Northcote: From safe Labor seat to Greens stronghold


Sarah Emery

Northcote hipster humor.

Anchored between Merri Creek and Darebin Creek is the district of Northcote, an inner metropolitan seat first established in 1927 and held successively by Labor until the 2017 by-election. Since 2002, the Greens have gained momentum in Northcote, adding pressure to Labor and pushing Liberal candidates further out of the contest.

The electorate includes the suburbs of Alphington, Fairfield, Thornbury, Northcote and part of Preston. Boundaries have remained largely unchanged since the 1980s, with only slight adjustments made to the northern border ahead of the 2014 election. The state electoral division of Northcote extends to Bell Street and operates in the same area as the City of Darebin.

Mayor Kim Le Cerf said Darebin leads a “progressive agenda”, which is why the community voted in more new councillors than old councillors. “From the very start there was a clear message of renewal,” she said.

Elected as mayor of the Rucker Ward in 2016, Cr Le Cerf is concerned about the increasing population and the effects of climate change.

“Population growth and climate change are two things that are colliding together and will have a massive impact on future generations,” she said.

Darebin City Councillors have made it clear that road and rail issues are the priorities for the November state election. They want five level crossings removed on the Mernda train line between Thornbury and Reservoir stations to solve the issue of congestion. Council also want the state government to fund an effective roads package at Reservoir, which is “essential to deliver promised improvements to the shopping centre and traffic flow,” a spokesperson said.

Jika Jika Community Centre is a Neighbourhood House located in Northcote that provides local residents with activities, childcare, support networks, education opportunities and a place to meet new people. Nicole Battle from Neighbourhood Houses said the community want more support and an even playing field for the community education providers.

“Extra funding to TAFE is great, but they’re not equipped to deal with vulnerable students: people who may be experiencing homelessness or domestic violence, for example,” she said. “TAFEs aren’t able to deal with those issues, but we are.”

Jika Jika staff member Gina Wittingslow mentioned the Walker Street public housing estate, as a problem that needs to be addressed. The state government plans to demolish the existing site and replace 87 units with 96 mostly one and two bedroom flats.

“We work on that estate and it’s pretty full on. There’s a woman who raised her kids there, and now she’ll have to downsize to a one bedroom,” she said. “I’m not for or against it, but it’s a big issue.”

In recent years, voters have followed a similar trend to neighbouring inner city seats and slowly drifted towards the Greens. The final tallies of votes from the past four elections indicate a two-way battle between the Greens and Labor in the electorates: Brunswick, Melbourne, Northcote and Richmond.

Labor has strong roots in Northcote and has won every election until last year, when a by-election was triggered by the death of Labor MP Fiona Richardson. The Greens candidate Lidia Thorpe defeated Labor’s Clare Burns with an 11 per cent swing to the Greens.

Ms Thorpe is the first Indigenous woman elected as an MP in the Victorian Parliament. “We said we’d make history, and we did,” Ms Thorpe told supporters.

Ms Thorpe campaigned for policies related to rental prices, public transport and overcrowding. In a Facebook post from 17 October 2017, she said “If elected, I’ll fight passionately for our environment and lobby hard for the establishment of the Great Forest National Park, which will protect endangered wildlife and water supplies, create sustainable long-term jobs and build our local economy.”

Located approximately five kilometres from Melbourne, Northcote covers 21 square metres of residential areas, trendy shopping strips and leafy parks. Yarra Bend Park, the John Cain Memorial Park and the infamous Northcote shopping plaza are a few local trademarks. Northcote is a multicultural and ethnically diverse metropolitan seat. In 2016, it was recorded that 64,788 people lived in the district with 33 per cent born outside of Australia.

Most people in the Northcote electorate rent their homes (40 per cent), which is unlike the rest of the state, where the majority own their home with a mortgage (35.3 per cent). Northcote dwellers are also different to Victorians in their means of transport to work. On average, 7.7 per cent of people use their bike to commute, compared to 1.2 per cent of Victorians.

In recent years, residents have noticed new apartment buildings spring up and a younger demographic of renters move in. Gentrification has transformed the main streets and neighbourhoods, attracting tertiary educated young professionals. On average, 42.8 per cent of residents have attained a Bachelor Degree or higher. This is statistically high compared to state average of 24.3 per cent. The average weekly personal income is $824 compared to $644 of Victorians. Many have been “priced out” of living in the electorate because of the increase in rental and house prices.

High Street in Northcote is indisputably one of the most popular destinations. Shop owner Kelly Vizzari said the demographics of Northcote residents are changing.

“There are more hipsters around,” she said. “And there are lots of young couples with kids.”

When Ms Vizzari lived in the area decades ago, she said High Street, Northcote was “a bit of a hole.” Now, her boutique store thrives off the younger clientele.