Lightbulb moment: the West Gate Bridge is thusly named because it is the Gateway to the West!
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet it’s something I never questioned: this feat of construction is something that was always in my childhood and I never stopped to think about its whys and the wherefores.
I had this elucidation mere months ago, while commuting from Melbourne’s northern suburbs (where my mother lives) to the western suburbs (where my son’s house recently burnt down). Traversing routes I don’t frequent caused me to reflect more closely on their names, and what they represent in the historical context of Melbourne town. Such as that Sunshine is the birthplace1 of the Sunshine Harvester, that piece of farming equipment that revolutionised the way farmers … you guessed it … harvested their crops, around the turn of the (19th to 20th) century. Who’d’a thunk?
Here’s a fun fact about Sunshine: I heard that Sunshine was called such because it has fewer rainy days than other areas of Melbourne. Lovely thought, isn’t it? However, it’s totally unverified – although the map in the link does support it…
When I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s the western suburbs were dangerous places, where a lot of crime happened: if there were murders or bashings on the news, they always seemed to come from here. The Italian and Greek immigrants who settled there after the Second World War were, as first-generation immigrants often are, impoverished and working manual jobs (regardless of what qualifications they had and what jobs they used to do in their home countries). The western suburbs were not the only places these people settled – many moved to the eastern suburbs where I grew up as they became more affluent.
The arrival of Vietnamese refugees (as a consequence of the devastation of the war) into the western suburbs gentrified the area – not so much in Sunshine, but in adjacent suburbs. These days it’s a mix of ‘residential suburb with a mix of period and post-War homes, with a town centre that is an important retail centre in Melbourne’s west’. I’ve never spent much time in Sunshine – it wasn’t a place people went to willingly during the ’70s and ’80s, and I haven’t lived in Melbourne since then. Spending time hanging out with my son, I have been impressed with this little area of Melbourne and can understand why he likes to live there!
DRIVING THE BRIDGE
The West Gate Bridge is a little scary to drive for people who are not used to it. With five lanes in each direction the volume of traffic it carries at any one time is impressive. When an accident occurs the traffic is often stopped across all lanes in one direction, for hours – not an incentive to use that thoroughfare, especially for impatient people with lots to do.
With Son as learner driver we were trying to get to a suburb we weren’t familiar with. Using GPS we approached the Montague Street intersection. (Everyone who listens to Melbourne radio would be familiar with this street name, regardless of whether they have seen it in real life, because it is always on t
he traffic reports with hold-ups…)
Long story short, we were in the far right lane and worked out – too late – we had to be in one of the three left lanes to get to our destination. We had one suburban block to do it … in gridlocked traffic. Son enthused, “That’s ok, I can do that!” as he switched the left indicator on. To his credit, he got across two lanes … but we were still one short, so we ended up going over the bridge. Never one to miss a teaching moment, I used it to explain about bridge-etiquette: “Don’t change lanes on a bridge – or in a tunnel, for that matter – because if there is an accident there’s no way out, and you can be stuck for HOURS.”
When we got to the other side guess what the lady in my phone asked us to do: turn around and go right back again! So that’s what we did.
We did eventually find our destination, and we had enjoyed the scenic route.
1 Actually it appears that Sunshine was named after the harvester company; that town (completely separate to Melbourne) was originally named Braybrook Junction. These days Sunshine and Braybrook are adjacent western suburbs, with Sunshine being more ‘recognisable’, no doubt because it’s on the trainline, whereas Braybrook is not.