Prahran caught in the middle
Before setting off to Prahran, I’d heard polemic views about this neighbourhood.
Some say it’s scandalously gentrified and growing increasingly like an extension of downtown scene while others give glowing reviews about the sprawling shops and the clubs. After the visit, I realized they were all right about Prahran. Prahran is something in the middle. It’s a tug of war between the two different life styles. It’s hard to put a label on it and pin it down as a certain something. Be it kitsch, chic, cheap, high-end, beatnik, pretentious, cynical, retro or homogenous, all of the adjectives can somehow be applied to Prahran but they don’t tell you the whole story. I guess that had come to define Prahran for me, a place struggling in the middle. Not yet ready to say goodbye to its rebellious past, but not exactly hostile to its future of urbanization.
Walking down Chapel St, I knew I was officially entering Prahran when I saw rows of two-story street-lining Victorian terrace houses and sporadic outbreaks of graffiti in the alleys. This upper part of the street offered insight into its past, the more off- mainstream side of Prahran. Back in the 70s, Prahran attracted a throng of misfits looking to build up an alternative life style in the inner-city suburb. They opened bookshops, antique shops, organic stores, and record shops. The sense of pride to be against the grain was palpable. Today, the shops were pretty much gone. The only traces of that revolution are the few remaining co-op shops and vintage boutiques. In a musk-smelling boutique, I picked up one un-priced mint-conditioned scarf from the wicker basket on the floor and approached the owner, a mid-age hippie who squinted at the scarf and gave me a terse answer “Six dollars.” In Prahran, people can still afford to be different. It’s just that people seem to prefer paying up to blend in. Before I moved on, I caught sight of kids spraying paint on the wall as if they were the last bastion of warriors.
Heading further down, I saw rebellion giving away to conformity. Chain stores aggressively inhibited the historic buildings. Those Edwardian-style emporiums looked too awkward and ornate to be housing Starbucks, tanning salon, and a pizza parlour.
Knowing what to expect up ahead, I decided to turn back and visited something much light-hearted - Prahran’s market.
Being the longest-running market in Melbourne, (been there since the 19th century) Prahran market is compact in scale but more intimate and less distracting than Queen Victoria’s Market. Everyone knows that Prahran offers the freshest possible produce in the whole of Melbourne. It might be slightly pricier than QVM but at least I didn’t see any wilting cauliflower or melting melon here.
Also, on offer was a good cross-section of food from different cultures. Foodies wouldn’t want to miss the delis. Arguably the best in the city, they stock everything you can put in your mouth. Spices and nuts, home-made dips, an assortment of cheese, local and imported wines.
After a decadent cupcake (or two?) and some wine-tasting, I felt part of the cynicism had died within me. That afternoon, I walked away from Prahran with a bag full of cheeses, leaving the battle of gentrification behind.
How to get there,
Prahran covers several streets, including Church St, Chapel St. Malvern Road, Commericial Road. The market is near the corner of Chapel Street. If departing from the city, catch tram #72 from Swanston Street or a Sandringham line train to Prahran Station. [more]
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