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Docklander - October 2018

04 Oct 2018

Docklander - October 2018 Image

By Meg Hill

Neil Croker took over the lease of the Palais Theatre 12 years ago. Before that, he’d had a career tour managing bands including AC/DC, Eric Clapton, Dire Straights and Wet Wet Wet. He’d been living out of a suitcase for decades.

Nine years ago he bought an apartment in Docklands – a suburb many see as antithetical to the arts. The slick, corporate buildings, the shadow of the Bolte, and the monopoly of apartments over other residential options all seem uncreative.

But Neil thinks otherwise.

“If you’re working in the arts you’ve got to know what people are thinking about and doing, so Docklands is this great little microcosm,” he says.

“If I lived in suburbia I’d have to walk around and knock on doors for six blocks to try and get the same type of feeling of what people are thinking and doing with their lives.”

Docklands News met Neil at the rehearsals for Madiba The Musical, of which he is the producer. He’s softly spoken and relaxed, while emitting a sense of excitement – it seems he’s struck the balance that most people strive for.

He hasn’t a hint of jadedness, after more than 30 years in the industry and at least one big betrayal. After a decade running the Palais, lifting its reputation and bottom line in leaps, he lost the tender.

“When I took it over it was quite run down,” Neil says.

“It was incredibly rewarding because we were able to turn it from a leaky, run-down theatre with probably 30,000 people visiting a year, to a quarter of a million people coming.”

“Unfortunately we lost the last round of tenders to an American corporation with a big cheque book.”

But Neil possesses enthusiasm and a calm, happy demeanour – even while declaring “I’m an old man now”. In fact, it’s as if he’s still got a Wet Wet Wet song rotating in his head.

And all this from someone who says they’re intrinsically an urbanite.

“I’ve always been an inner-city person,” he said. And during his nine years in Docklands he’s only enjoyed the development.

“I’m really loving the changes, I’m a city person. I like things happening and bubbling, that’s why I like to live in the city.”

“I’m close to theatres, close to music and to South Wharf, which is developing with all the restaurants happening there.”

“The more people promenading out the front when I look out the window just adds to the joy of living there.”

And the people walking past outside are probably a nice reminder of the day Neil decided he wanted to move to Docklands.

“I lived in Southbank and I didn’t even know that Yarra’s Edge existed. I went for a walk down there one day and saw a property for sale and that was it.”

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