The tiny Melbourne suburb that almost didn’t exist

Tiny Melbourne suburbs that pack a punchWhere you can’t buy a house for under $1mMap shows boom in $1m median suburbs
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Deepdene is to Balwyn what Cremorne is to Richmond, a neighbourhood which became its own suburb, but kept the postcode.

Deep pockets are required to live here, equal with Canterbury as the second most expensive suburb behind Toorak. The tiny breakaway suburb ??? which only became a suburb in 2010 after a local campaign??? is just one square kilometre in size, but packs a property punch with a median house price of $2.6 million, according to Domain Group data.

Boosting that was a $6.36 million sale last April of a five-bedroom resort-style period home with tennis court at 16 Barnsbury Road. It was snapped up by a Chinese buyer on an investor visa. The auction showed the clamour to claim a piece of the idyllic surrounds, and another shift in the area’s demographic.

It’s part of a Liberal party stronghold, with the Labor party failing to have a look-in since federal seat Kooyong was drawn up in 1900. Like many parts of Melbourne, Deepdene’s name is a nostalgic nod to the mother country. It shares its title with a country estate near London because of the similarity of the magnificent views at both places.

Before the area’s high ground was taken over by Robert Reid, it was an Aboriginal lookout and a camping ground. Two of Melbourne’s best known Aboriginal identities, Bill Onus and singer Harold Blair, lived in Deepdene in the 50s and 60s, leading the campaign for a “yes” vote in the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal recognition.

A dene is defined as the deep wooded valley of a river. Though there’s no river running though the Melbourne version, English aesthetics abound with stack-stoned homes, cottage gardens and concrete streets.

Single occupancy zoning and village greens, used for sport, create a sense of space for the 2100 people who call it home. Deepdene Footy Club used a local three-hectare park after fielding teams in 1911, with the side inspiring such loyalty that one vice-captain travelled from Ballarat to play for five years.

About the same time, students at the primary school (still a drawcard) would stand on a rail fence to wave to the engine driver of the Deepdene dasher, on the outer circle line.

The train’s gone, but the gum-lined Anniversary Circuit walking trail is another chance to exhale in a haven inside a 10 kilometre radius of the CBD.

But residents are anything but relaxed about threats to their tightly-held dwellings. In heritage-overlaid Reid Estate, owners of Tudor homes with low-fenced front yards all know each other’s names. Many have been there for decades and have banded together to protect their patch and fight institutional creep.

“The war is on to make sure houses are not rolled by a school car park,” explained Victoria Nicholls, from resident action group, HO192.

But the battle to preserve character has been lost in other parts of Deepdene, where bulldozers have made way for faux-chateaus and Neo-Georgians.

Charming original streetscapes have been disrupted by boundary-bursting McMansions. The precinct’s generous blocks make it magnetic to investors, eager to have proximity to Melbourne’s elite private schools.

Local councillor Felicity Sinfield says her biggest frustration is that she can’t do enough to protect character.

“I’m hamstrung by the state government’s policy,” she says, referring to the recently released Plan Melbourne strategy, which looks at long term land use and infrastructure

The push is on to make Deepdene’s strip shops a lively hub for locals and a destination for visitors. The revival of the bygone bustle is beginning with a couple of coffee shops, a Pho restaurant and Postino serving up a popular prosciutto pizza. There’s still a straight-laced sparseness though, perhaps the remnants of the long established alcohol ban in the leafy eastern belt.

The tram along Whitehorse Road, once horse-drawn, now takes passengers to the CBD in 40 minutes. Just as well, because traffic connector Burke Road moves at a snail’s pace. The 109 stops outside “The Providore”, a paddock-to-plate cafe decorated with a striking two-storey “Tree of Life” mural, the type more common in Deepdene’s artistic northern neighbours.

Owner Clare Voitin aims to make her business a welcoming meeting point, serving “what a mum would feed her kids”. She is well aware of the shift in her surrounds, especially in land value since settling 12 years ago. “Since we’ve bought here, things have gone crazy. There’s been dramatic change in the area,” Voitin says.

Real Estate Institute of Victoria data shows a 56 per cent rise in per square metre land value over the past seven years, to $3,678. Sport, schools & postcode pride have tightened the community, but Voitin is now using food as a way for people to know the person they live next to.

Her husband remembers fruit orchards in the area and Clare is rekindling old-fashioned country sentiments like street greetings and sharing produce. To reconnect residents, she’s promoting public gardens and has started a food swapping program where 10 neighbours plant vegetables, fruit trees and herbs, to feed each other organically for a year.

She’s “hellbent” on maintaining the close-knit community which made Deepdene attractive in the first place.

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