What are Melbourne Inner West Suburbs Like?

Melbourne is a sprawling city. It is also a very unaffordable city to buy if you ask me. Not unless you are earning $100,000 a year! The median property price in Melbourne is almost half a million in and around the city! Even the rent is not cheap in Melbourne. It can range anywhere from $350 to $450 per week for a tiny one bedroom apartment, or $450 to over $600 for a two bedrooms aparmtents depending on locations, streets and suburbs. Suburbs in the inner city fringe in northeast, east and southeast of Melbourne are popular and expensive. I was told by one of my colleague a couple of weeks ago that inner west of Melbourne is still affordable to purchase, and the rent is much lower. I should take a look.

My first inner west suburb is Footscray. You may asked why in the hell did I go there?! It is like a wild, wild west of a lower to middle working class suburb. I knew it was going to be different and had little expectation. It reminded me of the old Redfern in Sydney – rough, dirty and filthy streets, unkept buildings which can do with a coat of paint badly. I even came across a dried up vomit on the sidewalk. It was disgusting! But, if you can look beyond all that, you will find one of the most affordable shopping streets in an inner city suburb of Melbourne. There are several Vietnamese shops, restaurants, supermarkets and the very popular Footscray Market. If I live in the area, I will shop at Footscray Market every week. I can easily save ten to hundred dollars of grocery bill a month.

The most interesting building structure in Footscray is the overhead pedestrian bridge connecting to the train station’s platforms.

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Directly across the station is Footscray Market. An ordinary and uninteresting building. Vastly different from Victoria Market, South Melbourne Market and Prahran Market. But, inside is interesting. Fresh produces – vegetables, fruits, meats and seafoods. Cheap! Cheap! Cheap! Where else can you find a bunch of fresh spring onions for only 99cents!!! Madness! It cost me $3-$4 to buy at the supermarket.

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and,…where else can you buy a “pig face”… I mean pig head?! What would you cook with a pig head??

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…I can understand if it is fish head. And, they have plenty of fish heads here! Yumm..lots of good Penang style curry fish head.

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…everything here is so cheap. Blue swimmer crabs, octopus, squids…gosh, the list goes on!

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After a self guided tour of the fresh produce market, which I was thrilled and impressed and wonder why can’t the other markets offer great values like this market. I guess living in a more affluent suburbs come with a cost. A hefty cost.

I wandered outside to the main street – Barkly Street – where the shops and restaurants are mostly Vietnamese. A smaller scale than the famous Richmond’s Victoria Street. At one end of the street, there are new apartment buildings. I had a look at one of the unit. The asking price for a ground floor two bedroom was $399,000! It was reduced from $430,000. There were two other units on the higher floor asking over $460,000! I was shocked at the asking price. The agent told me that Footscray is slowly changing with the less “desirables” moving out further west due to higher cost of living. There are more developments being planned but have not taken off due to a slowdown in the market and the area.

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Not all streets are tired and rundown. Barkly Street can do with a bit of work. One of the art deco building, The Royal Hotel, has been redeveloped as an apartment living. There is potential.

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One of the street off Barkly Street – the Nicholson Street has a new apartment building with a small shopping centre and a large Vietnamese produce market across the road. The street is tree lined with big federation looking houses.

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While I was walking along Barkly Street, I saw a pho restaurant called “Hung Vuong”. I wonder if this is the same as my favourite pho restaurant at Richmond – “Hung Vuong 2”.

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Being a die hard “pho” fan, I had to have a bowl of pho at this pho restaurant. The inside was spacious and almost modern with a big TV screen and standard board menu. I ordered a medium size pho with beef and beef balls for $9. It was 50 cents more expensive than the Richmond’s Hung Vuong 2. I later found out that HV2 was previously owned by his cousin.

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The pho’s broth was a bit richer and darker at HV compared to HV2. I still prefer my pho at HV2, which was slightly more delicate in flavour and not as sweet and salty as HV. After my pho lunch, I caught a train to Yarraville. The only problem was I caught a wrong train! That stupid platform staff told me to take the next train at Platform 2. Instead, it was going west! I knew immediately that I was on a wrong train and got off at the next station – Middle Footscray. I was the only person who got off at the station, and the only person left standing there! Out in the wild, wild west! Shit! Shit! Shite!!! What was I going to do???!!! When will the next train arrive? No staff, no one at Middle Footscray station! Luckily I had my iPhone. I clicked on Google Map. Blink Blink Blink in a blue dot. That was me! No need to panic. I used Google Map as a guide and guided myself out of the station, headed south on Victoria Street towards Yarraville.

