Ivanhoe and Heidelberg

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A home from The Boulevard in Ivanhoe decorated in christmas lights

In a whitewashed art deco home with classical columns across the front veranda, Perry Labiris spends three or four days each year setting up Christmas decorations.

On any given night before 25 December, up to 10,000 people wander past to admire Perry’s decorations and those of dozens of neighbours. There are singing mechanical Santas, chains of fairy lights, reindeer and sleighs on chimneys, strategically placed gnomes, and faux gifts on lawns and in trees.

Around 55 homes along The Boulevard in Ivanhoe participate in a ritual of decoration that has been going on in this usually quiet north-eastern suburb for more than 50 years. The Boulevard Christmas lights are switched on about 10 days before Christmas and can be viewed from about 8-11pm.

But at any other time of the year, Ivanhoe and neighbouring Eaglemont are still easy on the eye. Their hallmark is a riverside location and an architectural heritage that can blend Tudor style, Californian bungalows and art deco in one street.

A large sculpture displayed in Eaglemont

Eaglemont in particular has many notable houses and mansions along its curving streets and cul-de-sacs, with private parks shared among residences.

It bears the mark of several famous characters such as architect and town planner Walter Burley Griffin, garden designer Edna Walling and developer Albert Jennings (AV) Jennings, who built one of his first estates there. Melbourne Architours conducts historic walks of Eaglemont. It’s also worth visiting the quaint village-like shops.

But the likes of Griffin and Walling were following earlier great artists to the area, because it is here that the Heidelberg School of Art thrived. Artists such as Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin, Tom Roberts, Walter Withers and Charles Conder painted their famous landscapes in the open and their work is considered the first to accurately depict the Australian bush.

Their art can be seen in galleries, such as the National Gallery of Victoria, but there is also a 40km Heidelberg School Artists Trail that stretches from the Ivanhoe area to the Yarra Valley.

The biggest concentration of sights is found in streets and parkland and along the Yarra Flats where the Main Yarra Trail is also a favourite with cyclists. Search online for Heidelberg Artists’ Trail for more information.

Artwork on display at the Heide Museum of Modern Art

This tradition of art continues to thrive just over the river at the Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen. John and Sunday Reed who practised a self-sufficient lifestyle and nurtured Australian artists including Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker, founded Heide in 1934. Heide has an exhibition about the Reeds that runs until April next year.

A visit to Heide isn’t complete without a stroll in the gardens or adjacent bush-like Banksia Park that is set up with barbecues and also has an off-leash dog enclosure.

There is no shortage of parks in Ivanhoe, many along the Yarra River, as well as the reclaimed 33ha Darebin Parklands. Once a quarry and a tip site, the Parklands has walking and cycling trails, picnic areas, a duck pond and a junior ranger club. Sue Course is regarded as the ‘mother of the park’. She initiated efforts to save it in 1973 and then worked tirelessly on its preservation and development for the next 37 years.

“It was overrun with weeds,” she says. “There were cars dumped in the creek and lots of rubbish. Then the Board of Works brought in bulldozers to fell the remaining trees. This would have turned it into nothing more than a drain.”

Sue and a friend contacted the media and politicians and mustered community support to save the park.

A restaurant in Upper Heidelberg Road

This oasis of trickling creek water and birdsong is just minutes from Ivanhoe’s main shopping strip in Upper Heidelberg Rd where the 1937 art deco Town Hall, with its iconic clock tower dominates at one end.

The strip forms the backbone of Ivanhoe and impresses with clothing boutiques and shops that range from delicatessens, to florists, booksellers, toy shops and Ivanhoe Cakes, which has been serving treats such as its custard tarts since 1932.

Don’t miss the delights at gourmet store Tutto Italiano. Real-fruit gelato, minestrone and artisan pasta are all made on the premises. You can eat there or take away.

Wood-fired arrabbiata pizza from Pizzami (209 Upper Heidelberg Rd), palak paneer at Cafe Saffron (#238) and beef pho at newcomer Nha Trang (4 Westley Ave) all contribute to the culinary variety.

Try Cafe Tre Fontane (218 Upper Heidelberg Rd) for a truly Italian atmosphere and some homemade Sicilian donuts, or go to North Ivanhoe where the constantly busy Lip Cafe (226 Waterdale Rd) brings a touch of inner-city aesthetic to the suburbs with freshly brewed chai and blackboard specials such as Vietnamese beef salad.

There’s a wine bar in Upper Heidelberg Rd, with live music at times. They don’t serve meals at the Vino Central (#211) and you’re encouraged to bring your own food from any of Ivanhoe’s eateries. With many food options, parks and art, it’s no wonder that Ivanhoe residents tend to stay for decades.

A chef tosses a pizza in Ivanhoe

Keith Oldmeadow, from Miles Real Estate, says: “It is the greenery, the walks, the birds and the trees that people like. And Ivanhoe doesn’t have that much traffic.” Except at Christmas.

Back at The Boulevard, Perry Labiris considers a question about being gridlocked in his home by the crowds and cars.

“We can’t even order in a pizza, it’s true,” he says. “But that’s OK, I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Local tip: The Hatch Contemporary Arts Space at 14 Ivanhoe Pde is a community gallery that hosts some exemplary exhibitions.

Local tip: If heading to the Christmas lights in Ivanhoe, time your visit with the free carols by candlelight. Visit banyule.vic.gov.au for details.

Written by Robert Upe, Photos Ashleigh Wong
October 01, 2015