Coburg 2010

“Coburg – it’s beautiful. Look around. It’s a great place to live.” The young man said leaning out of his black car as he drove slowly past me.

This is Coburg, not the city in Germany, but it’s namesake, Coburg, a suburb in the north of Melbourne, Australia. The sky was blue, the bottlebrush trees were in flower, covering the sidewalk in drifts of yellow stamin, but it is just a suburban street. He must be high on something but he is right.

“It great place” I replied and he drove on.

Coburg is a friendly area; people still talk to each other on the street. The northern suburbs have a great street culture because people use the street, people walk, people shop on the Sydney Rd., rather than the hyper-reality of shopping malls. The 19th century architecture of the longest shopping strip in Melbourne is part of the reason why Brunswick and Coburg has a good street culture.

When my Lebanese neighbour’s son got married I knew about it. Part of the festivities took place in the small front garden of their house. There was drumming, dancing, bride and groom held on people’s shoulders, ululation, car horns, rice thrown… a real wedding, not a hyper-real wedding at a wedding reception place where everything is perfectly contrived. Certainly the autumn weather wasn’t perfect but it didn’t rain on the festivities.

And the street culture is improving; in recent years there has been a marked increase in cafes on Sydney Rd., a greater variety of restaurants than the Turkish restaurants that Sydney Rd is famous.

Pentridge Prison, Coburg

Along with the prison a large amount of 19th and turn of the century buildings were constructed in Coburg. There is the oldest school building in Melbourne along with other old buildings around the old Pentridge Prison. There are also magnificent turn of the century mansions on The Grove and The Avenue. And there are pieces of heritage listed architecture scattered around Coburg’s streets one of my favourites is the American Cottage on the west side of Moreland station at 21 Station Street.

19th century school building on Sydney Rd. Coburg

The Moreland City council has a bold ambitious $1 billion plan, the Coburg Initiative, to remodel heart of the suburb. Lorna Edwards reported on Coburg’s “Extreme Makeover” in The Age (18/3/10). So far the only materialization of this plan has been the redevelopment of the front of the Coburg’s railway station, the redevelopment of the former Pentridge Prison and the construction of more medium and high-density housing. Every possible old building in the suburb is being converted into flats.

The new entrance and surround to the city bound entrance to Coburg’s 19th century, gothic revival train-station. It isn’t much just a few steps, paving stones and landscaping but the bicycle path is now safely separate from the train-station entrance. The new entrance replaces the bodged railings, paths, the over-grown shrubs and scraggly trees that formerly surrounded the station. However, the other side of the station is still a neglected gravel parking lot with a large open drain and no lighting.

I had a dream that I was returning home to my street in Coburg from a long journey. I found that my street has been grassed over and that my neighbours were playing cricket and having BBQs where there once was tarmac. The biggest problems in Coburg are the cars, the vast expanse of ugly parking lots that accommodates them and Melbourne’s poor public transport.

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

14 responses to “Coburg 2010

  • Mark

    Poor public transport – It might be poor across Melbourne as a whole but in comparison Coburg is blessed with public transport when compared to other Melbourne suburbs where real people live.

    You have a tram line running down Sydney Road and running parallel less than three hundred meters away is a train line.

    You have the East Coburg Tram line down Lygon and the West Coburg Tram line on Melville Road. You also have an orbital bus route along Bell Street that services and intersects with four train lines.

    Coburg was (and may still be) a great place. I grew up, schooled, recreated and served my community there. Then arty farty types who couldnt afford Fitzroy and Carlton moved in an pushed out us working people.

    Ironically that type will eventually push out your Lebanese neigbours and all the people who built Coburg in the last couple of decades of the 20th century. The very thing that you celebrate you are destroying.

    So enjoy the novelty of Coburg while you can. The Coburg working class refugees are now building the communities of the outer suburbs. Epping, Craigieburn, South Morang, Roxburgh Park and the like will be the centres of ‘real community’ in the years to come.

    Coburg in ten years will be the Fitzroy and East Melbourne of today. Weekend hipsters and milionaire dinks fascinated by property values and renovation.

    Sure there will still be a couple of old timers who wont sell to you. But there kids will. Faux ethnic restaurants will dot along Sydney Road but the real folk will be living amongst other real folk. The outer suburbs will be home to the authenic experience that you appear to so much value.

    Working class people, caring, talking to each other, looking after each other – Thats how we roll. It doesnt matter where we are physically located.

  • Mark

    Why did you remove my comment?

