Astrid Kitchen – Social Anthropology – University of Melbourne – Australia
The rumors are true!
I arrived just over a week before orientation week begun. This decision was a source of a lot of stress and brain worms. Shifting the date earlier was at the expense of my summer holiday at home but in the end, a week did feel like plenty of time particularly since there is not a lot going on in orientation week despite attendance being compulsory. The downside of forsaking pre-arranged accommodation meant rocking up on the early morning of July 11th jet lagged, vitamin d deficient and bereft into an atmosphere where everyone is competitively in the same boat. I stayed at the Nunnery, in Fitzroy, for 10 days in total. My memories of it are a little muddled by the confusion of settling in those first couple weeks but it is a nice establishment, especially for those winter months, it’s living room hosting a nightly fire and weekly pub quiz and it’s kitchen, plays host to a free breakfast which consists of pancakes on a Saturday. True to its name, the majestic building used to be home to a convent and so the building has a multiplicity of rooms almost all of which were which were full of other exchange students also trying to find a house.
Two of those were fellow U.K. chicks and my future housemates from Edinburgh University (most exchange students seem to be, be warned). They were lucky enough to find a cushy 8 bed property in Parkville. Prior to this offer, I was in the obsessive routine of attending four to five viewings each day. These I’d found on the notice board in union house, on Facebook (Fairy Floss Real Estate and MUSEX housing), on Flatmate Finders/ flatmates.com and on realestate.com.
In order to succeed in this vicious battle, expect yourself to be shackled to your phone. You have to be refreshing your search almost 24/7 because people are so overwhelmed with enquiries it comes down to first come first serve and with social media being so accessible, this meant you had to reply to a post within 10 minutes or so if you stood a chance of a viewing let alone a signing. I went to 15 viewings all in all, none of which I felt good about. I was casting my net wide because to be frank, beggars can’t be choosers and I didn’t at that point have any better offers so this meant trekking to eerie parts of Thornbury and Northcote I have since never returned to.
Area wise, Parkville is dreamy. It is a 5 minute morning gander to Uni and the Royal Park and its tram stops accommodate a direct route into the bosom of the CBD. It is also a 20 minute walk to the edge of Brunswick and Fitzroy. In spite of such perks, there is unfortunately not an abundance of student housing in Parkville, indeed I think ours might be one of the only ones and as such, number 23 has quite a reputation among the middle class locals for being rather unruly. Needless to say, we got lucky. However, second is perhaps Carlton, which tends to be quite pricey but is practically on campus (although I would argue this means it somehow does not really feel like the ‘real Melbourne’). It’s populated mostly by Uni and administration buildings so hasn’t got much buzz. Brunswick is a great student area but it is rather sprawling so if you find yourself quite far down Sydney Road, for example, (heading towards Coburg) or deep in the tangle of its many residential roads then your commute to class could end up being 40 minutes on the tram. Saying that, most Australian students live in greater Victoria and will drive or take a 1-2 hour train each morning so maybe Brunswick is relatively local in the grand scheme of things? The area is affordable and full of charm, I worked at one of its many cafes for a number of months. Fitzroy is the somewhat pretentious crème de la crème of trendy Melbourne and the birthplace of the hipster. Every male will be wearing a cap, have a moustache and a canvas tote bag on one shoulder. If you’re lucky enough to find somewhere around Brunswick road (confusingly, not in Brunswick) or Nicholson street then you’ve made it in life and congratulations are in order. You will never be short of a local buzzing bar or caf to pop out to, and if you don’t-it’s really not the end of the world because you can still enjoy its crazy cool from a distance without being a resident. I would also really recommend the often overlooked North Melbourne. It is also a student area, particularly for locals, but feels a little more quiet or suburban even though it is still only 10 mins from Uni. It has a real community feel to it: there is the quirky Arts center, the famous Queen Victoria Market down the road plenty of nice cafes and restaurants whose punters sit outside on the pavement.
In relation to the logistics of house hunting, there is a huge sub-letting trend here. The legality of this is a little questionable but everyone does it because housing is always under such high demand. However, this means people are less likely to move out permanently. Therefore, everyone else we knew and met had not been lucky in finding an empty property to fill with new selected housemates but had found a room amongst strangers. This is particularly prevalent now we are approaching second semester since all those who were in student village or college have banded together in groups who would like to live together but already I have heard that it looks as though this is a little idealistic. Particularly for February where the hunt is intensified, being in the summer season. There is a lot to be said for hopping into a pre-established house and I hail those who do. It is a fab way of integrating into life as a local, meeting people in a more authentic and long lasting way and also means a lot of the hassle of bills etc is already taken care of for you.
All in all, house hunting is not much more than a game of luck in Melbourne but you can help your chances by ensuring you arrive a bit before the start of term and that you stay on the ball during your first few days in the big city.