The Age

Point made

Author: Shane Green
Date: 22/02/2013
Words: 2592
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: The Melbourne Magazine
Page: 28
You've seen the road signs, probably on the way to somewhere else, but what is Point Cook really like? Shane Green took the turn-off to Melbourne's new middle.

Late morning in Point Cook, and a biting sun is almost done burning off a lingering cloud cover. At the crossroads of Main and Murnong streets, in the middle of the town centre, the easy suburban pace is picking up, fuelled by morning lattes and driven by pre-lunch visits to the shops.

The change of the traffic lights provides a predictable rhythm, as pedestrians wait obediently for the green and then cross diagonally, a nod to making this space feet-friendly. From the vantage spot of a nearby bench, the scene at first seems unremarkable. Yet with each change of the lights, and each crossing, a bigger picture begins to emerge.

The pedestrians of Point Cook are, in the main, young: young parents leaning forward to propel prams and pushers, or herding children to the safety of the footpath. When the lights turn green, small hands are held tightly.

If there is such a thing as the essence of a place, this scene comes as close as anything to capturing Point Cook. Fifteen years ago, this was a stretch of paddocks interrupted only by a few stands of trees. Today, it is one of the fastest growing suburbs in Australia's fastest growing area, the City of Wyndham, on Melbourne's wide western plains.

Point Cook tells the story of greater Melbourne over the past decade. Melbourne experienced the fastest growth of any Australian city, adding more than 600,000 people over that time.

A recent state parliamentary inquiry into liveability in Melbourne's outer suburbs charted this population explosion: for the most part, people went to the urban fringe, mainly to the west and the north. Point Cook's population swelled by 31,300, and is still growing.

By 2021, Point Cook's population is forecast to approach 60,000. Yet these raw numbers tell us only part of the story. Who lives here, and why have they chosen Point Cook?

Swing down the Princes Freeway towards Geelong, and just over 20 kilometres from the centre of Melbourne, the exit signs for Point Cook beckon. Point Cook? Isn't that where the RAAF has a base? More than a base, in fact, the birthplace of a fledgling nation's air force. Yet beyond that important historical fact, Point Cook has just been a place on a sign on the way to somewhere else: the car plants and refineries of Geelong, the beach towns and rolling surf of the Great Ocean Road.

For many of us, the emergence of Point Cook has gone unnoticed. Yet as soon as you take that exit and head towards the town centre, it's clear that something big is happening here. This vista is of pitched roofs of new and big houses, of designed parklands and playgrounds.

A reconnaissance drive around the suburb reveals a mix of the ''established'' estates - those begun a little more than a decade ago - and those still rising from the blueprints.

Head down Boardwalk Boulevard, and the new is replaced by the even newer. Beyond updated designs, the best measure of the age of different pockets of Point Cook is how much the trees have grown. In the newer areas, the rooftops are much higher than the treetops.

Land for Sale signs dot the landscape, while at the information centre for the Featherbrook Estate, six pink, orange, red and purple balloons are tethered to a fence, straining at the leash in the rising breeze.

At Sunnybank Drive, the houses and the asphalt end and the future is being shaped by heavy earthmoving equipment kicking up dust, and punctuating the air with a ''beep, beep, beep'' as they reverse.

That journey - from paddock to estate - has been swift. As recently as 1996, a Wyndham City Council document looked at the ''potential of the Point Cook area for urban development''.

Look for a local driver of Point Cook's development and it's the Sanctuary Lakes Resort, a housing development based around an 18-hole golf course designed by Greg Norman. As the website says, the resort offers a ''self-contained lifestyle enclave where residents are members of an exclusive club". Think pool, gym and sauna et al.

Kay Righetti founded Point Cook Real Estate 17 years ago, selling for the Sanctuary Lakes developer when there was ''basically nothing around except paddocks''.

''It was a leap of faith,'' says Righetti, with the west then regarded by many as the ''off-side of town''.

An overseas consortium saw the potential, however, of a development so close to the city and jobs. The Greg Norman factor helped. ''People would come into the sales centre there and say, 'If it's good enough for Greg Norman, it's good enough for me,'' recalls Righetti.

Righetti has seen how other developers have leveraged off Sanctuary Lakes. Certainly, the concept of the residents' club has taken hold in Point Cook on some estates. The Saltwater Coast estate offers a ''Lifestyle Centre'' including gym, pool and tennis courts for use by residents and their guests. The Alamanda Estate offers similar fare.

Affordability is also a crucial factor, with house and land packages in the vicinity of Melbourne's median house price of $530,000. The census figures show the average Point Cook house nudges four bedrooms.

