Charlemont is a suburb under construction.
The air is gritty with dust and hammers reverberate from the skeletons of houses in the new community on Geelong’s southern fringe.
Charlemont is so new that one of its estates has street names from the fantasy TV series Game of Thrones because, its developer said, it’s hard to come up with new names in a big city like Geelong.
There is Greyjoy Road, Stannis Street, Winterfell Road and Baelish Drive. (Lannister Road was changed to the more prosaic Precinct Road after it caused offence due to the Lannister siblings’ incestuous relationship.)
Gina Cerasiotis, a 25-year-old lawyer, her partner Kyle Galloway and Maltese/Shih Tzu/poodle cross Teddy moved to Charlemont from Melbourne in November.
A move to Geelong was never on the cards.
But Melbourne’s stringent lockdowns made Cerasiotis envious of the freedom enjoyed by friends who lived in Geelong and the pandemic ushered in a new era of working from home.
“I couldn’t have imagined coming here when I was working five days a week in the office, I don’t think that would have been possible,” she says. “But now I’m only going in once or twice a week.”
The couple was attracted by affordable housing, generous government grants and proximity to beaches at Torquay and Ocean Grove.
They had four-bedroom houses built on the same street in Charlemont that cost $400,000 each and have already bonded with their new neighbours over wheelbarrows and power tools.
“There’s no way we could have afforded to buy a house as big as what we were wanting in Melbourne,” Cerasiotis says.
Gina Cerasiotis, her partner Kyle Galloway and Teddy.Credit:Meredith O’Shea
“Before moving here I hadn’t been to Geelong much, but I was willing to swap my life.”
Cerasiotis and Galloway are not the only people leaving Melbourne for a new life down the highway: last year residential building activity in Geelong was up 48 per cent from 2020.
While the “Geechange” was a phenomenon before COVID, the pandemic, and the remote working arrangements which came with it, have accelerated the influx of Melburnians.
In 2021 Geelong was the third most popular destination in Australia for capital city dwellers fleeing the big smoke. The latest Regional Movers Index – which tracks population flows from capital cities to regional Australia – found only the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast attracted more sea-changers.
Geelong is booming: it grew from 259,000 in 2019 to 265,000 in 2020, with current estimates predicting it will hit half a million by 2047.
Display homes in Mount Duneed, a suburb of Geelong. Credit:Meredith O’Shea
The industrialised working-class town known as Geetroit, home of the Ford Motor Company, has been replaced by a cosmopolitan city that sits on a spectacular north-facing bay.
Lavish multimillion-dollar houses overlook Corio Bay, the Armstrong Creek development between Geelong and Torquay – of which Charlemont is a suburb – is one of the largest growth fronts in the country and there is a flourishing food, wine and culture scene.
The CBD buzzes with laneway restaurants, street art and swanky bars and is presided over by a futuristic glass-panelled dome, aka the library, once described by mohawk-sporting former mayor Darren Lyon as “Geelong’s huge brain overlooking Silicon Bay”.
The Geelong Library and Heritage Centre.Credit:ARM
But Geelong has always been a tale of two cities, divided by wealth, and the pandemic has exposed fissures in a town where intergenerational poverty has long been a problem.
Melburnians have turbo-charged the economy but the sea-change trend has also pushed up house prices and caused a shortage of rental accommodation.
Some local residents have found themselves priced out of the town they grew up in, forced to move further afield to Colac or Winchelsea, or give up the dream of home ownership.
And while the economy has rebounded after the collapse of the Pyramid Building Society and the closure of Ford and the Alcoa aluminium smelter, some of the retrenched blue-collar workers have struggled to find jobs.
Geelong’s current mayor, Trent Sullivan, wasn’t born in 1990 when the $2 billion Pyramid group collapsed, taking the life savings, houses and businesses of many locals with it. “You don’t need to have been there to still hear the pain in people’s voices when they talk about it,” he says.
But watching Geelong rebound from repeated economic shocks, Sullivan has been struck by the resilience of the city. “We have very much a move-forward mentality in Geelong: ‘Something terrible has happened – how can we reinvent ourselves?’”
Over the last two decades the city has quietly undergone a renaissance.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the rejuvenation of the waterfront with its Art Deco boardwalk changed the city’s way of life and attracted millions in investment.
