs dry, the obvious solution is to revisit the past and punch out a crappy sequel.
So, a while back a new day job had me conveniently located within spitting distance of Rezza (well not really, hocking a loogie across Keon Parade to Thomastown would be tough, even down wind). What I uncovered is another quirky northern ‘burb with it’s own je ne sais quoi.
Ranked Melbourne’s 211th most liveable suburb (a meteoric rise from #293) Thomastown is about contrast; seemingly quiet suburban streets lined with seemingly nice enough homes for 20,000 seemingly nice residents, vast commercial and industrial zones to the south, and then to the west there’s the nothing. And nothing says welcome like the wondrous power station opposite Keon Park Station as you enter Thommo via High Street.
Whereas my Reservoir rant was informed by 15 years immersed in the idiosyncratic nature of the locale, I’m approaching this one through the looking glass.
Station to station; a metallic jungle and ominous rail overpass
1. Empty spaces, abandoned places
If ever an Aussie version of Breaking Bad was to be commissioned, Thomastown is the perfect place to send the location scouts.
The post apocalyptic Maccas on the corner of Settlement Rd and Wood Street is finally gone, and so too the decrepit bus resembling an exploded mobile meth lab. Meanwhile the vacant warehouse/factory next to Bunnings on Dalton Road (above) is also undergoing a reinvention (as another one of those uber-depressing business parks).
Considering the development explosions out to the boonies (eg. Craigieburn, Mernda, Wollert), Thommo is still littered with a remarkable number of large vacant blocks and tracts of land just 17km from the CBD.
The best place to park your RV and cook some blue is beyond the quarry, on the western edge between the Merri Creek border and the Hume Freeway (ominously known as the Galada Tramboore). Though if you’ve had a misunderstanding over a g-string belonging to your neighbour’s wife being spotted on your clothes line, best not arrange a pow-wow to sort things out anywhere near these windswept badlands.
Spot the difference: Thomastown (left), Mars (right)
2. Thomastown Sharpies
‘They never really hurt anyone innocent’ said Nick Tolewski, author of Once Were Sharps; the Colourful Life and Times of the Thomastown Sharps.
This Chopper Readesque statement (coincidentally a one-time Sharp) begs the question of one of Australia’s most infamous Sharpie gangs; ‘innocent of what’?
Being a Mod? Playing their pinball machine at the fish & chip shop? Not offering up a Winnie Blue when pressed?
The bookworthy Thomastown Sharps were hardly a covert operation – which probably didn’t help their cause in terms of evading the constabulary. Unfashionably kitted out with shaved heads, rat tails, overalls, cardigans, hard-toe boots and old school tatts, not to mention Thomastown Sharps t-shirts, the boys enjoyed a menacing presence during their 1970’s heyday.
In one 1979 incident it was reported a Reservoir teenager had 50 shotgun pellets removed from his back, courtesy of you-know-who. Could such a gang exist in today’s era of CCTV, PSO’s and PCness?
Fortunately for locals, in lieu of nothing better to do in Thomastown besides causing trouble at the local pool, they’d be afforded some respite when the gang embarked on regular excursions to the city on the old Red Rattler and Blue Harris trains on what was then the ‘Lalor line’.
So what other shenanigans did they get up to and where are they now? Try the Thomastown Newsagent which has moved almost 1000 copies of the aforementioned book, otherwise check ’em out on Facebook.
Then and now; a 2009 reunion was held in Donnybrook (I kid you not)
3. What lies beneath: Westgarthtown
Gardenia Road presents as any regular residential Thomastown street until you’re suddenly transported back 150 years to a historical settlement known as Westgarthtown. Yes, Thommo has an interesting heritage.
William Westgarth arrived on The Pribislaw and initiated the settlement as a dairy farm in 1850. Sixteen German and Wendish (Slavic) families inhabited Westgarthtown. In 1934 Albert Siebel established what would become Pura Milk in Murray Road, Preston. Most of the land was subdivided for housing from 1945 until dairying ceased in 1972. The remaining bluestone farmhouses and Lutheran church remain accessible to the public.
Whilst a number made it to their 80’s and 90’s, many lives were cut tragically short by illness or accident. Sadder still, infants and young children often fell victim to dysentery, diphtheria and typhoid, or misadventure such as drowning. Life was never meant to be easy in Thomastown.
Located on the corner of German Lane and Gardenia Road, the Westgarthtown cemetery is still open for business to departing Lutheran locals and descendants of the original settlers.
4. Dalton Road
I’m no computer game aficionado but I was partial to the Atari game Frogger, as immortalized by an episode of Seinfeld. But no matter how many roads you’ve successfully navigated in real life, I’d contend few could be as challenging or require as much patience as Dalton Road.
Heading north of Mahoneys Rd towards the Ring Road, three lanes each way are interrupted by two roundabouts. Essentially the roundabouts facilitate an endless stream of cars, trucks and buses in all directions. One could play it safe and walk the looong way up to the lights at the Ring Road overpass, but that would be plain annoying.
If taking to the road and joining the slipstream is more your game, you’re in for some excitement. The Wood St roundabout is the ring of fire – if you can navigate that one you may be ready for the Settlement Rd circle of death. How there aren’t more accidents is indeed a wonder.
5. Naughty shops
‘You’ll find what’s on your mind on our shelves’ is the rather disturbing Club X tagline.
Remarkably, of the hundreds of local businesses selling everything from memorial headstones to Balinese outdoor statues, the only one to fly the national flag on their premises is this patriotic sex shop. Oh, and a nearby pool pump and irrigation store (go figure).
And if what’s on your mind is a little too pricey on the shelf, Club X conveniently offers FAST CASH loans to ensure you won’t go home disappointed at being unable to clear the depraved naughtiness rattling round your brain.
Meanwhile, across the way is Sexyland’s head office (see what I did there?). By comparison Sexyland is a little less garish about its wares. The old sign simply says ‘check out our huge new store’. Size does matter, after all.
6. Random stores
According to Professor Google, the Thomastown Post Office opened way, way back in 1862, however it was many years before any real development took place upon the market gardens which pervaded the area. More German settlers arrived post WWII, followed by an influx of Italian and Macedonian migrants during the 1950’s. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Thomastown really got its act together.
Nowadays the aptly named Settlement Road has the Yellow Pages covered. There’s nothing you can’t find here; accountants, air conditioning, aluminium, baby goods, bank, beds, bolts, car hi fi, cheese, chicken, coffee wholesalers, computers, crane hire, electrical, flooring, furniture, glass, gym, hardware, horse floats, kitchens, lighting, liquor, mattresses, medical centres, nuts, outboards, pet barns, plaster, recycling, roofing, security, sheds, small goods, smash repairs, solar hot water systems, storage, tiles, white goods, work wear, xylophones, yaks and zeppelins (OK, I made the last two up).
And if you do plan on dragging your delightful munchkins around Whittlesea Drapes then be aware the Maccas/KFC/Hungry Jacks triumvirate serve essential behavioral bargaining chips. If that doesn’t work, promise to stop by Mick’s Place on Victoria Drive. Their Nutella donuts have become a Melbourne sensation. They’re so generously filled the kidlets’ gobs will be too clogged up to speak. Magnificent.
‘We’re always here’ at Abbey Funerals (but you won’t be); the angry Alpine gorilla
7. Thomastown Market
I’m a little slow on the uptake but I must admit taking a while to comprehend the nature of this bizarre piece of real estate.
At first glance it could be a disused pony club – until on closer inspection the rusted old stalls and dilapidated excuses for shelter evoke more sinister undertones. An abandoned abattoir for slaughtering stubborn ponies? Surely not?
The penny drops from the Settlement Road entry, where a sign sets one’s mind at ease. So what is the Thomastown Market like when it springs to life on a Sunday?
According to mymarketsvic website; “In a large outdoor space this market offers an assortment of tools, hardware, clothing, kitchen items, and all sorts of odd curios – you never know quite what you’ll find.”
Odd curios ay… If it’s anything like the old Pipeworks (RIP) up the road then don’t expect to find the lost ark.
Thomastown Market; are you in or are you out?
So there you have it, my rather uninformed 7 Wonders of Thomastown. Sure, parts of Thomastown might lack for aesthetic appeal, but there’s something for everyone in Thommo. Though I’d advise against looking for it after dark.
Thomastown gets one up over Reservoir; the Bears hammered the Mustangs to claim the 2014 NFL Division 3 flag.