In a way, I was glad I got onto a wrong train and had to walk. I saw more things. Mind you. It was not comfortable walking in a pair of thongs. I already had a V-shaped tanning line on both my foot.

There are groovy, interesting and colourful little shops and cafes along Victoria Street in the tiny suburb of Seddon. What a difference – this tiny Seddon looks quaint, neat and tidy compare to the neighbouring Footscray. More interesting shops as I turned west on Charles Street and then south on Gamon Street towards Yarraville. It was a lovely area, quiet and layback. I guess this part has been gentrified years ago and probably quite expensive now.

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Few people told me that Yarraville is nice. Nice. What do they mean? I had to see for myself. I have also heard from my colleague that there is a nice art deco theatre, “Sun”. . So, with lots of anticipation I was looking forward to see what is so nice about Yarraville.

I reached the residential side of Yarraville train station. There was an apartment block behind what I would guess is a heritage listed facade of an old “St Georges Theatre” covered with graffiti. There was an auction in progress. I stood and watched. There were only 2 bidders. Started at $420,000 with another bid at $430,000 which was later passed in. It was subdued.

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Finally, I reached the main attraction of Yarraville village – a little enclave of cafes and Sun theatre, with part of the street closed with an artificial green lawn, deck chairs and umbrellas for an atmospheric garden feel. I wonder where are all the “beach sands” and sand castles for kids??

Now I understand why Yarraville is “nice”. It has a small village feel to it. Yet it is only a few kilometres from the hussle and bustle of Melbourne city. Yarraville is slow and set back in time. It feels peaceful and relax, unlike the other inner city suburbs of Melbourne which are overly crowded, busy and noisy. And, what is Yarraville without going to the Sun theatre. I went in to see “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”. Nice and comforable seats. Great show and great theatre. But, I still prefer the more intimate and personable cinema of North Hobart’s The State Cinema.

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Update to post this morning, 5th Feb because of an article I just read in The Age Magazine. Great timing as I read with interest. The divides of Yarra River between the South and North sides inner suburbs of Greater Melbourne. The argument about which sides is better made me laugh.

Update to this post dated 11 April 2017. 5 years and 2 months later, ltitle did I expect anyone to be so passionate and boisterous as “Angie” who has posted her comment in a fiery defence of Footscray on 17 September 2016. If she had read my original post on Footscray carefully, my view on Footscray in 2012 (4 years ago) has been a personal view and unbiased as someone who has visited the suburb for the first time. It was never meant to offend anyone, who is as passionate as Angie, a local and a real estate agent.

“Hayleyshayeayley” with a posted comment on 10 April 2017 has a more constructive views on the inner western suburb of Footscray, and in every way I do agree with the posted comment.

Places do change over time. In this case, Footscray is going through a gentrification because of its proximity to Melbourne CBD. Thanks to the Maribyrnong City Council, the town square and several streets are being beautified with new pavements, trees and plants. The place is looking better than 5 years ago.  There is new street arts on wall facade.  There is even a new ‘Saigon Welcome Arch” into the Little Saigon market precinct. Unfortunately the LSM (Little Saigon Market) had a massive fire leading up to last year Christmas 2016. The market had to shutdown, which is a sad news for all the Vietnamese traders in the centre. I feel for them. They would have lost a lot.

There are several new trendy eateries opened up in the past couple of years with more in recent times. They are non-traditional Vietnamese eating places, which is slowly changing the streetscape of the Main Street and some obscured side streets. Locals called them hipsters. Some of these places have been vandalised, including smashed windows at its shopfront. I guess there are some who fear the unknown and the changes that are going through Footscray.

I still go to Footscray every now and then. And have a bowl of pho at my favourite Sunday joint – the “Pho Hung Voung 2”. However, it is changing rapidly in the past 2 years. There are more westerners moving into this suburb with new choices and  massive new apartments fronting the Maribyrnong river within 5 minutes walk to the train station. This will definitely change the demographic of the people over time. Some eating place the price has gone up by a tiny notch – for example, my usual bowl of pho has gone up to $11 from $9 for a small bowl. Fortunately the serving size  and quality is still the same.

