Sunday, October 31, 2010

Maternity Hospitals

Today, we attended a house-warming party at Deer Park. It was a gathering of babies, mothers and fathers and an occasion to share childminding experience. The host's son and our son were born one day apart at Werribee Mercy Hospital. Another family which moved from Dandenong to Hoppers Crossing very near the due date, was refused admission into Werribee Mercy Hospital as it was fully booked. They went to Sunshine Hospital but were not happy with the environment there so they returned to Werribee Mercy Hospital. The Hospital relented on the admission only after they threatened to sue it.

When my wife was first pregnant, our GP told us Werribee Mercy Hospital, Sunshine Hospital and Royal Women Hospital are the three hospitals most convenient for us. Werribee Mercy Hospital and Sunshine Hospital are about 20-25 minutes drive from Altona while Royal Women Hospital is slightly further away, but not by much. While searching online for opinions on maternity hospitals, I discovered several maternity and baby forums. Most forum members have good words for Werribee Mercy Hospital while Sunshine Hospital and Royal Women Hospital receive mixed reviews. We visited Werribee Mercy Hospital for an orientation and we feel very comfortable with its homely environment. In addition, we guess if the labour occurs during peak hours, getting to Werribee Mercy Hospital will be easier as this is against city-bound traffic. Hence, we decided on Werribee Mercy Hospital.

My wife is admitted as a public patient but she needs to find a private obstetrician first. From online forums, we found out that Werribee Mercy Hospital is serviced by about 5-6 obstetricians. Dr. Sahhar has a clinic at Altona and has good reviews but his fees seem to be higher than those charged by other obstetricians. We decided on Dr. John How, whose clinic is at Spotswood, which is not far away from Altona. My wife is not very proficient in English so I am hoping we can find a Mandarin-speaking obstetrician. Dr. How is indeed a Chinese, previously from Singapore but he can only speak Cantonese, not Mandarin. We are very happy with his services and feel that he is very experienced and skilful. He made a decisive judgement in taking out the baby by suction when my wife was having difficulty delivering and the baby's heartbeats were weakening.

For my wife's second pregnancy, we decided to go back to Werribee Mercy Hospital because we have very good experience there and we do not wish to risk going to another unknown hospital. However, we did not go back to Dr. John How as we feel that his fees are somewhat on the high side. Dr. Calandra is the only obstetrician that bulk bills patients but my wife will need to wait three months to see him. I have also come across some negative reviews of him, including the comment that you get what you have paid for.

We decided to consult Dr. Stephen Ong, whose clinic is at West Footscray. My wife had to wait two months to see him but she managed to get our local GP to share care with him during this period. Like Dr. How, Dr. Ong can only speak Cantonese. While Dr. How can hardly speak any Mandarin, Dr. Ong can manage a few sentences. The first appointment turned out to be quite amusing. Dr. Ong was checking my wife's medical history. He asked my wife in Mandarin whether she smokes and my wife replied "No". Then he asked my wife whether she drinks water. My wife was taken aback. She loves drinking water so she is perplexed why he is asking this question. I then told my wife that Dr. Ong has meant to ask whether she consumes alcohol. He had wrongly substituted the Chinese word for alcohol with water.

During both my wife's labour in Werribee Mercy Hospital, she was fortunate to give birth in a large birthing suite on a double bed and to continue staying in the same room for 3 days. There is enough space on the bed for me to sleep over at nights. My wife has a choice of the meals, which are delicious. Except for the obstetrician's fees, we are not required to pay any hospital expenses. My wife learnt from an Altona friend who gave birth at the Royal Women Hospital that she had to go hungry after the birth as she had missed the meal time. At Werribee Mercy Hospital, the fridge is always stacked with extra meals and sandwiches, in case the patients need them outside meal hours. My wife has no problem requesting for extra food. The midwives are also very friendly and give good advice on taking care of newborn babies. When my wife was having problems breastfeeding our first child, she went back to Werribee Mercy Hospital for a breastfeeding day session (10 a.m. - 4 p.m.), during which she was taught how to breastfeed correctly. When my wife was having no sleep due to our second child crying incessantly throughout the night, the nurse volunteered to take the baby out of the room and to pacify him so that my wife can have a good sleep. I would say that Victoria has a very good support system as a midwife from the Hospital visited us at home soon to check that both mother and baby have no problem. This was followed by another home visit from the local council's maternity service.

I learnt from some friends who had used health insurance that they actually ended up paying more than they would if they choose to go through the public system and not receiving any different superior service compared to public patients.

Useful Forums on Pregnancy, Childbirth and Babies:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Which Hospital to go in an Emergency?

Late last night, my wife received a call from her friend who is living in Burnside Heights, near Caroline Springs. She is 3 months pregnant and has an asthmatic attack that she has never experienced before. Her husband is a tour guide. It just happened that the tour coach broke down in the middle of the journey and he could not get home. The nearest hospital is Sunshine Hospital. But she is not in a state to drive there on her own, plus she has a 2 years old son to look after, besides herself.

Although my wife is a General Practitioner in China, she is not sure of the medical advice to be given to pregnant women in such a situation. I asked her to call her classmate in China, who is an obstetrician. Her classmate told her some medicines, which I believe are only available by prescription in Australia. I searched the internet and found an after hour on-call GP service. I told my wife if it is necessary, she can drive her friend to the Hospital while I take care of our two small children at home. When my wife called her friend this morning, she learnt that she had gone to Sunshine Hospital early in the morning after her husband returned home at 4 a.m. She was told that she cannot take any medicine and can only rest at home.

We too have to bring our daughter to Emergency in the middle of the night on two separate occasions. In the first occasion, our daugher had consistently high fever after immunization. After calling the "Nurse on Call" hotline (1300 60 60 24), we were recommended to go to Sunshine Hospital. The experience is a very unpleasant one. We were kept waiting for hours. My wife is quite sure the fever is a result of an adverse reaction to the vaccine and had communicated this to the doctors. However, the doctor insisted that the fever may be caused by urinary tract infections. First, we were told to "catch" her urine to test for bacterial infections. How are we able to do this when our daughter is only 2 months old at that time? Then the doctor said she must insert a catheter into our daughter's bladder to collect her urine. My wife balked at this suggestion. The doctor went on to suggest that a needle should be inserted into our daughter's spinal cord to obtain her cerebrospinal fluid. There is no way that my wife could agree to such invasive procedures. Hence, nothing was done except to take the temperatures of our daughter periodically. We left the hospital the next morning at about 9 a.m. Fortunately, our daughter recovered from her fever without any medication. When my wife told her obstetrician classmate, she was perplexed why the doctors here would suggest such invasive and risky procedures, when it was clear that the fever was triggered by the vaccination. This smacks of practical inexperience.

