Lazy Luddite Log

13.10.13

Dandy

Last week I went to my dentist in Dandenong for a long overdue appointment. Public Transport users can only be early or late so naturally I had time to kill on my walk from the station to my appointment. As I walked at a relaxed pace I observed my setting, comparing what was new with what was old and remembering all the changes to my onetime home suburb. I could have given a historical guided tour, if the 70s and 80s are deemed historical. Here is the blow-by-blow of the sort of things I saw, both with my eyes and the eyes of memory.

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- Dandenong Station and environs has changed a lot over time. The station itself was once a timber affair, like Clayton Station but bigger. In the 90s it was replaced by a steel and glass complex reminiscent of a Legoland Space set. From there I can choose to walk along Foster Street or cut through a backstreet to Walker Street. Foster Street once had a tough reputation, but the Southern Arora pub is long-gone, and most of the tattoo parlours have been replaced by Indian grocers and clothes shops. In fact the local council now call it Little India. However, some new developments towards Walker Street make me go in that direction.

- A pop-up park has – um – popped up across Railway Parade. I hope it stays a while as it includes a basketball court and lots of local teenagers (looking like they come from recent migrant families) use it. Further back from the road some new structure has been made alongside an abandoned Masonic hall. There are a number of new developments in this area between the station and Princes Highway (aka Lonsdale Street) but there are still old structures like the Walker Street Gallery, which was originally a fire station in my childhood. The Dandenong Science Fiction Club (DSFS) still meet there and I remember how fun it was to see another community group – the local Chilean dancers – meeting in an adjoining space and doing their thing.

- I next round the corner into Thomas Street. This was once the site of lots of bus stops that have now been re-located. It also has two ways of cutting through to the Princes Highway. I suspect that Vanity Court is still mostly empty of tenants as it has been most of my life. I choose the more cozy memory of walking through a discount pharmacy that once once a Coles Variety Store. Coles once had department stores under that name – imagine something halfway between Target and Best & Less in content with a cafeteria attached. Shoppers could eat in at a lot more shops because they were stand-alone. Now most department stores are in shopping centres with a food court close by. But in Coles Variety I had my first experiences of milkshakes in big metal cups. Mmmm...

- There is some new and very distinctive building under construction at the corner of Walker Street and the Princes Highway. I only later discovered what this new thing with the strangely shaped red roof was. I continued on across the Highway, seeing the ultimate in combining the old with the new, as I did. I’m referring to the Dandenong Town Hall, with its heritage-listed façade and clock tower, built in the 1890s, that now fronts an otherwise new (2000s) structure in the Drum Theatre.

- On the other side of the Highway I had to decide whether to use Dimmy’s or The Hub to continue my walk. Dimmy’s was once Walton’s – another long-gone department store. I remember they had an awesome toy department. I decide there is nothing exciting in Dimmy’s however and choose the Hub, an arcade on two levels with varying fortunes over time. Its upper level has always had specialist shops in it that can survive without exposure – things like a stamp-collecting centre. The ground level however has changed more. It was once bustling. Then the new Dandenong Plaza came along in the 90s and took away a lot of its custom. It seems to have revived somewhat, thanks to the changing demographics of Dandenong, with a lot of ethnic clothes and food stores. I do however miss Mind Games, which for ages has been an Afghan rug shop.

- The Palm Plaza is a nice area to wander and see passing shoppers. However one is inexorably drawn into Dandenong Plaza shopping centre, which came along in the late 80s and then was expanded in the 90s. I can barely remember what preceded but let me try: Myer was always there and still is. However it was a stand-alone structure flanked by both Coles New World (the supermarket of that brand to distinguish it from Coles Variety stores) and either a Safeway or Woolworths (in the 70s they were separate stores rather than alternative brandings for the same supermarket).

- For a while I feel that Dandenong Plaza damaged the older shopping areas like the Hub and Vanity Court. However it was also a needed thing, with Dandenong as the retail centre of the growing outer south-eastern suburbs. And it is architecturally a nice shopping centre, with its exposed white steel framework and curved roof sporting many skylights. Also culture can be allowed to grow even within such a regulated environment – the centre has placed a giant Chess game in one area and locals of different ages and backgrounds (but as far as I can tell only one gender) gather to play, spectate and comment sagely on strategy.

- Across Clow Street is the Dandenong Market. It looks like it has had another major expansion recently. I’m told it is an excellent produce market and should visit it on an open day sometime. For now I simply wonder what has happened to the historic Dandy Hams And Bacons neon sign – it comes and goes and comes and goes…

- Further along Clow Street is the municipal council offices and then the old Dandenong Library. I spent much of my youth there. It still even bears the old name of the City Of Dandenong Library (the councils of Dandenong and Springvale were merged in the 90s to become Greater Dandenong). Inside I discover an architectural model of the proposed new home of the local library – it is none other than what I saw under construction at the corner of Walker Street and the Highway. Well then this could be the last time I ever visit the old library. But change is okay. Likely the new library will be better and its more central location will give the public better access to it. Besides this is what photos and other records are for. I take a few and move on.

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There is more I could say. There is always more. But brevity is a virtue and this short record will provoke other recollections. I know that change is a constant force in life and often a constructive one. However it can also shock and surprise. Luckily it is usually a staggered process and as such we get to have the new parked alongside the old. And then by the time the new is old we will be in a better position to cope with the new that is new (and so on).

Cross-posted here.

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