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What Docklands means to me

29 May 2019

What Docklands means to me Image

By Shane Scanlan

In 2005, “Docklands Community News” was one of many publications my company designed and printed for associations, municipalities and other clients.

It was a fee-for-service arrangement we undertook for VicUrban (now Development Victoria) from our CBD office.

We didn’t even read it and had little interest in Docklands beyond attempting to extract advertising dollars to support the publishing.

But then two things happened:

Personal crisis in the form of family breakdown and divorce; and

The newspaper passing from VicUrban to the City of Melbourne in 2007.

My private life unravelled rapidly at this time. I was out of the family home, estranged from the kids, losing staff and contracts. It was the most difficult period of my life.

In 2007, the state government invited the City of Melbourne back into Docklands in a limited role. Part of that role was to continue to produce the paper. And my firm was invited to again tender for the design and production task.

The council, however, never intended to continue it and sent a “Dear Shane” letter announcing its discontinuance after two editions.

It had been 20 years since I was last a newspaper reporter, having left the Sun News-Pictorial in 1986. But, clearly, the journalism bug was still there and I asked the council and VicUrban if I could have the newspaper. They said yes and the rest (as they say) is history.

I was in desperate need of a fresh start and where better to start than Docklands?

Docklands was perfect because, it too, was just starting out. There were no hierarchies. No establishment. And, with a little newspaper of my own, no one to answer to!

Docklands was fresh, pioneering and optimistic. The dreams of many collapsed in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. But until then, the graph was heading north and there was a real buzz about getting into something new at the ground level and building something.

The past 12 years have given me immense joy and satisfaction growing the 8-page, glossy, magazine-style Docklands Community News into today’s Docklands News. Back then, 5000 copies were printed and distributed every two months. Our monthly circulation is now 15,000 and I started similar papers firstly in Southbank and more recently in the CBD.

With a combined circulation of just under 50,000, the three mastheads are read by half the City of Melbourne’s residents and probably 80 per cent of its business population.

Jokingly calling myself Melbourne’s Mini-Media-Mogul, informing and advocating on behalf of these new and emerging communities has been the perfect therapy for the broken man of 2005.

It’s been a journey of personal growth. The fact that it has also worked as a business is almost a secondary benefit.

Living at Victoria Point for five years and immersing myself into all aspects of the community was just the tonic required to get the whole thing cracking. A shorter stint living in the CBD was less successful but, had love not drawn me away to Geelong, I’d still be a Docklander. It’s the best place to live. Who needs a TV when you can look out over Melbourne and see it all happening before your eyes?

Hot air balloons passing in the morning at window level. Above the clouds in bright sunshine on winter’s days. Sunsets. Sunrise. Storms. Walking to work. Being 222 steps to a seat behind the goals at Marvel Stadium (is it still free to get in after three-quarter time?)

The papers are modelled on the still-successful publications you find in country towns. They are only and unashamedly about the single postcodes they circulate in. And, so long as people care about what happens in their neighbourhoods, they will continue to thrive.

The papers also need lots of energy and passion to work. And the new owner Sean Car has these in spades.

He’s worked for me for the past five years writing, selling and producing all aspects of the Southbank Local News. At 20-something, he has a remarkably old head on young shoulders and is unfazed by the pressures of the job.

I, on the other hand, recognise the signs that the stresses that newspaper publishing bring and I’m happy to pass the baton to younger, more capable, hands.

You need to know when to quit and my time is now. In many ways I am at the peak of my career. I know so much more about what I am doing but, being 60-something, I just can’t do it as well as I once could.

So retirement beckons. What that actually means is unclear. My wife Louise and I are off to the Greek Islands for three months on July 1. I figure I’ll have a better idea of my future at the end of the holiday.

But, whatever the future holds, I will always be grateful to Docklands for the opportunity and the experiences it has given me.

Docklands is beautiful.

What’s good

Commercial development.

Docklands has exceeded expectations as a place for business. It’s a seamless extension of the CBD, particularly around Collins St, with any number of enterprises moving westward. With 60,000 workers commuting, Victoria Harbour is buzzing.

Community spirit.

People who live here just love it. They totally get apartment living, water views and immediate proximity to just about anything worth being close to.

The “failure” urban myth has faded.

Ill-informed prejudice against Docklands has almost completely faded away. There are some small pockets of opinionated ignorance remaining but, these days, such commentators only make themselves look silly. 10 years ago, Docklands was suffering badly. It appeared then that predictions of its demise might even become self-fulfilling.

What’s bad

It’s only 60 per cent done.

Original estimates had Docklands completed by next year, with a residential population of 20,000. The 2016 census found 10,437 residents lived here. “Build out” (or competition) is currently estimated by 2025 but don’t hold your breath waiting for this. The residential market has slowed – particularly for investor-grade apartments.

Short-stay apartments.

“Community” is much harder to achieve without stable residency. Many involved and committed Docklanders have given up and moved away because they don’t like living in a hotel. Owners’ corporations should be able to decide how their buildings are used.

Little appreciation of waterways.

Despite a committed and involved City of Melbourne waterways unit, there is a general lack of appreciation of our waterways by the authorities. The river and Victoria Harbour are Docklands’ greatest assets. But marine operators have been cast adrift without security of tenure or other assistance. It’s a tragic irony that, as the precinct has developed, our commercial fleet and water-based activity has declined. And, not only this, the authorities are hell-bent on throwing up bridges across the river and across the mouth of the harbour.

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