Time Out Melbourne

From the wetlands of Seaford to the shopping metropolis of Oakleigh and quietly aspirational Highett, the south’s got it all

In post-war Melbourne, once was the time that young honeymooners hit the highway to romantic Frankston. But while “Franger” is famed for its moccasin-wearing multitudes, next-door Seaford is a sweet beach hit.

Helped along by first-home-friendly house prices (the median’s $375,000), south-eastern Seaford is also beloved for its lack of development. The former seaside swamp is home to an embarrassment of parks and reserves, including a gorgeous five-kilometre stretch of natural vegetation and sand dunes. Regeneration projects have also delivered spectacular parks and reserves – Seaford Wetlands will get any bird-watcher a-twitching, and energetic young locals love a jog around Kananook Creek and its 300-year-old river red gums.

From the city, Seaford’s a 57-minute ride on the Frankston line – or 40kms on the Nepean Hwy. The third option is bike – and the unending procession of lycra-clad weekend warriors has prompted a flood of decent coffee shops along the beachside highway. Pubs haven’t been so quick to gentrify –Seaford Hotel, the obligatory RSL, and the Riv on the Nepean Hwy are the main watering holes, and all three are pokies venues.

Sea-changers from the inner suburbs include St Kilda Football Club, which is now based at Belvedere Oval – club hero and local lad Robert Harvey kicked off his career for Seaford. It’s also popular with young wanderers on the third Sunday of the month, for the cheap and cheerful Farmers’ Market (Community Centre, Station St foreshore). Just nearby, the redeveloped Seaford Life Saving Club is an all-wooden and award-winning architectural design.

Oakleigh may be the home of those monstrous shopping meccas Chadstone and Southland, but the south also has the most independent retailers in Melbourne. And with institutions like Steve’s Gifts and Bomboniere, Football Galaxy soccer shop, and Metropolis Sounds of Greece music store, you don’t get much more independent than Oakleigh.

A maze of one-way shopping strips, Oakleigh has all the goods of nearby Chaddy – but with less regulated temperature, and a ton more personality. At its centre, the hectic Oakleigh Market (12-18 Chester St) is an indoor, Wednesday to Saturday affair, packed with shouting touts and plucked-fresh food.

While every other shop-front seems to offer Melbourne’s finest meat and veg, coffee can be a bit harder to find – but at Nikos Quality Cakes (25 Portman St) you’ll get it with a side of sweetness. The store is famed for its cheesecakes, or you can order like a local and get a galaktoboureko (custard and filo dessert). One bite confirms Oakleigh’s reputation as “Little Greece”. (It’s a theme that spreads to house-hunting – if there’s no cornucopia of fruit trees and a concrete backyard, keep looking!)

On Sundays, though, the gypsies take over. The popular Rotary Market (Hanover St) attracts a weekly circus of backyard farmers, crafters, car-boot traders, sausage-sizzlers and anyone else who can squeeze into the big carpark.

There’s quiet relief from the bustle and barter on the edge of the trade district – make a picnic of your purchases, and head to the grassy expanse of Oakleigh Pioneer Memorial Park (Atherton Rd). You’ll have to share it with a few hundred other folk – as well as a rotunda and playground, the park’s home to burial plots of the former Oakleigh General Cemetery. No one’s moved in since 1960 – which is just as well for the next-door neighbour the Caravan Music Club (95 Drummond St). The venue shares digs with the suburb’s RSL, and suffers none of those inner-city noise-complaint issues. It’s a rock ‘n roll oasis amid more bland suburban watering holes.

Oakleigh’s home to a mob of primary schools, while popular South Oakleigh Secondary (Bakers Rd) is the only local state high option. Demand from young families, and its spot just inside Zone 1 (on Pakenham/Cranbourne train lines) has pushed up house prices, jumping from $430,000 to $650,000 in the past five years.

Wedged between those million dollar addresses of Hampton and Sandringham, plain-Jane Highett is much less high-falutin’. Sixteen kms out the Nepean Hwy, or 31 minutes on the Frankston line, the tiny suburb has kept a village feel amidst the suburban sprawl.

The shopping strip is built around the train line, and many of the traders cater for an older audience – none more so than the faded pink counters of Grey Flamingo Hair (507 Highett Rd). But at Terry Hammond Cycles (497 Highett Rd), 27-year owner Terry Hammond says the procession of trolley-pushing grannies is making way for a new generation. There’s been a flurry of new homes pop around the station, and the biggest yet – 130 apartments in the Vantage development – is set to be up in the next 12 months.

“I’m selling bikes to the kids of kids I sold bikes to 20 years ago – it’s good to see young people want to stay in the area,” he says. And as outsider Gen Ys also ship in, Highett traders are hip to their tastes. King Island Meat and Wine (16 Railway Pde) is a gourmet butcher with product to match its mouth-watering name – and a hefty array of cheese thrown in. And while Highett Deli plays it deliberately downbeat as any Collingwood hipster, their coffee is up with the best of the inner burbs. The Deli is the longest-running trader in the strip, and they’ve all survived – and thrived – despite the shadow of Southland shopping centre next door.

Small but popular St Agnes Primary (Peterson St) is the only school that falls in the tiny suburb boundary, and plenty of families arrive with their eye on music and arts school Sandringham Secondary (Bluff Rd, Sandringham).

First published on . Updated on .

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