    Do you hate the idea of the working class having a voice and offering up critical opinion on the bourgeois?

    Mark Sandalford

    • Mark Holsworth

      I’m sorry if being working class has left you feeling inadequate, insecure and with only a small set of experiences to compare. Perhaps if you broadened your experiences and didn’t believe everything that the ALP says you might realize how poor Melbourne’s public transport is, not just in Coburg, but in the whole city and how this contributes to the ugly car culture that pollutes the environment and creates vast ugly carparks in Coburg.

  • Mark

    “and didn’t believe everything that the ALP says” WTF?

    I have no book with the modern ALP – I am afterall proudly working class.

    The problem I have is with people like you. The kind of haughty Aussie intelligentsia who think they gain some sort of working class cred by living in Brunswick, Coburg or Preston. You and your type have stolen our homelands.

    Sure us uneducated plebs as you would surely describe us have all the insecurities and feelings of inadequatecies that you would expect of us wogs and workers.

    Prephaps you could apply for some sort of grant and study us.

  • Esther

    My comments are well past the heat of this dispute, however I must contribute some thoughts on my experience of living in Coburg.I have stumbled by this blog in my search for some historical info on Coburg for my Google map post mark.This is not quite what I was looking for.

    Gentrification has and is changing the face, feel and joy of what may have been Coburg prior to the time I came here.

    Only four short years ago, rents were very reasonable in comparison to rents in Brunswick and other inner city locations. Today we are unable to find another home to rent in Coburg or Preston that is of the same or equal quality and that is not 40% higher in cost to what we currently pay. We are a growing family, so space has become an issue!

    Originally drawn to Coburg because of reasonable rent, we were blessed with the added features of cultural diversity, a brilliant library, Victoria street coffee, half moon cafe, Coburg Leisure Centre, the lake and excellent access to city.

    I do however struggle to find those amazing Middle Eastern resteraunt’s that many folk whom write for local papers seem to rave about.I am yet to find a pub that compares to the pubs of other inner northern suburbs.The recently refurbished Post Office Hotel is not one of them!

    Gentrification brings a ‘spring clean’, of ideas about how Architecture, landscape and culture can be reapplied. Often it fails to be inclusive and will generally attract people aged 18 – 30’s who are either at uni or who are “young up and coming professionals’.

    I think the university student/artist proceeds the professional or even becomes the yuppie, a term more commonly used in the eighties, now replaced by cub, later down the track.

    Coburg today is seeing a resurgence of young families who are paying premium prices to be here, and if the house they are buying is not renovated they are sure as hell, ensuring that it will be, by the time they leave.

    In 12 months our small St sold 6 homes to young families who were able to afford prices above the $600,000 bracket.

    Now these folk may be nice and successful, but their desire to live in a ‘trendy community’ with similar minded folk, comes at a cost! I believe that cost is at the expense of the people who were here before them. This includes elderly people whom have lived here for over 50 years, the long term renters, the Greek and Italian families who were the majority along side Australian families and more recently the Middle Eastern migrants of the 80’s.

    Communities naturally change, thrive, die and live again. Thats life! My question is about we go about it.

    There is a tendency in our street to plant fruit trees, olive trees, blackberry trees and the like. This activity, originally practiced by the old Italians here has been picked up and overstated by some of the newer residents. We now have a dispute about street trees that council will settle by ripping out all excess trees that are considered weeds. In this instance it is the Olive tree planted by our Greek neighbours over 15 years ago that will be a part of this clean up. The quaint mediterranean concept is being spat back out at the newer, dare I say it, “White folk”, who willingly embraced, with over $600 000 to it, the quaint mediterranean feel of our street. Gardening and cross culture has taken on a new dimension!

    Perhaps it is time we express our gardening and community needs in a more authentic manner,rather than imposing ideas that are ‘cool’, ‘green’, and ‘right’ onto our neigbour’s who may not share the same views. This brings me back to the idea of inclusion!

  • Mark

    The Coburg of today is nothing like the Coburg of the 70’s and 80’s.

    We were poor but proud.

    We were “multicultural” before it was trendy. Together we went to Coburg Tech, we lived next door to each other on the south side of Gaffney street and worked together in the factories on the north side.

    Half of us didn’t have a home telephone. Our mothers went to school Mothers Club, shopped on Sydney Road and had lunch in the Coles caffeteria (yes Coles used to have a Cafe).

    New ‘Burgers’ it seem all have iphones, leave their kids in care for 11 hours a day and work in Docklands.

