Mickleham: What’s it like to live in Australia’s fastest-growing suburb?
This is Mickleham, Australia’s fastest-growing suburb.
Here on the northern outskirts of Melbourne, the national debate about the need for investment in infrastructure — schools, roads, public transport — isn’t some abstract political discussion.
It’s lived experience.
There’s a picture-perfect promise being sold here. The city life you’ve always dreamt of. Billboards beam glowing smiles of young couples in love, ready to dive into their own great Australian dream.
This is Australia’s fastest-growing suburb — Mickleham, Victoria.
You may never have heard of it. Many of the thousands who live here hadn’t until recently either.
As farmers sell up and their land is swallowed by suburbia, buyers have to use their imagination to visualise the picturesque lifestyle they’re buying into.
As Australia’s population hurtles towards at least 40 million by 2050, suburbs like this are the engine room of our boundless growth.
There’s more than one side to the story of Mickleham’s growth, of course. It’s mostly about people moving in, but it’s also a tale of those moving out.
Darren and Angelica Young with their children Lincoln and Chelsea. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
Darren, Angelica and their two kids moved to Melbourne from Brisbane for Darren’s work. They’re some of the 18,000 who’ve moved to Victoria in the past year, pushing Melbourne’s population towards Sydney’s.
After renting, they decided they wanted to have their own place. They say they wanted security. And why would they want to pay someone else’s mortgage?
Mickleham family Angelica and Darren Young and their children Lincoln and Chelsea enjoy their new living space. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
“We rented a really small unit and felt constricted,” Darren says. “I wanted a big house so we knew we’d have to move further out. We did have to work hard to get a deposit, but we wanted it real bad and we did it.”
From their new home in Mickleham, Darren commutes about 30 kilometres south to his office job in the CBD and Angelica works two jobs in aged care, despite undergoing cancer treatment, calmed by the reminder that they’re coming home to their own piece of paradise.
As housing costs and higher-density living turn some homebuyers off city living, outer suburbs like Mickleham pull them in with 5 per cent deposits on house-and-land packages starting at $500,000 — if you get in early.
So what is it that’s keeping many of us clinging to a belief that home ownership leads to a happier life?
“We wanted to get away, have a fresh start, a new beginning and a brand new house. And we’ve got everything – community, family, my brother’s two doors down, and a house with the lot. So hopefully we can just cark it here,” says Craig Bolten. (ABC News: Margaret Burin )
“We were from Craigieburn and we wanted to have a larger home. We had a two-bedroom house and it wasn’t big enough for friends, family and entertaining. I like the quietness here. We’re very happy,” Adam Villani says. “I miss the house when I go away for work,” his partner Dean King adds. (ABC News: Margaret Burin )
“I didn’t want to come out this far initially,” says Emily Blair, pictured with her husband Ashly and their two dogs. “My husband said Craigieburn was his limit but when we were looking it was just not affordable — five minutes further it was much more affordable for us starting out. Ashly wanted the three-car garage, so we were really looking for the right-sized block. Everything we wanted we were able to get.” (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
Within the 12 months to June last year, Mickleham grew by more than 3,500 people. New land releases by the week suggest no sign of those numbers slowing any time soon.
By day, it lies almost dormant.
Even though there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of workers living here, there are the same number of jobs as around 10 years ago.
For single mum Paurnami Jitesh it means a commute of one hour and 45 minutes to and from work on the opposite edge of the CBD.
Single mother Paurnami Jitesh loves her new home life with her seven-year-old son Dev, but she says she’s struggling with a more than three-hour return commute to work. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
“Why I moved here, I fell in love with the nature and beauty. I’ve always loved the country lifestyle,” she says.
“I love my job but the travelling is killing me. They have to do something about it.”
There’s currently no public transport here. There are also no shops. No doctors. No high school.
The petrol station, a vital source of caffeine for the peak-hour tradie rush, is the only thing around this new Mickleham estate other than homes.
A petrol station is one of the few commercial endeavours amid Mickleham’s residential estates. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
A digger on the construction site at a new housing estate in Mickleham, Victoria. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
For those on Australia’s suburban frontier, it’s about pegging out their patch of green fields while the fields are still green. And that means being patient.
“When I came here, there was nothing, just grass,” Paurnami says. “Seeing that from scratch that things are growing, that makes you happy, you’re being a part of something which is going to be big. It’s wonderful.”
At the same time, many question why services and infrastructure aren’t part of the Government’s decision to greenlight billion-dollar developments. They hope the vision being sold lives up to its promise.
“There’s not enough high schools for the future for the area. That’s very important for me. And things for the teenagers to do. In the future if there’s nothing to do, they make trouble,” says Annie Radulovich, pictured with her husband Rob and children Darius and Deon. “They need to build bigger and better roads because there’s much more heavy traffic,” Rob adds. “There’s no hospital, no police station, train station. They should plan for that in advance. They’re just selling the land as fast as they can.” (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
“We are just waiting for shops, facilities, hospitals, a medical centre. But then, if we had all that before, the house would be more expensive,” says Doreen Moreira, pictured with her husband Saravanan and their sons Utish and Yaashvin. “We got a pretty nice lot, and a good price. We like this place a lot. It’s a good environment for young families.”
