Morris Gleitzman's secret Melbourne

When did you first consider living in Melbourne?

I went on a trip to the Cuckoo Restaurant in Olinda in 1983. I can remember thinking – maybe more due to the environment than the delights of the Bavarian smorgasbord – what a wonderful part of the world this would be to live in. It wasn’t where I lived when I first came to Melbourne but I did eventually spend four years in the Dandenongs. The mountain ash forests appealed to me and smorgasbord lust had taken me there although I didn’t ever go back to that restaurant.

What shows have best captured your sense of the city?

I first came to Melbourne about 1980 and saw some cabaret performances in what to me were uniquely Melbourne venues - the Last Laugh, the Flying Trapeze Cafe and the Comedy Cafe. I was an aspiring TV comedy writer and it was a revelation to me that compared to Sydney, which was a sparkly big-grin city, Melbourne seemed at first a grey rainy bluestone city that might not embrace comedy. But I realised that Melbourne used comedy for much more interesting purposes – to agitate, question and disrupt conventional ways of looking at the world.

Which doorway would you most like to go through?

A doorway I went through many times, but sadly no more, is the one to a dumpling shop in Swanston Street. I can’t remember the name but it was a laminex-table cafe of the old style, Chinese, of course. It closed about three years ago but it had the air of being an institution. Although there are many other good places to get dumplings – Box Hill, Springvale, Richmond – this place had something about it, an air of quiet dedication to the dumpling art. When people are passionate about something, it’s life-affirming to be a part of it and it felt it was more than just my stomach being refilled.


The best people-watching spot?

I prefer watching people on a screen and I’ve had the most pleasurable people-watching experiences at the Palace Cinema in Balwyn. Each year, there’s a French film festival and as in the flesh-and-blood world, my favourite people-watching spots are all in Paris, I was able to indulge secondhand. The magnificent old picture house attracts interesting people and while having a choc top between sessions, one is able to do some real-life people watching.

The best piece of architecture?

The famous domed La Trobe Reading Room at the State Library. I had the good fortune to have an office for a year there. I could take half a dozen steps and I’d be in that wonderful space, which is a metaphor for the expansiveness of our imaginative capacities. I prefer a small and womblike environment to write in but some afternoons I would go and sit at one of the long tables on one of those creaky old wooden chairs under the green banker's lamps.

The place that changed you?

When I did finally live in the Dandenongs, the mountain ash forests became an important part of my life. I had always been a city boy – I grew up in London and spent all of my life in Sydney, Canberra or Melbourne – so I wasn’t particularly attuned to the glories of nature. Because of my poor writing posture, I started walking in the forest every day and I found it a potent place to be creatively. It changed me in that it was a new way of doing my creative process and I realised how much I liked being among tall trees.

Your favourite public space?

When I moved closer to the city I found the wonderful Braeside Park, which nestles between Dingley and Dandenong. It’s unique, about the size of a suburb with natural bushland, eucalyptus and cattle grazing. It’s a bit like a day in the country but only a short drive and it’s got a network of footpaths that a creative daydreamer can wander around without fear of being run over or gored.

Your favourite suburb?

It’s a suburb within a suburb in East St Kilda – on Dandenong Road there’s a community called Ardoch. It’s got gracious architecture and there’s a real community feel to it and what looks like a village green. It’s a stone’s throw from St Kilda, which is its total opposite in terms of energy and ambience. Ardoch feels relaxed and sleepy, and exactly the place that someone of my vintage would like living in. But people of my vintage sometimes like to party so St Kilda is handy.

Morris Gleitzman’s latest book Loyal Creatures, is published by Penguin.