For a sullen teen, my suburb was a bore. To a middle-aged woman, it’s paradise

For a sullen teen, my suburb was a bore. To a middle-aged woman, it’s paradise

December 11, 2023

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Growing up, I didn’t appreciate Mount Waverley’s charms. As a teen in the 2000s, its zone 2 status made it feel a world away from where I (believed I) belonged.

Riding my bike through its quiet streets, endlessly looping between the station, shopping village, Blockbuster (RIP) and library, I imagined myself as a suburban Sofia Coppola protagonist or Bill Henson muse. Filtered through my aptitude for teenage dramatics, the sleepy suburb with its good schools, flocks of grandparents and quality amenities took on a caustic light. I refused to see what was there, instead obsessing over what wasn’t.

At night, I’d lie in bed and listen to the murmur of the Monash Freeway. My parent’s sagging weatherboard, a Mount Waverley classic barely standing decades on from the 1950s development boom, wasn’t actually near the main road. But with no other evening action, there weren’t many competing sounds to drown it out.

Often I’d try to find some cultural relevance to anchor my blooming identity. When Adam Elliot won the 2003 Best Animated Short Film Oscar, my mum pointed out he grew up nearby and went to my primary school. But beyond that distant Hollywood glow, the only thing that felt older than the residents was the gossip. Rumour had it we harboured a serial killer some 70 years before. Although by the millennium true crime drama was limited to the time we went to the cop shop to report my brother’s bike stolen. It was later found left outside the station, cutting short any real mystery while totally encapsulating the polite spirit of the area.

On weekends, I’d brave the endless (32 minute) train ride to the city for a bit of action, and wonder if anything of interest would ever happen in my lifetime. I dreamed of living somewhere central, where cultural events extended beyond Carols by Candlelight at Jells Park and the annual bushwahzee dance.

That indignation continued until I made it out of Mount Waverley and moved to the inner north. I might have cast myself as a heroine adrift in a sea of asphalt and quality public transport links, but the suburb was as easy to escape as any nurturing embrace.

For almost two decades, I gave it little thought. Each week I’d return to see my parents, do my laundry and retreat to the life I’d imagined all those years before. One that was busy, noisy and only a mere 32 minutes (by tram) from the action.

Then I hit my 30s and began thinking about buying a home and entombing my own child in the comfortable silence of suburbia. Suddenly, Mount Waverley didn’t seem so bad. With my hormones on a low simmer, I began to reconsider my hometown and wonder if I’d misunderstood its gentle appeal. To a sullen teen, Mount Waverley was a bore. To an exhausted middle-aged woman, it’s a paradise.

Growing up, my best friend and I would ride our bikes along Scotchmans Creek and wonder what it would be like to hear a subway, not a lorikeet. As an adult visiting my parents, I’d wander that same path with my baby asleep in a carrier and appreciate how no racket woke her up.

In the 2000s, I wanted excitement, fun, danger and a collection of local floppy-haired boys who had opinions on the Jeff Buckley and Leonard Cohen versions of “Hallelujah”. Now I wanted a yard, quality childcare, shops within walking distance and a train line that was safe after dark.

To be fair, I wasn’t the only one who’d changed. While I was growing up and settling down, Mount Waverley was having its own coming of age moment. Fine dining used to be a baked potato at the Sunny Room, roast chook from Chickie Babes or maybe (on special occasions) a “pan-fried” (not toasted) sandwich at The Talking Point. Today, an influx of new international residents mean culinary options span China, Korea, India, Greece, Italy and beyond. You can still get a lamington or vanilla slice from one of the bakeries, but you can also pop next door for a Bánh mì and find decent coffee.

I don’t know if that next generation will feel differently to me. If they’ll have more to do on the weekend than picnic in Valley Reserve, eat Paddlepops at the local pool or see a cheap movie two months late at Waverley Cinema. But I know one thing for sure. If it takes them 20 years to understand what they’ve got, they’ll probably also be too late to claim it.

Because while I might have come to my senses and finally recognised Mount Waverley’s charms, with median house prices breaching $1.5 million, it’s clearly moved on without me.

This piece is part of The Age’s Life in the ’Burbs series.

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