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Docklander - February 2017

31 Jan 2017

Docklander - February 2017 Image

30 years later, Jaison returns to Docklands

By Shane Scanlan

There are not many Docklanders who can describe living here in the mid-1980s. Jaison Hoernel was a schoolboy when he lived here on his parents’ boat and has very mixed memories of the experience.

On the one hand, it was pure adventure: Rowing upstream to see Moomba; climbing into the frames of the Yarra’s bridges; walking up past Gordon House, the Painters and Dockers headquarters up to Flinders St to catch a tram to school.

“Sometimes I’d go (to school), sometimes I wouldn’t,” Mr Hoernel laughed.

On the other hand, there was the raw experience of his parents’ separation which ended with his mother travelling north for further sailing adventures and his father sailing across two oceans back to New York.

Jaison stayed behind (he thinks because of a relationship with a girl, but can’t exactly remember) and is now the CEO of Docklands-based social enterprise Good Cycles.

His father brought his young family to Melbourne in 1978. Armed with a John Hopkins University doctorate, he taught Latin American history at LaTrobe University.

But the classroom was not a good fit for a dreamer like Bob Hoernel. His self-published book Intuition: An Aquarian Adventure reveals an independent soul – perhaps reflective of the peacenik generation.

On the collection of boats at South Wharf, Mr Hoernel senior wrote: “Their premature launching often resulted from having been served with an eviction notice. South Wharf became a sort of sanctuary, a last resort, for those builders who remained determined. We paid only a pepper-corn rent for mooring, but had very insecure tenure. Looking back, there were too many broken dreams, broken marriages, broken hearts and broken people.”

The semi-official title for the collective was the Cruising Boat Owners’ Association. Less formal is Jaison’s recollection of a bunch of fiercely independent squatters intent on getting their boats ship-shape so they could sail the world’s oceans for the rest of their days. “Very few boats ever made it out into the open water,” he said.

Jaison spent his Balwyn High School years 9, 10 and 11 living on the boat among the eclectic community of dreamers and drifters.

He credits an experience outside the pinball parlour on the corner of Flinders and Spencer streets with starting his vocational interest in charity work.

“A homeless guy asked me for a dollar. I said I only had a five dollar note. He said he’d give me change when I got back from school. I didn’t see him again!” Mr Hoernel said.

And living on a boat wasn’t exactly the romantic paradise that you might imagine.

“Everything smelt like diesel. The water tasted like fibreglass. There was damp and mould and, in the morning, condensation would drip on your face,” he said.

He described his “quarter berth” sleeping place akin to sliding into a coffin and, when he wasn’t in it, it was used to store his cello.

There was, however, plenty of community. He recalls the gatherings around the steel council barbecue when the kindred spirits would connect with conversation and booze.

He recalled: “A man with a boat was the constant. The variable in the equation were the wives. The dogs were more of a constant than the women,” he said.

The experience has taught him to see through the supposed romance of sailing around the beautiful parts of the world.

“You know that there is certainly another side to that life,” he said.

On Docklands, he reflects on the gentrification and other changes and, while acknowledging that it’s lost some of its flavour, he’s not necessarily nostalgic for its rough and ready past.

“In some ways, it hasn’t changed too much,” he said. “It’s still experimental and separate from the rest of the city.”

“I think there are still people moving into Docklands because they are trying to find something different and new.”

“Docklands makes no promises … it’s got a lot going for it,” he said.

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