    Somehow people who don’t know better still believe that Coburg has a real kickass sense of community.

    2011, Coburg is now some unrecognisable Yuppie / Disneyesque version of the ‘real’ community that we once had.

    It’s fake – faux – contrived. It’s trendies who want the working class experience – but don’t want to much of it.

    As I said in my first post on this thread, the outer suburbs is now where the real community is. Follow the working class – you will always find it there.

    Esther, if you are looking for historical info on Coburg you cant go past Laurie and Patricia Burchell. To make contact try the historical society on Bell Street just past the town hall.

    • Mark Holsworth

      The idea that Coburg was ever just a working class suburb is such a narrow vision. It ignores so much of Coburg’s history, you only have to look at the mansions on The Grove or The Avenue to know that Coburg always was a very mixed suburb. On my own street there is a modern house that is the work of an Italian architect who immigrated after the war, his widow, an amateur painter gave me a tour of the house – inside and out it was a modern design statement. And although they were never wealthy enough to complete his entire plans for the house they were clearly not working class. The idea of a community with strong bonds and a clear identity has been one of the most evil and pernicious ideas on the 20th Century leading to the rise of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and many others. What Coburg has is a cosmopolitan mix, no clear identity (hence this debate) and very weak bonds holding the community together (people move in and out of the suburb) but that actually seems to be a cultural asset. “If you want to know about class warfare ask the middle class; they are the only ones who have won one.” Guy Debord

    • Dr. Max Darby

      Yes, Laurie Burchell would know it well. Cheers Max Darby

  • Mark

    “The idea of a community with strong bonds and a clear identity has been one of the most evil and pernicious ideas on the 20th Century leading to the rise of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and many others.”

    Only seven comments in and we invoke Goodwins Law.'s_law

    The Grove and The Avenue are where the owners of the factories and mill’s built. These were built in the days before the automobile.

    To suggest that these anomalies are evidence of Coburg being a very “mixed” suburb and anything but poor and working class are laughable.

    You do know there is nothing wrong with being either poor or working class. It doesn’t make you a lesser person except in the eyes of the elite.

    “Be yourself because thoose that matter don’t mind and thoose that mind don’t matter.”


    I’m a nuevo wanker (only 10 yrs in Coburg) who lives in a posh street and I put plenty into my local community. Guess I and most of the other fat-cats who also live in my street are anomolies…Don’t hate me for loving the Woodlands Hotel – I like spending in my local area. Love grabbing a kebab too. I’ve even rejected my anglo roots and tended to my fruit & vegie patch. Fear not, it never will be South Yarraesque thanks to an ever incompetant council cocking up the hideous 2020 vision :) To the poor misguided new Coburg Aussies who think “it’s got potential” – don’t make the mistake I did, it’s already perfect!

    • Mark Holsworth

      Welcome to Coburg and thanks for the comment. LOL. I think that everyone in Coburg, except the aborigines, are anomalies making a very interesting mix.

  • Dr. Max Darby

    Hi Mark,

    This is Max Darby who you mentioned in your research.

    I’ve actually written an article about to be published in an Art Education journal about my experiences working with prisoners in Pentridge. It’s primarily about the rights of people to be able to express their feelings and emotions, and experiences through the visual arts -with the right to make no apologies to anyone. The people I worked with there certainly did that.There are also 2 wonderful photos of some expertly made craft/model-making made by a prisoner who was deported to the UK immediately he served his time. I can send you a copy of the journal when it comes out soon if you contact me. Contact details can be found on my website. The article is also included on my website. Thanks for establishing some formal records of ‘what people still remember’ before they’re forgotten. I have a contact who also has some interesting experiences and memories should you wish to contact her.

    Best wishes

    Dr Max Darby.

    • Branko

      i’m new to Coburg having moved from Brunswick to find a cheaper place to raise my new family in , absolutely love it in Coburg , look forward to spending many more years here , a couple of new pubs/bars might be a good idea , however if it stays the same ( which i doubt it will with gentrification ) ill be happy all the same . great write up Mark , excellent read

    • Mark Holsworth

      Welcome to Coburg Branko. There are lots of good places to eat out with children in Coburg but not as many pubs as there used to be (Walker’s Arcade was once a massive pub). I’m sure that there will more changes as the population continues to grow but the changes that I’ve seen in my decades living here have damaged the diverse character of the suburb (the McDonalds and Hungry Jacks have both gone).

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