It’s a cliché, of course; a metaphor used far too many times. And yet, it shouldn’t be dismissed just because of that – nothing becomes a cliché unless it is true. The cliché in question is that all too oft-used phrase, “the wrong side of the tracks.” It should surprise no one that in Melbourne, which is after all a World City of Literature, that the metaphor is literalised.
The tracks in question are those of the tram line running along Victoria Parade, that neatly (and prettily, too, with their verdant lawns and leafy trees) separate the great and good of East Melbourne from the wretched and despised on Collingwood. It’s plain to see on the map: between Smith Street and Hoddle Street, there are a total of three streets on the East Melbourne side, each of them broad and tree-lined, with grassy dividers running down their middles. There are seven streets on the Collingwood size, only one of them wide enough to support traffic in both directions, plus a number of even narrower lanes, some of them barely wide enough for a single pedestrian. East Melbourne is filled with sumptuously built residences – some of them even qualify as mansions. Collingwood is filled with old factories and warehouses, some of them now converted into dodgy retail outlets or faux classy brothels.
It was ever thus: East Melbourne a place where the comfortably well off lived in peace and seclusion not too far from the city; Collingwood a wretched hive of scum and villainy where the people they employed (and all too-often, dis-employed) lived. It’s no accident that Collingwood Football Club’s mascot is the magpie – that bird has been a symbol of theivery for thousands of years. And given how despised Collingwood already was – not that the afore-mentioned football team ever did it any favours in that regard – it can’t have been too difficult for the housing commission to decide to build its huge vertical slums there, back in the Fifties.
Suburbs near Collingwood: