A Journey Of A Thousand Miles Begins On An Escalator

At times I listen to an Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio Overnights podcast when I traipse around the neighbourhood for my morning walk. As I wander through the streets lined with mature trees I muffle the traffic noise by adjusting the volume of my Walkman so I only hear ABC’s Overnights guests reminiscing about the school Tuck Shop, passionately talking about who was the designated cook in their kitchen and what was their signature dish, or Captain Cook and the Endeavours voyage as told through the eyes of the cabin boy. I wonder if the producers at ABC radio planned on entertaining someone on the other side of the world when they created the Overnights podcasts.

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I don’t notice the front yards without fences in the streets; I’m remembering back when mum helped out at the Tuck Shop at Williamstown Tech. On the days she was a Willy Tech canteen lunch lady we got to buy our lunch; a rare privilege and we walked a little taller. But we made sure we were never close enough to the canteen for mum to see us; we were of the age where it would be so embarrassing if your school yard mates saw you talking to your mum.

Mum was the cook in our kitchen. Her signature dishes was boiling all the veggies in the same saucepan to within an inch of their lives; and when she got a Sunbeam electric fry pan chucking any type of meat, except a roast, into it to cook. Mum’s Sunbeam changed how she cooked in the kitchen; the gas stove was only used for roasts, and boiling vegetables. The Sunbeam spent half it’s life in the cupboard, and the other half on the kitchen table. It cooked sausages and rissoles for our breakfasts, reheated mum’s home made meat pies and sausage rolls for tea, and grilled lamb cutlets and chops. And it heated water to warm up cocktail frankfurts. Cocktail frankfurts are a miniature version of a saveloy, which is akin to a hot dog. It wouldn’t be a true blue Aussie party if it didn’t have a bowl of “little boys” on the table, and a bottle of tomato sauce next to it. I loved cocktail frankfurts.

There was a time, when as soon as I got home from Willy Tech I would head straight for the dining room and sit glued to the wireless listening to the The Air Adventures of Biggles, Superman, The Adventures of the Sea Hound, Robin Hood, and Hop Harrigan. Back then, the only vegetables I would eat were peas and potatoes. Every night just as the serials were ending, mum would bring a plate with a couple of grilled lamb chops or cutlets, and boiled peas into the dining room for my tea.

And now the serials of yesterday have been replaced by the podcasts of today; aural distractions about everything for when you’re walking, gardening, mushroom hunting, or meditating. Recently I discovered Lindsey Green’s People Movers Podcast. Lindsay confesses that at one time she didn’t spend much time thinking about escalators and how much of a difference they’ve made to our lives, but once she started paying attention to them she couldn’t stop. I had downloaded Escalators in Melbourne from Lindsay’s website and as I rounded the corner of Elmwood Park Drive, and passed the No Dogs Allowed On Golf Course sign on the course’s wooden fence, I pushed play on my Sony Walkman

this time we will stay a bit more local and learn about the history of escalators in Melbourne. Melbourne’s first escalators were installed in Swanston Street’s elegant Manchester Unity building; my guide for the tour was a woman named Chloe Martin, she is studying a Masters of Fine Art and was previously a guide for the Louvre in Paris.

I stopped in my tracks. Usually I only stop to pick up lost golf balls; Lindsey had used a guided tour of Melbourne’s Manchester Unity Building as a resource for her Escalators in Melbourne podcast. A little over six months ago, after an elegant Sunday Brunch of champagne, Shakshuka Eggs, and dessert at the ground floor arcade, art deco 1932 Cafe and Restaurant, I joined Chloe for a guided tour of the Manchester Unity Building.

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The soaring Manchester Unity building sits on the corner of Swanston and Collins Streets in Melbourne’s Central Business District. It was constructed in 1931-32 as an Art Deco Gothic inspired office and retail building. Chloe told our group that the basement served as a tea room and cafe, and the ground and first floors were designed as shopping arcades. There aren’t many shops left on the ground floor but you can still imagine the joy of shopping, and strolling the arcade from Swanston Street through to Collins street, and to Howey place. Chloe shared that the building had Melbourne’s first escalators when it opened; one from the ground floor up to the first floor shops, and one down to the basement level; though there was no escalator down from the first floor arcade, or up from the basement tea rooms. Chloe talked lovingly of the escalator to the first floor. When the building opened it was described as a magical staircase, and it received 60,000 visitors; a nurse was on hand to treat people if they needed medical assistance after their ride on the magical staircase. The original escalator to the first floor is still there; the outside wood panelling has been refurbished and the wooden moving stairs have been replaced. I looked forlornly at the non moving magical staircase; it was Sunday. I placed my hand on the stationary handrail, and vowed to return to ride the magical staircase.