On the second occasion which happened only a few months ago, our daughter fell and fractured her arm. This time round, we dare not bring her to Sunshine Hospital. Instead, we headed towards the City and reached Royal Children Hospital at a quarter to 1 a.m. There were many patients waiting and few doctors on duty. We waited for more than 3 hours before getting to see a doctor at 4 a.m. In the intervening period, our daughter was crying constantly due to great pain. However, my wife feels that the doctors at the Royal Children Hospital are far more knowledgeable and professional than those at the Sunshine Hospital's Emergency Department.

Recently, someone told us that we should have gone to Williamstown Hospital. He has several experiences of bringing his two sons there for emergency. He does not need to wait long and is happy with their services. Furthermore, Williamstown Hospital is only a 10 minutes drive from Altona. We would try there the next time we have an emergency.

Altona Bashing

Kyle Sandilands is not the first celebrity to derogate Altona when he described Altona as a rathole (Ref 1). Jon Faine, a radio host on 774 ABC Melbourne, has said worse things about Altona during his interview with Jill Hennessy (now the Member for Altona) and David Strangward, the Greens candidate for the 2010 Altona By-Election.

The radio interview took place on 12 February 2010. The embedded audio may take a little longer to load. Click the arrow button to play.

Here is a transcript of the Jill-Jon exchange.

Jill: Well Jon, there’s a reason that people are moving in droves to this part of the western suburbs, it’s because it’s a terrific place to live.

Jon: Why? In what way? Name the best thing about Altona.

Jill: Well, we have great …

Jon (interrupting): It’s industrial, it gets the fumes from the industrial zones wafting across it. It’s not a very attractive area and never has been and never will be.

Jill: Oh well Jon, I don’t know what parts of the Altona electorate you’ve been down to look at, but there’s the gorgeous bay along Altona, there’s fabulous wetlands …

Jon (interrupting): They’re spoiled, it’s the worst part of the bay.

Jill: There’s Cherry Lands and there’s fabulous vibrant communities throughout the entirety of the electorate.

Jon: It’s cheap real estate, that’s the only reason people look to it, come on.

Jill: Well Jon, people are entitled to access affordable housing and as this community grows it is absolutely essential we continue to invest in community infrastructure to ensure that the west is a livable part of Melbourne. Melbourne has again been identified as the world’s third most livable city.

Jon: Most of the area you represent — there are some houses that sell for a lot of money with water views — but the rest of it is cheap real estate for people who are getting a foothold in the ‘own your own home’ market.

Crickey, an online magazine well known in Australian political, media and business circles, has said that Altona bashing is a classic Inner Melbourne snob pastime (Ref 2). It appears that Point Cook, Hoppers Crossing and Werribee are also targets of snobbish remarks made by people who look down on the western suburbs.

It is heartening that our Prime Minister has defended Altona and said she is happy living in Altona (Ref 1). When she moved to the Lodge, the Age had reported that she would probably check into a hotel, like her predecessors, when she visits Melbourne (Ref 3). It was with great surprise that I found out that she chose to go back to her Altona home on her last return to Melbourne.

In an interview with Wyndham Leader, she said she was still settling into the Lodge in Canberra, and that she had been back to her house at Altona. “The Lodge is obviously very different from the house in Altona,” she said, adding: “I always do have that sense of going back home and being amongst friends when I’m in the electorate.”

If Altona is good enough for the most powerful person in this country, what more can others say? I would suggest that the Altona community gets Julia Gillard as the Patron of Altona.

Laverton Train Line

About two weeks ago, Metro staff were distributing pamphlets at the Westona Train Station, informing passengers of new peak hour services stopping all stations and terminating at Laverton Station. Yesterday is the first time I boarded a Laverton-bound train from North Melbourne Station at 6.05 p.m. The train carriages were practically empty, with many vacant seats to choose from. This is unlike previous Werribee trains which are often packed with people at this time. After I settled into a seat, one man across the aisle and one man behind started talking to me. I attributed the vacant train to the Melbourne Cup public holiday next Tuesday, with many passengers taking long holiday over the weekend. The man sitting behind from Yarraville said that this new service usually carries few passengers as there is a Williamstown train 5 minutes earlier. He finds this new service useful for he can still catch this train if he misses the earlier Williamstown train.

In the past, Werribee trains always run through the City Loop. To "untangle" the network, Werribee trains were changed to run direct to and from Flinders Street during peak hours two years ago. This resulted in inconvenience to the City Loop passengers as they will need to change to a connecting train. The change benefited others such as the Sydenham passengers as well as those Werribee-bound passengers working near Flinders Street and Southern Cross stations. I would consider myself a benefactor. I take a shuttle bus from the University of Melbourne to North Melbourne station after work everyday. When the Werribee trains were running through the City Loop, they would have already picked up most passengers from the City Loop stations. Williamstown trains do not run through the City Loop so many Williamstown-bound passengers also board the Werribee trains and change trains at Newport. Consequently, Werribee trains are always full by the time they reach North Melbourne and I was never able to get a seat. However, when Werribee trains run direct from Flinders Street, I find that I am able to get a seat 90% of the time.

One disadvantage of living in Altona is that the train operator (Connex or Metro) tends to sacrifice Altona passengers by running Altona Loop trains express between Newport and Laverton, whenever there are train cancellations or delays. This may be an unannounced policy, aimed at mitigating train delays at most stations on the Werribee Line. Altona passengers have the most to lose. Not only are Altona Loop trains run at half the frequency, they are also the first to be cancelled in the event of a breakdown in services. Hence, Altona passengers may be the last to reach home or arrive at their offices compared to other passengers on the Werribee Line. I hope the new Laverton services will help to redress the inequity.

