Commutes of my youth
When I were a lad, my sister and I walked to primary school with our friends — at least in the upper part of primary school; I don’t recall the first few years; I assume my mum walked with us, though she’s said a friend in the same block used to occasionally drive us. But by about grade 4 we were walking. We used to meet up with Stuart, Lisa and Tracy from the next street, and Merlin, and sometimes also Raoul and Jeremy from a few streets away, and all walk up to Ripponlea Primary. I’ve just checked a journey planner and it says this is 1.6 km; about a mile.
There were two main roads to cross, one with no convenient lights (but not really heavy traffic), and the other with a lollipop person. But it never snowed, and we didn’t have to wear old sacks.
A few times we tried catching the Hotham Street bus (then the 602; now the 216/219) instead. I recall one time my sister and I missed our stop, and I think it was her (or maybe it was me) that started crying until the bus driver stopped the bus and let us off. The bus trip was only three stops, so it probably wasn’t worth the fare, thus most of the time we walked.
Midway through grade 6 (1982) we moved to Elwood, close to the beach. The trip to school was longer, about double. While the New Street/Hotham Street bus would have been the logical way, instead we mostly caught the 600 to St Kilda, then caught the tram from there. I assume it was so we could leave the house with my mum, who also caught the bus to St Kilda Station then the train into work in the city.
High school at Ardoch (now defunct, it was in Dandenong Road, Windsor) the following year meant another change. Although once again the Hotham Street bus would have been the logical way, again it was the 600 bus to St Kilda. Then either the 79 tram or 246 bus, up to Dandenong Road, then another tram. It seems totally illogical now that I’d have wasted all that time changing from one service to another, but there must have been some logic behind it. Maybe the new Travelcards had made it so easy to make multi-modal trips that I was determined to do so. Maybe I just enjoyed riding on trams more than buses. Or maybe I just didn’t want to walk through Elsternwick Park. Probably I was going part of the way with my sister, who was in primary school for one year after me; that was probably it, as now I think about it, I sometimes went home the direct way.
If going via St Kilda, on the way home there was a place, a little cafe I think, on the corner of Barkly Street and Carlisle Street where I’d wait for the bus, that had a Galaga machine, into which my spare 20 cent coins would go. Often at the stop a blind man would wait too, always holding up to his ear a little device that may have been a radio, but also told him the time. He used to sway from side to side, a slightly manic grin on his face. Some of the other schoolkids travelling around used to mock him, which seemed a bit cruel to me.
While living in Elwood I’d also zoom around on my shiny new bicycle (the one finally stolen in 1995), visiting friends, going up and down beach bike path, and sometimes riding all the way up to the Commonwealth Bank in Elsternwick to take money out of the new-fangled ATM for my mum. At the time it was the only ATM for miles around.
We were still living in Elwood when I switched schools to Melbourne High. The trip became a walk to the 246 bus on Glenhuntly Road, a quick trip up to Elsternwick station (why didn’t I just walk to the station? Inherent laziness?) then the train from there to South Yarra. Sometimes I’d meet Konrad on the train at Ripponlea and we’d swap notes about the latest Commodore 64 games.
Coming home there’d be the occasional food fight between the platform 2 kids and those on platforms 1 and 4. I’d watch these from the far end of the platform, given I was wanting the back of the train for alighting at Elsternwick. On hot days we’d hope for an air-conditioned train; they were pretty scarce at the time.
Then we moved into Elsternwick itself, and the trip became much easier. I got a parttime job at Hattams, which was about a minute’s walk away from our front door. The flat we lived in was above a shop on Glenhuntly Road, which was great apart from the faulty shop burglar alarms that would periodically go off at night. There was also an elderly Irish brother and sister living next door. The sister would periodically get drunk and also go off at night.
From there my sister was going to school by tram, and used to talk of “tram hopping” — jumping ahead from tram to tram on the way home as they sat in a bunch at the traffic lights, to try and get on board the one you’d missed.
Then we moved to Murrumbeena, right next to the railway line. Gradually we got used to the noise of the trains (apart from freight trains which would drown out the TV), and it was just a short walk to the station to catch the train. By that point I was in year 11, and a few of us would congregate in the back of the 7:36 from Oakleigh every morning. The trip to my parttime job in Elsternwick took me onto the 67 tram. If I was lucky, finishing at 12:30 on a Saturday I could just make it home by 1pm to watch Doctor Who.
Uni in Caulfield made it a quick easy trip, using a Rail+2 if I wanted. It got harder and more expensive when we moved to Hampton (the final move of many). A walk up the hill or a bus ride to Moorabbin, then a two-zone train trip. Austudy funds had kicked in by then, which took the edge off it, but it still narks me a bit that that trip of six stations was so expensive.
There was actually a point to all this rambling when I started writing it.
As children grow up, there’s a point at which they start to roam around on their own. It seems to have got later with the current generation. It certainly seems these days that more parents drive their kids to school… because the traffic is worse these days because more parents drive their kids to school.
My kids haven’t yet done much getting around on their own, as unfortunately they live way too far to walk to school. And as I’ve mentioned before, it’s a long hard slog on PT. But with Isaac going into high school next year (it’ll be a 15 minute walk) it’s about time for them to start exploring.
All part of growing up, and becoming independent.