When you move to a new city in a new land, you don’t arrive with any prejudices about the myriad of communities which make up the place. Melbourne is very spread out. With its 8,800 square kilometres, it is twice the size of Sydney. Despite a tiny central district, greater Melbourne eats up more land than London. The burbs spread in every direction for kilometers and kilometers, serviced by an extensive train system. Most of the homes in the older suburbs are quite small, but everyone who settled here wanted to have his own roses, his own backyard and his own garage. For 3.2 million people, that takes a lot of land.

You can get a strange look when you say you are living in Essendon. Everyone seems to think it is far away, although it is only 9 kms north of the main station, a twenty minute train ride. From where we live, the tram is more convenient, but it takes twice as long and can be held up by heavy traffic. Two weeks ago, my daughter’s tram was hit by a car, which was being driven somewhat erratically, according to her firsthand report. Perhaps the driver was on drugs. Drugs might be another reason for the strange look when you admit you live in Essendon.

A lurid story was splashed across the newspaper the other day about an underworld drug dealer who had apparently ordered the deaths of at least ten rivals. He has been behind bars for the last two years, but he just pled guilty to three of the murders and been sentenced. He may get out of prison before he dies. His name is Carl Williams.

In 1999, an amphetamine dealer by the name of Jason Moran shot Carl in the stomach. They were rivals and there had been some disagreement about finances. Jason thought that the shooting would give Carl a message that the Moran gang was not to be trifled with.

Instead, the baby-faced Carl decided to wipe out Jason’s gang. When you read through the long, dismal background of the murders, investigation, etc., it slowly seeps in that much of this sordid story took place in our area. The children of both drug dealers were enrolled in the same private school in Essendon. In one desperate attempt to bring Jason out into the open, William’s wife picked a fight with her counterpart out in front of the school. It didn’t work. When Carl’s hired killers finally caught up with Jason, the murder occurred at a football practice field in Essendon North.

Our placid-looking suburb would appear to belong to the pages of Miami Vice. Mind you, the gangland slayings over the last eight years don’t put Melbourne on the world’s murder map. In 2003, there were 302 murders in all of Australia. 12,658 in the United States. This country does have a much smaller population, but you can do the math. In terms of personal safety, we’re in Disneyland here.

Essendon is also known for its airport, its football club and its big box stores. It was the launching point for the Victorian Exploring Expedition– the disastrous trek across the Australian outback now known by the names of its ill-fated leaders, Burke and Wills. More about that in the next post.