I do notice that the train services have improved visibly over the past 2-3 weeks. Whereas my morning train service from Westona had always been late for 5-15 minutes, I am pleasantly surprised to find that its punctuality has improved markedly in recent days. I do not know whether Metro has found the panacea or whether this has anything to do with the impending State Election, of which public transport is a hot item on the agenda. I am just hoping this improvement is sustainable and not a flash in the pan.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why I choose to settle in Altona

When interviewed by the Hobsons Bay Leader (the article was published on 28 September 2010), the journalist emailed me a list of questions. One of the questions is why I choose to live in Altona. You will be wrong in thinking that I know a lot about Altona prior to making it my home.

I came to Melbourne in 2003 and in the following 4 years, I have been staying solely in Melbourne's eastern suburbs, first in Glen Huntly, then in Carnegie. All my friends are living on the eastern side of Melbourne and my knowledge of Melbourne is restricted almost exclusively to its eastern suburbs. When I got married in December 2006, I decided to purchase a home to prepare for my wife arriving. An important criterion is the house must be within walking distance to a train station. Burying myself in Google Maps and, I searched for suitable properties along the various train lines outwards from Melbourne CBD. All the houses in the eastern and even the northern suburbs were pricey so I have to search further and further away from the CBD. I made an offer for a house near Springvale but the owner was not willing to lower the asking price.

At that time, I had hardly heard about the western suburbs. I had not even set my feet in Melbourne's West. I know places near the water are in demand everywhere in the world. I would never dream to live besides the bay in Singapore but perhaps it is possible for my dream to be realized in Melbourne. The Eastern bayside suburbs were beyond my affordability but I heard that they had greatly appreciated only in recent history. I predict the same trend will be replicated on the other side of Port Phillip Bay.

I turned to my favourite Google Maps and searched for properties down the Werribee Train Line, discovering unfortunately that Seddon, Yarraville, Newport and Williamstown were not within my budgets. Then I discovered Altona, whose house prices were still within my means in 2007 ($300-$400K). The names Seaholme, Altona and Westona sound very idyllic. Seaholme must be the Home of the Sea while Altona and Westona conjure the image of gentle, attractive girls dancing gracefully in a coastal paradise.

Click the map below to view a larger version
Altona Location

From Google Maps, you can see that Altona is at the same latitude as St Kilda. It also has a very long coastline. Using Google Maps' Distance Measurement Tool, the distance between Lower Kororoit Creek and Laverton Creek is determined to be 6.04 km. This is the distance from St Kilda Pier to Park Street in Brighton on the eastern side of Port Phillip Bay. The distance of Altona from Melbourne CBD is about 13 km, about the same distance as Glen Huntly from the City.

From Wikipedia, I found out that Altona Beach is one of only two swimmable beaches in the western suburbs, the other being Williamstown. To the west of Altona is the vast Point Cook Coastal Park. Clearing away this Park for future bayside residential developments would probably destroy ecologically-sensitive ecosystems and would draw too much objections. Unlike the east where many bayside suburbs have beaches, the west will probably be limited to three beaches now or in the future, at Williamstown, Altona and Werribee South/Wyndham Harbour. I believe that an "ugly duckling" such as Altona will become coveted one day as a "transformed swan" due to its scarcity bayside value in Melbourne's West.

Click the map below to view a larger version

Playing around with Google Maps can be both fun and informative. The map above indicates many green areas which are nature reserves, parks and open spaces. Besides the sea and green areas, what stands out is the huge Cherry Lake. I am interested in knowing its size compared with Albert Park Lake. Using Google Planimeter, I traced around the contours of both Cherry Lake and Albert Park Lake to measure their respective areas. Cherry Lake is actually 33 acres larger than Albert Park Lake. Cherry Lake measures 152.3 acres while Albert Park Lake measures 119.8 acres. I have always suspected that Kooringal Golf Course is very huge and it could be one of the largest golf courses in Melbourne. Its area is determined to be 101.8 acres using the Planimeter. The distance from the western to eastern end of the golf course along Queen Street is 1.28 km.

You can also see from this map that the Esplanade is a very long road (3.15 km) that runs along the water edge, following the contours of Altona's coastline. The Werribee Train Line runs pretty close to the coast as well. The stretch closest to the sea (200 metres) is besides Altona Road, between Pines' Scout Camp and W.G. Cresser Reserve. The Train Line runs centrally through Altona, dividing it into roughly an equal-sized northern and southern half. It is a blessing to Altona that there are 3 closely-spaced train stations in a suburb whose population is much lower than that of Altona Meadows, Point Cook, Hoppers Crossing or Werribee. As residential Altona is more wide than tall and the Train Line runs symmetrically through it, all parts of Altona are not far away from one of the 3 train stations. The high-speed V-Line trains do not run through residential Altona. They run on the express train tracks north of Altona between Laverton and Newport, thereby minimizing noises to the residents.

So far Altona looks promising on Google Maps. This piqued my curiosity to see what Altona actually looks like. One day, I decided to make use of my lunch time to make a train trip to Altona. After the Werribee Train exited the City Loop tunnel, the outside scenery looked very industrial, with container ports, warehouses and broken, disused buildings. In particular, the Footscray Train Station looked rundown, filthy and unsafe. But the scenery improved past Footscray. The train tracks were elevated so you can have a bird's eye view of the houses below. I found the Victorian and Edwardian weatherboard houses in Yarraville endearing. I also love the Pepper Trees at Seddon and Newport Train Stations.

After Newport, the Werribee Train entered a landscape so barren and desolate that I would describe it as a "No Man Land". The Oil Refinery and tanks looked ugly and intimidating. When the train was wriggling between the tanks, the journey seemed unimaginably long and arduous. I can see why many people, put off by this sight, were deterred to venture beyond, thereby missing the charms that Altona has to offer.

But once past the Refinery, you will be rewarded by an overhaul of the scenery. First, you will be greeted by the meandering Kororoit Creek, where you can sometimes see black swans bobbing up and down the waterway. Next is the Altona Coastal Park, carpeted by swathes of pink flowers (Carpobrotus rossi) blossoming in late October. For this stretch, the Train Line runs very close to the sea and you will be able to see the Dandenong Mountain Ranges in the distance, on the opposite side of Port Phillip Bay. My favourite sight is the W.G. Cresser Reserve with its expanse of green fields against the azure sea and sky.

