Fiefdom of Brunswick


I’ve lived in Brunswick for a few years now and I wouldn’t live anywhere else in Melbourne. This might make me a wanker but I don’t give a fuck. I like it here. It’s hard to find somewhere to live that you actually like but when I stepped into Barkly Square for the first time it was love at first sight. For those of you who haven’t been to my beloved Barkly Square it’s a rather cheap and nasty mall located near the city end of Sydney Road. It’s been renovated recently but I want to talk about the old Barkly Square, my Barkly Square.

I can see the roof of Barkly Square from my Brunswick apartment, that beige wave of concrete, topped by grey skies. The front of the building is dominated by large automated doors and a McDonald’s. Inside there is and was the usual array of shops. However, Barkly Square aka Barkers has had some odd shops in its time, like the shop that only sold stockings and hats or the bookshop that only sold Christian texts and audio books spoken by my ex-girlfriend’s, ex-boyfriend.

When I first moved to my Brunswick apartment, after finding myself in the liminal wasteland of shared accommodation in such places as Prahran and Preston, I spent every Saturday morning in Barkers. In particular, I used to adore walking around Kmart, nursing my hangover. There is something exhilarating about being surrounded by affordable goods that defies articulation. I’d sweep up and down the aisles, trailing my hands across the bargains like Ellen DeGeneres dancing onto her set. I kitted most of my apartment out with Kmart products but told people they were from elsewhere.

After a trip to Kmart I’d treat myself to a Vietnamese roll from the bakery out the front of Barkers, served by surly ladies who only now, after 3.5 years say hello to me and smile. I’d wash that down with a litre bottle of Bundaberg ginger beer and watch the DVD I’d also bought in Kmart. The rest of the afternoon was usually spent drinking whisky and writing at my kitchen table or meeting a friend at The Retreat for over-priced beer in the front bar.

But back to Barkers.

I’ve walked into Barkers in all sorts of states and never been asked to leave. There is an unconditional love that exists between me and this building. I have a Zen-like attachment to the walls and the floors and the toilets; when I enter through those automated doors all the troubles of the world slide down my legs and scurry into the rubbish bins, where the little fuckers belong. I have plans for Barkers though, big plans.

Barkly Square is where I’ll go when the zombie apocalypse finally arrives. I have it all worked out, so well worked out that I will not divulge my secrets on this blog, needless to say I’ll survive and you will not. Surviving the end of humanity takes a lot of planning and tinned products, also the ability to stab loved ones in the eye with a make shift spear. Sorry Mum but if you turn I’ll put you out of your misery using a selection of knifes from the kitchen section of Kmart, I know you’d appreciate the gesture.

Zombies aside, my favourite place in Barkers is the bottle shop attached to Safeway. When I first moved here it was a Liquorland but now it’s a BWS. Those of you who know me, know that I like the odd tipple before evensong. Drinking empowers me and later in the night disempowers me and sometimes leads to me being incarcerated but that’s another story. The lads in the BWS are great, except the skinny one with the goatee who’s a miserable prick and takes his job far too seriously and smells of stale cakes and probably loves Glee. The other lads are excellent value and we enjoy a good bit of banter whenever I go there, regardless of my state of mind.

But why Barkly Square when I live across the road from Princes Park? I’ll tell you why; Princes Park reminds me of that lurid scene in Midnight Express when all the brain dead prisoners walk around and around and around. The joggers at Princes Park are no different except they look healthier, are not afraid of the showers and jog rather than lurch around like smack heads on a carousel. I love Barkers because it has all the hallmarks of the unwanted ginger stepson. I revel in its rudimentary attempts at decoration. I worship at its alter of mediocrity. But more importantly Barkers sneaks under the radar and breaths its fiery smog of blandness up my jacksey and in doing so fills my soul with joy.

We are taught to admire aesthetically pleasing buildings, to regard them as the paragons of social advancement but places like Barkly Square never gain a mention even though they serve an important part of our community. I’ve watched Barkers for 3.5 years now and I can see its community, its familiar faces, and we all know each other and nod and wink and stop to chat.

Barkly Square is the unsung hero of Brunswick but when you get to know the building it takes off its glasses, undoes its hair, shakes it around, puts its hands on its hips and promises to show you a good time.

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About callumrscott

I’m a Writer, Literary Agent, and Social Handyman, who oscillates between being elated and very angry and sometimes both at the same time. Through my research as a writer, I’ve studied many forms of masculinity, in particular, hyper and protest masculinity. My other main field of research is transgression or the rituals of transgression and the performative nature of this behaviour. Apart from researching, writing, directing and fixing, I enjoy a good pint of stout and I live in a flat, close to my favourite place, the mall from Dawn of the Dead (2004). My greatest disappointment in life is that my first memory turned out to be a lie. I didn’t lose a red wellie on a beach in Orkney and now I have no first memory, just a lot of stories about alcohol and bad decisions.

13 responses to “Fiefdom of Brunswick”

  1. Simon Christie says :

    If I’m ever in that neck of the woods I will surely visit as you have sold it to me . An entertaining read at lunch time .

    • callumrscott says :

      Nice one, thanks Simon. If you’re ever down this way I’ll take you on a tour of Barkly Square and then for a pint at The Retreat.

  2. Ninny says :

    Dynamite, mate! Loved it. Reminds me a bit of Barker’s poor, but much larger, cousin: The Werribee Plaza. Barkers sounds much more sure of itself though, yet in a humble sort of a way.

  3. Molly Richardson says :

    My beloved local too!

  4. Anna says :

    Callum, this was super funny. Brunswick is a better place for having a writer like you dwelling here. In the spirit of your Sparkly Bear Z.A plans, I present you with some tshirt poetry in the form of Zombie Haiku #22.

    How appropriate
    Choosing to make your stand there
    In the mall’s food court

    • callumrscott says :

      Hey Anna – Great Haiku and I’m glad you enjoyed my piece. I have a great affection for Brunswick especially places like Barkly Square. How did you come up with Zombie Haikus? I’m a big fan of zombie films and generally all things zombie.

  5. anna says :

    Callum, the haiku is from a tshirt I bought a couple of years ago. Here is an original one I thought of between coffee #3 and cigarette #2 today.

    Kilty bastard die
    Stole my weed before the bite
    I wear your face now

    Let me know what you think. Not sure if it became alarming too soon. Perhaps you might like to share one of your own?

  6. Todd Garlington says :

    Funny how unpopular and unsophisticated places can be more authentic and rewarding than the celebrated formulas of hipster haunts.

    • callumrscott says :

      I couldn’t agree more Todd. There’s a hidden greatness in some of these under valued places that is sadly lacking in most of those preconceived hipster venues that reek of defeat and mundanity.

  7. Brad says :

    “It’s hard to find somewhere to live that you actually like” too right, Callum. Thing is I think I have a thing for liminal wastelands but the bastards won’t let me settle there. I’d simile bastards with capitalists but I’m not even sure that’s where the problem is, since I don’t mind a pastry and coffee or two when I’m passing through. I’ve even been seen to be driven to put my few bob in before I could reach the conclusion that started it all!

    • callumrscott says :

      I know Brad, it’s a tough call finding a place that makes you happy. I’ve always been a fan of the liminal wastelands too after reading Victor Turner years ago and discovering Bill Henson on a friend’s bookshelf. I think it was Angela Carter who described it as ‘the people who live on the other side of the mirror’. Thanks for reading, I always appreciate the input.

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