Faces of Footscray
A stone’s throw away from Melbourne, Footscray has been a Gateway to Melbourne for new immigrants.
Footscray is a collage of immigrant cultures fused together, characterised by various immigration waves over several decades. Starting from Italian and Yugoslavian migrants — and then post-Vietnam war — Footscray experienced a large influx of Vietnamese immigrants. Today, Footscray has a large Vietnamese population, with an increasing African migrant population.
It’s easy to be led astray in Footscray – with authentic Vietnamese, Chinese, and African cuisines, and exotic shops.
How to get there
So close to the city, yet so completely different to any other suburbs within a 5km radius, Footscray offers a fascinating insight into the evolution of Melbourne, and the waves of immigrants who have contributed to the diverse fabric of Melbourne life.
Jump on the Sunbury, Werribee or Williamstown line train from anywhere on the city loop to Footscray station – it takes a mere 10 minutes. Head North along the overpass, and voila – you will find yourself exploring the many faces of Footscray – the landing point for many of Melbourne’s diverse immigrants.
Nestled on the Maribyrnong river (Melbourne’s ‘other’ river), sits the city of Footscray. It’s an easy wander around the relatively densely packed city – stick to the centre, bordered by the river, Hopkins St, Barkly St, and Irving St, and you won’t miss a thing.
Post-World War Two Mass Migration: Making new homes away in Footscray
Nick’s Olympic Doughnuts
Start your tour immediately next to the train station at Olympic Doughnuts. Nestled amongst the ongoing revamp of Footscray station and the surrounding regional rail link redevelopment, Olympic doughnuts is a true Footscray institution.
Nick’s family arrived in the post-world war two years, and they have been manning this doughnut stand ever since – and you can certainly tell once you bite into the crispy and soft, jam filled dough.
Italian migration: Cavallero and Sons Pasticceria
Tommaso and his wife Sarina Cavallero opened their Footscray sweet store in 1956, importing traditional Sicilian recipes, which are still made by hand the same way today. Tommaso’s son, Carmelo, and his wife Serafina now run the store, and they haven’t changed a thing. Fresh cannoli – made to order – are their speciality, and once you try one, you’ll know why!
Franco Cozzo furniture store
Most Melburnians present during the 1980s and 1990s will recognise the name, and the man – ‘Franco Cozzo’ – from legendary TV advertising. In fact, the same ad, featuring Franco himself, was used for 20 years and can still be found on You Tube if you’re interested!
Rumours abound that the imported furniture had a little more ‘stuffing’ than usual, but to most Franco was a hardworking, generous man, who migrated with his young family during the 1950s – a success story for ‘new Australians’ everywhere.
The store is not really worth visiting – unless you’re in the market for some out-dated Italianate furniture – but a wander past the deteriorating store offers a glimpse into the lives of some of Melbourne’s most hard working immigrants. Who knows what this site will hold in a decade or so?
Conways: Melbourne’s Fish Distributor
If you feel like some seafood for dinner, you must stop by Conways – these guys are the seafood experts of the Western suburbs. Established in 1960 by Con Goulas, and his son Dimitrios, Conway Fish Trading is a major distributor of fresh and frozen fish and seafood products.
Whole baked fish, octopus, oysters, or whatever takes your fancy, they are more than happy to talk you through a recipe and teach you how to cook your chosen fish.
You can’t miss their sea floor entrance, and the characteristic mural on the Western wall – a must see.
Growing prosperity – moving to bigger homes
It’s no doubt Footscray is changing – many of the Italians, Greeks, Macdeonians, and Yugoslavs who arrived in the post-world war two era have moved to greener pastures as their hard work has paid off. Prahran, Avondale Heights, Werribee, and Carlton, to name a few suburbs, have been fortunate to have become homes to the second and third generations, who have enriched those suburbs, just as their parents and grandparents contributed to the flavour and story of Footscray back in the 1950s.
Little Saigon: a touch of Asia
Vietnamese migrants began arriving in Australia in greater numbers as a result of the Vietnam War in the 1960’s and 70’s. Many of these migrants settled in Melbourne, and Footscray is home to a large Vietnamese community.
Vietnamese operate a variety of businesses throughout the main shopping district of Footscray, including bakeries, groceries, as well as arts and craft.
Footscray’s ‘Little Saigon Market’ provides a taste of Vietnam, with live crabs, green padan cake, Asian green vegetables as well as pigs tails and trotters. The market is a great place to visit if you are interested in sourcing exotic items and cheap produce and is very popular amongst the local Vietnamese community.
In the heart of Footscray is an antique business that imports traditional Vietnamese furniture and pottery. This business is run by a father and his son who moved to Australia from Vietnam 15 years ago. They import a lot of their goods from Vietnam, which supplies the “best quality wood in the world”. Their pottery is also imported from villages in Vietnam where the people are trained from a young age to be masters in the art.
In more recent years, the Vietnamese community in Footscray has been reducing as the people are moving further out to suburbs such as Sunshine, where greater money can be made.
21st Century migration: Aromas from Africa
If you’ve had enough of European cuisine and American fast food from the CBD, you could try out some traditional fare from the Northern and Eastern Africa. A popular suburb for immigrants from these regions, Footscray offers quite a number of authentic African restaurants and coffee shops. Walk along the streets around Footscray market and along Barkly Street and you will come across “African Town”, the “Selam Authentic” and the “Cafe d’Afrique”
One such place is the Shebelle Bar and Restaurant at 241 Barkly Street. The owner and professionally trained head chef, Sheto, has been serving Ethiopian and Morrocan dishes prepared using traditional recipies. He is friendly and quite open to some chit chat. “We have customers from Australia, Asia as well as Africa. We also have a live African band on Saturday nights.” Out of a 3 page menu, the most popular dish here appears to be the “Harissa Chicken”, prepared in a Morrocan sauce. You can try it with some Ethiopian beer.
Drugs, Graffiti and Art! Be it association, correlation or causation, all three were found to be more than thriving in the lanes of Footscray!
From a (clockwise from top left) Beetle beached on an island, a decorative piece of art, to a soccer player ‘netting’ a goal that would put some premier league teams to shame, all show an artistic side of the diverse community.
Footscray has more than its fair share of ‘Art Crimes’ on its walls. Graffiti artifacts are managed and displayed like an art gallery with provisions for avid art lovers to sit and admire the art ….
… or may be to come up with a masterpiece by themselves!
As a package deal, drugs can be solicited under the shades and emergency services are available just round the corner in case something goes wrong. And if the wrong could not be made right, ‘requiescat in pace’ would bless you forever.
Gentrification of Footscray
Only ten minutes from Melbourne CBD and house prices at just under $1M, Footscray is placed to be the next big thing in affordability for Melbourne’s inner city yuppies. Scatterings of beamers amidst newly minted high rise apartments and millions injected by the local government and private investors leaves one to wonder about what the future holds for this suburb.
Will it uphold it’s long tradition of being a stepping stone for the next wave of hopeful immigrants looking for prosperity or to the regret of its proud multicultural residents, will it become the next Port Melbourne?