That's the name we gave it, my colleague and I on the winding car journey from Footscray.
Footscray is the inner city compared to where I work. They have a tram there, and it's only 2 stops from the city, and if I go to visit my colleagues at the Footscray campus I feel like I'm working in the city, and can get in some shopping on the way back to the real 'burbs. The ones with massive parking lots, and more cars than pedestrians, and scary windblown train stations with no shelter and no trains.
Rather than describe the endless meanderings across a myriad of ring roads, that, as Marc Auge said, turn any place into a non-place, and that remind me so much of Paris, or Brie, that it's not funny, (actually it is very funny) maybe it is better to describe the journey by train.
Connex trains runs peripetatically out west, but somehow the random trajectory within a constructed metal box makes everything seem a bit more local, than the smooth gliding in a streamlined private freeway hugger. Maybe car rides as a passenger are too saturated with conversation to allow any other spaces to enter.
It starts at platform 5 of Flinders Street, an olde worlde jewel in Auntie Melbourne's Victorian crown. Like Lithgow, Platform 5 is one of the coldest places on earth at any time of day or year, but western line trains tend to leave from it, so that's where I wait. Werribee, Williamstown, Watergardens, Craigeburn, Upfield. All of them pass through the neo brutalist-baroque cavern (yep -it is a pastiche) of Spencer Street, and it's little brother North Melbourne. The first three cross the Maribyrnong into what is known as Melbourne's west. The Maribyrnong crossing is marked by a splendid golden statue on a lake near a temple under construction. It's a slightly more optimistic sight than the deconstruction of the Melbourne Eye in the docklands toytown.
Footscray station is an old station, and the last city stop for the Bendigo and Ballarat lines. Hence it has brick shelters on the platforms and working toilets. These are gradually being strangled by a myriad of hastily constructed platform interchanges. the first consists of a series of scaffolding straddling the station and flanking most of the streets beside it, which supports 7 foot fences and a series of sheet metal and ply ramps running up and down and around. This Buchenwaldish setting is occasionally broken by the odd electronic billboard relaying random information in bleeping orange neon. Alongside this structure, above the press and huddle and confusion of consumers running thither and yon you can catch glimpses of a series of baroque brutalist metal tubes, housing what I assume will be the new concourse, scheduled for completion around the time I reach menopause.
Now the term 'baroque brutalism' may seem a bit indulgent, but baroque was meant to evoke the calcified undulating frills on oyster shells, and I think it is the best word to describe the endless attention to surface effects of cut and sprayed metal spanning brushed aluminium and plexi-glass which reconstruct commuter spaces as profoundly discomforting, disconcerting and confusing and repellent spaces. These are not waiting spaces at all, and yet the trains are so infrequent and random that waiting is the one thing that we do in these spaces, which are Marinetti fantasies of speed and movement.
OK - so much for Footscray station. ON the watergardens line I head due west where the station decor shrinks to corrugated bus shelters on asphalt platforms, flanked by a speaker and a ticket machine. There's nothing baroque about this brutalism. The train stations are no-where hell zones, where waiting customers are scorched by the sun, and whipped by the wind. West and middle footscray feature weatherboard worker cottages from the early 20th century. There are also massive open areas populated by powerlines or flour mills and other factories.It's after Sunshine that things start to look a bit weird. Sunshine has a hospital and a couple of big malls and a cinema complex. There's also a commuter stream of junkies between Footscray and Sunshine, and once I heard a conversation between 2 blokes that sounded like a dialogue from "Dead Calm". I looked away and decided I was hallucinating from too much Muesli.
The first few stations west of Sunshine seem to attract guys in trakkies, carrying plastic bags with UDL's in them, at 9 oclock in the morning. It's western melbourne's Heidelberg west. The train station at Furlong Street has a bottlo, a pharmacy and a concentration of some of the ugliest men on the planet, who are perpetually exposing excessive amounts of flesh and frightening facial hair. From here the houses are exclusively brick veneer and younger than me. At St. Albans, things improve a bit. The ugly men drive cars (I saw an Elvis impersonator in an old statesman), and LOTS of people of every different race, age and class are walking around. there are lots of shops, and a steady stream south bast the bingo hall to the university campus where I work. There are also a couple of parks, some schools, and even a community garden. It's nice.
Then things get weird. It is possible to get to Sydenham by train, but, like Las Vegas, it is best appreciated by car. If you do cathc a train, you get it to a station named after the massive shopping mall located there. Watergardens could only have been constructed in a drought stricken city and is flanked by a series of drive through fast food outlets, and the crowning glory of the LUXOR function centre, which is a neon lit palm tree and obelisk studded cladded concrete tribute to Egypt. Just down from the Luxor, someone has build a miniature version of the Hagia Sophia next to the Jehovas Witness Kingdom Hall. - You can see it from the train.I'm still not quite sure how to describe what Sydenham is. It's a sudden burst of rather abject opulence jammed up next to some really poor areas. Maybe it looks more start than the differences in the East because there are less trees, and more roads, and the roads reveal the garish architexture and the security gates around the clusters of idenitikit McMansions. They only have gated communities here. It's the wild west in a totally different sense. the houses are cut by massive roads. Children HAVE to be driven to school, to be driven acroos the road, even! It could have been so easy to make this pedestrian friendly, to put in bike paths, but in the past 5, 2, 1, years when this has and is being erected, it's been a cash fueled, car driven planning system. It's a nightmare.
Further south, things just get freakier. Half of Caroline Springs isn't even on Google Maps. Massive villas are springing up overnight in an antipodean replica of Orange County, and Tuscany, and Miami, and the town centre is a replica of the Docklands toytown. they were still peeling the labels of the windows of the Mercure hotel where we had a convention to attend. There is massive amounts of money and development occuring at a breathtaking place, and none of it has any sense of environmental sustainablity or community health. It is the pure anome of greed, a continuous denial of presence and place into the hyperreal imaginary of non-space.
And yet, I'm sure within this rendered concrete kleenwipe consumer circuit, there are some spaces of rupture and dissonance, as well as the many large spaces of contradiction rubbing up against each other. It's just that between the big roads, the big houses, the big malls and big houses there isn't a lot of space for small detours, fledgeling fantasies and awkward moments.