Thursday, November 14, 2013

9 Medford Street, Altona

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It is not a mystery that many people know that former PM Julia Gillard lives at 9 Medford Street, Altona. If you do a Google Search, you can easily obtain this information online. Photographs of her modest house were splashed across several newspapers numerous times. Thanks to her, the postcode 3018 is put on the national map - Altona has turned from a relatively unknown working-class suburb to a household name.

Never in the history of Australia, have the residences of Prime Ministers become the focus of media attention and a source of public fascination. For example, I do not know the addresses of former PMs John Howard, Kevin Rudd and current PM Tony Abbott. I do know of their electorates from Federal Election reporting but otherwise, I am completely unaware of the particular suburbs their homes are located in. Either the other PMs have done a very good job of keeping their personal lives private or the media have no interest in the other PMs.

I feel that this exceptional phenomenon is worth further investigation and analysis. I have come up with some hypotheses to explain this phenomenon. One particular photo, shown below, may have given a clue.

Julia Gillard at her Altona home with the fruit bowl
2005 Photo by Ken Irwin for Fairfax Media

In January 2005, Julia Gillard, then a Labor MP, was photographed in her ordinarily-looking Altona kitchen with an empty fruit bowl. Soon after she was derisively called "deliberately barren" by the Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan (Ref 1). The empty fruit bowl had translated in the public consciousness as symbolic of a career-minded woman who has chosen to remain unmarried and childless in order to pursue her political ambitions (Ref 2). In fact, this empty fruit bowl has attained cult status in that this seemingly-insignificant observation was repetitively mentioned in later news articles and even made news headlines such as:
I think sexism has played a part in explaining the treatment and attention she had received (e.g. comments on her clothes and even physical anatomy) compared to other Prime Ministers. Here is an interesting article on "Things Girls Will Learn from Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership". Quoting from this article:
The first suspicious evidence on this front was the photograph of Julia Gillard seated in the kitchen of her Altona home in 2005. The benches were clean and tidy, with only a few appliances visible, and the bowl on the kitchen table was empty. It did not matter that she’d just returned from overseas, having not yet even unpacked her suitcase, and that there was a potential challenge to then Labor leader Kim Beazley in the works. Gillard was clearly not preoccupied with her home and with ensuring partner Tim Mathieson ingested enough fibre because THE FRUIT BOWL WAS EMPTY! How could we trust a woman to lead the country if she couldn’t even ensure that some Pink Ladies and bananas were on hand at home?

The emptiness of Gillard’s fruit bowl was a sign of a greater emptiness in Gillard’s life. Senator Bill Heffernan infamously described her as “deliberately barren” because of her choice not to have children. His idea being that those who fail to reproduce have “no idea what life’s about” (Bulletin May 2007). And Heffernan cannot be seen as a lone dinosaur with an outdated view, as this criticism was repeated frequently. Senator George Brandis described Gillard as “very much a one-dimensional person” when commenting on her choice not be have children and her perceived inability to understand parents’ concerns (ABC Radio, Jan. 2010).
The second possible reason is that her house is indeed a very humble house, without even a front fence and a letter box. This news article reported that according to one visitor to the house, her security measures up to then involved her locking the front door, and maybe the back one. The current fence was erected much later, on advice of the Federal Police, to accord her better protection during her reign as a Prime Minister. I believe no other Prime Ministers have lived in a humbler house when they were in power.

The location of a PM in Altona is intriguing to some people.  Even up to this day, Altona has been despised by some people (particularly those who have not visited the suburb) as an industrial working-class backwater, not befitting the status of a Prime Minister.

The simplicity of her accommodation and its ease of access has the ingredient of piquing the curiosity of visitors. Ms Gillard said she had been surprised to discover her Altona house had become a destination on tourist walking tours. "I did come home the other day to find about 20 people outside taking photos of our weed-infested front yard so I’m not exactly sure what mementoes they’re making." (Ref 3). I must confess I am guilty of bringing overseas visitors who would eagerly pose for photos in front of her house. The ability to get so close to the residence of a Prime Minister is unimaginable and virtually impossible in most other countries so in one sense, it is a "gratifying and mind-boggling" tourist experience. It may appear to Ms Gillard that this behaviour is inexplicable and amusing but the appeal lies precisely in the contrast or incompatibility between the highest public office and her humble abode.

