Footscray’s Africans Meet Malvern Housewives


Footscray’s Africans Meet Malvern Housewives

Our biggest challenge was creating a vibrant atmosphere where our customers wouldn’t feel threatened by Footscray’s edginess. While at the same time making the pub unattractive to the area’s undesirables.
And the undesirables were out there in number in 1996-97…and they were curious.

‘ What’s this House of Fools all about – who are these fools ’

In those early months we may have been struggling to find ‘our target audience ’ but we were adamant about who we didn’t want as customers. And I found the right background music CD to clear the bar of loud obnoxious louts and petty drug dealers whenever they happened to stray in ‘A collection of Baroque- Chamber Music Classics’. I’d slip in that classical music CD and watch them twitch and squirm while they nursed their drinks.

“ What the fuck’s this shit ? Can’t you put MMM on instead ?”
“Sorry, this is the sort of music we play here.” [ I’d keep a straight face ]
“What about the FOX ?”
“ No we don’t play that sort of music here.”
“What sort of fuckin pub’s this.”

A pertinent question which we struggled to answer with any sort of clarity.

We were trying to create something unique in Footscray but we had this ‘wild card demographic’ to work with. Yarraville, the adjoining suburb was gentrifying at a rapid pace but Footscray’s usual suspects were creating challenges (headaches) for us.

We were trying to attract some of the new residents which gentrification was bringing in to the adjoining neighbourhoods but quite frankly a lot were too scared to go out of an evening.

Central Footscray was a heady cocktail for nice white folks to digest.
A dynamic Vietnamese run China Town, an embryo African quarter, an intimidating street heroin culture coupled with ethnic youth gangs roaming around letting off testosterone. It wasn’t for the fainthearted…these new arrivals were taking punts and snapping up still cheap Victorian Cottages and feeling pretty smug about their canny real estate purchases but venturing out at night required a different sort of fortitude.

One of the first musical genres we experimented with was African – Afro Funk.

The Horn of Africa community- refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea were starting businesses in the shopping centre and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

A lot of our whacky business decisions seemed like good ideas at the time- Oh Hindsight !

In those initial months we toyed with various styles of music with mixed results.

Jazz was an effective white trash repellent- there was never any need for security on those jazz nights, nor was there much call for bar staff either. The music was its own crowd controller.

Blues was always a safe bet to generate steady bar sales but we didn’t want to become a blues bar.

We even gave Irish Folk a run. But being smart ass wogs , our ethnic backgrounds being Italian, Croatian and German – running Irish nights just went against the grain.

But there was something about the energy of African music which appealed.

Blues/Irish aficionados tried to talk us out of it, “they don‘t drink those World Music followers. They hang around all night drinking sodas and lemon squashes. You don’t want that in your pub!”.

True, but we didn’t want intimidating loud obnoxious types staking their claim and feeling at home either…we had to find a middle ground.

David’s wife Anne, nee Savage had organized a 20 year school reunion at the pub on a Saturday night for which we booked an African band called Matata Sound.

They’d organized a ladies only get together and I remember seeing the looks of trepidation come fear on the faces of some of these women as their partners- husbands dropped them off in front of the pub. These women had gone to a Catholic College in the Eastern Suburbs- Kildara Girls College Malvern and in all probability a good number of them would never have had occasion to visit Footscray or The Western Suburbs of Melbourne up until that evening, their 20 year school reunion party.

I saw a few of these women give their husbands anxious goodbyes before they drove off, which were not too dissimilar to the nervous looks children give their mothers on their first day of school…..
‘You will be coming back to pick me up later on, won’t you ?’
Well if they had apprehensive expressions as they got out of their cars .
There were some ‘priceless looks’ as they walked into the pub and saw dozens of African men prowling around the bar scouting vantage points waiting for the band to start playing. And not forgetting the palpable excitement of these African guys on seeing all these White Women walking through the doors. They didn’t look anything like the women who usually frequented pubs in Footscray and these blokes most certainly didn’t look like anybody who patronized cafes along Glenferrie Road in Malvern.

In that party was St Kilda artist Rose Nolan, who unlike her former class mates was very much at ease and seemed to be enjoying herself. In all probability deriving a sense of enjoyment seeing some of her former school mates squirming in this foreign environment. She later told me that the pub reminded her of some of the clubs she’d visited while living in New York. Not surprisingly, none of her former class mates volunteered their thoughts on what the House of Fools reminded them of !

Fabrizio Marsani

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