In late 2015 I was asked to be part of a project initiated by Darebin Arts called The People’s Tour of Reservoir – an ‘audio adventure’ which allows listeners to discover different facets of this fine (and often misunderstood) suburb. My tour, along with three others, is now available to listen to online.
Being involved with the project helped to validate my obsession with meandering around the streets and photographing people’s front gardens. It’s something I’ve been doing for a fair while now and I sometimes wonder what I must look like as I loiter on the nature strip with my camera – probably like someone who’s casing the joint – so walking the streets alongside a team of Darebin Arts employees carrying boom mics, cameras and clipboards no doubt helped to ease the local resident’s urge to call Crime Stoppers. It also meant I could get up close and personal with some of my most loved Reservoir gardens and artifacts. The audio tour is pretty comprehensive, but I thought I’d elaborate on it here, share some visuals AND tell you the exact locations of each of the stops.
STOP 1: TYRES OF YORK
York Street is an unassuming suburban street on the cusp of West Preston, just off the main drag of Gilbert Road. It’s here that you’ll find two tyre swans perched on little wooden stumps. There is nothing else in the front yard. There doesn’t need to be. The simplicity of the swan’s surrounds ensures that they’re the focal point in all their faded, peeling glory.
Original swans like these are a rare sight, but back in the 60’s and 70’s they were common place. I like to think of them as Australia’s answer to the pink flamingo. But unlike the flamingo, they weren’t store bought – they were made by the man of the house out of old tyres. Consequently no two swans are alike. Some people preferred to leave their swans black. More commonly, they were painted white. Some people chose to plant flowers or succulents in the back of the swan. Others left them bare.
STOP 2: THE ‘SUNNY’ SIDE OF THE STREET
If you asked me to name my favourite house in Reservoir, my answer would unequivocally be ‘Sunny’. I spoke about my fondness for this house in The Age newspaper’s “Secret Melbourne” column back in 2015. In the piece I also proudly stated that Reservoir was my suburb of choice. According to the interviewer it was the first time in the column’s history that “Reza” had ever been anyone’s favourite anything.
A few months after the article was published, I received a letter in the mail from a lady called Joy. She told me how it had struck a chord with her. She grew up in Reservoir from 1947 (when she was three) and only left after she married in 1970. Her father would make wrought iron nameplates for houses around the area as a hobby. She wrote:
“My school friend Pam used to live at 5 Henty Street and her mother asked my father to make a house name for her. He had already organised a beautiful ‘Seven’ to go on our own home and so he did this for her – it was ‘Aloha’. Every time I have the occasion to drive down Henty Street I look at the sign very proudly.”
Sadly, 5 Henty Street is no longer there – it’s been knocked down and replaced by awful townhouses – but I have seen another house in the area called ‘Aloha’ and wonder whether someone rescued Joy’s father’s sign… unless he made more than one.
I often wonder what would inspire you to name your house. My theory is that back then, the toil and hard work that went into building the family home was immense. As well as this, houses weren’t cookie cut-outs like they are becoming today. A house had it’s own unique characteristics. It’s own personality. It was something you could fall in love with and be proud of.
Sunny is an accurate name for number 25 Frankston Street. It’s impossible to walk past it without your mood being brightened.
STOP 3: BACK TO THE EGG
If you’re of a certain age you probably have fond memories of going to the playground in summer and burning your legs on the metal slide or chipping a tooth on the monkey bars. Playgrounds of old were pretty risky places, but that was part of the reason you went there – it made things interesting. These days most of the old equipment has been pulled down and replaced by weird plastic castles and plastic slides where it’s impossible to get up any speed, even if you try. Talk about yawnsville!
Thankfully in Reservoir a piece of vintage playground equipment still stands – a giant fiberglass egg. I discovered it by accident as I was toodling through GE Robins Park on my bike. It conjured up a childhood memory of spinning around in a similar egg (a dizzy-wizzy) with my friends moments after eating a huge tub of butterscotch icecream. You can probably guess how that turned out. The results weren’t pretty.