The third possible reason is that upon successfully challenging Kevin Rudd for the Labor leadership and hence prime ministership in 2010, she had declared she would not move into the The Lodge and would continue to stay in her Altona home, until she was elected by the people in the election. Hence, for a period of time, the most important affairs of the nation were conducted from a modest home in suburban Altona (Ref 4). Even after moving into The Lodge, whenever she returned to Melbourne, she did not follow the example of her predecessors in having hotel accommodation (Ref 5). Instead, she would choose to return to her modest house in Altona.

Finally, if Ms Gillard has never invited or accepted requests from journalists to take photos in her home, the mass media would probably have realized it is her wish to keep her home locale private. If her home is never reported in the mass media (TV or newspapers), it is unlikely that the public will develop an interest in her home.

Surprisingly, the media interest in her newly-purchased $1.8 million beachside property in Brighton, Adelaide (Ref 6) and the impending sale of her Altona house (Ref 7) did not cease with her departure from politics.

9MedfordSt03
Rose shrub planted by the first owner Ted Blight

Some Statistics on 9 Medford Street, Altona

Year Purchased January 1998
(She first entered Federal Parliament in 1998)
No. of years she stayed 15 years (she is the 2nd owner)
Purchase Price in 1998 $140,000 (Purchased through a local real estate agent - First National Barlow McEwan Tribe Altona)
Expected Sales Price Above $600,000
Altona Median House Price
(over last 12 months)
$535,000
Land size 603 square metres
Built Brick Veneer, Timber Floorboards
Extensive Renovation In 2008
No. of Bedrooms Three bedrooms
Ensuite main bedroom with walk-in-robe
No. of Living Rooms Two living rooms
(Rear extended into 2nd living room in 2008)
No. of Bathrooms Two bathrooms
Parking/Garage Small rear locked-up garage, good enough just for storing things.
Driveway long enough for parking of 3 cars.
Kitchen refurbished in 2008 Features an island bench and stainless steel appliances
Front Fence & Gate Erected in 2012, probably taxpayer-funded. There were security cameras installed but these were dismantled after she was no longer the PM.
Other Features Front porch, Decked area in the backyard
Medford Street Quiet 40 km/h street with large nature strips.
Houses only on 1 side (western side of street), the other side being the large field of Altona P-9 College.
Neighbours Mainly elderly couples whose adult children had moved out and a few young families. Next-door neighbours had helped to pick up newspapers thrown into her front garden and place them neatly in front of her front door. They had also helped to push out her garbage bins. Jim Mowing often came to mow both the lawns of Ms Gillard and her next-door neighbour.
Favourite Activities Ms Gillard loved walking around nearby Cherry Lake in the morning. Ms Gillard and partner Tim Mathieson particularly loved relaxing in the rear family room. "They loved the fireplace."
Mortgage Westpac Bank
Selling Agent Jas Stephens Williamstown
(Anna Grech: agrech@jasstephens.com.au, 0438446051)
Date of Auction Sat 14/12/2013, 2 pm
Inspection Dates Sat 23, 30 Nov, 3.30-4pm
Sun 24/11/2013, 12.45-1.15pm
Links Online Ads, Brochure, Video
Scroll to bottom of this post to view the floor plan.


