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Death by a thousand yuppies

  • 25 November 2011

For the best years of my life, I have lived and worked in and around Coburg, a shabby, multi-cultural suburb on the north side of Melbourne.

My first job here, at 14, was 'spruiking' — commanding shoppers through a loudspeaker to buy discounted nappies — out the front of Sam's Baby World, for $10 an hour. At the time, I thought this was being paid handsomely. I now know it was not. I was being had by my 'It'll be character building' parents, and by Sam, the nice man I punched at karate under the instruction of Sensei Guido.

Spruiking is a job for out-of-work performers who are also adults, and normally pays over $40 an hour — as if that is enough to assuage the humiliation of repeating inane calls to consumerism ('Come in! Have a look around! Get yourself a bargain!'), and earning the wrath of shoppers.

Such is Coburg. At least I wasn't getting paid $5 an hour, as was my 12-year-old brother down at the sweatshop. I mean bakery.

Until a few years ago, there was graffiti on a wall by Coburg train station that said: 'R.I.P. Tupac. Your soul lies with us in Coburg.'

Which pretty much sums up the essence of my heartland. That's not to say there are drive-by shootings or gang wars (well, not many). It's no gangster paradise; it's actually quite nice. But there is real social inequity here, measured with a kind of local humour and playfulness that is refreshing.

The graffiti no longer exists — no matter how heartwarming, all graffiti is temporal. But along with its absence, I have noticed the beginnings of my civilisation's decline. Pubs with boutique beer are creeping their way north. Day-old bread at the café where the yummy mummies drink lattes is $4. Gentrification. The cycle of life.

I want to save Coburg from its fate, but I should first register my own complicity. Although I adore Coburg's idiosyncrasies, I am limited in my capacity to adequately contribute to them. It's rare for me to shout obscenities on the tram at random, or point umbrellas at people and sing them ditties. I am not a charming fruitier who spurns health and safety regulations by smoking inside his store.

Also, I am in the problematic position