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Abby's Angle

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Editions
August 09 Edition Cover

Living in Docklands – a Sydney view

02 Aug 2018

Living in Docklands – a Sydney view Image

By Julian Smith

Sydney people get Docklands. They instinctively understand the value and magical, calming appeal of waterfront living in a way it seems that many Melbourne people don’t, won’t or can’t.

I say that because, after 15 years away from this city, the responses I get when I reveal Docklands as my current home address oscillate between a mildly surprised “Oh, really?” and oblique – perhaps unintended – casual disparagement.

Seems the Docklands brand has a problem on its home turf.

Not with me or my Sydney friends though – we take Docklands on face value and we like what we see. Sydneysiders express amazement at the apartment prices here. Why? Because they have a broader frame of reference: if these apartments were located in the Sydney CBD-contiguous waterfront precincts of Darling Harbour, Barangaroo (the developers of which took their community-building advice from Docklands’ developers), Potts Point or even Pyrmont, many would sell for up to double. Even more.

To the unbiased outside observer, Docklands has some of Australia’s most under-valued real estate. Perhaps the most vivid evidence of the Sydney view of Melbourne’s under-appreciated waterfront asset has been the acquisition, expansion and rebranding of Docklands’ Harbourtown shopping centre in 2017 by Sydney-based financial outfit AsheMorgan.

The new northern owners are in the process of revitalising the previously moribund centre, now known as The District. (I preferred “Harbourtown”, but I guess that brand had baggage.) $150 million worth of upgrades presently in progress include new “destination” retailers, a Hoyts cinema complex, new weather protection, an Asian-style hawker food strip and a new “leisure activity concept”.

Already, this place is pumping on weekends. Good luck getting a table at peak times without a lengthy wait for the excellent yum cha at The District’s Gold Leaf Chinese restaurant. If you call after midday Sunday to make a booking, you simply won’t get through – they’re too busy to answer the phones. Their yum cha is almost as popular on weekdays.

When I returned to Melbourne after 15 years in Sydney, much of which I spent living on that splendid harbour at Darling Point, I was keen to continue to enjoy a water outlook.

I grew up south of the Yarra, so I knew little about Docklands. My early impression was that – in global terms – it seemed less like the London equivalent than a sort of hybrid, somewhere between a mini Marina del Rey and Manhattan’s Upper West Side river walk. I liked it immediately and saw the value and potential. So although I’m only here for a couple of years (for a work project) I snapped up an apartment in the Conder building at the top of the waterside walk in NewQuay.

Anyone who sees waterfront property through the Sydney lens would have done the same. Given the population projections and rapid infrastructure development, a Docklands apartment with water views seemed an outstanding long-term investment. One year on, my view hasn’t changed.

Which brings me to what I love about Docklands – and of course it all revolves around the location.

Melbourne’s CBD, way more attractive, inviting and accessible than Sydney’s, is my backyard. If I don’t have time to walk there, I can jump on a tram for free, via four different routes which run right past the rear of my building. Those trams can whisk me further … to parks, or concert, exhibition and sporting venues beyond the Free Tram Zone. Alternatively, Southern Cross train station is a short uncrowded stroll away.

South Melbourne, with its historic market, shops, eateries and multiple supermarkets, is a few minutes by car. Albert Park Lake, Port Melbourne and the Bay beachfront aren’t much further. Don’t underestimate the novelty of being able to stroll to Costco, either!

But it’s not just about amenities. I quite like seagulls squawking outside my windows in the morning. It feels beachy. But, surprisingly, there’s other bird life as well: I have even heard the plaintive song of the blackbird – as quintessentially Melbourne as a tram’s bell-ring – from my block’s modest green-tree areas.

I like the architectural modernity, youthful cosmopolitan vibe and ambience of Docklands. At night, the Bolte Bridge is bathed in lights which change colour every week. Those colours are superbly reflected in the flat waters of Victoria Harbour.

Of course, living in Docklands isn’t perfect. Any location close to the CBD that balances business and recreational facilities with residential ones is bound to have downsides. Chief among these is noise pollution.

If the mechanical moan of the leaf blower is the diurnal scourge of the suburbs, then the nocturnal scourge of Docklands has to be the reversing beeper. Occupational Health and Safety advocates will no doubt fiercely spring to a justification of the typical reversing beeper’s penetrating amplitude, but I am at a loss to understand why a proximity safety device needs to be heard from hundreds of metres away. Surely any immediate danger is within a car’s length of the rear of the reversing vehicle. Two, tops.

On a recent weekend, the building behind ours engaged a massive scissor lift device to hoist a couple of window cleaners aloft. Parked there all day.

Saturday, this mechanical monster beeped loudly and incessantly, the strident monotone pitch bouncing off the glass surfaces and ricocheting between the surrounding buildings. Even with all my windows and doors closed, I couldn’t escape this sonic onslaught. I had to go out. If this was North Korea and I was Kim Jong Un, I’d have had an anti-aircraft gun trucked over and personally climbed aboard to despatch a couple of dozen rounds into the backside of this tiresome device.

Sometimes, it gets almost as bad at night. God knows what essential services are routinely carried out in the wee small hours of the morning by vehicles which seem to spend most of their time travelling backwards. But their near or distant beeps frequently and persistently ring through the still night air.

There are worse things, though. Generally, these emanate from Central Pier on Friday and Saturday nights.

In the context of the sleek and lofty architectural milieu of Docklands,

Central Pier is the visual anachronism. With its low corrugated iron roofed buildings housing pop-up nightclubs and venues for rave parties, some weekends this place is a magnet for noisy, over-imbibing crowds.

But the carousing is the lesser problem. It’s the low-frequency “foomp foomp foomp” bass beat of massive music amplification equipment that’s much more intrusive. The unrelenting din pumps and pulses straight out and across the water, hitting the residential towers opposite with undiminished intensity. Like the Saturday reversing beepers referred to above, this is noise that can’t be closed out with windows and doors. It penetrates your living space completely and the only way to get relief is to dial 000, complain and wait.

There are other sensory irritations too. Over to the west beyond the bridge lies Melbourne’s industrial heartland. I have no idea what enterprises are over there (perhaps an organic glue factory that boils down old horses) but sometimes eructations of eye-wateringly malodorous intensity drift over to Docklands. Once sniffed, these massive industrial farts cause you to jump up with alacrity and close all your windows and doors to lock them out.

Mercifully, this seems to happen only a couple of times a month.

Parking in Docklands can be a challenge for visitors. Unlike most of Sydney’s apartment towers, few Docklands ones have any visitor parking facilities, or even forecourts for dropping passengers off. At least the parking meters are free after 6pm.

Finally, there’s my neighbour who smokes. If you haven’t guessed it already, I’m a fresh air freak. I always have the windows and doors at least partly open, regardless of weather. But when he/she decides to pollute his/her lungs on their balcony, errant breezes waft tendrils of smoke across and into my apartment.

This prompts an indignant imprecation as I spring up and summarily slam all my windows and doors shut. In a world where smoking is prohibited in so many public venues and around food, surely it’s only a matter of time before the legislature enshrines my right to clean breathing air in my own home over another person’s right to smoke outside theirs.

But no home is perfect 100 per cent of the time. Especially an inner-city one. Despite the occasional beeps, foomps and farts, I’m happy living at Docklands with my water view and CBD playground. Now halfway through my sojourn, I’ll enjoy my second year here and miss it when I leave.

But I’ll certainly continue to enjoy from afar the appreciating asset of my excellent Docklands water-view apartment in the years ahead.

Julian Smith is a communication consultant at www.communIQation.com

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