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Published October 5th 2013
Coburg is something special, it's more than a little forgotten suburb on the fringe of Brunswick and trendiness. Let me set the scene for you; It's raining with an unrelenting passion as I stand under the half shelter of the tram stop, legs rocking back and forth for some warmth I am reminded it was ambitious of me to think the tram would run on time. As the number 19 groans a little in front of me I eagerly hop on, noting the damp smell of wet wool knit jumpers filling the air. This may sound in large part unglamorous, and in truth there isn't anything entirely warm about a Melbourne winter except when you look at it from rain-stained windows in travel.
Taking the trip beyond Sydney Road has been a practice since I was ten and we visited my father's wide family in Coburg. I love Coburg, it always remains a slice of different cultures and tight crowds of large families. Specifically Coburg Park, a staple of my childhood visits to Melbourne, was full of our Greek relatives loudly having picnics alongside Italian and Lebanese families. Needless to say it smelled amazing and you were never short of other children to play soccer with.
The tram rattles past and the transition from a slightly isolated hipster café culture to the ones run in Coburg is evident. I decide to walk the rest of the way, the rain has halted and the exploration of Coburg beckons. A small Italian man pops his head outside of the first café I walk past after my daring trip of crossing the road. "Beautiful hair!", he trills with accented English; he's thin and his skin is leathery with a kind smile on his face. I thank him and continue my walk.
What needs to be remembered about Coburg is that it has such a high population of first and second generation migrants. There's a beautiful mixture of languages. You'll find menus with the English phonetic underneath boasting "Dolomatas" and the restaurant next door offering "Tabouli", or Arabic lettering on windows with pictures of hookahs and hashish smoke coming out a window. I'd much rather be here than sipping a mildly warm coffee with a leaf made of foam delivered to me by a twenty something with a half-shaved head wearing non-prescription glasses.
Continue straight down Sydney Road or follow the tram tracks and you'll end up at Coburg Park. It's near the old prison-turned estate houses, but the first thing that will capture you is the people. It has large amounts of space, grass lawns that slope and large trees that children can pretend to reach if only they just stand on the tops of their fathers' shoulders. It has barbecue pits and a lake running through it splitting either side of the adventure. If you're lucky enough to go in autumn the leaves kiss the top of the water and blanket the paths and bridge.
I walk across the bridge and up the stone steps. They're unforgiving in slope and don't hold the appearance of stability but crowded with families hauling food and children down them they seem strong enough to hold anything up. If you make your way up to the top do yourself a favour and sit on the bench, it surveys everything; the marsh on the sides, the water humming softly like static in the background. House roofs poking up and laughter in between swing sets all merges into a single note of noise that drowns out the smog of the city.
After a few hours of letting the park sweep me away I elect to warm myself up with a warm drink, the number 21 stop on Sydney Road is your first opening to Coburg; it's where the mix of culture starts bleeding out of the coffee shops. Marco's greets me with a friendly accented, "Hello, sit sit sit, lunch no? Coffee, here the menu if you need anything call. The lemon cheesecake is my favourite."
At first I thought the zealous man was an old waiter. It turns out he is the owner and Marco wasn't wrong, that lemon cheesecake was divine. I think that's what I love; the generosity which you're afforded, the sincerity of a family business.
Admittedly I'm nostalgic for this place. Hearing Greek being cheerfully spoken always reminds me of my family. However you don't have to be a certain ethnicity to enjoy Coburg. You just have to want to enjoy yourself, let yourself and your children be looked after by somebody else's culture and customs, you won't find warmer people in the cold of Melbourne than those in Coburg.