Ford factory worker Joseph Saad, 1988. Pic: Elizabeth Gilliam, © SLV

Out out out to Craigieburn, out to the rust belt in Melbourne’s industrial north, where factories once hummed and now lie silent, tombstones to a time when men were men, when we built things, cars and appliances, where migrants could get a job without much English, where they could buy houses cheaply and lay down roots, out to blue collar Australia, the place that exists only in unreliable memory and myth now that manufacturing is dead. That, at least, is how Matt Jessop sees it.

I’m leaving my smug inner suburban haven to meet Matt in person for the first time. We met on a Facebook meme group (my pathetic bid to fight my irrelevance). He offers to take on a tour of Melbourne’s north.

So I’m driving north, past wire fences, weed thickets, straggly trees, 80kmh roads, substations, concrete culverts, drab Melbourne lighting, grey fog lifting to a grey day. I arrive in Crazyburn, as Matt dubs it, and start looking for his house. I drive past signs for 99% Visa Success Guaranteed, past ads for Prime Industrial Land, past skidmarks on quiet courts, past Good Samaritan Primary, past the childcare centres mushrooming to accommodate the baby boom, past new estates named as if they’re proper suburbs, boasting duck-filled lakes, landscaped knolls of rolling grass, the effect like the famous Windows XP wallpaper. I head to the newer estates, all roundabouts and cul de sacs, a creek lined with the surviving river red gums – those grotesquely beautiful trees, contorted white limbs, bark-clothed trunks – and arrive at a yellow-brick house with two cars in the yard. One is a Falcon, built just down the road in the now-shuttered Ford plant in Campbellfield.

Matt Jessop opens the door and shakes my hand. A blue-collar boy who hates university but who loves nothing more than debating cultural relativism with a left winger online. He wears black denim jeans, a flannel shirt, a shorn back and sides, long spikes of hair on top, like a gel-slicked porcupine. “Nice haircut,” I say. He grins. “It’s pretty scumbag isn’t it?” It’s the sort of haircut that works well either in the outer burbs, or, paired with sharp attire, in the inner city. Not that he ever goes into the centre. Why would he? $12 pints, inner city snobs, and an $80 taxi ride home. What’s in the city that’s worth that? “I just do not fit into the inner city,” he says. “People with upward inflection and asymmetrical haircuts do not like me.” I shrug. “Your haircut’s not exactly symmetrical.” Matt grins. “Let’s just say it fits into Craigieburn fine. My old man says it’s a bovver boy haircut.”

I’ve come to meet Matt because between Simpsons posting on the meme group, he kept talking about his home, Craigieburn, with a sense of mockery and mourning. “It’s home, but it’s a hole,” he’d write. He wrote again and again about the problems bedevilling the outer suburbs. “Multiculturalists in the inner cities never have to deal with the issues out here,” he wrote. The way he sees it, Melbourne’s outer burbs are already suffering from stretched infrastructure, overcrowded schools, intense competition for scarce local jobs amidst the decline of manufacturing – or hellish commutes to job-rich areas closer in. Why exacerbate this with massive immigration? Add to that the well-publicised carjackings and spikes in home invasions – many, alas, linked to a loose group of disaffected Sudanese and Islander young men – and add to that the isolation of the car-dependent outer suburbs, where you rarely meet your neighbours let alone have time to welcome newcomers. The result is a recipe for failure and fear and fracturing social fabric. That, at least, is what Matt fears. As he puts it: “With heavy industry closing, unemployment rising and an ongoing failure to integrate new communities – it will compound, I reckon.” As for Australia’s fabled egalitarianism – that was due, he argues, to the longstanding colonial shortage of labour that gave working men far greater bargaining power. It is not guaranteed.

Matt is in his late 20s. He’s Anglo. And he’s been without a job for a while. He doesn’t want to say how long. But it’s starting to get to him. Perhaps it’s why he’s angry a lot of the time. Three days before we met, he went for a job at a big logistics firm. He grudgingly admits it looks quite positive. Optimism is not his thing. He’s offered to take me on a tour of the outer suburbs, to show what he sees as a place in decline.

“Shall we go?” he asks. We hop into one of his two cars, his favourite – a mid-90s Mustang he saw at his dad’s vintage car dealer and wanted badly. But it’s been an albatross. He drives it only rarely, enough to stop the engine oil congealing. The clutch is hammy, the engine skips beats – and yet I can see why he loves it. The leather sink-into seats, satisfying acceleration, slewing round corners. He drives fast and hard from the moment we get in until his phone rings. “Oh God,” he says. “It’s HR from the job interview.” He pulls over. They want him to resend his CV – it didn’t go through. “Jesus the internet is crap out here,” he grumbles after the call ends.