It was a stroke of fate that I happen to choose a Tuesday to visit Altona, which would subsequently seal my relationship with Altona. When I stepped out of the Altona Train Station, I was immediately attracted by the colourful and festive Altona Beach Market along Pier Street. There is a permeating village-like ambience in Altona, with the setting of a seaside resort. A short distance down Pier Street is the beach and the Altona Pier. The place feels like a different world, although Altona is just a short 25 minutes train ride from cosmopolitan downtown Melbourne.

Feeling excited by my discovery of this hidden gem, I made the instant decision of buying a house in Altona and nothing is going to waver my decision. I visited all the real estate agents in Pier Street and informed them of my interest. I was told that houses in Altona, particularly those south of the railway line, had appreciated substantially over the past one year. My initial budget was $300K but subsequently I had to revise this up twice.

I walked to the Westona Train Station and explored the surrounding areas. I met a very friendly lady called Michelle who was walking two large dogs. She had a long chat with me and told me Altona is a fantastic place to live in. At the end of our conversation, she pointed me to a house for sale opposite Altona College. There was a huge advertisement board from which I copied the real estate agent’s phone number. I contacted the agent immediately and found out the house was up for auction. Unfortunately, I would be returning to Singapore before the auction. I made a pre-auction offer, which I need to raise due to a competitive offer. I suspect that I may get this house cheaper, have I been able to wait for the auction. It took me 3 weeks in May 2007 from the start of research to the acceptance of offer and this duration included the unsuccessful offer for the Springvale house.

I discovered only several months later that I was living 3 houses away from that of Julia Gillard. At the time of the property settlement, she was still in opposition and I did not know much about Australian politics. From this humble street in Altona, I have actually witnessed the making of Australian history, including the emergence of the Labour Party from its long-reigning political wilderness into government, the superseding of Kevin Rudd by Julia Gillard as the Prime Minister and the uncertainties of the current minority government.

After moving into Altona, I began to explore its environment. The more I explore, the more I realize how many secrets this place holds. What other suburbs in Melbourne would you find 3 Zone 1 train stations, sea, beach, lake, 3 creeks, numerous nature reserves and parks, a historical museum, an art gallery, a performance theatre, a massive golf course and many sports clubs. Altona is also endowed with abundant biodiversity and is rich in arts and culture as well as sports and recreational activities. It has its own annual Bayside Festival, Altona Beach Market and Cherry Lake Sunday Market to be proud of.

My decision to settle in Altona is based more on instincts and impulse rather than due diligence and extensive research of the suburb. Other than talking to Michelle, I have not sought the opinions of other people. Some friends are still saying negative things about Altona but this has not changed my conviction that I have made the correct decision. I am proud to be an Altona citizen and this prompted me to write this blog.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Growing up in Altona West

Janine Whyte penned a poem on growing up in Altona West in the 1970s. In this poem, references are made to various places - the playground in Apex Park, the fenced-in Truganina Explosives Reserve with its tramway, magazine and pier, the coast running from Altona to Werribee South and Altona Meadows which at that time was just subdivided for residential development. Local plants and animals mentioned in this poem include the Emperor Gum Moth, Pigface, Melaleuca quinquenervia trees (which can be found abundantly along Belmar Avenue), Eucalyptus tree, seagrass, frog and brown snake. This poem describes vivid scenes of a multicultural school, Altona's industries, coal deposits in Altona, rotting seaweeds on the shores and "New Australians" climbing field fences on Sundays.

Litoria fallax croaking_3821Photo by eyeweed
Growing alongside Truganina
- ‘the swamp’ in 1970 –
where frogs croak under dark grey loam,
found with brown coal in backyard diggings.
Cherry Lake 047Photo by Anthony
Emperor Gum moth (Opodiphthera eucalypti) caterpillars, 2nd instarPhoto by D.Morley
Larvae of the Emperor Gum Moth
moves like plump green fingers.
Pigface sprawls succulent on vacant blocks.
Flor de Carpobrotus edulis o diente de leonPhoto by F.Cuenca
Melbourne PaperbackPhoto by Fir0002Melaleuca paperbarks peel on nature-strips.
Outlying streets cut across tawny paddocks
of tussock, thistle and basalt rock.

the heart of it allPhoto by T.Lieser
20080914_Fence Climbing_0138Photo by Nussbox‘New Australians’
climb field fences on Sunday
to harvest ‘weeds’
as we feast on roast potatoes, lamb and peas.

Dinner @ The LAN HousePhoto by Dave B
TidepoolPhoto by wandererSeagrass washed to the shore
rots in layers
so deep, so long
thongs are lost in black muck
when retrieving sinking feet.

MudPhoto by P.Burgess
Eastern Beach Trains 002Timber train carriages
in Apex playground.
Magazine jetty with burns and
Old Photo showing the Pier
Truganina Explosives Reserve  Train Track 2rusted tracks over the sea.
A corrugated fence guarded explosives
and keeps the mystery.

Truganina Explosives Reserve  Train Track 1
Laverton Creek EPhoto by AnthonyHistory is quiet with subtle leads,
wanting to follow the water’s edge,
continuing the curve into Werribee.

108 7447Photo by Benjamin
Wind on the grassPhoto by S.GoblinWide miles of winnowing grass
grace the ‘Meadows’
where lone wolf eucalypts
stand brave on a subdivided plain.
Buttercups and meadow grassPhoto by artcatcher
Eucalyptus Tree TrunkPhoto by GregNo house, no road yet
disturbs the brown snake.

Sssssssssssssssmiley!Photo by teejaybee
AltonaPhoto by LouiseGrowing alongside Truganina
and aggressive industry,
Schoolfriends are Italian, Dutch, Maltese.
The land – already so shackled –
could only whisper of Volcano and Aborigine.

Aboriginal ArtPhoto by B.Dieu

Acknowledgement - I wish to express my thanks to Merrill Findlay for allowing me to reproduce this poem. The original poem can be found on this page.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Around the Bay in a Day

On Sunday 17 October 2010, 16,500 riders participated in the annual "Around the Bay in a Day" fundraising event organized by Bicycle Victoria to help the "The Smith Family", a children's charity raise $1 million for disadvantaged children. This event is now in its 18th year.

