“The last thing you want is to be at the end of a transport route,” local businessman Banson Wong tells the ABC.
“You want to be at the midpoint of a transport route, because then you get traffic from both directions.”
For many Melburnians, the “gateway to the Mornington Peninsula” is a convenient pit stop on weekend drives, or the place to get off the train before journeying on south.
But for locals, Frankston isn’t just a pit stop — it’s home.
And its inadvertent designation as the peninsula’s transit lounge has had long-lasting effects on the neighbourhood and community that live there day in, day out.
For every 100 residents in Frankston City, there exists as few as 31 employment opportunities, according to data from the Committee for Greater Frankston.
More than 60 per cent of Frankston City’s working residents travel outside of the municipality to work, with about a third travelling to Greater Dandenong, Kingston and Mornington Peninsula.
It means local businesses in the city aren’t getting a lot of foot traffic during business hours, slowing local job growth.
Access to work is compounded by the city’s distance from Melbourne and the inconvenience of commuting: it’s about an hour by train from Frankston to Melbourne, while most of Greater Melbourne’s jobs are more than 45 minutes away by car.
Nearly 70 per cent of Frankston residents commute to work by car with only 7 per cent taking public transport — 7.7 per cent higher and 4.5 per cent lower than the national figures respectively.
But the Committee for Greater Frankston, a politically independent local think-tank, says extending the train line through to Baxter, 7 kilometres south of Frankston, would make travel far easier.
They maintain it would transform public transport across the peninsula, provide greater access to jobs, and help ease Frankston city’s undesirable role as a congested, commuter car park.
Committee member Upali DeSilva believes that extending the metro line would also encourage people from outside Frankston to consider working and even residing in the area.
While there’s been widespread support for the project — including significant federal funding and recognition as a top infrastructure priority by Infrastructure Minister and Flinders MP Greg Hunt — the delays in its execution have frustrated supporters of the initiative.
Both Mr Wong and Mr DeSilva note Monash University’s Peninsula campus and the expansion of Frankston Hospital — set to be completed by the end of 2024 — as having strong potential for attracting residents and working professionals.
“The hospital is expanding, so that will certainly bring professional people too, so it does have that mix of professional people coming here … [it] will encourage the restaurants and cafes to open,” Mr DeSilva says.
But Professor Peter McDonald, a demographer at the University of Melbourne, sees Frankston’s current lack of public transport infrastructure and job opportunities as an ongoing disincentive for families and businesses to want to move into the area.
“If you’re working in some kind of business, which [operates Melbourne-wide], it’s not a convenient place to be located.”
Frankston locals hope that by creating more close-to-home job opportunities, the demand for goods and services might increase, making the area more attractive for small businesses.
Some say the lack of cultural diversity in the neighbourhood makes it hard for them to run their businesses.
Ginseng Asian restaurant owner David Chau says he has to travel to Springvale to stock up on ingredients.
“For instance, Chinese soy sauce, both dark mushroom and light, are just not available. Noodles as well — thin and flat rice noodles, wheat noodles with different textures — I can’t get those in a Frankston supermarket.
“It’s a lot easier to buy stock that I need in [surrounding] markets or in Springvale.”
Having lived in the culturally diverse suburb of Box Hill, in Melbourne’s east, Mr Wong emphasises the importance of catering to a wide spectrum of communities.
“People like to move into a suburb where they feel comfortable,” Mr Wong says.
For former Frankston local of 10 years Jessica D’cruze, the feeling of being cut off from the rest of Greater Melbourne eventually drove her away.
Initially settling in Carlton after migrating to Australia from India in 2001, Jessica’s family abruptly packed up and left for Frankston after the restaurant her father worked for closed its Melbourne store.
“So whatever decisions are made for you, you go with it.”
As a young student and aspiring artist, Ms D’cruze felt she was unable to pursue the life she wanted in Frankston — she spent a few years in the UK before returning to the inner suburbs of Melbourne.
“It wasn’t until I left [for] a different country, and then came back, that I realised just how isolating Frankston was, in a different way — in terms of how I saw no-one like me,” Ms D’cruze says.
“There are memories of us, me and dad [struggling] to hunt down the kind of spices we wanted to have and the kind of fish we wanted.
But for Banson Wong, who has lived in Frankston for 15 years after moving from the “leafy eastern suburbs”, the end of the train line is now his preferred home.
“Once you establish yourself in an area, you find out where the local shopping is, you get used to the scenery, the roads, the local people,” Mr Wong says.
Sibling business partners Qing Zou and her younger brother Qiang have run the Food Star Chinese buffet in Frankston for 21 years.
Qiang was quick to develop a deep attachment to the Frankston area.
“[During] the pandemic, customers with seniors’ discounts would say: ‘No, we want to pay the full price. We want to support you.’ It was very moving.”
Ms Zou adds: “The air here is clean and we’re by the sea. I love to fish these days.”
Professor McDonald believes that Frankston’s real estate industry could do more to market the suburb as the “Australian dream” to new Australian migrants.
“You know, owning your own house on a quarter-acre block with a backyard and a barbecue … to buy that kind of housing [migrant families] like to buy a nice new big house.”
Professor McDonald suggests that Frankston North’s older properties provide a more affordable option for migrant families to get their foot in the “dream” door.
Qing Zou says that Frankston’s seaside location initially drew her to the area and that it was there she discovered her love for fishing.
“I think it’s the environment that attracts them [immigrant families] to come here,” Ms Zou says.
“You have a lot of people from South-East Asia [moving in]. I find that there are a lot of Filipino [families] here [now].”
But despite local optimism and lingering opportunities, many lament that the city of Frankston remains up against some challenges.
According to Mr Desilva, more than 100 buildings, offices and shops stand empty in the Frankston CBD.
“I think the council needs to encourage developers to [build more] and encourage people to come into the [Frankston] CBD to live and to work here,” Mr DeSilva says.
He says the lack of residents in the CBD means the streets are empty in the late evening.
The absence of people, Mr DeSilva says, lends itself to a sense of insecurity among locals.
“I think there’s a perception that Frankston has this, you know, high crime rate, but I think when you compare to other places, it’s not anything excessive … we [need to] open up some of these empty buildings and invite people [in].
For settled local Banson Wong, Frankston’s education and healthcare industries are a sure way to attract and retain residents.
“If we can build on our current strengths, and develop those as core activities where Frankston has a special advantage, then that can create other opportunities.”
Read the story in Chinese: 相关中文文章
Note: Data from the Committee for Greater Frankston was aggregated using a mix of data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Public Transport Victoria, local studies, and the Grattan Institute.
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