Matt has that outer-burbs way of driving that I remember from growing up in Eltham. I drove the same way. He takes a straight line through empty two lane roundabouts, his hand cupping the stick, ready to shove it into fifth for the merging lane. And he drives me out past the final estates up to a lookout atop Mount Ridley where we can see the city, far away. I hadn’t realised exactly how far we are from the centre. The towers shimmers on the foggy horizon like a mirage, fully 30 kilometres away.

“We moved to our current house in 2001,” Matt says. “Back then, we were at the edge. Everything else was grassland.” Now the city stretches kilometres further past his house – with far more to come, following the artery of the Hume Highway northwards. “This is gonna be the big growth area – north and west,” Matt says. “The south-east is capping out – running up against the Dandenongs, farming land, and people’s willingness to be so far out.”

Matt points to the east. “See that road? That’s the Craigieburn Bypass. Greenies tried to block it. They’re in favour of big immigration but not in favour of building roads to deal with growth. They’re concerned more with virtue signalling to their clan than delivering positive results. And the Libs don’t care – more people means more consumers. And infrastructure costs money that they don’t like spending.” So you’d be Labor? He nods. “Conservative Labor. But I’m in an unusual place politically. I feel closest to people like Ricky Muir, Jacqui Lambie, even Bob Katter because he’s a hard protectionist.” Matt, in short, sides with the people versus the party machines, the people here versus the world out there. In the emerging divide between economic nationalists and globalists, Matt has chosen his side.

The lookout is desolate. Our tyres crunched over broken beer bottles and cigarette butts. As we drive northwards down the growth corridor, we pass a turn-out point that’s been repurposed as the local dumping ground, where people avoid the high tip fees. There’s a woman scavenging, picking over the hard rubbish, prams, BBQs, rolls of plastic, half-busted toys. We head north to Mickleham, where a new Dulux factory is being built in a new industrial estate. “That’s good news, right?” I say. But Matt is a pessimist. There’s a sense of the fall, the sense that life for him will not be as good for him as it was for his father, Drew, who is the Mayor of Hume.

Now he takes me southwards, fast, to see the vast Ford factory. It lies silent and empty. “Australia’s car industry didn’t die,” he says. “It was killed. People sneer at our heavy industries as old and parochial, but they were sophisticated industries we were doing very well. These factories saw us through World War II. Now we’re flying blind.” Matt knew lots of old timers who spent their lives making cars. It was proud work. “Some were straight off the job and into a job, which was great for integrating people. Now it’s just long commutes to wherever you can find work.” His last job was in Port Melbourne, which could take up to 90 minutes on a bad day. He sneaks a glance in the rear view mirror as the Ford factory recedes. “God, I would have loved to work there,” he says.

We drive quietly for a while. Matt’s mulling it over. “When I was younger, I was quite optimistic about Melbourne,” he says. “But as soon as I entered full time work and looked at my pay packet, I realised there was no hope of ever buying property. And then I started looking at the negative effects of our massive population growth at a time when wages are stagnant.”

We pass a half-finished mosque with a banner calling for donations, past the Sikh temple, bulbous and white, past The Palms, a large function centre attracting social media ire for hosting a function for the anti-Islam Q Society. “I bet protestors wouldn’t have come this far from Parkville before,” Matt snorts. We’re at the far north end of Sydney Road, when the tram line stops, the road widens and cars can open it up. We pass two Sikh men bending double in order to get their turbans into their lowered Commodore. “Good blokes, the Sikhs,” he says. A bored teenager makes piss-off faces at us from the bus stop. We drive past a men’s shed where old Anglos potter. Matt glances at them as we pass. “You know –the baby boomers had the most equal economy we ever had, and the most affordable housing. Now we’ve got nothing. They won all these social battles, but so what. Look at the diabolical economic disasters they handed us. I’m of the view that they inherited the world and decided to keep it.” He goes silent for a moment. “And now that the left has abandoned the working class, they’ll look for representation elsewhere, just as the US rust belt did. Ah – here we are.”

