Here’s something I wrote for The Age on my favourite suburb Glen Waverley.
I was enjoying a chat with my builder during a break from renovations when our conversation turned to various Melbourne suburbs. Glen Waverley came up.
“Oh, that sh*t hole,” he sneered.
Sure, Glen Waverley lacks the prestige of Toorak or the beachside charm of Elwood, but I’d grown up there and a sh*t hole it is not. Bland, perhaps. Ordinary, OK. Inoffensive. Dependable.
I laughed politely and agreed, mentally striking him off my Christmas card list.
My parents moved to Glen Waverley in the early seventies. Lured by a $30,000 home with green floral wallpaper, they lived on a street that had an alternating pattern of 4 house designs. From their backyard they could see orchards.
“Was it boring?” I asked my mother.
“Was what boring?”
“What do you mean, boring?” she said, mildly outraged. “We had jobs, mortgages, children… there was no time to be bored.”
From this I can extrapolate that Glen Waverley (circa 1970 – 1999) was dull by most people’s standards.
But we kids saw no problem with it. We rode bikes with our stack hats on and went to the playground. There were no plastic slides in primary colours, mind you, just a dark forbidding castle that was covered in rude words.
For kicks, we walked up to Kerrie Road Bakery for a 6-pack of dinner rolls or visited Kingsway – Glen Waverley’s main street – which had an unnaturally large number of hairdressers. We frequented Big Lick ice creamery or the library. And while Glen Waverley is not known for its natural beauty, its bush and wetland areas meant that spotting a Masked Lapwing or a Royal Spoonbill was an exciting possibility.
Yep, what with the bird watching and bakeries, it was all rock and roll in 3150.
For a night out, locals could hit the Mount View Hotel, or the “Mount Spew” as it was affectionately called. But in the late nineties, things changed. A cinema appeared and Mocha Jo’s café opened up on Kingsway. We went to the movies, drank hot chocolate and ate cake – this was la dolce vita, Glen Waverley style.
I left the suburb in the early 2000s. On my frequent trips back to the family home, I watched Glen Waverley blossom.
Asian grocery stores mushroomed. Restaurants came and suddenly you could get dumplings, udon, bibimbap and empanadas on Kingsway – though first you had to fight to the death for a car parking spot. The Glen Shopping Centre ballooned until it took over the entire carpark where my friends and I used to sit and eat hot chips from the Charcoal Chicken shop.
The demographic changed too. Once a white bread suburb of sausage rolls and apple scrolls, it’s now an Asian hub. People are attracted to its amenities and its highly sought-after public schools. Those ageing brick homes are now hot property as they fall within the Glen Waverley Secondary School catchment area.
My home suburb has even made the news of late. In 2021, there was a car-jacking. A mother, waiting to pick up a pizza, was stabbed and dragged 100 metres as she clung to the car. I forwarded the story to a friend with “IN KERRIE ROAD?!!!” in the subject line.
Then in 2022, the Glen Waverley Football team’s post-season soiree at “The Spew” made global headlines when a bet between two players went very wrong (or right, depending on which way you look at it). Two of the athletes partook in a sexual act as horrified patrons looked on, choking on their chicken schnitzel. On the wings of the internet, a blurry photo of their team bonding activity flew from Glen Waverley to New York and London and put us on the map.
But despite infrequent violent crime and sexual escapades, Glen Waverley is still fundamentally nice. There’s comfortable houses, pleasant people, good schools and multiple kinds of tofu available at the shops.
For at least four decades, my family has had the same neighbours. They knew each other as young couples with little kids. Those little kids who wacked tennis balls over the fence are now middle aged and we bring back our children to the family home.
When we do, I like saying a cheery “Hello Mrs Graham!” and seeing their familiar faces. And still these neighbours collect each other’s mail, pass home-grown vegetables over the fence and keep a hawk eye on each other’s houses when anyone is away.
I now live in the inner city and while I’m close to the action, I don’t forget my roots. Glen Waverley will never be the setting for a gritty memoir or a rap – unless you like freestyling about car parking on Kingsway or the highs and lows of ornithology – but if this jewel of the south-east has taught us anything, it’s that there’s beauty in what some would call the banal.