Geelong’s famous boardwalk bollards.Credit:Justin McManus
Major government organisations including the Traffic Accident Commission, the National Disability Insurance Agency and WorkSafe Victoria relocated to Geelong, bringing thousands of jobs.
Culture has flourished: the VB-loving town of old has become a craft beer hub, the Geelong Gallery was the exclusive Victorian venue for A Century of the Archibald Prize and the Foo Fighters rocked Geelong – the first international act to play a stadium show in two years – on Friday night.
The Victorian and federal governments have signed off on a $500 million deal to revitalise Geelong, including funding for a convention centre and the Queenscliff Ferry terminal.
The Spirit of Tasmania ferry service is moving to Corio Quay and Moorabool hosts one of the world’s largest lithium-ion batteries as part of the state’s transition to renewable energy.
After months of being outbid on homes in Melbourne, educational consultant Casey Hawkins moved to the Geelong suburb of Newtown in 2020.
She hasn’t looked back. Hawkins has learnt to surf, met her boyfriend in Geelong and is close to many people in her apartment complex, who have a WhatsApp group and hold monthly get-togethers.
“It’s really cool, there are a lot of young professionals who live here, I suppose because it’s right off Pako Street and most of them have come from Melbourne,” Hawkins says.
Hawkins says there is a fabulous contemporary art space – Boom Gallery – in Rutland Street and Pakington Street (nicknamed Pako by locals) is similar to Chapel Street with lots of boutiques, bars and restaurants.
“The draw card for me was really just that it had a smaller version of everything that Melbourne had, was a bit more community-focused and just so much more affordable,” she says.
“Because this is its own little microcosm, I find it hard to actually have the motivation to go to Melbourne.”
During the pandemic, house prices in Geelong have soared. The median house price has jumped from $570,000 in December 2019 to $765,000 in December last year.
Geelong is on the precipice of becoming a major city and with that comes growing pains.
The Urban Development Institute of Australia has warned that land supply in Geelong is approaching a crisis point, putting affordability at risk.
“This isn’t a question of whether Geelong remains affordable for the Melbourne sea-changer,” says chief executive officer Matthew Kandelaars.
“Without urgent action to increase short-term land supply, it’s the nurses, teachers and tradies who have grown up in Geelong and dream of staying there who will be priced out of their own market.”
Liz Bonner is the CEO of Cloverdale Community Centre in Corio, which provides services and skills training to the local community.
Liz Bonner, CEO of the Cloverdale Community Centre in Corio.Credit:Meredith O’Shea
Corio, along with Norlane, is home to many of the retrenched workers from Ford and Alcoa. “Some are displaced, they are vulnerable now, there is not that low-skilled workforce demand,” Bonner says.
Rising rents (the median house rent in Geelong has jumped 10 per cent to $440 in the last two years) are putting some locals under enormous pressure.
Bonner knows a group of women in Norlane who share a mobile phone between three households. A neighbour who couldn’t afford their power bill “daisy-chained” electricity by plugging power cords into the community centre.
“This is an incredibly established community that was the backbone of manufacture and the lifeblood of this town,” Bonner says. “They don’t want to be seen as the stereotypical dole bludger.”
One of the great things about neighbourhood houses such as Cloverdale is how quickly they can respond to need in their communities.
Bonner recently offered her office to psychologist Ben Mahoney at a peppercorn rent, so he could provide urgently needed mental health services at the centre. This meant he could afford to offer appointments completely funded by Medicare.
Bonner and her husband Matt Bonner, a well-known Geelong projection artist responsible for the Geelong Christmas decorations and Geelong After Dark, rent in Mount Duneed, once a rural town but now a suburb of Geelong.
They had been saving for a house, but when the pandemic left Matt without work they were forced to spend their deposit. “So we now fit in a vulnerable housing situation where if our landlord said tomorrow ‘You have to move out’, I don’t know where we would go, and I’m not a low-income earner,” Bonner says. “I can’t afford to buy a house.”
Sullivan says Skilling the Bay, a project set up in 2011 to support Geelong’s retrenched workers, continues to raise education levels, re-skill workers and help emerging industries.
He says a prime focus of the council is ensuring the city remains liveable. “We are growing, but if we lose what makes us unique, that benefits no one.”
The council is about to release more greenfield sites in Geelong’s northern and western growth corridors. It is also hoping to create more affordable and social housing in the city centre by converting underutilised space above shops and transforming ground-level carparks into accommodation.
