North Fitzroy's 10 Most Powerful 2021
By Charlie Gill
The Dalai Lama
Yes, you read that right – the world’s most eminent spiritual leader is a local. Well, sort of. During his 1982 tour of Australia, he stayed in a house on Alfred Crescent. Many have reported walking through the eastern edge of Edinburgh Gardens and feeling at peace, overcome by the residual energy left over from his stay 39 years ago.
So, inscribe it in history books: right next to Helen of Troy, the Dalai Lama of North Fitzroy. And if you happen to see him, don’t be surprised and embarrass the rest of us. He’s becoming quite withdrawn in his old age, but maybe you’ll be lucky enough to spot him mid-kickflip at the Fitzy Bowl, mid-snag at a ‘Roys game or half-way through a Dalai Parma at the North Fitzroy Arms.
The thing that most love about North Fitzroy is its ‘village vibe’. How wonderful it is to stroll from shop to shop then back home for a cuppa; all of us pretending we live in some quaint rural English town.
You know what they say: the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the boutique bottle-o, the organic grocer, the expensive hairdresser, the vegan shoe shop…In truth we have more than we need, though there is one essential product that even we would struggle to gentrify: firewood.
Jimmy Goumas’ Fitzroy Fuel Supply, situated on Nicholson Street, has been providing North Fitzroy (and surrounding suburbs) with firewood for over thirty years, and there’s little doubt that power resides in the man who keeps the neighbourhood warm. Jimmy realised the size of his responsibility during lockdown last year – “I didn’t realise how many people only had wood heaters or open fires… they really rely on wood for heating”.
“I was doing a lot of 12, 15-hour days during the first lockdown, to keep everyone warm.”
What could better sum up this village vibe than the heart-warming image of Jimmy toiling away to keep everyone from freezing? We all have our own role and responsibility. So what are you waiting for – go gather some kindling for you and your neighbours. Crumple up The Rotunda immediately.
Editor of the Bark Street Times
The Rotunda’s inaugural issue made an incorrect and frankly arrogant claim: how many newspapers can boast of a dog reporting from the actual field? The answer: more than one.
The Bark Street Times, based out of Mark Street, was a publication run by three-year-old Albert, pioneer of canine literacy and eloquent journalist.
His piece Stick – “STICK! I just got a big stick at the park. I can run so fast with my big stick. STICK STICK STICK” – won a Walkley award, praised as a “breathtaking investigation into the intricacies of want, desire and possession.” (Albert is no doubt the first dog to be more excited by Walkleys than Walkies).
A neighbourhood powerbroker, Albert is the sort of hound to take his owner for a walk. Amazingly, his reputation remains rock-solid despite his involvement in an embezzlement scandal. As reported in The Times itself, “the interns became suspicious when they noticed some frivolous purchases, including a 24k gold lead, and a sizable donation to Melbourne Museum’s dinosaur exhibition.”
Did Albert get those bones? Who knows? When told of his inclusion in this article, he had this to say: “I believe in graciously passing on the torch for fearless, independent journalism. Democracy dies in the barkness.”
Nadia Lerk, Maternal and Child Health Nurse at Bargoonga Nganjin (The North Fitzroy Library) (PHOTO OF BABIES AND GHENGIS, AND MAYBE MLK, CUT OUT)
Genghis Khan was an extremely cute baby. 800 years ago, Mongolians dropping in on the Khan household would squeeze the chubby little cheeks of a soon-to-be mass murderer with idea what he was to become. And how could a pedestrian in 1930s Atlanta know they were passing a pram containing Martin Luther King Junior?
We all know our children are our future, but only a few of us are able to glimpse the probable outcomes. Nadia Lerk is one of them, as the hands-on guardian of our tiny North Fitrovians (and the mothers who made them). She’s been a Maternal and Child Health Nurse for nearly ten years and is currently working at our library, Bargoonga Nganjin.
Most parents have unnecessary anxieties, and indeed Nadia says that “sometimes they worry about things that they really don’t need to worry about”. Aside from having a proclivity
for somewhat unique names, she notes that inner north parents are particularly “career oriented”. Thus, these anxieties might not just be ‘is my baby’s head too large?’ but also ‘will my baby’s ATAR be over 98?’
But with Nadia’s care and competency oversight, parents can be assured their children will grow into healthy and responsible adults. Darling little Genghis will be just fine. As Nadia says, “It’s nice to be part of people’s family, to be part of their journey. It’s nice to be able to support them.”
City of Yarra councillor
While she may live in Collingwood, Greens councillor Sophie Wade’s sphere for influence certainly encompasses North Fitzroy – she’s part of the nine-person City of Yarra council who will choose whether or not to sell a laneway to Piedimonte’s that’s crucial to its redevelopment. She may spend her days tabling petitions, making decisions and overlooking conditions (as she also works in consumer law), but that doesn’t necessarily make her feel powerful. “It depends. Some days I feel like I get to make a real difference, some days I feel like a little kid”.
“I do feel a lot of responsibility. People come to you with real issues… and I don’t want to let them down.”