But if you ask me, Hopkin Street’s buildings facade still look the same except a few new non-discrete shop signs of new hipster’s cafes. Footscray is not the same without the ethnicity of a true sight, sound and scent of the Little Saigon Market. This is deeply missed by a lot of the Vietnamese locals, including non-local like myself who drives there to shop almost every Sunday until the market was destroyed by the fateful fire.

I hope if a reader happens to stumble on this post in the next few years will read this constructively and remember that places do change over time.

 

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About Victor

I live in Melbourne. Blogging as a pleasure. Sharing my thoughts, mostly on food and places I find interesting. I am on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Page which you can follow by clicking on the link on my blog page.
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10 Responses to What are Melbourne Inner West Suburbs Like?

  1. Shirley says:

    Next time, if you get off at the wrong stop, just cross over to the other platform and catch the train back the other way to where you got on. There are also maps and time tables at the train stations to tell you when the next train will come and where it will go. There’s also an info speaker box, where if you press the green button it will tell you when the next train is and how long to wait. Unless of course that box is not working. I’ve heard Seddon is very good for cafes and brunch spots, kind of Sydney Rd or Brunswick St.

    • Victor says:

      Hi Shirley, …I saw a guy pressing the Info Speaker box as I was waiting at Yarraville station for train back to Flinders. I didn’t know it was infor box. Thought it was for emergency ie panic button. I am still getting use to my Myki card. Amateurish train commuter that’s me. LOL.

  2. Emily says:

    Hi Victor, great post and lots of nice photos to boot. I’d do a quick whizz by this place if I were visiting Melbourne just to have a quick look, not to hang around.

  3. Tom says:

    Hi there,
    Thanks for all the info on these different neighborhoods. I’m from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and I’m considering moving to Melbourne to give my kids a different cultural experience. I did notice, however, that housing prices are steep.
    What should I do considering we are used to all the urban conveniences Rio has to offer us and we don’t have a small-town mentality?
    Cheers,
    Tom

  4. Angie says:

    I’m a female real estate agent & have owned property in West Footscray since 2007. I think maybe you need to expand your horizons a little if Footscray scares you – 15 years ago maybe, but now it’s safer than walking through the CBD.

    I would LOVE to come to your home & see what it’s like, as you obviously have as much taste as you do manners.

    • Victor says:

      It is interesting that you are taking such a defensive tone in your comment. The article was posted in early 2012, which was 4 years ago. It was only an observation at the time based on what I have seen. Obviously time has changed. Although I don’t live there, I always like Footscray from the moment I have been there because it is an interesting place. I have lived in city like Newtown in Sydney before it became gentrified. I am no stranger to places where there is a mix of ethnicities and diversity in cultural background. I am definitely not a clinical freak and find grungy places more interesting than a streak cleaned streets.

      I have been going to Footscray almost every Sunday to do my grocery at LSM until it was destroyed by the fire and eat at my all time favourite pho place at PHV2. And year after year in the last 5 years I have seen Footscray being cleaned up. Whether it is good or bad depends on an individual view. But of course you are an expert in real estate who owns property in W.Footscray. I am sure you will say it is for the “best” and it is probably true. Does it mean coming at an expense of pushing out the less fortunate of the new Footscray?

  5. toodlepip says:

    footscray? smelly filthy scary dump.

  6. I have to agree with Angie. Footscray is up and coming, still a bit dodgy in parts but its really not so bad. I wouldn’t say it’s “family friendly”, but it’s becoming trendy to young students and professionals. I’ve also lived in Prahran, which is known as a upmarket, pricy area. I can’t say that Footscray was anymore “scary” than Prahran. Especially since revolver nightclub (a drug fuled 24/7 nightclub) is up on the street in Prahran. Druggies were everywhere at night. But does it have a bad rep like Footscray? Nup.

    If you want to live somewhere truely “safe” you probably need to leave the inner city suburbs all together. That’s really the reality of most cities.

    • Victor says:

      Thanks for your comment. I am amazed how this post has attracted new comments after I have initially posted it, which was 5 years ago. I don’t disagree with your comment and that Footscray is up and coming. My initial observation on Footscray was 5 years ago. Obviously places do change over time with new developments and money pouring in and new breed of people moving in. Footscray is no exception. As such, I had to update my post with further comments to reflect my current observation. I know what you mean about Prahran. Fortunately Footscray does not have the nightclub scenes with all the over intoxicated drunks walking the street.

      Let me know if you agree with my assessment of the today’s Footscray 5 years later. “Angie” may still have a different view as she is a local and a real estate agent. 🙂

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