Two Lakes, Two Worlds
Ordinarily on this weekend, I would be attending Open House Melbourne but as the new owner of a house myself, my Saturday had been allocated to home improvement works and an outing of another kind. At the instigation of my father-in-law, my wife and I travelled with him to Melbourne’s outer-east to visit the famous Caribbean Gardens and Market in Scoresby.
As a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new immigrant, someone had taken my father-in-law to the market in 1985 and for some reason it had re-entered his conscience recently. I’d never been there myself, but I had a certain perception of it being a fairly low-grade trash-and-treasure market and theme park in one. Perhaps it would have been referred-to as a “pleasure gardens” in the nineteenth century if it had existed back then? In retrospect, that would probably be too generous.
Entry to the gardens was $2.50 per person and the queue was astonishingly long. Optimistically, I considered this to be a good sign but after struggling to find a car parking space, I realised that my preconceptions and reality weren’t as far apart as I’d generously hoped.
The gardens seemed somewhat drab, almost a relic from a past era. Perhaps the eager Mums and Dads who were taking their children there were blinded by a fond nostalgia for the place but to me it just seemed tacky and somewhat run down.
As we entered the gardens, we saw some dome-shaped “bird aviaries” (what other kind is there?) with some rather forlorn creatures inside. These were surrounded by peculiar colourful fibreglass seat thingies and some rather dated-looking play equipment. Then there was a 1980’s kiosk-style eatery that gave every impression of selling greasy, fattening deep-fried food. Never mind, I reasoned. There will be some nicer food sellers in the market proper who will sell a good selection of healthier foods from across the globe.
Sadly, I was wrong. Apart from a representative of Mr. Whippy, there were a couple of other deep-fried offerings and some Dutch pancakes and that was about it.
The market itself was also mostly a disappointment.
There was a fresh food section (which seemed rather satisfactory) but most of the market was junk seemingly dominated by cheap imports of gimmicky children’s toys, tacky knick-knacks and an astonishingly varied selection of suspiciously-priced computer software. Who knew that Adobe Photoshop was available for just $10? I really think there may be some work for Border Force here if they can tear themselves away from harassing boat people for five minutes. The brazen nature of the trading actually surprised me although this issue has been raised before.
We walked around the market for twenty minutes hoping for some gold but there wasn’t any. Virtually none of the items on sale were made by the stallholders and in my mind, that makes for an inferior market. Perhaps I am just being a nasty social snob. My mind reasoned that if the market part of the Caribbean Gardens and Market isn’t much chop, then the gardens had better be good but of course they weren’t much chop either. I couldn’t find any evidence of actual gardening. Keeping the grass cut around some trees doesn’t count. The landscape was peppered with an assortment of play equipment, outdoor furniture and the various rides such as the chairlift and train. The lake offered a strange view of distant factories and an absurd-looking waterfall-cum-grotto.
My father-in-law reflected that whilst the market was bigger than it was in 1985, it had declined. My wife and I were rather unimpressed. Hungry, we went to Springvale for lunch.
In the afternoon, I suggested that we visit Jells Park in Wheelers Hill since we were heading north along Springvale Road. I first went to Jells Park as a school child but have been back several times since. Like the Caribbean Gardens, Jells Park was busy but unlike the Caribbean Gardens it wasn’t filled with clutter.
After all the miserable winter weather Melbourne had been experiencing, people seemed eager to get out and enjoy some pleasant sunshine. We had a pleasant stroll down to the lake which offered a much more attractive view. The moorhens were having a lovely time on the water and people seemed contented walking their dogs or taking their young children for a stroll. Being a public park, entry was free but the reserve seemed to offer much better value in other aspects too.
I don’t have children, but to be honest, I can’t imagine taking any to the Caribbean Gardens. Perhaps it was great once. Perhaps not. I really don’t know. But I can think of a dozen other places that would offer much better value (and better nutrition) in an environment that the whole family could enjoy.