The Riders starting from Alexandra Garden
Bike Riders
Photo provided by Bicycle Victoria

The riders started from Alexandra Garden at 8 a.m. and cycled around Port Phillip Bay through South Melbourne, Port Melbourne, Westgate Bridge, the Williamstown Peninsula and Altona. The Westgate Bridge was specially opened to cyclists at specific times of that day. The route map is embedded below.

View Around the Bay 2010 - 50km Ride Route in a larger map

The halfway resting point is at Logan Reserve in Altona, where the Hobsons Bay City Council presented the "Altona Beach Break" featuring live music, roving performers and refreshments.

The weather was not good that morning. When we got to Logan Reserve, it was raining. As we have small children, we decided to stay on the car and drove to Altona Sports Club for our Sunday breakfast. I did manage to snap a few photos of the cyclists from my car.

Bike RidersAltona Beach Break 1

By the time we returned to Logan Reserve at 12 noon, the band was packing up and the State Emergency Service's stall was serving its last sausages.

Altona Beach Break 2SES Sausage Sizzle 1
Bicycle Superstore  2Bike Carrier

The weather can make or break the day. The organizer of the Caulfield Cup a day earlier was criticized for not postponing this big ticket event to Sunday due to bad weather (Ref 1). Just before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China used cloud seeding to induce rains for clearing the air pollution and ensuring a clear sky during the Opening Ceremony (Ref 2).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Mysterious Ayers Rock of Altona

Ayers Rock of Altona A

There's a place in Altona,
I call it the Northern Territory,
For it lies on the northern frontier,
Between Cherry Lake & Kororoit,
A Forgotten Land, Barren and Desolate,
Out of this wind-swept plains,
Rises the Mysterious Ayers Rock of Altona,
The rains have ushered in Spring,
You are no longer forsaken,
For you will be the new Queen,
Worshipped by the people of Altona.

A Darker Shade of Red
The Original Ayers Rock
Ayers Rock of Altona A redUluru/Ayers Rock

Photo by Corey Leopold
Look at the ring at the base of both monoliths,
areas of darker colour on the right side and
the position of the clouds.

Low-hanging, little fluffy clouds floating above the Ayers Rock of Altona

Ayers Rock of Altona B

The Monolith of Australia

Ayers Rock (Uluru) und Olgas (Kata Tjuta)  07.-09.04.2007
Photo by Sven & Yara

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Garage Clinic

Logan Reserve M

It was a sunny day so we decided to bring our 7 months old son to the playground at Logan Reserve. A man who was with his baby son, initiated a conversation with us.

He is a true global citizen, having traversed four continents. Originally from Cameroon in Western Africa, he went to France, then to Beijing, China to study Chinese Medicine. It is there where he met his current wife, who is a Caucasian from Brisbane. Having stayed in China for 8 years, his wife can speak and write fluent Chinese. He himself cannot speak Chinese.

I asked him why they did not choose to live in Brisbane. He said that they prefer Melbourne which is more multicultural and much less "white" than Brisbane. They had bought a house in Altona Meadows two years ago and had converted the garage to a clinic where he now practises Chinese Medicine. This is interesting to me.

When I arrived in Melbourne, I learnt that one of the favourite weekend pastimes here is conducting or attending garage sales. Now I am using my garage as a storeroom rather for carparking. I know some people use the garage as a workshop or factory. I have also read the touching story of how Brendan Nelson went to stay in Joe Hockey's garage when he became broke after his divorce. For those who are after novel eating places, there is a a drive-in Garage Cafe tucked in an inconspicuous location opposite the University of Melbourne. The cafe serves Indonesian food such as Gado-gado, a yummy vegetable salad dressed in peanut sauce. I had seen this Cafe packed with people attending drink parties at nights.

I jested with my wife that if she has converted from Western to Chinese Medicine in China, she could also make use of our garage to practise Chinese Medicine.

We have forgotten to ask his name. Hope that he will send me an email if he happens to read this post.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

This Blog - The Visions & Beyond

Obviously, this blog will cover stuff related to Altona and Seaholme but I will leave the coverage flexible as:
  • Altona North and Altona Meadows are historically and geographically linked, all 3 being part of the City of Altona formed in 1968.
  • Altona is an important part of the City of Hobsons Bay and it is where the City Council Offices are located.
  • Altona is a suburb of Melbourne, within the fastest growth corridor in Australia.
  • The people of Greater Altona and VictoriaClipart - Spectacles will inevitably have increased interest in knowing what happens nationally due to the linkage with Julia Gillard, the first female Prime Minister of Australia.

Visions and Objectives of the Altona Blog
  1. To foster community spirit and to build a sense of identity, belonging and pride within the Altona community.
  2. To promote Altona as a hub for sports & recreation, arts & culture, education & learning, tourism, shopping, dining and community activities in Melbourne's western suburbs.
  3. To preserve the natural, environmental and cultural heritage and assets of Altona.
  4. To work towards the vision of developing Altona as the most liveable and sustainable suburb in Melbourne's west.
  5. To showcase the attractiveness of Altona to both people within and outside Greater Altona, to increase the profile of Altona among those people who have not heard of or not familiar with this suburb and to dispel the misunderstandings and prejudices of some people towards this suburb.
  6. To raise the awareness of the Altona community to external factors, developments and issues that will affect Altona either directly or indirectly.

Features of this Blog, Facebook Page and its linked Social Media
  1. Centralized, one-stop online portal for seeking information on Greater Altona.
  2. Linking all the community groups of Greater Altona together – platform for them to publicize their activities and events.
  3. Content is rich, diverse, varied and will appeal to a wide spectrum of audience.
  4. Content is fresh and constantly updated. Hope to seek direct participation by having collaborators/co-authors to the Blog.
  5. Highly interactive and visually-appealing, with lots of spectacular photos, videos, maps and links.
  6. Makes use of online social networking and new media to reach out to more people and to engage them.
  7. Flexible and versatile as audience can access the blog and Facebook page anytime, any place and not constrained by their availabilities and schedules.

