The global wanderers of Boyd Park
By Rhonda Dredge
Global IT workers have to make sacrifices in terms of both travel and accommodation until they find the right conditions for a home office and a good life.
Many have tried out jobs in Asian cities before arriving in Melbourne and settling around Boyd Park in Southbank.
Prasoon and Seema Thakura are from Mumbai and they lived in Jakarta, Bangkok and Singapore before coming here 12 years ago.
“People like us go to Australia and the United States,” Prasoon said. “It’s a progression. An employee joins the company and gets experience in international working.”
Prasoon designs IT platforms for media and entertainment broadcasters. Last year the family decided to put down roots and they became the first residents to move into Melbourne Square after buying an apartment off the plan. They’d been looking for seven to eight years.
“For an immigrant coming from Mumbai we are comfortable living in tall vertical complexes,” Prasoon explained.
The family also loves the new Woolworths down below with its diverse shelves and the mix of nationalities in this densely populated enclave around Boyd Park. “People are well-educated, and conversation is easy.”
On any one day, the residents of these surrounding towers, some as high as 91 floors, come down to the park to mingle, let their kids play, work on their laptops, and watch the parade of people pass. It’s a minor miracle of mingling.
The racial mix is more Singaporean than Melburnian, an observation born out by the figures. More than 54 per cent of residents of Southbank were born overseas.
A large red rail flyover that runs down one side of the park also has symbolic significance. The urban vibe is reminiscent of Brooklyn, a destination for immigrants seeking a new life in the United States. The association hasn’t been lost on Southbank’s global wanderers.
Andrea Feo has dual citizenship and arrived here from Italy two-and-a-half years ago. He lives on the second floor of an apartment tower, and works at South Melbourne Market with Thursdays off when he challenges himself with an IT course.
He said the railway bridges and Kings Way overpass were like those in New York, Boston or Chicago. “I love the sound of the traffic,” he said. “It’s like white noise. It stimulates a response in the brain. When I open the windows, I feel part of something. The buildings are like mountains.”
He likes to go down to Boyd Park to study. He calls it a co-working space. Andrea is a user-experience designer and his aim, like many who arrive here fresh off the plane, is to get an IT job and earn enough money in a year to buy a car. He wants a BMW electric car.
These new residents of Southbank aren’t just romanticising their choices. They’ve actually checked out the rest of the city before moving in.
Andrea has lived in Elsternwick, Brunswick, Fairfield, Caulfield South, in a group house and an AirBnB and he’s finally settled on a single bedroom apartment with a north-facing balcony nearby. “This is a place for me to grow up,” he said.
The Thakuras feel the same way. “We spent time travelling and seeing what the country was like,” Prasoon said. “We found a cluster of Asians here, a cluster of Indians there. We went to Footscray and I liked it. It’s very multicultural but now it’s more hippy.”
After buying the apartment, Prasoon was stuck in the United States and Seema had to manage the move herself. Prasoon made it back two weeks ago at a cost of $30,000 for a one-way ticket, the price of getting back home without repatriation. There were only five people on the plane.
Seema used to travel to the suburbs or walk to King St to buy the kinds of ingredients she needs for her home cooking. The new Woolworths in Melbourne Square has an entire aisle devoted to authentic Indian and Asian products, including several choices of “pap” (short for pappadam) and red lentils. “There’s a lot of cooking with a home office,” she said. “Two meals a day.” •