The way Matt sees it, disgruntled millennials and suddenly-poorer working class Anglos can be easily radicalised, drawn to white-power demagogues. For migrants, radicalisation can take a different shape. That’s why he’s driven us to the Hume Islamic Youth Centre in Roxburgh Park. From the outside, it looks like a concrete box sitting next to a hijab store, a Pancake Parlour and a daycare centre. Inside, it’s a place where young Muslims can go to the gym, play table tennis, socialise, pray. We park outside.  “It looks innocuous,” I say. Matt snorts. “Things can be benign but sinister.”

For in front of us is a site where extremists have been known to gather. “That’s where several kids got radicalised and went to fight for ISIS,” Matt says. Not only that – it’s where the Somali-Australian drug addict, Yacqub Khayre, prayed before he killed a Chinese-Australian man and shot police in the Brighton siege. It’s where three of four men who planned a Christmas attack on Federation Square used to come. And it’s where two Anglo converts, Jake Bilardi and Adam Dahman, passed through here before blowing themselves up in Iraq. It is, in short, a place you’d expect ASIO keeps a very close eye on.

I’m reminded of a Facebook post Matt made after the killing in Brighton. “If there was a youth centre tied to white nationalist violence, someone would have torched it by now,” he writes. And beneath that, a white outer suburban friend of his writes with dark humour: “What was he doing in Brighton? That wasn’t supposed to happen! We pay good money to live here.” Below that, a Turkish Muslim mate of his from school writes. “Put it this way. I avoid the [Hume Centre] at all costs. From personal experience, it’s their way or the highway.”

What, I ask, does Matt mean by a failure to integrate? Whose failure is it? Newcomers failing to fit in, or the people already here failing in their welcome? Matt lays it out in detail. Current Australians must provide opportunities – jobs and housing. And it is fair, he argues, that migrants are expected to be good citizens in return. “If you grew up in a middle class area with model migrants, it’s hard to understand why people out here would be sceptical of multiculturalism,” he says. “The people most in favour of mass immigration seldom have to live with the consequences.” It’s not an abstraction for him. A mate from high school lost his sister to radical Islam. She followed her husband to the short-lived ISIS Caliphate. Even if she survives, she’ll never be allowed back in. She’s made her choice. 

“Now I’ll show you the good part of multiculturalism,” he says. And we’re off, driving kilometres back to Craigieburn, past pokies-stuffed RSLs, Aussie/Asian tucker joints, past Aussie flags flying on cars and household flagpoles, past hard-luck couples with weathered faces, past concrete-box strip malls.

rabbit near highway

Melbourne’s north and west has always been the working class haven – the flat thistly volcanic plains making them perfect for factories and the workers who gave them life. My university geology professor took great pride in explaining Melbourne in such terms. “The leafy east is elevated. That means getting rid of sewage was much easier, as it flows downhill,” he told us.

Matt gestures as we pass Craigieburn station, the end of the line. “They really spared every expense here,” he says, laughing. “Buses don’t sync with trains and they’re unreliable. There’s a small carpark for this huge suburb so people park in side streets. There’s no overpass so you’ll miss your train if the boomgates are closed. I’m all for brutalist architecture, but do it right.” He permits himself a smile.

Multiculturalism’s benefits manifest in the form of a Halal Snack Pack from Buddy’s Kebabs in Craigieburn Plaza. Matt’s a HSP expert. “Look, lots of others use sausage meat. You know those cylinders where the meat all looks the same? It ain’t right. But Buddy uses real lamb and quality mozzarella.”

Buddy, an affable Turk, dishes up the latest Aussie-Islamic hybrid for me. It’s my first ever HSP. Lamb, melted cheese, a bed of chips, BBQ, garlic and chilli sauce.  It’s something else.

Matt’s tried every snack pack vendor within 20km. “This is the best,” he says, chowing down chips. “See the correct three sauces? Everything else is experimental or even haram, forbidden. Aesthetics are important too.” I raise an eyebrow.

As we tuck in, the lunch crowd arrives – a dapper Indian white-collar type, several hard-luck blokes, Anglo tradies, pokies mums.

As we drive back to his place, Matt talks of wanting to get his shooting license, to get an offroader, to get the hell out of Melbourne and live in the country. Once his partner has finished training as a nurse, they’ll leave the city behind. Melbourne is too expensive, too big. Rents are too high to warrant leaving home.

There’s no one else home on a Monday at the Jessop family home. While Matt makes us a coffee, I inspect his earlier versions captured in faded family portraits in classic 90s style. There he is, much blonder, with a hopeful goofy grin and glasses. It’s hard to reconcile with him now, the harder edge. On the fridge, there’s a Uniting Church roster and an annotated speech on volunteering in Hume that his dad’s about to give. Nearby, a photo of his foster sister – “I just call her sister” – being walked down the aisle by their dad. And out back, his mum’s greenhouse where she cultivates flowers.