(ABC News: Margaret Burin)
“I’d like them to slow down on development, because before these houses we had kangaroos in the backyard, we had an emu and it’s not there no more. It’s a little bit crammed, but I can’t complain. I like it here.” says Paul Hili, pictured with his wife Lydia and kids Jake and Tiana. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
“I think the state and federal governments have got to control the infrastructure more, there’s no point in building a new estate when you’ve got no buses, trams, trains, schools doctors, shopping centres,” says Alan Bolten, pictured with his partner Maureen Ansell. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
The Productivity Commission warned in 2013 that for infrastructure to keep up with population growth over the next 50 years, Australia would need to spend five times what it had spent in the past 50 years.
Outer suburban growth areas received 35 per cent of Australia’s population growth but only 11 per cent of federal infrastructure funding.
A pocket of rural life swallowed by suburbia
If there’s any doubt about the exponential rate of Mickleham’s growth, you only have to visit the local primary school.
A tiny, old, bluestone school house, which was once the classroom for all 10 of its students, still gives off the vibe that you’re in the heart of the country.
Its student size is starting to suggest otherwise. It’s almost doubled from 125 to 242 students in less than two years.
“It’s massive for us, it’s been quite an upheaval,” says school principal Susan Crispe.
A few decades earlier, there were only around this amount of students at the whole school which now has 242 students. (ABC News: Margaret)
Portable classrooms have been tacked on like Legoland to accommodate the rapid influx. But the facilities haven’t quite kept up. They’re still on septic tanks and rainwater. Sometimes the porta-loo style toilet blocks back up and overflow.
“There’s lots of things that people don’t think of when a school that’s been a rural school suddenly grows,” Susan says.
“We’re only now about 900 metres from the closest housing but none of that infrastructure comes out here yet.
“You’ve got that sense of population moving in on you which is a little bit sad but nothing we can do about it. But the children and the sense of the school and the feel is still very much rural.”
Teacher Jess Cocking comes from one of the area’s oldest farming families. Her memories of a childhood in Mickleham will be very different from those her students are forming.
“Mickleham for me is dry grass and bright blue skies in summer, muddy boggy ground in winter, and wild winds,” she says.
“In summer you’d be swimming and catching yabbies in the dam. We were pretty much free to roam, as long as we were back in time for dinner.”
Jess Cocking says she feels blessed to have the childhood she did in Mickleham, before it turned into suburbia. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
The 31-year-old has recently moved to the city. She’d rather remember Mickleham the way it was.
“We’ve just accepted it, it is what it is,” Jess says.
“Even if you wanted to stay off the land you’d be rated off it.”
Residents who’ve been here for more than a decade are sitting on multi-million-dollar assets that developers are dying to get their hands on. Some are set to benefit. Big time.
‘It’s time for us to go’
At midday on this Sunday, the Troutbeck brothers are gathered around watching the fire. Their analogue TV is coated in a layer of dust.
There’s a stench of raw meat in the air. Their place is filled with clutter from floor to ceiling. Their mum, who died eight years ago at 102, would scold them, they chuckle.
“When my mum came here she said, ‘God’s own country is Mickleham’,” Garry says. This has been their family’s home for 84 years.
The Troutbeck family property is expected to sell for about $50 million. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
Edward Troutbeck feeds the cattle on his family property in Mickleham. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
Today’s lunch will be sardines on toast. Soon they’ll be able to afford caviar, not that they’d have a bar of it.
“Are you kidding? That stuff’ll kill ya,” scoffs Keith.
The Troutbeck brothers are currently receiving expressions of interest for their dairy property, expected to fetch about $50 million.
The land next door sold for $80 million.
“I’ve been playing Tattslotto for 45 years and never hit the jackpot but it looks like I’m going to hit it now,” Keith says.
It’s his new favourite one-liner.
The thought of staying around the ‘new’ Mickleham isn’t at all appealing to them.
“These kit homes, they’re new slums of Melbourne,” Keith Troutbeck says.
“It’s going to be very sad, but that’s life, you can’t stop progress.”
“It’s time for us to go,” Edward adds.
Two of the brothers are thinking about heading out to the western district while one plans to move a little north. They’ll continue farming “where it’s a bit quieter” and pay for in-home aged care.
As the Troutbecks move on, bustling suburbia ploughs ahead. Tradesmen work into the evening, through weekends and on public holidays to fast-track the huge promises made to Mickleham’s newcomers.
Andrew Cini is one of them.
In his palm lies a tiny symbol of his big vision.
Andrew Cini says he feels different after being handed the keys to his brand new home. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
He just got the keys to his $500,000 five-bedroom, three-bathroom house on his own 576 square metres of land. It’s his incomplete dream.
“People say they create their memories and dreams in their house. What will this house bring me?”
Watch part two of 7.30’s series on Australia’s population debate tonight on ABCTV and ABCiview.