Affordability and space were among the attractions for Loren Bartley and her family when they moved to Point Cook in March 2006. She and her husband Tony were living with their first child Owen in a two-bedroom apartment in Southbank. With the second of what would be three kids on the way, the limitations of inner-city living were clear.

After the buzz of Southbank, the new Innisfail estate was a culture shock. From their new house, they could see across the paddocks all the way to the freeway. ''So we moved out here and there was nothing. All we did was sleep here, and travelled outside of Point Cook for everything, " she says.

One turning point that transformed their experience was the contact with other parents, once the kinder years began. ''[Then] I couldn't go anywhere in Point Cook without bumping into someone that I knew.''

Bartley, who runs a company helping small business with social media and is executive officer of the Australian Leisure Facilities Association, has also become involved with the residents' association, the Point Cook Action Group.

These people of a new suburb that has taken shape in the digital age have made the most of social media. The community has developed a Facebook group with more than 1000 members, where all kinds of local information is shared. When an explosion recently shattered the prevailing calm, the source - a gas cylinder in a garage - was pinpointed within five minutes.

''A lot of friendships have formed in Point Cook by people getting to know each other by groups on Facebook, and then actually bumping into them in a cafe, and going, 'I recognise your profile picture', " says Bartley.

The construction of the centre (where we meet) about five years ago was a big breakthrough for the suburb, giving it a focal point. The low-rise design, with precincts intersected by streets, is important in making it work.

''There's some very nice environments there,'' says Wyndham Council's advocacy director, Bill Forrest. ''One of the great successes at Point Cook is the town centre, in the sense that you've actually got a main street, as opposed to a box in the middle of a sea of car park."'

The community centre sits at the edge of the town centre, and reflects the people it serves, with a maternal health service, a kindergarten and toy library. The recent census puts the median age in Point Cook at 31, compared with 37 for Victoria and Australia. Children aged up to 14 make up 28.4 per cent of the population here. The Victorian figure is 18.6, and nationally it's 19.3 per cent

The community centre also reveals a diversity that confounds assumptions that this is a "white bread" area. Here you'll find the noticeboard covered with artwork from the local Chinese language school. The census numbers reveal that Point Cook is indeed a multicultural suburb. Asked about their ancestry, people nominated Australian 17.4 per cent, English 17 per cent, Chinese 9.1 per cent and Indian at 6.5 per cent.

Across the road from the community centre, the Glory Asian grocery was started four years ago by Denny Lee and Roger Yeo.

Malaysian-born Lee was in IT in Singapore, while Singaporean Yeo worked in construction. (''A good combination,'' notes Yeo). They became Point Cook grocers after identifying a niche. Their customers come from countries across Asia and stock is tailored accordingly. The business has now expanded, with another store at nearby Werribee Plaza, and cafes at Point Cook, Hoppers Crossing and Wyndham Village.

''The east is now getting very expensive to live in,'' says Lee. ''At Point Cook, we're near the city, and it's a good environment.''

Kay Righetti says she can see the attraction Point Cook holds for many migrants.

''A lot of people coming, for instance, from the UK, from South Africa, from New Zealand, relocating because things aren't great in their country. They get to Tullamarine and turn right and we find them in Point Cook.''

Julie Ryan was struck by the area's cultural diversity after she and her husband Rob Paladino transplanted their family of five from the multicultural inner suburbs, and their Pascoe Vale South home. A teacher, she has marvelled at the backgrounds of the students. ''It's phenomenal, just the variety of countries that kids in my classroom come from.''

It's been one of the pleasant surprises for Ryan. Despite enjoying a great local community in Pascoe Vale South, the family was ''falling over each other'' with not much of a backyard. They regularly travel to their holiday caravan down the surf coast, so Point Cook was an ideal location.

We were driving through Point Cook one day to have a look and thought that this could maybe be a place for us.'' They bought land and built the new house with backyard they had always wanted.

So far, so good. It was when Ryan began the daily drive to her school at Oak Park near her old home that one of the biggest problems of living in Point Cook emerged: inadequate roads and transport. Despite leaving home between 7 and 7.30am, she would some days struggle to make it there by 9am. ''I thought I can't do this day in, day out.'' It prompted her to seek a job at a Point Cook school.

It's a similar problem for the Bartleys, with Tony working in the city. He drives to Laverton station to catch a train from zone 1, but has to be there by 7.30am to get a car park. A new station, Williams Landing, is being built, but there are concerns that it will soon be pushed to capacity. There are also complaints about the lack of regular bus services, and the lack of access roads from Point Cook to the freeway makes for a snail's pace journey - up to 30 minutes during peak times.

