Melbourne Retrospectives

Commutes of my youth

When I were a lad, my sister and I walked to primary school with our friends — at least in the upper part of primary school; I don’t recall the first few years; I assume my mum walked with us, though she’s said a friend in the same block used to occasionally drive us. But by about grade 4 we were walking. We used to meet up with Stuart, Lisa and Tracy from the next street, and Merlin, and sometimes also Raoul and Jeremy from a few streets away, and all walk up to Ripponlea Primary. I’ve just checked a journey planner and it says this is 1.6 km; about a mile.

There were two main roads to cross, one with no convenient lights (but not really heavy traffic), and the other with a lollipop person. But it never snowed, and we didn’t have to wear old sacks.

A few times we tried catching the Hotham Street bus (then the 602; now the 216/219) instead. I recall one time my sister and I missed our stop, and I think it was her (or maybe it was me) that started crying until the bus driver stopped the bus and let us off. The bus trip was only three stops, so it probably wasn’t worth the fare, thus most of the time we walked.

Midway through grade 6 (1982) we moved to Elwood, close to the beach. The trip to school was longer, about double. While the New Street/Hotham Street bus would have been the logical way, instead we mostly caught the 600 to St Kilda, then caught the tram from there. I assume it was so we could leave the house with my mum, who also caught the bus to St Kilda Station then the train into work in the city.

High school at Ardoch (now defunct, it was in Dandenong Road, Windsor) the following year meant another change. Although once again the Hotham Street bus would have been the logical way, again it was the 600 bus to St Kilda. Then either the 79 tram or 246 bus, up to Dandenong Road, then another tram. It seems totally illogical now that I’d have wasted all that time changing from one service to another, but there must have been some logic behind it. Maybe the new Travelcards had made it so easy to make multi-modal trips that I was determined to do so. Maybe I just enjoyed riding on trams more than buses. Or maybe I just didn’t want to walk through Elsternwick Park. Probably I was going part of the way with my sister, who was in primary school for one year after me; that was probably it, as now I think about it, I sometimes went home the direct way.

If going via St Kilda, on the way home there was a place, a little cafe I think, on the corner of Barkly Street and Carlisle Street where I’d wait for the bus, that had a Galaga machine, into which my spare 20 cent coins would go. Often at the stop a blind man would wait too, always holding up to his ear a little device that may have been a radio, but also told him the time. He used to sway from side to side, a slightly manic grin on his face. Some of the other schoolkids travelling around used to mock him, which seemed a bit cruel to me.

While living in Elwood I’d also zoom around on my shiny new bicycle (the one finally stolen in 1995), visiting friends, going up and down beach bike path, and sometimes riding all the way up to the Commonwealth Bank in Elsternwick to take money out of the new-fangled ATM for my mum. At the time it was the only ATM for miles around.

We were still living in Elwood when I switched schools to Melbourne High. The trip became a walk to the 246 bus on Glenhuntly Road, a quick trip up to Elsternwick station (why didn’t I just walk to the station? Inherent laziness?) then the train from there to South Yarra. Sometimes I’d meet Konrad on the train at Ripponlea and we’d swap notes about the latest Commodore 64 games.

Coming home there’d be the occasional food fight between the platform 2 kids and those on platforms 1 and 4. I’d watch these from the far end of the platform, given I was wanting the back of the train for alighting at Elsternwick. On hot days we’d hope for an air-conditioned train; they were pretty scarce at the time.

Then we moved into Elsternwick itself, and the trip became much easier. I got a parttime job at Hattams, which was about a minute’s walk away from our front door. The flat we lived in was above a shop on Glenhuntly Road, which was great apart from the faulty shop burglar alarms that would periodically go off at night. There was also an elderly Irish brother and sister living next door. The sister would periodically get drunk and also go off at night.

From there my sister was going to school by tram, and used to talk of “tram hopping” — jumping ahead from tram to tram on the way home as they sat in a bunch at the traffic lights, to try and get on board the one you’d missed.

Then we moved to Murrumbeena, right next to the railway line. Gradually we got used to the noise of the trains (apart from freight trains which would drown out the TV), and it was just a short walk to the station to catch the train. By that point I was in year 11, and a few of us would congregate in the back of the 7:36 from Oakleigh every morning. The trip to my parttime job in Elsternwick took me onto the 67 tram. If I was lucky, finishing at 12:30 on a Saturday I could just make it home by 1pm to watch Doctor Who.

Uni in Caulfield made it a quick easy trip, using a Rail+2 if I wanted. It got harder and more expensive when we moved to Hampton (the final move of many). A walk up the hill or a bus ride to Moorabbin, then a two-zone train trip. Austudy funds had kicked in by then, which took the edge off it, but it still narks me a bit that that trip of six stations was so expensive.

There was actually a point to all this rambling when I started writing it.

As children grow up, there’s a point at which they start to roam around on their own. It seems to have got later with the current generation. It certainly seems these days that more parents drive their kids to school… because the traffic is worse these days because more parents drive their kids to school.

My kids haven’t yet done much getting around on their own, as unfortunately they live way too far to walk to school. And as I’ve mentioned before, it’s a long hard slog on PT. But with Isaac going into high school next year (it’ll be a 15 minute walk) it’s about time for them to start exploring.

All part of growing up, and becoming independent.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

12 replies on “Commutes of my youth”

My older child was still only 11 when we let her catch the Met bus home from school (600 along New St) by herself. Most of our friends reported us to Dept of Human Services for being such irresponsible parents. She does say that she sees some “interesting” people on the bus…
PS I live in Hampton, near New St – where abouts did you live?

