‘CAN WE MEET later?’ reads the text message. ‘I’ve got to support someone in court.’ I had arrived at the shopping centre in the Melbourne suburb of West Heidelberg, the site of the 1956 Olympic village, hoping to join a tour along with some schoolgirls from a local Catholic school, led by long time local resident Christine – ‘so they can see what poverty is like’ she tells me . But Christine is busy and so, unguided, I decide to show myself around.
I had just got off the plane from a stint as an aid worker in cyclone-ravaged Fiji and was still unsure what country I was in. But if my mind was still in the Pacific Islands, my feet pushed forward into the streets of West Heidelberg, twelve kilometres from the centre of Melbourne, as if the act of walking would slowly coax my body and brain back together. As I emerged from one mental universe I found myself in another. This was an Australia I distantly recognised. Against a bright blue sky, a model suburb from the 1950s began to emerge with pale brick houses, sizeable yards and streets lined with immense red gums. Only the small size of the houses and the narrowness of the streets betrayed that they had originally been designed as a scale model for housing athletes rather than as longer-term homes. The buildings themselves had been constructed with bricks from the Housing Commission’s factory in Holmesglen and, in the prim official language of the day, were intended to ‘present a pleasing contemporary pattern of form and colour’.
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