Since the first white resident Samuel Jeffrey set up digs in 1841, Preston has evolved to become a much sought after locale inhabited (and only rarely inhibited) by 30,000 constituents.
A tough working class reputation was well earned however in recent years Preston has matured and mellowed. Consequently house prices have charted a similar trajectory as the career of award-winning Prestonian Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap. Indeed, median values have more than doubled over the past ten years.
The Preston Post Office opened in 1856 and by the 1860s the area had grown to a population of around 200. There was five hotels, two of which remain – The Preston Hotel (1856) and The Junction (1861). You gotta respect a place boasting a pub for every 40 head of population. After all, Preston was originally known as Irishtown.
Genuine respect was afforded Preston via the World Wars in which two residents were awarded the Victoria Cross. Their surnames at least should be familiar to locals; Bruce Kingsbury and William Ruthven.
Post war, an influx of Macedonians made Preston home, followed by many Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Middle Eastern and African immigrants. Amid the residential areas there was also meat factories, tanneries and manufacturers of goods such as soaps and shoes. In terms of harmonious diversity, Preston can certainly be proud. Hell, even hipless hipsters are almost welcome.
As someone living on the fringe of this wondrous suburb, what makes Preston special? Well, back by unpopular demand is the last of my 7 Wonders trilogy…
Clinging to the easternmost edge of Preston, Northland Shopping Centre is Melbourne’s largest predominantly single-level shopping centre.
Better known to locals as ‘Northies’ (pronounced ‘Norf-ees’), the Centre has been redeveloped 13 times since opening in 1966. Whether by fault or canny design, the infinite calories consumable in the food court are offset by the single level layout which can see lost Norfies newbies walk a marathon in an afternoon, criss-crossing two time zones in the process.
One time I brushed past Chopper Read outside K-k-katies and I nearly p-p-pissed my pants. I cherish my Norfies outings, hence I’ve made it a once-a-year treat.
Despite boasting 4,235 car parks servicing over 330 stores and cinemas, the act of parking does elicit considerable aggravation. You can take a bus – and all local bus routes do lead to Northland (and a bus station evoking the Star Wars Cantina scene). I recommend the 556 midday special that embraces the sites and characters of Thommo, Rezza and West Heidelberg; like an evening cruise down the Seine in Paris, it’s an unforgettable experience.
2. Preston Market carpark
Any tome on what makes Preston something to behold predictably leads to the market which opened in 1970. Despite a plethora of grand plans, the biggest redevelopment is still the last occasion when the piped music mix tape was changed to Throbbin ’84.
You may risk aging a couple months waiting for your prosciutto at the deli but it’s a beaut emporium, particularly for fresh fruit, veg, fish, meat and cold cuts. I once scored a case of 20 good quality mangoes (my death row fruit) for $5. Boy did I make regular appointments with the porcelain that week!
But a market is a market, right? If you’re there after 9am Saturday morning it’s a bun fight. But more so, as an experienced Preston Marketer, I do marvel at those who attempt parking on the market side of Murray Road. Firstly, the ratio of cars to actual car parks is around 5:3. Worse though is the frightening prospect of several hundred of Melbourne’s most constipated drivers gathered in the same place. It’s unique, it’s baffling and it’s frustrating to watch.
The other act of futility is the requirement to display a ticket (valid for 2 hours) dispensed by the carpark machines or risk being ‘liable for liquidated damages’. Few customers, let alone the culturally and linguistically diverse, could possibly comprehend the implications of those words. As my brother-in-law can testify, invoices are actually issued for what is ostensibly free parking, though the enforceability is highly debateable. One blogger suggested returning any notices to Care Park with a request to send subsequent correspondence on softer paper for more pleasurable arse wiping.
3. Maccas, Bell Street
An unreliable source once told me the Maccas on the corner of Bell Street and St George’s Road is the busiest in Victoria (or maybe the world – details…). This is, or was, the Studio 54 of Melbourne Maccas (not to be confused with this Studio 54 establishment in Preston). In the wee hours of the morning the joint is still jumping with party goers more up for a fight than calling it a night.
Occasionally clientele juiced up on McFlurries and hormones attempt to make their Commodores airborne. I guess Bell Street does align with a flight path. Sometimes drivers who hit speeds of up to 130 clicks have their wings clipped by the air traffic controllers, but too few for me to reconcile my $180 fine for clocking 53km/h on Gilbert Road in a moment of hi-octane madness. And too few to avert Bell Street Preston once being rated by AAMI’s Crash Index as the 4th worst road in Melbourne. Wonderful.
So now the Bell Street speed limit has been reduced to 60km/h. The speed camera revenue could surely fund removing the loathsome level crossing. Alas, priority will always be afforded to crossings in marginal seats.
4. Preston Trugo Club
Across from the Market carpark resides a curious piece of prime real estate; the ramshackle remains of the Preston Trugo Club.
