The Hobo Guide to Living in Melbourne’s North
About a year ago, I came to realise that something inside of me was dying to come out. It wasn’t just gas from my Maccas-dominated diet: beneath my peroxide-blonde hair was a grungy bohemian who wanted to drink coffee in laneways, wear Doc Martins in public and have some “me” time (“me” meaning unemployed) without being socially shunned.
Accordingly, I packed up my life’s belongings and moved to the only place I could go: the north side of Australia’s most liveable city. In the 12 months I spent there, I came to understand the fierce dichotomy that exists between northsiders and the rest of Melbourne, so have penned a guide to help you fit in if you too make the shift.
WHERE TO LIVE
Gumtree is your go-to for a share house. Most of them are indistinguishable from one another: falling apart, haunted and inhabited by struggling artists who make political collages out of cut-up zines. They’ll usually all have at least a half-arsed attempt at a veggie patch out the back, and will come with a pricetag inversely proportional to their cleanliness. Suburbs like Fitzroy, Collingwood, Northcote, Brunswick and Richmond are all perfectly acceptable to live in, but anything that falls outside a 5km radius from Abbotsford Lentils is just too far (i.e. Preston) or too posh (i.e. Prahran).
If you instead choose to start a lease yourself, prepare to fight tooth and nail for it. We were even advised to offer to bump up the rent to secure our hovel on Albion Street, but managed to get it by pretending to be respectable young professionals who wanted the extra bedroom as a “home-office”. It’s amazing how much brushing your hair, arriving at the inspection in a car and ticking the ‘non-smoker’ box can do.
Once you’ve secured yourself a pad, it’s completely unnecessary to ever spend money on furniture and homewares (minus of course fairy lights and Tibetan prayer flags from Hot Potatoes). Skirt back streets for crates to build a wardrobe, steal palettes from outside cafes to make a bed base and scour the streets for hard rubbish in the form of couches, appliances, shelves, tables, chairs and vacuums.
When it comes to making dosh, you have one choice if you want to fit in: rock the link whilst pursuing a creative venture. This might be making menstrual blood art pieces or playing the drums in a shoegaze punk-metal acid-rock band, but whatever it is, you spend at least three hours a week doing it, so are in no position to hold down a 9-5.
Sure, you might get occasional work at a hip café whose prerequisites for hiring you were that you wore Blundstones and listened to Lou Reed, but it’s gotta be cash in hand. If not, the government is going to cut your payments and put your hard-earned dole money towards something fucking stupid, like the East-West link.
Having a car in Melbourne is frowned upon. Not only does petrol fall outside of a northside hobo’s spending quadrant (rent, goon, baccy, MD), but the poisonous gases that spurt out of exhaust pipes contribute to global warming, which could cause the city’s temperatures to rise to the likes of philistine backwaters such as the Gold Coast.
Some northsiders build bikes at CERES, but for the most part, getting around means evading the pricks in orange vests who patrol the trams. The trick is never to touch on immediately, but to hover near the machine lest an inspector gets on so you can scan your Myki in time. Obviously it’s only going to beep three times and say “INSUFFICIENT FUNDS”, but at least it now looks like you tried, which will aid in your pleas for clemency.
Lentil as Anything is a northside hobo’s go-to once a week for dinner (and party supplies if you choose to sit on the outside lawn). You won’t pay for the food at the moment because you have no money, but when you’re rich you’re going to come back and pay like $100 every time.*
When you’re not eating at Lentils, you’re cooking lentils at home: a tin of tomatoes, a tin of legumes and some authentic Indian spices from aisle 9 at Aldi. Occasionally your meals are supplemented by a dumpster dive, and if you’re desperate, you’ll hit up Woolworths, but anything you buy you just put through as “onions” at the self check-out.
STAYING ON TREND
Most of the time, wear black. Black on black on black. And when you need new threads, don’t go to an actual store: just hit up Savers on Sydney Road – the mecca for the northside fashionista. Nobody actually ever pays for anything there: you just put whatever you want underneath your clothes in the change room and walk out. If it wasn’t a privately-owned for-profit op shop, people might feel differently, but then again probably not because poverty.
If you have to wear colour, it’s acceptable to rock a pair of jeans, but only if they’re Levis that belonged to at least three people before you. They should also be as unflattering a cut as possible. If there’s one thing Melbourne hobos find unattractive, it’s people who look like they have tried to look attractive. Never, ever admit to having “gotten ready”, unless of course the look you are aiming for is STEAMPUNK X BUSH DOOF for a few casual drinks with friends. Try to keep the cultural appropriation to a minimum, unless you’re staging some sort of post meta protest.
Other than a choker necklace, the only accessory you’ll ever need to worry about is your rollies, so make sure you have a pouch on you at all times. Normal cigarettes do the exact same thing, aka give you emphysema, but not only do they not look cool, they’re harder to mix with bud.
If you’re new to Melbourne, rejoice. Gone are the days of waxing, shaving, fake tanning and washing your hair. Throw your locks in double buns, hide your acne with glitter and grow your pubes long. Being hairy is actually so on trend that sporting a t-shirt informing everyone of your bush growth will get you some serious street cred (tee below by hobo homegirl Kayla Sutton – suss her Etsy if you wanna purchase one).
If there’s one thing Melbourne hobos love, it’s bush doofs. Every second weekend, northsiders pack their bags with disposable cameras and rainbow vests and head to festivals with names like Yemaya or Maitreya. What unfolds is 48 hours of poor personal hygiene and psy-trance, the success of which depends on how well you remember the drops in the music and whether or not the bindis you attach to your forehead stay on. Bush doofs are always a super enlightening experience, because everyone knows taking acid in country Victoria is pretty much the same as taking peyote under the guidance of a shaman in Peru.
Fridays and Saturdays in the city usually revolve around park parties in Parkville, warehouse parties in Brunswick, house parties in Northcote, gigs at the Corner Hotel in Richmond, getting pissed at the Evelyn in Fitzroy, getting pissed on the bench opposite the Evelyn in Fitzroy and – everyone’s favourite – Revs. Sundays are spent frying out at Safeway and coming down.
BEING POLITICALLY ACTIVE
Melbourne is the socially-conscious capital of Australia, meaning everyone west of Kew agrees that Tony Abbott is a cunt, and probably has a placard on their fence declaring as such. Churches – which, where I come from, lobby against the existence of mosques – hang banners welcoming refugees. Come January 26, northsiders aren’t tossing snags on the barbie in their Southern-Cross boardies: they’re up in arms at a rally about Invasion Day (fucking right, too). People who graduated two years ago and whose parents paid for their degree spend their spare time demonstrating against the rise in uni fees. It’s fucking awesome to witness, and if you don’t agree, you will probably be chased out of the city with pitchforks.
And that – being chased out that is – would be a complete disaster. Because as much as permanently being inside in a cold concrete jungle and getting pissed every night takes a toll on your physical and mental wellbeing, living in Melbourne is mind-opening, heart-warming and a fucking grand experience that I recommend every hobo gives a stab at least once in their short and scummy lives.
*If you can afford durries, you can afford to donate at Lentils. If you can’t afford to donate, why not volunteer to work a shift or two? Thanks to Lentil as Anything, no hobo ever has to go to bed hungry.
Gemma Clarke is the editor-in-chief of Global Hobo. She spends her time contracting tinea in foreign countries, taking afternoon naps and drinking red wine through a straw.