The Battle for Bell Street

Forty one year old Shaun Damous’ late grandfather Luigi Damous was a Macedonian immigrant who grew up on High St in Northcote and lived there all his life, after immigrating to Australia in 1949.

“When grandpa lived [in Northcote] they were housing commission residents or immigrants. Or a mix of both,” Damous said.

“Many lived in rooming houses or hostels before moving into the workforce.”

Northcote is part of the federal seat of Cooper (formerly Batman) which is predicted to be a tight battle between Labor incumbent Ged Kearney and the Green’s David Risstrom.

The Liberal/National Coalition didn’t even field a candidate in last year’s by-election.

The north of Bell Street is still predominately working class with a mixture of university students, immigrants, and public housing residents.

But with the exception of high-rise public housing in Fitzroy and Collingwood, the southern half of the electorate is no longer working class.

“They’ve mostly sold up and moved on. Grandpa could never afford $8 for a pot of craft beer,” Damous said.

Many old properties, including High St shops south of Bell Street, have been converted into modern apartment complexes.

Greens candidate for Cooper David Risstrom. Photo: Ashley Geelan

A tram ride from La Trobe University to Smith St Collingwood reveals that many of the shops on Plenty Rd and High St north of Bell St are closed, derelict, up for lease, or pawn shops.

And many are covered in graffiti, boarded up, or under construction.

South of Bell St it’s a different story.

The old corner pubs on High St and Plenty Rd are gone – replaced by boutique bars, cafes, vinyl record stores and antique shops selling items such as a (non-functional, with no ink ribbon) 1970’s Remington mechanical typewriter for $799.

The type of traders and infrastructure show the stark demographic differences either side of Bell St.

As older generations move out and younger generations move in the demographics of the electorate continue to change.

Former public housing properties south of Bell St are continuing to be sold to developers as land values increase.

With land values also increasing north of Bell St, the Department of Human Services has begun selling properties in North Preston and Reservoir.

Current Greens candidate for Cooper, David Risstrom, was Victoria’s first elected Green and twice elected to Melbourne City Council in 1999 and 2002.

Labor MP Ged Kearney will be running for Cooper. Photo: Sean Carroll

“I delivered over 130 Greens policies, programs and services to improve the standard of living for our residents,” Risstrom said.

“I will work hard to secure real action on climate change, decent wages and conditions, improved public health, free education, affordable housing [and] a return to public ownership [of essential services].”

“We need a government that works for us not the big end of town,” he concluded.

Labor candidate, and former ACTU president, Ged Kearney won the 2018 by-election after David Feeney was forced to resign over citizenship issues.

She hopes to retain the seat.

“When I was at the ACTU I was advocating for all workers and workers rights,” Kearney said.

“So when I got asked – and I did get asked – I saw the opportunity to take my advocacy to the next level.

“I have quite a diverse electorate but there are universal issues…I will continue to fight for the rights [of] refugees.”

The battle of Bell St is on 18 May.

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