"Dear Mum and Dad, I am writing to you from what we used to call the future but for me now it is the present. I'm in fact living in 2017, yes 17 years beyond the turn of the century that we used to think of as so far ahead in time. I am living in Melbourne still, in one of the reasonably well- heeled areas in the suburb of ***** where yesterday I saw 2 beggars sitting on the footpath along the shopping strip. Now there are thousands of homeless people sleeping rough on any night of the week in Australia." Sally, who in her youth described the cities of her travels to her parents, now writes to them as ancestors, describing the Melbourne of today, a place which would be quite unfamiliar to them. It is a cold winter and she cannot afford adequate heating in her middle class home.
Dear Mum and Dad ,
I am writing to you from what we used to call the future but for me now it is the present. I'm in fact living in 2017, yes 17 years beyond the turn of the century that we used to think of as so far ahead in time. I am living in Melbourne still, in one of the reasonably well- heeled areas in the suburb of ***** where yesterday I saw 2 beggars sitting on the footpath along the shopping strip. Now there are thousands of homeless people sleeping rough on any night of the week in Australia. Melbourne is particularly bad because housing and rents are so expensive. You wouldn't believe this but the house we used to live would now fetch around $2 million!. Young people attempting to buy a home are forced into flats or "apartments " as they now called or out to the remote edge of the sprawling city. Craigieburn, the town we used to pass as we headed north to Sydney is now a suburb of Melbourne!
It's really freezing at the moment 13.5 degrees maximum today. Remember we used to have central heating and topped it up with radiators? This winter we have been told that power bills will shoot through the roof so I have tried to economise by using only one heater and wearing more clothes inside. Don’t worry, I'm not poor but I have to be careful as we don't know what surprises are in store for us in the way of bills.
Electricity and gas distribution have been privatised . We were told this would be good for the “customer” as it would force providers to be competitive and prices would fall as they competed for our custom. No such thing has happened . You would find it intensely irritating as I do to have electricity sellers coming to the front door usually just as you are preparing dinner asking you to go and find your last electricity bill as they are sure you are paying too much and will sign you up with their company at a cheaper rate. This door to door job or the job of doing it by phone seems to fall to newly arrived migrants or backpacking young overseas travelers.
The other basic necessity that has become much more expensive is water. When you were alive, water was something we did not have to worry about. We used it as we needed to. In recent years we have had water restrictions where you had to use a particular hose on your garden at particular times. You couldn’t use a sprinkler system and the only way to get the whole garden watered efficiently was to install metres of hose with tiny holes in a sort of grid all over the garden and a timer so it turned on in the middle of the night when you were asleep. To top this all off the Victorian Government ordered the installation of a desalination plant at Wonthaggi to ensure Melbourne’s ongoing water supply. I don’t think they’ve used it yet but a private company installed it and the Victorian government has to guarantee them an income from it. Gardens are all disappearing, anyway. The word “garden” is almost a dirty word! When you talk about having a garden it’s almost as though you are talking of something wasteful and unnecessary. The trend now is to demolish houses with gardens and build all over the block, even excavating huge caverns, fence to fence for car space or more house space. It will be like a honeycomb of concrete cells throughout suburbia. I don’t know how the street trees will survive this.
As you will have gathered, Melbourne is not nearly as pleasant as it was when you were alive. It's grown to 4.5 million, bursting at the seams and growing daily . That's why the price of housing has gone up so much. Overseas criminals even launder their ill-gotten gains by buying houses in Melbourne or Sydney. One of the commentators on a business TV program stated that if agents who knew were obliged to report suspicious dealings then it might adversely affect the property market!! Unbelievable given that people are having trouble servicing their mortgages and paying their rent or are homeless!
Honestly if you came back and experienced Melbourne as it is now you would be shocked.
It's so crowded now that they are building trams and trains with a minimum of seats so that more commuters, standing up will fit in! True! I couldn’t believe it when I first heard it but now everyone accepts it as normal . Today, which as I said has been very cold , something went wrong with the computer system controlling and tracking all the trains and the system came to a standstill at peak hour! Yes, people were stranded in trains and on railway stations with no idea as to when they would be able to move. They were advised to use alternative means to get home. Many of those who chose to do this used a service called Uber where you use your mobile phone to find a driver going your way and willing to take you. Guess what the Uber drives did in this emergency: they charged 4 times the price! No sense of helping out in a crisis – just exploitation! Oh well, I guess the Uber drivers also have to pay the rent! It’s a sort of jungle out there!
The other really distressing thing is that the beautiful old houses of Melbourne are being demolished so that apartments can be built to fit in more people. They are also building high rise towers in many suburbs. The councils are actually told that they have to fit in thousands more people within a given fairly short time –frame. This will mean even more traffic as though we don't already have too much. It is now so bad that I think twice before going anywhere by car for fear of being caught up. One night I attempted to cross the city to meet, M and J and I had to give up, turn around go home. I now haven’t seen them for 2 years.
You remember the South Eastern Freeway? Well that is now part of a tollway. Yes, you can't use it any more unless you pay. You have to put a device on your windscreen and intermittent gantries check you as you go past and you are charged via an account which you need to keep topped up with money. There are many of these tollways and sometimes if you make a mistake you get funneled onto them. If you don't realise or forget to pay later you are in for a hefty fine. Driving in some normal streets the speed limits have been reduced to 40kms per hour and on many roads they change the speed limit all the time between 40, 50, 60, 70 , 80 and 100 kms so you have to be constantly vigilant checking your speed. There are speed cameras all over the place and no matter how careful you are , you can get caught. It is horrifically expensive and you lose points on your driver's license. Belinda was fined over $300.00 recently driving along Warrigul Rd at 60kms per hour in what turned out to be a 40kms zone.
The other awful thing we have now is a sort of madness. We now have bollards in the city in case someone takes it into his (invariably male) head to ram pedestrians. This happened in Bourke street this year and pedestrians were killed, including babies and children.
Sounds as though I am living in a sort of Hell, doesn't it? In a way I am. I see everything being destroyed and I am on tenterhooks waiting for the next tree or old house to fall or the next road block.
The other strange thing about now is the role of the telephone in our lives. Now we all have mobile phones which are nothing like those large heavy ones you may have seen when you were alive. They are now small, flat and fit into the palm of your hand. They all include cameras so any one of us can record anything, any time, moving or still, complete with sound. Most of us now don't go anywhere without one, so we are always contactable. It has become the expectation. When we make arrangements they are much more approximate than they used to be as we can track one another and check our respective progressions towards a meeting point usually using "text messages" . There is a problem with this though because if you are meeting someone and they let you know they are running half an hour late and you have already left home. , you have still lost that half hour because of their lateness!
Anyway, that’s the world I inhabit now and I thought it was about time I let you know what it is like and that I am surviving in it . Obviously I won’t forever, so see you where you are – sooner or later. If this does not get returned to me , I’ll assume it got to you.
From your loving daughter ( living in Melbourne 2017,)