And how does it feel being outranked by a dog?
“That’s the way it should be. It sounds like The Bark Street Times is a very important publication and that Albert is doing a very good job.”
Sophie was then informed of Albert’s embezzlement scandal.
“Now I’m offended.”
Editor of The Rotunda
Gill’s career as a journalist began at age four, when he exposed an illegal dummy-dealing racket at Isabel Henderson Kindergarten. Staff subsequently introduced a pacifier pat down for the pre-schoolers, making Gill wildly unpopular amongst his peers. Wanting to break free of his tattle-tale reputation, he pivoted – modelling himself on Hunter S. Thompson while at North Fitzroy Primary School. He developed a crippling Whizz Fizz addiction and released his satirical memoir – No Hat, No Play, No School Today – at the age of 12. It has recently been re-released as a Penguin Classic.
He now heads The Rotunda, North Fitzroy’s most prestigious source of local news.
Of the North Fitzroy Post Office
LAX. JFK. NFPO. All places where paths cross; journeys begin and end; precious cargo is dropped-off and received. Airports and post offices share many similarities, but no airport can match the status of the North Fitzroy Post Office as not only one of our suburb’s seven wonders, but a wonder of the world. All the moments one experiences at the N.F.P.O are treasured and remembered forever, from an early morning parcel pick-up to a long wait during the late-afternoon rush.
But if standing in line can at times feel like being aboard a plane going through significant turbulence, we can be assured the captain at the helm of flight NFPO21 will always guide us to a safe landing. So, who is that captain? It’s the effervescent and efficient Jimmy, who never forgets a name, instinctively knows the most cost-effective express envelope for your luggage and always has time to share good vibes. Truly iconic
The Chip Maker
at Super Tasty Rooster
North Fitzroy’s economy runs on chips. They are to North Fitzroy what oil is to Saudi Arabia.
Super Tasty’s chips are so good that we have to frequent Jack and Hill Fitness Studio or Healthy Fit to compensate, rebooting at Piccante or Dench for a post-workout coffee to fuel a tedious day at work. When we finally get our paycheque, the first place we go is back to Super Tasty Rooster. The cycle continues.
Is there some ancient, secret recipe hidden under the floorboards? Or perhaps St Mary Mackillop and the Dalai Lama have transcended religious difference to jointly bless those delicious chips?
Or perhaps it’s just the work of some anonymous genius, a humble and reliable champion; the chicken salt of the earth. Take down the worm statue in Edinburgh Gardens – replace it with a Tomb for the Unknown Chip Maker. If you’re reading this, we love you.
St Mary of the Cross (Mary Mackillop)
A tutelary deity is a spirit who is guardian, patron or protector of a particular place – e.g., Athena is the tutelary deity of Athens. Does North Fitzroy have one? A powerful, mystic entity to which its residents can pray?
Enter Mary Mackillop, canonised by the Catholic Church in 2010 and born at 9, Brunswick Street. Mackillop belongs to an extremely rare club – Australian saints recognised for achieving miracles, her only fellow member being Nick Riewoldt (his miracle being a back-with-the-flight mark against Sydney in 2004).
Miracles aside, Mary is celebrated for her education of poor and disadvantaged children and while her birth-address may be slightly south of our borders, Mary’s influence inarguably travelled north – right up the Number 11 tram route and continuing on to The Vatican. So the blessed St Mary must have gone through North Fitzroy at some point. That’s our tutelary deity sorted.
North Fitzroy’ s most powerful voice
Linda Bull may not possess the legislative power of councillors nor the agenda setting capabilities of newspaper editors. But she can certainly lay claim to having North Fitzroy’s most powerful voice. (Along with her sister Vika, also a mainstay of the North Fitzroy community).
Linda ran the two sisters’ children’s clothes shop, Hoochie Coochie, which was a fixture of the village from 2006 to 2016. As popular as it was, when it comes to being a powerbroker, it’s all in the singing.
Linda admits that “I was always quite shy on stage...I’ve gathered momentum as I grow older”. But when it comes to the mechanics, “that volume and strength in the voice was always there”.
This vocal power was on display when she and Vika performed the national anthem at the 2016 AFL Grand Final, a stunningly beautiful rendition with no backing track – “I didn’t feel powerful, I felt really lucky, but nervous because the power was in our hands to stuff it up or make it really good.”
And in an inspiring coming-together of two local icons, Linda has personally performed for fellow sometime North Fitzrovian, the Dalai Lama. “Honestly it was like sunshine in the room when he walked in.”
And doesn’t that just sum-up the way we appreciate power here in North Fitzroy? Judges, CEOs and businesspeople are very important, of course, but they reign supreme in our world’s most prosaic and unromantic iteration. If we see the world as something beautiful, poetic and defined by feelings rather than figures, then the power we venerate can’t be measured in job-titles or bonuses.
Instead, we value the power of working overtime to keep the neighbourhood’s hands warm; or to keep its stomachs full; or to keep its children safe and its dogs intellectually satisfied. It’s about nurturing the soul. With a dusting of chicken salt.