I am capable of some quite crazy suggestions, which I will list here:
  • I think if Ms Gillard would consider auctioning her original fruit bowl on eBay, this will be a novel way of raising money and awareness for a charitable/social cause such as highlighting the still prevalent discrimination towards women globally.
  • Jas Stephens could seize this "once-in-a-lifetime" free advertisement opportunity to promote its brand by providing free refreshments, souvenirs e.g. company stationeries (pens, diaries, stick-it notes, mugs, etc), children freebies (e.g. balloons) to the auction attendees.
  • This may be the most-watched 2013 auction in Altona, if not Melbourne. There are likely to be camera crews from TV stations and newspapers. Why not experience the actions and atmosphere in person?
  • People have been curious of Ms Gillard's Altona home. But so far, they could only satisfy themselves with the front view. This is the only opportunity to see what are inside. Of course, all her stuff were already moved out and substituted with hired furniture. But still this is the closest to the original picture - at least the internal structures are more or less the same.
  • Things have not been going well for Altona lately - unhappiness with the train services on the Altona Loop, unmet local demand for a Grade 7-12 high school, retrenchment at Altona's Toyota Plant, no Altona Beach Festival next year, etc. Residents could take this opportunity to lift their spirits out of the doldrums. Why not have a picnic on Medford Street on that day? Medford Street has very wide nature strips, plenty of space for picnic rugs and is scenic too - abound with greeneries and vegetation including Melaleuca trees, bottlebrush, lupines, kangaroo paws, ranunculus, roses, geraniums, jasmine, etc.
  • 9 Medford Street, Altona is an unofficial tourist destination in Altona (or Hobsons Bay). Of course, this is not being publicized and you have to do some work in finding out the address before you can visit it. Now this has become a publicly-disclosed location. I am thinking Hobsons Bay City Council could perhaps make use of the publicity offered by this auction as part of its tourism marketing strategy. For example, it may consider putting up a low-cost, half-day pop-up street festival on Medford Street - the type of mobile festivals that are popular in the US and just catching on in Melbourne. This would in some measures appease those Altona residents upset by the suspension of the perennial Altona Beach Festival (previously Bayside Festival) next year. Altona P-9 College could help by opening up their large fields to provide additional space and at the same time, conduct an Open House for prospective students and parents as well as organizing fundraising activities.
  • Hobsons Bay City Council or any other community-based organizer (such as the Altona Village Traders Association) could get local real estate agencies to sponsor this festival. Though other agencies are not selling this property, they may stand to benefit indirectly due to the heightened publicity surrounding the auction. They could set up booths to distribute brochures during the Festival. With the economy remaining in poor shape, people are pinning their hopes on a property sector-led recovery in Australia. Hence, a real estate growth in Hobsons Bay will be vital to its economy as it is pretty much affected by the decline in its manufacturing industry.
  • Prospective buyers will have to think more deeply about the possible consequences of their purchasing decisions. We do not know whether people's curiosity in the property will vaporize once Ms Gillard is no longer living there. After all, you cannot change the fact that the first female PM of Australia has stayed in this house during her period of office. It is precisely this celebrity factor that will demand a premium for this otherwise ordinary property. Hence, the successful buyer will need to be mentally prepared to potentially sacrifice privacy (of being visited and photographed) for a period of time until the public curiosity eventually fades away.
  • If possible and viable, the successful buyer could consider using this property for a business venture that capitalizes on its celebrity factor. Examples of possible ideas include:
    1. A holiday rental house featuring a Prime Ministerial suite and experience
    2. A cafe with the theme of Julia Gillard
    3. A museum featuring Julia Gillard with a gift shop selling political-themed souvenirs
    4. A chic hairdressing salon
    5. A combo knitting shop, school
    6. A leadership/celebrity club venue - for training, meeting, social purpose, etc
    7. A community radio station, that focuses on issues that Julia Gillard are interested in, e.g. political, education, gender, social inequality issues
    8. Top lucky draw prize for a fundraising lottery
    9. A filming set for a politically-inspired movie series, and so on

Apparently, Ms Gillard is hoping her unique status will be a strong selling point in helping her get a better price. Otherwise, she would have chosen a private sale instead of an auction. She would also have signed a confidentiality agreement with the real estate agent that legally forbids the passing on of this sale information to any other people, including the mass media. She would have expected news coverage of the impending sale would have generated widespread publicity and this in turn may help to create a bidding competition for driving up the final price.

The choice of a Williamstown-based real estate agent rather than a local agent in Altona may not be a deliberate move. But this could be a good and clever strategy. Williamstown has the highest median house price in the western suburbs. There has always been a migration trend within Hobsons Bay, with Williamstown residents exchanging their smaller lots with larger lots in neighbouring Altona. Use of a Williamstown-based agent may enlarge the pool of potential wealthy buyers. Free publicity by the mass media will mean that the catchment of door customers by local agents is no longer as vital a marketing strategy. 

Many people, including journalists, seem to harbour the idea that celebrities may be hankering after the residence of the first female PM of Australia. It will be interesting to see if Ms Gilllard's appeal will be strong enough to entice celebrities to bid forhis property. As an immigrant, I could not afford a property in a bayside suburb in my country of origin but I had realized this dream in Altona. I would not be surprised apart from local-born aussies, immigrants would find the thought of living in the residence of a former PM particularly exciting and appealing - something that would be their wildest dreams in their original countries.

Many houses in Melbourne have a name, which give them a sense of identity and history. The next owner may want to name this house the "Julia Lodge" to commemorate its unique history of having housed the first Female Prime Minister of Australia and having operated as "The Lodge" out of Canberra during Ms Gillard's reign as the PM.

This is Page 2 of the Brochure. You can scroll up to Page 1.


1 comments:

Alexander Lin Li said...

A very interesting blog. I enjoyed reading it. Many thanks Anthony. Lin

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