Matt talks about his dad, the Mayor, with real respect. “He’s committed to public life. And a true Christian,” he says. Then he looks straight at me. “He’ll give you the positive view of multiculturalism and growth out here to counter my pessimism. Let’s go see him.”

Matt hops in his second car, a lime-green Ford, and I follow him south, following the train line down to the City of Hume’s offices in Broadmeadows. The council offices are at the centre of a revitalisation push. Gone is the rough as guts Broady of old. The new council office hub sits adjacent to a striking new library, the first ever built in the suburb. In the library foyer, there’s an inner-city style café with free wifi, where people work on their laptops under giant bulbs. Hopeful, highly qualified migrants moving into the blue collar suburbs?

It makes me remember an encounter one Sunday in working class Altona. I was there with my kids at the playground near the beach. A dapper African man in a striking blue suit pushed his daughter on the swings. And a craggy old white guy approached, a rats-tail of a beard, an old factory worker going to seed. He fronted up to the African dad. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but the stance was clear – that particular aggressive friendliness that Australian blokes specialise in.  How are you, mate? Subtext: What gives you the right to be here? This is my place. Dapper dad recoiled. He tried to edge away, but his daughter was strapped in. Nowhere else to go, so he endured it. And we Anglos all watched and did nothing until the older Anglo moves off. The dad kept pushing the swing. But this time, he’s watchful. He makes sure no one is within two metres of him. The encounter is telling. It’s the working class who are confronted by difference. It’s in their affordable suburbs that newcomers settle. Are they a threat? Are they taking jobs I should be getting? Whose place is this?

Matt and I stand in the queue at the council offices. Ahead of us, an Iraqi auto-mechanic talks with his wife about how much to pay of their rates. I glance around. There are framed pictures of the Ford plant all over the offices. History now. Nearby, more symbolism: a trio of paintings of Mount Ridley, the middle featuring a new road to the future – and all sketched in vivid colour.

We reach the front of the queue and Matt asks for his dad. We take the lift up and head to the Mayoral office, which contains a great deal of paper, a few family pictures, a computer, a blingy Signing Pen, and a man named Drew Jessop.

Mayor Drew Jessop of the City of Hume has a pleasingly round face and a salt and pepper beard with hints of red from his youth. A black suit, checked shirt, silver tie. He gives off the patrician feel – expansive, warm, a little power but not too much. Faded blue eyes, the colour of well-washed jeans. Matt sits with us and teasingly refers to his dad as Mr Mayor.

At their house in Craigieburn, politics was a dinner table regular. Drew Jessop is a Labor man, first elected to council in 1997. Matt grew up listening to plans for election campaigns and talk about infrastructure. Eventually, Matt drifted further right on social issues, and further left on economic. But his dad has stayed firm the whole time.

Drew’s area – the City of Hume – is one of Melbourne’s megadiverse regions. Around 150 nationalities speaking 120 languages have settled here. “It’s one of the most diverse areas anywhere in Australia,” he says. As mayor, Drew welcomes hundreds of people as new Australian citizens at ceremonies every month. As he stands at the podium, he looks at the crowd. There they are, some of the happiest people he’s ever seen. Grinning ear to ear. Assyrians and Filipinos, Turks and Sri Lankans, Bhutanese and Colombians, Iraqis and Congolese. “They’re delighted to be here – safe, healthy, an education for their kids, the rule of law, where the material things of life are achievable,” he says. 

And they come to Hume for the familiarity. “People cluster where their family and friends are,” he says. “Time and again I’ll speak to someone whose family has been here 30 years, and they were the vanguard who drew others from their country to settle near them.”

And what, I ask, about the response from blue-collar Anglos. Drew shrugs. “There is racism. It’s not prevalent. But it is there. Human nature being what it is, we relate to people we share common experiences with, that we’re comfortable with. If you say that’s racism when people don’t quite trust others because they haven’t experienced their particular life, then yes, it’s here. But the White Australia types – kangaroos, meat pies and Holdens – are at the extreme end and we don’t see much of that.” The mosques built in Hume have gone up without the backlash seen in Bendigo, the regional city to the north-west.

