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It was only last week when I was visiting the dentist’s in the neighbouring suburb of Seddon and updating my address, that I uttered “Maidstone”. The receptionist replied, “What was that again? How do you spell that?”
I feel like that pretty much sums up Maidstone’s existence. Ever since we moved back here two years ago, we have realised that no one outside of Maidstone really knows this suburb. When asked about it, my response has always been, “It is right next to Footscray, and only 8 kilometres from CBD!“
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If you google it, Maidstone in Kent, England appears first. We don’t have a supermarket, primary school or train station, and even the Bunnings calls itself Bunnings Maribyrnong. Maybe that’s the real reason no one knows about us.
If you liken the surrounding suburbs to the March sisters in Little Women, Footscray would be Jo – the fiery, most famous (and infamous), and totally misunderstood of the four sisters. Yarraville would be Meg, the oldest and also the most beautiful and elegant. Kingsville would be Amy for being the smallest and yet oh-so-cool suburb. Maidstone, on the other hand, would be Beth, the shyest and quietest of the bunch – the wallflower in her own family. Maidstone is in the background, shadowed by her sisters, forgotten by some but beloved to those in the know.
As a suburb, Maidstone’s only real claim to fame was being home to Albert Facey, whose book, A Fortunate Life, is a classic of Australian literature.
My partner’s parents were among the first wave of Vietnamese migrants who settled in Melbourne following the end of the Vietnam War. They settled in Footscray in the mid-1980s, found employment in nearby factories, and as soon as they’d saved enough money, bought their first home in neighbouring Maidstone.
Throughout the mid-1990s, there was never a dull moment growing up in Maidstone for my partner.
Their Anglo-Saxon neighbours told them they were initially gutted about them moving in next door, seemingly having the perception that migrants meant trouble. But they became relieved when they found their neighbours to be a normal family.
The demographic of Maidstone at the time was different to now. The neighbourhood consisted mainly of older Anglo residents, as well as some Greek and Italian families. But then it started receiving an influx of migrants from Asia. Its proximity to the city, as well as factories and industries at the time, meant Maidstone was the perfect place for someone starting a new life.
The family home directly faced Dobson Reserve and back then, it wasn’t an enviable location like today’s real estate narrative will tell you it is. Instead, it was a popular target for “opportunists” and there were countless burglaries throughout the years, sometimes in broad daylight.
Once, my partner was home with his dad, who worked the night shift at Holden and was asleep in the house. He woke to find two teenagers trying to break in through the kitchen window.
Walking around Maidstone you still see a variety of houses – weatherboards, Art Deco bricks, Californian Bungalows, post-war fibro shacks, government housing and the newer McMansions. Slowly, the older houses are disappearing, being turned to townhouses or low-rise apartments and old factory sites being converted into residential estates to meet demand of young families moving to the area. Given we’ve been lauded as the most affordable suburb within 10 kilometres of the CBD, it’s no wonder so many people are moving here.
We are fortunate to be living in the suburb where my partner grew up and when we did come back for good in 2021, we were instantly embraced by the neighbours. They included us in the neighbourhood group chat, where common conversations go like this: “Lovely peeps, do you have some eggs I can borrow as I am about to bake a cake?” Within seconds, another neighbour will reply that their 10-year-old child is en-route to deliver the “emergency eggs” to their door.
Even with the development, multiculturalism remains strong in Maidstone. The number of Vietnamese-born migrants has declined over the years, but their children have inherited their properties or chosen to buy and stay local. New waves of migrants are on the increase, too. There are people of Zimbabwean, Colombian, French, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Chilean, American, Dutch and British heritage all residing on the one street here.
Maidstone’s obscurity is both a blessing and a curse. It can be annoying when you’re providing your address at the dentist, but its anonymity means we don’t have anything to prove and can live peacefully. Just as in Facey’s book, it’s an ordinary suburb that can create an extraordinary life for people by living in an honest, compassionate and simple way. Some might even call it the Australian suburban dream.
This piece is part of The Age’s Life in the ’Burbs series.
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