The Living 3220 project, which is awaiting government approval, is inspired by the celebrated Postcode 3000 housing policy that promoted Melbourne CBD living. It aims to have 12,000 people living in Geelong’s city centre, up from the current 2000.
“If we don’t start thinking that way you’ll end up getting sprawl, but also you are going to have a lack of diversity of housing”, says Jennifer Cromarty, the CEO of Committee for Geelong, which was established in 2001 to advocate for a better future for the city.
The committee is also pushing for better public transport, including a $7.5 million trial of a trackless tram, and removing trucks from the CBD.
Just 5.3 per cent of people from Geelong travelled to work in public transport, according to census data. “As we continue to grow faster than any other city in Victoria, how we enable movement, reduce emissions and ease congestion requires significant investment,” Cromarty says.
Darren Grayson, Geelong’s star of hairdressing, says Melburnians are already bringing apartment living to Geelong. The tallest building in the city is the 21-storey Miramar apartment tower on Cavendish Street.
“Geelong is just lotusing [rejuvenating], that’s what’s happening. And that is what is so great to see.”
Grayson takes The Age to Geelong Cellar Door on Little Malop Street, an elegant Parisian-style bar and store that showcases artisan produce from the region.
Darren Grayson, three times Australian Hairdresser of the Year, has long been devoted to Geelong. Credit:Meredith O’Shea
Across the road is Westend, a schmick modern eatery with clean lines and its own Insta page. “We have multiple vegan and gluten-free options,” the website boasts.
It’s a far cry from the old building’s former incarnation as Eureka – fondly nicknamed Spewies – which was famous for live music and foam-and-scribble parties on Thirsty Thursdays.
“INXS used to play there, every good band in Australia that really made it played there,” Grayson recalls. “It wasn’t the sort of place that I went to because I was a very flamboyant person who designed my own clothes. So if I wanted to be found in a ditch somewhere that’d be the place to go.”
In the early ’80s Grayson gamely strode into Vidal Sassoon on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills with his resume while attending the hairdressing world championships. He made a splash with his flowing Wham-inspired hair, clanking silver bracelets and hand-made New Romantic-style shirts and was offered a job.
But Grayson’s mother, Barb, suggested a salon in Geelong. Grayson was just 21 when he opened his own salon in Gheringhap Street in 1985. “I thought great, it’s only going to be a few years and Geelong will be pumping,” he says. “But it just didn’t happen.”
In the dark days following the collapse of Pyramid, when youth unemployment hovered around 40 per cent and young people had to leave Geelong to find work, Grayson was repeatedly asked why he didn’t move to Melbourne.
But Grayson – three times Australian Hairdresser of the Year – stuck it out.
These days Melburnians come to Geelong to have their hair cut. “I had five new clients from Melbourne brought about by our website reviews,” he says. “Geelong is on fire.”
For Danny and Jessica Abbas COVID was a catalyst when they moved to Armstrong, one of the new estates at Mount Duneed, in August. The couple had formerly loved city life in an apartment in Essendon.
Danny and Jessica Abbas in their Mount Duneed home.Credit:Meredith O’Shea
But Melbourne lost its lustre after they weathered the worst of lockdown in a caravan while saving for a house. And Danny, an accountant, can work from home.
“Once that option opened up and we found this estate it just seemed like the perfect match and we didn’t think too long,” Danny says. “It looks like we are just part of a statistic, but we love it down here.”
They were cool with the “cookie-cutter build” of their home, Jessica says, because her father is a builder and could help them add their own touches.
Jessica, a visual merchandiser, has loved decorating it in neutral shades, with pot plants, gauzy curtains, a decorative fireplace and a framed TV on the wall that displays artwork when not switched on.
The couple have already made friends at church in Ocean Grove. They are a 12-minute drive from the beach. Jessica, who is pregnant, is looking forward to spending time with other mothers at the estate’s leisure centre, Club Armstrong. Danny uses the gym at the club.
The cafe at Club Armstrong in Mount Duneed. Credit:Meredith O’Shea
“People are way more friendly here than in Melbourne,” Jessica says. Early in her pregnancy, and craving fries from McDonalds, Jessica was amazed when the guy taking her order at the drive-through window chatted to her for five minutes.
“I just came home and I went ‘Damn, people here are so nice’. Everyone’s pace here is chill, it’s great. It’s so different to Melbourne’s pace.”
Most Viewed in National
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article