A street on the mend

A street on the mend
Rhonda Dredge

Old is meeting new at the Melrose St shopping strip in North Melbourne, or what locals used to call, the “forgotten” street.

The Twang Brewery just opened next door to the IGA, which has been run for 35 years by the Kuan family from East Timor.

The bar is so new locals say their micro-brewing hasn’t even started yet.

The IGA and some of the other stores are so old they’ve got their scars. “This area is rough,” said son, John Kuan, who grew up in the flats.

“People do burn-outs and you hear the police sirens,” he said. He deferred his studies so he could help his parents in the shop and has moved to Bernside “because it’s quiet.”

Kim from Melrose Hairdressing down a lane beside the IGA says business turned bad when the post office and chemist moved into a new Woolworths shopping centre nearby.

“We don’t have many customers. I’ve had three today,” she said, watching a video on her laptop while waiting. She charges $18 for a men’s haircut and $25 for women.

The strip was so neglected that the council didn’t even include it in the original Macauley Plan, even though it’s on the edge of the precinct.

“Council wished it would just go away,” one councillor confided to North West City News. It’s never even had Christmas decorations like the strips in Kensington.

Before the lockdown there were five shops with “for lease” signs in the window, but local traders stayed on, hoping the strip would weather the storm.

That acceptance has paid off. Now all of the shops have been filled and articulate young admirers such as Jeremy Morris who “was born in a ghetto in the States” are having their say.

A new pizza place is going in at the southern end, two new bars have opened plus Melrose Kebabs is opening soon and advertising for staff.

“It’s a slow burn,” said Jeremy, the cook at both the coffee shop Mr Tucker and the brewery.

“This is my neighbourhood. I’ve lived across the road for 10 years,” he said.

“This street is the line between abject poverty and wealth.” Further up the hill are substantial houses while behind the strip are the public housing towers.

 

“I like the fact that there are real people on both sides of the street,” he said. “I would hate to see the street gentrified.”

 

The idea of community has taken a lockdown to ram itself into the brains of many Melburnians.

The street has always had its fans, particularly Christine, with her pink hair who came here every day during lockdown to get her cheap cigarettes.

Some might call them desperate times, but she was visiting friends nearby and one who recently died gave her a warm jacket.

“I like looking after people,” she said. “I’ve been coming here for 45 years. The IGA has good specials. Last time a lady paid for my shopping.”

There is so much more that could be said about the scars and the police sirens, but this is a street on the mend. •

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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