‘A celebration of cultural diversity’ is a mainstay of contemporary Australian public life.
No where more so than in communities where the culturally diverse stack the electoral roles. The brochures councils regularly send out to residents informing them of their rates at work, rarely fail to remind households of their municipalities eclectic and diverse population mix or that administration’s pledge to uphold and foster its commitment to cultural diversity.
Spare a thought for Jack A, a sixty year old Anglo Celtic Australian male disenfranchised living in one of Melbourne’s more culturally vibrant inner suburbs. His senses and taste buds are impervious to Long Macchiatto’s, Mornington Peninsula Pinot Grigios, Polenta Tortas infused with a hint of Porcini or countless other treats dished out by the plethora of lifestyle eateries, bars and restaurants which have inundated his neighbourhood. While gay and artistic communities, alongside socially progressive types from myriad backgrounds have embraced and indelibly transformed the face of his once quintessential working class suburb.
Today Jack finds himself adrift in this sea of Lifestyle Living.
His world is one where like minded blokes drink beer, regurgitate tales of valiant Test centuries and reminisce over former long shot trifecta payouts. Today he has his work cut out finding them propping up public bars along the High Street. Not so in the early 1970’s when he first bought his non descript timber home. Long before the area was infiltrated by subversive artists and most recently by the hordes fuelling gentrification. While Jack wishes no ill harm to this ‘eclectic’ group of recent arrivals, he laments the loss of the suburb’s former cohesive social fabric. Well a social fabric which he could relate to, and one with which he had an affinity with. Not the sort of social fabric that council officers with titles like ‘Inclusion and Cohesion Managers’ can pander to as the tentacles of gentrification push blokes like Jack to the margins-fringes. But not to the suburb’s annual Fringe Festival.………..
His domain is far removed from art galleries, women’s cooperatives and Fringe Festivals.
And he makes no apologies for his disillusionment with what “this new lot have brought in.”
During the 1970’s he confesses to having had difficulties coming to grips with the ‘cultural diversity’ and potent aromas emanating from the doors of the multiethnic delicatessens which catered to the area’s Greek and Italian residents. Whereas today he readily confesses to missing them and nostalgically laments their former ubiquity. The odd deli still standing in his neighbourhood strip of shops is more a gentrified enoteca.
“What the fuck is an enoteca ?” , he asked me. However based on what I observed the day Jack sarcastically highlighted the incongruity of the strip’s tenancy mix, I couldn’t help but conclude that the neighbourhood’s recent arrivals can’t get enough of enotecas.
Forty years after buying into this neighbourhood he despondently acknowledges, home has become – No Place For Ageing White Men.
The area’s estate agents regularly tease him with unsolicited correspondence offering him the opportunity to unleash his wealth. It would be so easy to yield to an auctioneer’s board being erected in the front yard and escaping an ethos he has next to no compression of, but
“bugger it, I’ve lived here for forty years, and this is home .” He recalls the zealousness of Seventh Day Adventists and other missionary types regularly pestering him of a Sunday morning. They appear to have abandoned this Lifestyle Loitering patch and set off for the fertile recruiting grounds offered by newer subdivisions in the outer ring suburbs. Christian Soldiers and Property Professionals have a handle on population demographics and today it’s estate agents and property developers who regularly door knock Jack with ingratiating taunts of ,“How would you like to become a millionaire ?”
“ Jeez I miss those Mormons !”, he bemoaned.
The irony of this ageing White Man voicing his regrets about the old wogs having all but disappeared from the landscape to me, a second generation one, wasn’t lost on me. Jack and I are members of the same Bowling Club, and we spend Saturday afternoons together on the green. I think it would be fair to say that bowling is my one concession and only entry into the world of the Jacks of this city. Unlike Jack, I’m quite partial to the odd arts festival, however that’s not to say I don’t feel an empathy with his bewilderment towards this cultural inundation. He feels like a fossil as he rolls his smokes, sips his beer and recollects past winners who payed out handsomely in his sole refugee from the inexorable tentacles of gentrification, his Bowling Club. They won’t let him smoke indoors these days but at least they haven’t pulled down the framed photographs of race horses and great sporting highlights and replaced them with undecipherable art !
He shakes his head as he ponders the infiltration of art installations into pubs.
“ What did you say an enoteca was ? ”