The egg in Reservoir is no longer a ride – it’s concreted in place – but you can still sit in it and reminisce about your wildest playground adventures.
STOP 4: THE BROADWAY SHARK
They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway, but they’re obviously not referring to Broadway, Reservoir. Unless they mean the flashing LED ‘Open’ sign in the window of the Indian restaurant. The Broadway shopping strip is positively un-hip, and that’s exactly what makes it so charming. I dread the day when the $2 shops and fruit markets close to make way for cafes and wine bars with industrial vintage fit-outs and bearded clientele. The glorious Bingo Centre has already shut, so perhaps my nightmare is not as far away as I think.
There’s one shop that has a soft spot in my heart – the Fish and Chip shop. As you walk down the street you’d probably just pass it by. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it, and I can’t even tell you whether their flake and minimum chips are any good. But if you look up as you approach, you’ll see a giant fiberglass shark glistening in the sun above the Fish and Chip shop doorway. It’s quite awful yet deeply mesmerising, and despite the fact that it’s painted a weird royal blue colour, it’s pretty realistic.
I never hear anyone talk about the shark in Broadway, but I’ve heard plenty of people blab on about Jim’s Shark sign (above Jim’s Fish and Chip Shop on High Street, Northcote). Everyone nearly lost their collective sh*t in 2015 when rumours circulated about the sign being dismantled. Online petitions were set up and signed – and then it turned out that the sign wasn’t facing the chop afterall. I doubt that the Broadway Shark would generate the same furore if it was about to be pulled down, and that’s a shame.
STOP 5: MAKE A WISH
Dreams come true on Delware Street, Reservoir. Big dreams. Situated a few blocks away from the Broadway Shark this street is home to one of my favourite front yard fixtures – a giant wishing well. As I mentioned earlier, tyre swans were definitely the ultimate hand-crafted garden feature of the 60’s, but there were some people who decided to go a step further to create something truly unique for their front lawn. The owner of the house of Delware Street was one of these people. Made lovingly with bricks and thoughtfully painted white and brown to match the paint job on the house, the wishing well is the ultimate garden ‘statement’. I’ve seen plenty of home-made fountains and wishing wells in my time, but nothing compares to this.
Thanks to the smooth talking of the Darebin Arts crew we were able to convince the owner to let me take a closer look at it.That’s how I discovered that the wishing well wasn’t just for show, it collected rain water. Down near its base it had a tap where you could connect a sprinkler. That’s style and substance in a nutshell, people!
STOP 6: RUBICON STREET
Not only does this street have a fabulous name, it also has a number of fabulous houses and front yards. Yep, no doubt about it – Rubicon Street is a tiny time-warp. Most of the houses were built in the 50s and 60s. Before that time, the area was mostly farmland.
A highlight of this street is number 32, where you will find an original kangaroo statue cemented in place by the front door (next to a tiny garden gnome, also secured by cement). While the Arts crew and I were outside recording, the owner of the house trotted out and told us all about the origins of the kangaroo. I wrote about this in my previous blog post. Check it out if you want to learn more.
On the opposite side of the road, the concrete treats keep on coming. Look closely and you will see a bald eagle statue. Unlike the kangaroo, which remains original, it looks like the eagle has had a recent paint job. It’s still great, though.
In this little nook of Rubicon Street, you’ll also see some other lovely examples of wrought iron signage. There’s a great ‘Fourty Nine’ on the other side of the street by the round-a-bout, and the house next door to the kangaroo has a name… although I forget what it is. There are also a few houses with etched glass windows featuring sailboats, peacocks and flamingos.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a wrap of my Reservoir Tour – at least for now. Because, of course, as I type this I’m already plotting my next outing. So if you see a tall lady with a camera acting suspiciously outside your house, never fear – it’s just me fawning over something on your lawn that I reckon the world needs to know about.
Don’t forget to listen to (or download) my audio tour here.