First things first, what the hell is trugo?
Of the many thousands of commuters passing by each day on the train very few would have any clue about trugo’s remarkable history and what this derelict sporting facility represents. In a nutshell, trugo was invented by Thomas Grieves and taken up by enthusiastic (and bored) Newport railway yard workers in the 1920s. Grieves, was fascinated by how far rubber buffer washers (used in connecting trains) rolled on their side.
Trugo is an unlikely fusion of croquet, wood chopping, lawn bowls and Australian Rules football. Played on a bowls-like rink, a 4cm thick rubber ring is thumped at a set of goals 27m away. True to its roots, the distance and goal width reflects the old ‘‘red rattler’’ train carriages and the rail gauge while wooden mallets (shorter and squarer than the croquet variety) replaced sledgehammers.
The game flourished beyond the gritty workshop with clubs opening in the working class western and northern suburbs of Melbourne (there’s also a rink in Reservoir). Preston Trugo Club was formed around 1960 on the corner of St George’s Rd and Cramer St, with a second green installed a few year later. Sadly the game is on its last legs as remaining clubs keel over with their members.
A lonely sign still identifies the abandoned Preston Trugo Club and that ‘new members are welcome’. Makes me want to take it up. Anyone for trugo?
5. Football pedigree
When North, Footscray and Hawthorn joined the VFL in 1925 the VFA accepted (newly proclaimed city) Preston into their ranks. It was a long road to glory for the Bullants. By 1963 Preston had won just a single final, drew another and lost a whopping 16.
As he would prove at Hawthorn, Alan Joyce enjoyed a Midas touch. He helped break Preston’s drought, coaching them to flags in 1968-69.
Preston lost to Prahran in front of 30,000 at the Junction Oval in the memorable 1978 VFA decider. A wild brawl featured Two Blue ‘Slamming’ Sam Kekovich.
Under Ray Shaw, who before captaining Collingwood won the Liston Trophy at Preston in 1973, the Bullants set new records in 1983 and 1984 by winning the U/19’s, Reserves and Senior Premierships. A fan favourite during the mid-’80’s was full forward Jamie ‘Spider’ Shaw. He booted 19 one day among other goalkicking records. I’d be having a cig at 3/4 time too if I was him!
By 1996 the financially embattled Bullants merged with U18 team Northern Knights but the Preston Knights were quickly booted out by the VSFL razor gang. After 95 years Preston was effectively no more. It hardly helped the dysfunctional Preston Council allowed the club’s ground to go to rack and ruin. Don Gillies, appointed by the State Government to replace the Council, agreed to initiate improvements and the Knights license was quickly reinstated.
For a decade now Preston has been aligned with Carlton. The Northern Blues is a happy marriage for their strong local supporter base but harder for the equally numerous Magpie fans to accept, especially those who recall Preston being the Woods’ recruiting heartland (pre-draft era).
Former Preston players/coaches of note include Charlie Pannam, Roy Cazaly, Alby Morrison, Les Foote, Laurie Hill and Len Thompson. But undoubtedly the greatest player to emerge from the area was a conjurer of weekly football miracles, recruited by Collingwood from Preston RSL in 1977.
West Preston Football Club also rates a mention, despite its Reservoir home ground. Here Tony Shaw and Sav Rocca began their football journeys, the latter’s brother Anthony also playing with the Roosters when his AFL career was done. Habitually a mid-rung Division 1 club in the strong NFL competition, West Preston’s shock flags in 2003 and 2010 were indeed a wonder to savour.
6. Preston tram depot
The Preston Tram Depot was opened in 1955 on the corner of Miller Street and St Georges Road. One of eight on the Melbourne tram system, the Preston depot is home to a fleet of 58 trams. Malcolm-like tram obsessives are in their element with everything from A1, B1, and B2 class trams to the ancient SW6-class and W6-class beauties housed here.
Recently Yarra Trams completed the biggest tram depot redevelopment in Melbourne’s history at the Preston Depot. The $190m project saw the historic workshops transformed into a state-of-the-art facility to provide stabling, operational and maintenance facilities for new E-Class trams. Happy days all ye tram-spotters!
7. Lawn love
Perhaps its an underlying Preston envy which has me thinking the grass is greener on the other side of Regent Street. Or perhaps the grass actually is greener.
There must be something in the soil combined with a competitive green thumb which compels Prestonians to produce so many beautifully manicured little nature strips and little front lawns. Compared to wild and weedy Rezza, at least.
Given turf perfection requires a well oiled machine to do the business, it makes sense there’s two ‘ma & pa’ mower repair stores within three doors of each other on Murray Road. No, that doesn’t really make sense, does it? Preston Mowers or Ace Mowers – it’s a flip of the coin decision with whom to entrust open motor surgery on your Victa.
So, here endeth the third of my trilogy exposing the northern highlights of Rezza, Thommo and Preston. Hope you enjoyed the tour.