01/05/2008Wikipedia Entry on Cherry Lake
10/05/2008Wikipedia Entry on Altona Coastal Park
20/05/2009Wikipedia Entry on Truganina Coastal Parklands
11/07/2010"Beautiful Altona" Blog
13/07/2010"Attractions in Altona" Google Satellite Map
29/07/2010"I Love Altona" Facebook Page
03/08/2010Interview on Altona Laverton Star
29/08/2010"Picturesque Altona" Youtube Video
29/09/2010Interview on Hobsons Bay Leader
28/09/2010Interview on 774 ABC Radio
01/10/2010"Picturesque Altona (Chinese version)" Video loaded to
10/10/2010Wikitravel Entry on Altona
29/11/2010Presentation to Altona City Rotary Club
14/12/2010Presentation to Altona Laverton Historical Society

Beyond this Blog

My vision is not to stop with Altona but to create a blog for every single place in Victoria. These blogs will be linked to each other to form a spiderweb of interconnected blogs. They will also be intricately linked to social media such as Facebook, Youtube, Wikipedia, Twitter and so on.

I foresee many benefits to this comprehensive network. It can serve as a valuable reference resource for education, learning, research and information-seeking purposes. It will help to promote intra and inter-regional tourism. Most importantly, these Community Blogs can help to foster community spirit and to build local identity and sense of belonging. They can be used to promote arts and cultural events, sports and recreational activities, hobbies and interest groups, volunteer and social activities, etc.

However, the achievement of this vision will require a lot of time, energy, commitment and resources. This vision can only be realized if there are any people or organizations willing to employ me on a full-time, ongoing position to work towards this vision. Otherwise, this vision will remain a dream. If anyone can lead me to people who will be interested and capable of helping me fulfil this vision, I will greatly appreciate your help and please contact me (my email is

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Life Cycle of the Blue Wren in Hobsons Bay

When I first met Jill Bilston, the Manager of Louis Joel Arts & Community Centre, she showed me a quilt masterpiece, named "Life Cycle of the Blue Wren in Hobsons Bay" that is on permanent display at the Centre. This masterpiece consists of 6 quilt pieces representing the 6 stages in the life cycle of the Blue Wren. What makes this art piece so special is that it tells a story with the scenes projecting out like a paper cut out.

This art piece is created by Joan Hansen who has lived in Hobsons Bay for about 8 years. She was observing the flurry of activity in a birdnest near the back door of her house. The Mother Wren was teaching her offsprings to fly and was getting crossed when they did not follow her instructions. This inspired Joan to capture what she saw in knitting. She started doing the piece when she was 83 years old and took 2 years to complete. Due to her work, we are now able to relive the story of how the Blue Wren builds the nest, nurtures her offsprings and how the life cycle is repeated when the offsprings become independent.

Building the NestEggs Laid with Pride
1bo Nature's Creation - Building the Nest2bo Eggs Laid with Pride 1
Father and Mother Bringing in FoodChicks for All to See
3bo Father & Mother Bringing in Food4bo Chicks for All to See
Empty NestAll Fly Away into the Sunset
5bo Empty Nest6bo All Fly Away into the Sunset

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Altona - A Place of Water Abundance

On 29 Sep 2010, I had to drag myself up from my bed in the early hours of the morning as I was expecting a phone call at 6 a.m. The day before, I received an unexpected email from the producer of the 774 ABC Radio programme "Breakfast with Red Symons", asking whether I would be interested in a radio interview. I told her that I am not good at public speaking and hence, will be nervous. She reassured me that she would ask Red to be gentle with me.

The phone ranged puntually at 6 a.m. The producer told me this interview is pre-recorded and will be broadcasted at around 7.25 a.m. However, when I tuned into the radio at 7.10 a.m. and listened until 8 a.m., I did not find my interview segment. Hence, I guess my segment had been scheduled earlier so I had missed it completely. However, the producer did email me the audio clip as promised earlier.

I have never liked to listen to my playback voice. I am always amazed by how slowly I speak and how unattractive my voice is. This radio recording is no worse than previous recordings of my voice that I have heard. I notice that I have habitually said "ah...." before each sentence. I had also misinterpreted twice what Red had asked me. Being an experienced host, Red had managed to ask me the same question later on, without embarassing me.

During the interview, Red asked me whether Altona has good fengshui. I do not know much about fengshui. Literally translated, "feng" means wind and "shui" means water. However, I do know that the Chinese people associate moving water with prosperity, good luck and money, and find it desirable to live near sources of water such as the sea, lake, river or stream.

Altona has water on all sides - Port Phillip Bay to the south, Cherry Lake and Cherry Creek to the north, Lower Kororoit Creek to the east and Laverton Creek to the west. Hence, not only has Altona a sea, it also has a large lake and three creeks as well as some drains/canals. Water features so highly in Altona that the Kooringal Golf Club takes its name "Kooringal" from an aboriginal word meaning “by the water”. I am not sure if there is any other Melbourne suburb that contains all these three elements of water (sea, lake and river/creek).

The Chinese also believes where different sources of water converge, the different "chi" or flow of energy will synergize to create a location of high significance. In this respect, Altona will qualify as having a very good fengshui based on its water abundance and the eventual flow of water from Cherry Lake and the creeks into Port Phillip Bay. No wonder Altona is destined to produce the first female Prime Minister of Australia!

Red asked me if the Chinese considers having a toilet in the house as bad fengshui. I was at a loss of words on how to answer this question. I could only tell him that he probably has a very old image of China as all modern day houses are equipped with a toilet inside the house. He probably thinks that the people in China are isolated from the rest of the world.

I am from Singapore and I am surprised by the radical changes taking place in China, including the liberal attitudes held by some young people. For example, it is now a fad for males to cross-dress as females in public places, many youths idolize Lady Gaga and whatever reality shows you can find in the West, you can also find the corresponding versions in China. My wife told me at one time, it is very common to see people in the streets, wearing their underwears on their outer garments as a fashion statement. I have yet to witness this phenomenon either in Melbourne or Singapore. I am pretty amazed by what I see on Chinese TV shows - many Gen-Yers are exhibitionists, fully exploiting whatever opportunities to demonstrate their "talents" on air. These behaviours are a far cry from the reserved character that most people have traditionally associated with the Chinese.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Melbourne Most Burgled Suburbs

RACV has recently published the top 40 postcodes in Melbourne at most risk of a burglary. This is based on the 2009-2010 Victoria Police crime statistics and ABS census data. Parkville is the most at-risk suburb, with 1 in 26 homes (or 3.84% of homes) burgled each year.