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Chloe ushered the group into the restored lift and when we arrived on the first floor gathered us into a circle and prepared us for our journey through the restored first floor mezzanine, the boardroom, and the rooftop terrace. A lot of the building had fallen into disrepair when Dr Kia Pajouhesh, owner of the dental practice Smile Solutions, bought the mezzanine first floor. The refurbished shabby, vacant retail shops and offices of a by gone era became the dental suites of Smile Solutions; complete with period detailing. Over the years Kia acquired more areas of the unique Manchester Unity Building, and now Smile Solutions operates twenty five surgical suites across five floors and the five story tower. He has restored much of the 1930s building, and nowhere is his commitment, attention to detail, and diligence reflected more so than in the iconic boardroom. A pair of shoes found in the wall cavity and thought to be left behind by one of the workers in 1932, either on purpose as a tradies ritual, or for when they would return the next day sits on the floor.

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The Meal and Tour isn’t about one mans personal journey, and how a one room, one dentist practice expanded into a service of over eighty clinicians consulting to more than 90,000 people. I’m not exactly sure if it was on the rooftop terrace, or when the group was waiting for the lift, but Chloe let the cat out of the bag. It wasn’t meant as a Smile Solution’s boast, self-aggrandisement, or pretension, but she let slip that Smile Solutions is the official dentist of the Collingwood Football Club. There was a lonely cheer from a Collingwood supporter in the group. Even though the group only numbered a little over twenty, some on the outer fringe hadn’t heard Chloe’s comment but word spread quickly; like a bushfire in the Mallee. And affectionate chorus’s of ‘Carn the Doggies, ‘Carn the Hawks, ‘Carn the Tigers erupted. I learnt later what Chloe didn’t tell the tour group was that; Smile Solutions is the official dentist to the Australian Open, the Melbourne Grand Prix, and was the official dentist to the athletes in the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. And Smile Solutions is the official dentist to the Collingwood Cheer Squad.

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Back when, a cheer squad was a group of adolescents, or young adults, dressed in duffle coats covered with badges emblazoned with the names and jumper numbers of their favourite players. The cheer squad proudly wore their team jumpers, beanies, and scarves, and gathered behind their home goal posts, and waved their floggers whenever their team scored a goal. Floggers, six foot long sticks with massive amounts of streamers taped onto the ends have been banned; there was nothing like a sea of floggers waving behind the goal posts. Cheer squads no longer wear duffle coats, and they don’t wave dangerous floggers so I’m not sure what an official dentist to a cheer squad does.

The Melbourne Football Club’s website lists the following as the duties of the official club cheer squad; it’s known as the Demon Army. I suppose any of the duties listed could cause an impacted wisdom tooth, bleeding or sore gums, periodontal disease, or cracked teeth.

  • Exclusive 2018 Demon Army cap to help you stand out behind the goals on match day
  • The best seats in the house on match day
  • Access to purchase reserved seats at away games
  • The chance to walk on
  • A place to share your passion, and meet new Demon friends
  • Demon Army welcome booklet

On Monday morning I returned to the Manchester Unity Building and stood before the escalator. I slowly put one foot out, took hold of the moving hand rail, and gingerly stepped onto a moving stair. I became a little light headed as the magical staircase carried me to the mezzanine first floor dental suites. I gathered myself and took the lift down to the ground floor. I was a little unsteady walking to the Switchboard Café; a Café serving coffee from what was once the building’s old switchboard cupboard. If only a nurse had been on hand. I spent some time recovering, sipping a flat white, sitting on a seat in a small glass box opposite the Café. Outside a hot dry November wind was busy rushing down the drafty laneway arcade.

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I may not wait for summer to fade into autumn before returning to WestRoads mall to walk three laps of the upper level, and two laps of the lower level. I could use my early return to the mall to work on an improved exercise regime; combining mall walking with escalator Pilates. I think an hour riding the mall escalators would be a great way to combine low impact endurance and muscle stamina with postural alignment.


People Movers Podcast

Switchboard Café

Manchester Unity Building