And other suspicions exist. Two thirds of Iraq’s Assyrian Christians have fled since the Americans invaded in 2003, with the rate accelerating during the ISIS years. Many ended up in Australia, in the City of Hume, living close to Iraqi Muslims. “There may be some groups who don’t trust each other, given the war and trauma they’ve seen. You can’t forget that. It may take a generation to cut through it.”

Drew Jessop is a firm believer in the power of time. It is hard, he says, for someone in their 50s like him to change their thought. But for the next generation, Iraq will be an abstraction. For the next generation, a mixed society will be normal. 

How, I ask, can you make a civic culture from hundreds of nationalities? How can the trick be done? “Good question,” Drew says. And he outlines it for me. Children are the easy part – born here, they fit in more naturally. So encourage contact between different backgrounds at school, to play sport or music together. Make sure council events – everything from music festivals to Christmas carols – are welcoming. Make efforts to bring the community together, to draw people out of their houses and into contact. And while the transition is taking place, provide familiarity – like library books in different languages.

“I had Greek friends whose mums and nonnas were never going to learn English,” Drew says. “It took a generation. And now we’ve got plenty of Italians and Greeks who love AFL just as much as Anglo-Australians.”

I glance at his son. “It sounds like you’re broadly optimistic,” I say. “But your son’s view is more pessimistic, that millennial despair. He believes that houses are unattainable, that secure careers are scarcer than ever, and that keeping up such a migration rate is a recipe for disaster.” Drew looks at his son and smiles. “Housing prices is the biggest concern for your generation, that’s right. It’s getting ridiculous. But as for jobs – there are a lot.”

In Hume, traditional manufacturing is in steep decline – but specialised high-tech manufacturing is growing strongly. There’s strong growth in logistics, warehouses, transport, service, education and food industries. And it’s the caravan building hub of Australia. The challenge, Drew says, is to match expectations with the jobs available. “A lot of employers tear their hair out because they can’t get the right young people coming through,” he says. And for older factory workers who lose their jobs, retraining in a new area is very difficult.

What has changed from Drew’s youth is the ease of getting your foot in the door. He got a job as an admin clerk at City West Water 40 years ago and worked his way up to being a manager. “That’s something your generation doesn’t have,” he says, looking at his son. “The annual intakes where you’d come straight from high school and get trained on the job and promoted over time. Now it doesn’t happen.”

Drew’s father was a fitter and turner who became a teacher in Reservoir. His hard work set up Drew for a good shot at life. “He taught me to work hard, do the right thing, be loyal by your employer and get on in life. And we did,” Drew says.

Drew is that classic pillar of the community I associate with the boomer generation. The last generation to be loyal to their employers, the last to join clubs like Rotary, the last generation to feel security was attainable. Drew was involved in the church, sat on school committees and went to Labor meetings.  One day, Drew and his wife were asked to foster a girl. They took her in and soon came to think of her as their daughter. Drew moved into working in the foster agency, and after that, a Labor friend suggested he run for council. “I had a base where I could get elected – the school, the church. People said that’s Matt’s dad. So I got elected, worked hard and I’ve won a subsequent six. I’ve been blessed. Family, work, community involvement. What a life. How lucky am I?”

Matt looks at his dad with pride. “You did alright Dad.”

Drew smiles. “Thanks. But – the issue is that during some of the biggest changes to our society as we removed protectionism, we still had high employment and high opportunity. People could easily find a job. And that meant they could integrate easily. Now we’re hitting a stumbling block. Can we keep level?”

Matt shakes his head. “Lots of people are coming in, but we – and they – won’t have as good a life as you used to.”

Drew nods. “It was all about employment. With jobs, migration didn’t overwhelm us. It was a building block.”

He pauses. “So if we talk about integration – there is pressure there. The question might be – how long can you maintain this level of immigration and not have issues at some point? Social cohesion is the big question, longer term.”

What he means is that the pace of change. “We are getting many thousands of people coming in. It’s not a problem now, but if we keep adding people who look in on themselves and don’t integrate, you could have trouble over time. And if Melbourne gets so big you wont be able to get around it, jobs will be hard to get to. I’m not a believer in growth for growth’s sake. It needs to be moderated. That’s my personal viewpoint. We could slow our growth so we can catch up with our infrastructure.”

Just as Drew is looking at his watch, Matt gets The Call and dashes from the room. When he returns, he’s all but vibrating with excitement. He waits until we’re done and then bursts with news. “Guess who got the job? I start Wednesday.” He calls his girlfriend. “Guess who got that job? How good is that? Now your partner is no longer an unemployed bum and dilettante.” I can hear her shriek of joy clearly.