RankPostcodeSuburbBurglary RateBurglary Rate (%)
33023Deer Park283.57
53057Brunswick East313.22
63029Hoppers Crossing323.12
83024Wyndham Vale/Mambourin/Mount Cottrell333.03
93081Heidelberg West/Heights333.03
113021St Albans+East/Kealba/Kings Park342.94
173200Frankston North372.70
183068Clifton Hill372.70
193338Melton South/Exford/Downs372.70
223168Clayton/Clayton North382.63
233337Melton/Kurunjang/Toolern Vale392.56
243054Carlton North392.56
253804Narre Warren North+East402.5
273048Coolaroo/Meadow Heights412.43
293174Noble Park442.27
303752South Morang462.17
333012Footscray West/Maidstone482.08
393032Ascot Vale/Maribyrnong502

You can obtain the burglary statistics over the years for a particular suburb/postcode by clicking this link. In Victoria, an average of 1 in 71 homes (1.41% of homes) is burgled each year which equates to one burglary every 19 minutes.

The burglary statistics for Altona/Seaholme (postcode 3018) from 1996 to 2010 is shown in the table below. The current burglary rate of 0.76% is almost half the average rate in Victoria (1.41%). You can also see that the burglary rate has been decreasing over the years. I would say that Altona is a very safe place to live in. This is perhaps why Julia Gillard does not always bother to lock her back door, according to one newspapers report.

YearBurglary RateBurglary Rate (%)

Monday, October 11, 2010

An Imagined Future of Altona

One day, I was talking to my neighbour and the topics drifted to what she would like to see in Altona. The number 1 item on her wishlist is the moving out of the Mobil Oil Refinery and chemical industries from Altona. I asked her how probable that scenario would be. She thinks the possibility is high. She said there used to be many oil tanks in Port Melbourne, which were subsequently demolished. The Altona Refinery faced closure in 2004 due to rapidly declining Bass Strait oil production, increasingly tougher national clean fuel standard and inability to compete with the big oil refineries in Singapore (Reference 1, 2, 3). The refinery was subsequently saved from closure with ExxonMobil injecting more capital, trimming the workforce and retreating from the export market. However, the same harsh environment remains today.

A combination of the following factors may precipitate the demise of the Oil Refinery:
  1. Competition from overseas refineries.
  2. 90% of Bass Strait's oil has been extracted, the ageing oilfields are in rapid decline and there is no more new large oilfield left in the Bass Strait.
  3. Competition from new oilfields in other parts of Australia.
  4. The national clean fuel standard, becoming more and more stringent, leading to increased operating costs for the refinery.
  5. A carbon price or emissions trading scheme, making the oil refinery no longer commercially viable (Reference 4).
  6. Moving of Melbourne Port from Swanson Dock to Hastings and Geelong, making it expensive to truck oil over long distances (Reference 5).
  7. Major accidents or leakages, prompting communities' concerns and review of environment enforcement measures and socioeconomic cost-benefits.
  8. A booming Melbourne population increasing the pressure of shifting heavy industries away from prime lands near to City to make way for residential developments.
  9. With its location around areas with increasingly higher population densities, its proximity to the sea and its open layout, the Oil Refinery becomes a vulnerable target for terrorists' attacks. In Singapore, the oil refineries are contained and isolated on Jurong Island away from mainland Singapore, where very strict security measures are imposed on people and vehicles entering the Island.
  10. Change in the political landscape, such as the Greens gaining more power.

If the Altona Mobil Refinery does close down in the future, what do we do with the oil tanks? Imagine The Future Inc. had the answer 14 years ago when it commissioned the architects, David Craven and Philip Snowdon, to develop conceptual drawings showing how the Mobil oil tanks could be transformed into an ecologically and socially sustainable urban village. In this imagined future, the tanks have been decontaminated and retrofitted as homes and work spaces to accommodate an active community of several hundred people from socially and culturally diverse backgrounds.

Green Tank - Outside

The tanks that were once filled with oil, are now modified to collect and store rainwater as well as fitted with solar panels to harvest sunlight, creating an environmentally-sustainable village that is self-sufficient in both water and energy.

Green Tank - Inside

All the wastes, including grey water and sewage, are recycled on site and used to maintain the private and community permaculture gardens. Many plants in the gardens are endemic species grown for their visual appreciation, as food, for their medicinal properties or to provide habitat for indigeneous birds and animals, such as marsupials. Endangered plants such as the Small Golden Moths Orchid, are rescued from the brink of extinction and now thrives in the restored grasslands that surround this new-age urban village.

Green Village

Another possible fate of the post-refinery era will be to demolish the refinery site completely to give way to residential developments.

I however have a bold vision for Altona, which I believe is not being proposed by anyone else. I had visited the GlaxoSmithKline Pharmeutical Plant in Singapore, which looks strikingly similiar to an oil refinery, with its maze of interconnecting pipes, pumps, valves and compressors. I wonder whether it is possible to retrofit the oil refinery into a pharmeutical manufacturing facility.

If the Mobil Refinery goes, the downstream chemical industries, including Qenos, which depend on feedstocks from the Refinery will also have to go. In my imagined future for Altona, the oil refinery and chemical industries will replaced by a Science Park, similiar to the Science Park and Biopolis in Singapore.

Right now, lands on both sides of Kororoit Creek Road are under-utilized. Bringing in more chemical industries will be undesirable as these are close to residential areas. A green wedge belt between the chemical industries and residential areas is essential as a safety buffer zone. Substitution of the chemical industry with a low-risk, knowledge-based industry will unlock the economic potential of the vast quantity of land, transforming Kororoit Creek Road into a high technology corridor, flanked by R & D laboratories, companies' headquarters, entrepreneur startups, universities' departments, academic hubs, conferencing facilities and residential villages housing higher-density apartments. Due to the non-contaminating nature of this new industry, the safety buffer zone is no longer required and this will further release valuable lands that can be put to productive use.

