Northland and Southland seemed poles apart, mainly because shoppers in the south had teeth — and shoes. GROWING up close to Northland, (regional dialect pronunciation: Norflandz) resulted in my magical childhood shopping odysseys being zoned to the Palace of Shoplifting and Festival of Mullets. Northland: No shirt? No shoes? No worries!
The arrival of the child-endowment cheque was celebrated by the collection of lay-bys from Fosseys and school holidays were marked by pantomimes with names like Carry On Up Jack’s Beanstalk or Aladdin My Pants, performed by drunken wannabe Dick Emery types whose biggest claim to fame was once meeting Bernard King. The creepy theatre queens made no attempt to hide their enjoyment of the disproportionate number of times they got the audience of children to yell “he’s behind you”.
The outing was usually topped off with a visit to Coles cafeteria, where we were treated to jelly that tasted like soap and chicken mornay that tasted like spew. Norflandians were either skinny and smoked Winfields or fat and wore sports wear. The number of fat people in runners and tracksuits on any given day meant blow-ins could easily be excused for thinking some kind of Obese Olympics was being held. Alternatively, blow-ins may have come to the conclusion that Northland was a biosphere breeding ground for Chubby Chaser eye candy — the rivalry between potential suitors being so stiff the chubbies were forced to run (hence the sports wear) to set up competition in order to find the keenest and most athletic chaser with which to mate in an attempt to diversify the gene pool and aid evolution.
Meanwhile, the skinny Norflandians were advancing natural selection by doing circle work in the car park in hotted-up panel vans while their offspring performed impact and velocity experiments using shopping trolleys against brick walls. Sure, they could have used crash-test dummies, but why use a mannequin when you could use your four-year-old half-brother who smoked Camels purchased with the money he’d just got from cashing in aluminium cans? I was also familiar with Southland, because my grandparents lived in Mentone. I mean, Parkdale. Their house was the only one in the Mentone street that was, according to them, in Parkdale, yet used Mentone’s postcode. Parkdale was posher. But the only people aware of this were the people who lived in Mentone. We had another relative who didn’t live in Northcote but in Westgarth. When people asked where Westgarth was, she’d reply: “Near Ivanhoe and Hawthorn.”
My memories of Southland are hazy, slightly nauseous and headachey, which I put down to the journey in my grandparents’ overheated Toyota Crown — tartan rug on the parcel shelf, a Thermos in the glove box and the radio stuck on 3AK, Beautiful Music. It was beautiful if you liked panpipes and Manhattan Transfer, which may explain the nausea. The trip was only a couple of kilometres, but because my grandfather — wearing his tam-o’-shanter and an RSL pin in his lapel — drove like a man wearing a tam-o’-shanter and an RSL pin in his lapel, it took 4 years each time. In comparison with Northland, Southland seemed incredibly exotic, almost like a foreign country — possibly because it had a roof garden but more than likely because most of the people had teeth. And shoes. We all have our traditional hunting grounds. Although I loathe shopping centres, there’s an alarming familiarity about Northland. A bit like an uncle you hate but you know all his jokes. For 40 years I’ve lived in our fair city, and I’ve been to almost every shopping mecca — Knifepoint (I mean Highpoint), a place in Northcote nicknamed Poxy Plaza, Doncaster Shoppingtown — but I’ve never been to Chadstone. And it’s time I did. More later.