I thank Drew and leave. Matt walks to his car and waves, jubilant. I watch him drive off, wondering at him. He’s a contradiction – the bloke longing for a return of the real-man blue collar jobs where you come home, hands oily, sweaty as hell, knowing that you made a real object that day. He’s the 21st century auto-didact who binges on Wikipedia and longform articles and history books, who talks about car tariffs, of Sweden’s difficulties integrating migrants, about a return to protectionism. And he’s the migration sceptic whose partner is half-Filipino, with many mates who are second-gen migrants.

When he was jobless, Matt plunged into the internet’s sea, that great time soak. Meme groups and reading – all of the reading, there for anyone with time. Some of his friends were becoming drawn to the simplicity of the populist alt-right, the re-awakening blood and soil nativist backlash against globalisation and people who aren’t white, people who could be blamed. Not Matt. But you can see, though, where his anger could be directed. What if he hadn’t got the job?  Could that sense of frustration – that he couldn’t share the quality of life his father had – fester? Who was to blame? 

I walk through Broadmeadows. The blue collar/bogan world that begat Eddie McGuire and John Ilhan, the suburb’s most famous sons has a new overlay. In the shopping centre, you can see that money has been here recently and left behind huge arches reminiscent of a cathedral. But it’s more. I can see what Drew is talking about.

A woman in a full burqa comes past with beautiful kohl-inked eyes, pushing a full trolley while her uncovered tiny daughter dances behind her. A Lebanese young dad lounging in a corner, backwards cap, his daughter bouncing on his knee. A portly African woman working on women’s nails at beauty clinic open in centre of mall. A heavily tattooed blonde Anglo security guard – her piercing eyes, striking face. She could be from the wealthy southeast were it not for the tatts running over her forearms, creeping up her neck. I walk past Ozala’s Modest Clothing, past a sign warning patrons that Long Garments Are Dangerous on Travelators – the mental image of burqas sucked into machines, ye gods. A white man in wheelchair with a thousand yard stare, a store specialising in XXL men’s clothing and tradie fluorowear, 2 Dollar Shop, Kmart, Woolies. Anglo grandparents toting youngsters while their parents work. An Indian cosmetics stall, an upmarket Greek fruit market with each fruit piled elegantly atop its own platform, and a bakery that reminds me of Breadtop, that Australian-Asian chain which began in homage to Singapore’s Breadtalk. The variety of people – all shades of white, all shades of brown, yellow, black. And often impossible to tell backgrounds. Filipino? Or Venezuelan? Which is to say – you can’t assume where on earth they or their parents came from when the Aussie accent is on your tongue, when jeans and a puffy jacket are default for the cold, and an iPhone or Samsung in the back pocket. The universal shopping centre dresscode.

Shopping centres are deeply weird – that far-offness, that airy echo coupled with the faint sound of tinny music, that sense that we’re all passing through. They feel to me like airports, anonymous places where we can be no-one. That same slow passage of air and people. I linger until the after school rush hits. Turkish girls in heavy face makeup, black eyeliner, and Asian schoolboy hijinks – running, mock-fights, horseplay, boy particles colliding. Then I realise I’m about to get engulfed by peak hour and all but run for my car.

I drive home thinking I’ve just made it. But then I get caught in a knot of traffic in Glenroy, a remnant of the old west – the staunch Labor seats whose loyalty meant they could be safely forgotten. Who’s loyal these days? I break free at last and head down Sydney Road, past the Council of Imams headquarters, past a giant balloon tethered to a drive-thru kebab joint, past ads for a Brazilian BBQ. The northward traffic is deepening. It’s 4.30pm, and the pre-peak hour panic is gripping people, that sense of trying to escape before the hordes emerge from their offices and plunge into ever-deepening traffic. The bomb of traffic is about to go off. Drivers weave, take more risk. It’s contagious, even though I’m going against the main flow. I find myself taking intersections on yellow, forcing right-turning cars to wait.

I slip down back streets, searching for good rat-runs. Ah, Melbourne. Where our Prized Individual Rights mean we can’t just ban people from using one lane of a double-lane road as parking – even if it’s shared with trams. Where our suburban explosion is impossible to contain. Where every effort to contain the city politically fails because of the enormous riches that accrue to those lucky land bankers and developers who buy just out of the city and sit tight. Where newcomers come to settle in old blue collar or new nursery suburbs. Where Anglo undercurrents swirl and eddy.

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