This technology hub can be home to emerging fields such as biotechnology, medical sciences, nanotechnology, material science, environmental science and infocommunication technologies, in which Victoria has considerable strengths and is strategically positioned to benefit enormously. Victoria urgently needs to groom a knowledge-based economy to substitute its manufacturing sector that is rapidly losing its competitiveness to low-cost overseas production bases.

Melbourne has a large tertiary education sector, which can supply a skilled manpower base to power this technology hub. This will be a vibrant locale, comprised of a highly-educated workforce, attracted to a bayside lifestyle and who loves to visit the nearby Altona and Williamstown beaches during lunch hours and after work. Many will choose to live in Altona, Williamstown or the various residential villages along Kororoit Creek Road. This technology hub will create immense employment opportunities for the southwest growth corridor of Melbourne, similiar to what the Science Park and Biopolis are doing for the western part of Singapore.

The 3 demolished train stations of Mobiltown, Paisley and Galvin on the V-line train tracks between Newport and Laverton, will be resurrected to cater to passenger demand from this thriving technology corridor. V-line trains will no longer run alongside Melbourne metropolitan trains on these tracks as they are diverted to the new Regional Rail Link, connecting Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo to Southern Cross Station via West Werribee, Deer Park and Sunshine. There will be frequent shuttle bus services between this technology corridor and Altona Beach, which will become a very popular eating out and recreational place.

Whether this vision will materialize or not, would depend on whether the top decision makers in Victoria have the same thoughts as mine. I have accurately predicted more than 10 years ago that casinos will be built in Singapore. It is always good to imagine our future, how we would like it to be and how should we go about achieving it.

Acknowledgements - I wish to express my thanks to:
  • Merrill Findlay who allows me to reproduce materials from this web page on the Altona Tank Farm.
  • Imagine the Future Inc. - which no longer exists.
  • David Craven and Philip Snowdon - the architects who did the conceptual drawings for transforming the tankfarms into an urban village.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Leave Julia Alone

One day, when I was browsing videos on, the second largest video-hosting site in China, I discovered a very funny video about Julia Gillard. This video was made by Lenny Firth, an Adelaide man and originally posted on youtube.

Quoting from an article on this video from the Daily Telegraph:
"Stop writing trash about her - she's the Prime Minister!'' the mystery man wails. In his muddled defence of Ms Gillard, he adds: "She's going out with a hairdresser!'' He also says Australia's first female Prime Minister has cruelly had a biscuit named after her – the ginger nut.
This reminds me of a photo published by The Australian, in which the caption was "Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her partner Tim Mathieson were surrounded by the Melbourne media and paparazzi as they attempted to enjoy their breakfast in Altona".

Now, I will try to be cheeky and do a makeover for the caption.

Stop writing trash about her - she's the Prime Minister! She's going out with a hairdresser! Leave Julia alone.
Photo of Julia Gillard from The Australian website
Photo by Gary Ramage
Source: Link to the article from The Australian

In an interview with Kerri-Anne on Channel 9, Lenny has this to say about Tony Abbott: "Leave Tony alone. I mean they are accusing him of smuggling birds in his bathers. Tony got nothing to hide. A man who wears lycra has got nothing to hide! Leave him alone."

Interestingly, Tony Abbott sold his "legendary" budgie smugglers for $3400 in an eBay charity auction.

Tony Abbott in his budgie smugglers
Source: Link to the article from the Courier-Mail on 25 Jan 2010

Lenny Firth's idea of the youtube video is not original. He copied it from an American internet celebrity, Chris Crocker, who gained international fame in 2007 from defending Britney Spears in his youtube video "Leave Britney Alone". This video became viral, attracted over four million views in two days and received international media attention. It spawned a series of imitators such as "Leave Michael Jackson Alone", "Leave Justin Bieber Alone", "Leave Miley Cyrus Alone" and so on.

Feb 2012 update: The Greens leader Bob Brown is the latest person to ask the public to leave Julia alone. He said: "...Quite a bit of the criticism is sexist and unfair and unrelenting and the Prime Minister needs a bit of a break from that..." (Ref 1)

Keywords search: paparazzi, journalists, media, tabloid, julia gillard, tony abbott, bob brown
If you like this post, you might also like to read the post "The Street called Julia".

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hobsons Bay Quilt Festival

The Hobsons Bay Quilt Festival, organized by the Seabreeze Quilters, was held in 8 venues in Altona, Altona Meadows, Seabrook and Newport, over the last weekend (2nd and 3rd October 2010).

I was having lunch with a new friend at Point Cook Shopping Centre last Saturday. I decided to visit the exhibition at Old Laverton School in Altona Meadows as I have not been to this place before and it is enroute on my return journey to Altona.

Hobsons Bay Quilt Fest @ Old Laverton School A

Here are some quilts on display at the Old Laverton School.

Quilt @ Old Laverton School 05Quilt @ Old Laverton School 09Quilt @ Old Laverton School 04

I was left with time to visit only one more exhibition venue and I chose Louis Joel Arts and Community Centre.

Hobsons Bay Quilt Fest @ Louis Joel Centre A

I had the impression that the quilts exhibited at the Louis Joel Arts & Community Centre were of a higher standard that those at the Old Laverton School. I would not exclude the possibility that my perceptions may be influenced by the better lightings at the Centre.

Quilt @ Louis Joel Centre 07Quilt @ Louis Joel Centre 14Elephant Quilt
Quilt @ Louis Joel Centre 02Seabreeze QuiltersQuilt @ Louis Joel Centre 12
Quilt @ Louis Joel Centre 06Quilt @ Louis Joel Centre 10Quilt @ Louis Joel Centre 03

I wish to highlight a very special and interesting quilt piece, named the "Bathing Belles".

Bathing Belles 1

Every new member to the Seabreezer Quilters Club will be given a small fabric containing the outline of an undressed lady. She will then use her imagination to sew the clothes, head-dress and footwear for this lady. Some will clothe the lady in a highly elaborate costume while others may prefer to leave the lady scantily-clad. The different individual works are then stitched together to form a large quilt. This quilt is a masterpiece in progress and will continue to grow in size indefinitely as more members join the club. One day, it may get so large that it becomes difficult to find an exhibition venue high enough to hang it.

Closeup of the Bathing Belles
Bathing Belles 3