Shane Jacobson’s Postcode: Avondale Heights 3034
Growing up beside the Maribyrnong.
A river to fish in and canoe on, a steep street to ride skateboards and billycarts down, dirt tracks and easements to explore on our BMX bikes, and a huge backyard to kick a ball around – all of this was my playground as a boy growing up in Avondale Heights in the western suburbs of Melbourne.
Avondale Heights had everything you could need as a kid. The only thing it didn’t have was an identity. Every time I told people where I lived, I knew their next question would be “where’s that?”. I would explain that it’s about a five-minute drive from Flemington Racecourse where the Melbourne Cup is held each and every year. “Oh really… yeah, I’ve never heard of it,” was nearly always their response.
But one day I got the thrill of my life when I saw on a car window a sticker that read: “Triple MMM Rocks Avondale Heights”. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Avondale Heights was finally on the map – well, as a radio promotion on a sticker at least – but it was a start.
Only about 10 good kicks of a footy away from my house was the Maribyrnong, a river that has given my family so much pleasure, as well as its fair share of pain, over the years. When we went to the river it was pure joy – there was fishing and canoeing and also swimming and sailing.
But one of the biggest highlights was visiting the hermit who lived beside the river with too many cats to count. I always thought he was like the character Catweazle from the ’70s TV show. My mates and I would ride along the river until we neared his floating raft house, which was tied to the bank.
As we got close, we’d crawl through the long weeds and shrubs to try and get a glimpse of the mysterious hermit. It was as terrifying as it was thrilling. One of us would always trip on a string attached to empty cans on a rickety old fence. It was the hermit’s security system. As soon as he appeared from his makeshift home we would run in horror, only to try again a month or two later.
The only good memory I have of these events was paddling a boat out of the shed where it was stored and across the footy ground and through the goals.
They are great memories, but when the river came to us, it brought no joy at all. My grandmother’s house and our Sea Scout hall were flooded at least three times, and obviously it affected our neighbours as well. The only good memory I have of these events was paddling a boat out of the shed where it was stored and across the footy ground and through the goals.
I spent many a day sitting on the riverbank and staring at the water flowing past, wondering if it was on its way to somewhere else in the world or if it had come to Avondale Heights from somewhere amazing on the planet. At times, I felt like Tom Sawyer exploring the tracks along the river’s edge. I felt like I was a million miles away from any grown-ups, but the truth was I was only a few kilometres from my family home.
Avondale Heights may have been a mystery to people when I was a kid, but now I hope you’ll remember its name and, if ever it comes up in conversation, you can say, “I actually know where that is, and apparently it’s got a wonderful river running through it”.
Shane Jacobson is a Victorian actor, entertainer, author and comedian, widely known for his work in film, theatre and television.