I walked to school from year 1, the first few months with Mum I suppose and then later alone. It was only about six blocks, in a straight line. About halfway lived a relative whose place I could go to if I needed help.

From about year 4 (in another town) I rode my bike, or walked if there was time; it was probably only 4 or 5 blocks there to the primary and high schools respectively. It was close enough that I could come home for lunch most of the time. “The Shops” were further away so we’d drive there, so that the ice cream wouldn’t melt on the way home.

I remember walking to shhool when I was 5 and 6 years old by myself, sometimes with friend. This was in 1973-1974 in Reading (pronounced red-ing) Pennsylvania,USA, about 60 miles from Philadelphia, PA. It was defenetly safer during this time. I had to be home when it was dark enough for the street light to come on.

Totally unrelated but:
By fluke I was on the IKEA website and saw that the Jerker desk is on sale for $149 ($100 off) until 1st April – I remember mention of it on your blog some time ago.

You worked at Hattams? My Dad worked at Hattams in the late 60s-early 70s as he was studying Vet Science! Was it as hokey and eccentric as he describes it by the time you worked there? Dad alleges that he worked with a boy who was fired for making a sale sign advertising “Men’s Bowels Half-Price” and always finishes the story with a little moral tale about the importance of spelling to one’s life. But as my Dad is the world’s worst purveyor of urban legends, I wouldn’t necessarily believe it.

Kathy, yeah I worked there from the late 80s to the early 90s. It was a bit hokey, yes, though trying to pull itself along with the times, in terms of the clothes they sold. Mind you, behind a bunch of jackets I once found a 1975 calendar stuck to the wall.

There are some more recent pictures of the Elsternwick shop here (on a web site celebrating cash railways).

Like flerdle, I walked to school on my own (with or without my sister) pretty much from day 1. We lived in what was then an outer suburb of Perth, a whole 12km from the city centre, and there was a section of bush between our house and school. I tended to dawdle through – playing footy with honky nuts, chasing lizards and running like the clappers when I saw a snake.

I had a couple of changes of school but always walked or rode – public transport was (and still is) appalling.

The takeaway joint on the corner Barkly St was where the street lasses used to ‘take refreshment’ or hide from the cops. The thought of them mixing it with school boys amuses me. In the late eighties, they moved down to the original Greasy Joes at the corner of Ackland and Carlisle.

Sometimes tram hoppers go backwards. They jump from one tram to get the front tram, it takes off, the driver of the second tram takes off and they miss that too, the one they were originally on. Hopefully there will be another behind.

Andrew, I don’t remember anybody at all usually being in that takeaway. Maybe 3:30pm wasn’t a break time for the girls.

When my sister tram-hopped, it was the 80s and St Kilda Road was full of W class trams, mostly without automatic doors, so I guess she was able to jump back on as the original tram started moving if she missed the one in front.

I remember those train trips to MHS quite well. In the morning there were always tons of people on the train. In the afternoon, half of MHS would stand on the platforms and wait till some customer tried to walk into “Foxy’s” and which point they would shout “Oy!” Which reminded me of the last school newsletter of our final year, which included an ad for the previously mentioned establishment – the whole thing having been forged by some enterprising students.
Getting back to the commute, it would be a shame not to mention the fine smell of yeast that we got to smell every day on the way to school thanks to the factory that was just up the street from school – I wonder if it is still there or if the land has been turned into apartments.

My older brother, Glenn from the street behind us and I walked to school by ourselves from Grade 2 onwards. It was a straight walk of about 1.2km along the side of a well used road. When we turned 10, we got to ride our bikes, which mean’t that I had to walk by myself for 18 months until I turned 10. The road led straight to school, so sometimes friends who were getting driven to school would get their mums to drop them off so they could walk the last few hundred meters with us.

Sometimes we took a shortcut coming home through the local sawmill. The blokes would wave at us as we walked by but we had to watch out for forklifts and patches of whitehot ash (from burning unused timber). Once or twice we stopped at the local car wreckers to see what bits we could pinch, but after getting chased a few times by the big black guard dogs, we stopped. The sawmill and car yard were great places to search for glass softdrink bottles that we’d return to the local factory for 5c each. Just finding two bottles a week was enough to get us a small white paper bag full of lollies from the local corner shop.

There was a large vacant land with grass about 2 meters tall that was honeycombed with tracks and little forts made from roofing iron and milk bottle crates. A large group of us would stop here almost daily and the more daring would pull out a cigarette that they’d pinched from their dad and share it around.

Whichever way we walked, we’d always stop and put our ear to the train tracks to see if there were any trains coming. If a train was approaching, then we’d put some of the ballast on the tracks as it made nice sparks when the train wheels ran over it (we did get a talking to by the cops once for doing this).

I too lament that slmost all of the students in my daughters grade three class are driven to scholl, even though many live within easy walking distance of the school. By choice, we don’t own a car, so my wife walks her (and sometimes neighbours kids too) to and from school every day.


I think for awhile there (sometime after discovering boys in year 7), catching PT around Melbourne to get to school was the highlight of my day! Mum and me moved all over Melbourne, but I continued to go to school in Hawthorn which meant various train and tram trips. I actually had a friend who lived in Elsternwick and whilst we briefly lived in Moreland I would get transport all the way to Balaclava Station so that we could get the 69 tram to school together. Craziness. I don’t think my mum even knew that?!!!

I hate the fact that so many people are driving their kids to school…but I guess the price of real estate is a factor too? Like not everyone can live around the corner from their chosen school and not all PT is convenient?

….or is that we are just all too fat and lazy….

Comments are closed.