The problems point to the underlying tension evident in many new developments on Melbourne's fringe, where population surges ahead of supporting infrastructure. Build it and they will come, but then what?

Point Cook has become something of a lightning rod for these issues. Last year, the council refused to support proposals for residential development in Point Cook West until something was done about transport, including a new access road network onto the freeway. The government included this when it announced plans for the East Werribee Employment Hub, which it hopes will become a western business district to rival the CBD.

Schools are another hot issue. ''Both primaries and secondaries are packed to the rafters,'' says Forrest. The Education Department says it is aware of the growth in the area and points to $10 million being spent on a new college at Alamanda, and $10 million for Tarneit Central College.

What happens outside school hours is also critical. Local sporting clubs are about to move to a new sporting complex that includes Australia's first synthetic AFL ground, soccer pitches and tennis courts. Point Cook Soccer Club has about 400 members, and fields 25 junior teams. It's about to field its first senior team, which will include former Socceroos and local residents Joe Spiteri and Danny Tiatto.

As part of the residents' group, Loren Bartley has been among the most vocal in support of better services for Point Cook. Yet despite the frustrations, she sees far more positives than negatives about living here. ''It's like a country town. I know I can draw on my network of friends."

Point Cook

in the news from paddock to populous

1913

English aviator Lieutenant Henry Petre travels by motorbike to search for a site for a military aviation school. He settles on Point Cook, buying the former sheep paddock from the Chirnside family for $6040.

August 17, 1914

The Royal Australian Air Force's first aviation training course begins at Point Cook, two weeks after the start of World War I.

1990

The Department of Planning and Community Development identifies the City of Wyndham as an urban growth area.

April 1996

In 1996, the Point Cook Concept Plan suggests a maximum population of 54,000. Around 580 people live in Point Cook, with most living on the RAAF base. In 2001 the suburb's population increases to 2100, and by 2011 it reaches 33,400. It is expected that there will be 52,000 people living in Point Cook by 2020.

1996

Development of the Sanctuary Lakes Resort begins . The 420-hectare resort, including a golf course designed by Greg Norman, is built on the former site of the Cheetham Salt Works. As part of the development agreement, 405 hectares of wetlands is gifted to the state government for the Cheetham Wetlands nature sanctuary.

February 29, 2004

Debate surrounds the future of the RAAF Point Cook base after the school's closure in 1993. In 2004, the federal government announces that the base will be kept in public ownership and managed by a non-profit trust for the next 49 years.

2010

The Brumby government extends Melbourne's urban growth boundary by 43,600 hectares. The 2009-10 financial year shows Wyndham is the fastest growing area in the country.

September 11, 2010

A survey of 3500 home buyers, by Oliver Hume Real Estate Group, finds 10 per cent of home buyers in growth suburbs were born in India. Point Cook gains the nickname "Mumbai Cook".

May 22, 2010

A whopping 481-square-metre property (equivalent to 54 Holden Commodore sedans) in Point Cook's Alamanda Village is named Melbourne 's largest display house.

March 15, 2012

Concerns mount that infrastructure is failing to keep up with Point Cook's population. Health officials raise concerns that the lack of public transport, recreational facilities and medical services is leading to obesity, asthma and mental health problems.

May 2012

Planning Minister Matthew Guy commissions a $300,000 study into the feasibility of a ferry route between Werribee and Docklands - with stops at Point Cook, Altona and Williamstown.

November 3, 2012

The Age reports that Point Cook is one of the city's most educated suburbs. Nearly 16 per cent of its population has a postgraduate qualification, the fifth-highest proportion of post-graduates in the state - higher than Toorak and Brighton.

April 2013

The $110 million Williams Landing railway station is expected to open in April, helping to fill an urgent need for better public transport in Melbourne's outer west.

Point Cook map

How the estates have grown

1. 1996 Sanctuary Lakes Resort

2. 1997 Newminster

3. 1998 Willowgreen

4. 1998 Point Cook Gardens

5. 1998 The Boardwalk

6. 2000 Innisfail

7. 2000 Monterey Central

8. 2003 Waterhaven

9. 2003 Lincoln Heath

10. 2005 Alamanda

11. 2006 Saltwater Coast

12. 2007 Featherbrook

13. 2007 Karinya

14. 2007 Hacketts Rise

15. 2009 Esperance

16. 2009 Kingsford

17. 2009 Thirty 30

18. 2010 Saratoga

19. 2010 Paragon

20. RAAF

 
 
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