Tell us a bit about yourself.
I live in Melbourne’s wonderful western suburbs with my family. I’m a poet and the illustrator and author of over 10 books for both kids and adults, including The Hate Race, Foreign Soil, How Decent Folk Behave and When We Say Black Lives Matter.
What do you love about Melbourne?
I love that Melbourne is a city of culture. There’s always something happening – a gig, a reading, a gathering, a protest, an exhibition, a collective, a game. But somehow, despite this, it also feels like a relatively quiet city. There’s not the hustle and bustle and hurry of many other major cities around the world. I love discovering foods I haven’t tried and meeting people from places I’ve never been; being introduced, always, to new and interesting things.
What’s your favourite restaurant?
I love Mabu Mabu Big Esso – an Indigenous-owned restaurant in Fed Square (and there used to be one in Yarraville). It uses lots of indigenous ingredients. Its wattleseed lattes are absolutely divine – or switch it out for a hibiscus or finger lime granita on a hot summer day. The bush tacos are also a favourite lunch treat, and the restaurant has its own delicious line of bottled condiments including pineapple hot sauce, wattleseed hot chocolate, and a selection of spices and salts. Also Laksa King in Flemington. I can’t go past the fish fillet laksa, it’s absolutely heavenly.
It’s your birthday – how do you spend it?
Food , books and art, all the way. I’m starting with breakfast in my local area, perhaps at Coracle, West 48, or at Konjo Ethiopian cafe in Footscray, with the kids. Then we’re heading to the Sun Bookshop to browse the latest releases. After a movie at the Sun Theatre, we’ll jump on the train and head into the city to see an exhibition at the NGV, before walking up to Readings in Carlton. We’ll stop for lunch or churros on the way, or visit the Original Lolly Store on Lygon Street. Then it’s back home to devour our books and treats. And have an early night, because that’s quite an epic day! Truth be told, I’ll probably also sneak a bit of time to write in the evening, because I’ll feel belatedly stressed about the day’s expenditure.
Do you have any favourite shops?
My grade 6 kid recently did a school research project on fast fashion, and I’ve been really enjoying introducing her to the op shops around the area. Savers Footscray has the best finds. In the city, I really love the Craft Victoria shop, if you have a bit of a budget and you’re looking for an unusual present for someone’s wedding or for one of those “big” birthdays. If you’re into knitting or sewing, you can’t go past Fibresmith in Yarraville for divine hand-dyed yarns, linens and all kinds of pretty things. I’m not even a sewer or crafter and I still love wandering in.
When you want to impress someone, where do you take them?
I’m over the notion of trying to impress people, to be honest. These days, it’s take me as you find me, and I’ll meet you where you are. If they’re a friend, I’d probably tell them to come over and hang out with the family. If I felt like cooking I’d cook something and if not, then hello Ubereats or I’d put the kettle on and convince one of the kids to make us packet brownies or run to Coles and get a cake. It’s the company that counts. If it was a work meeting, we’d probably be in a small restaurant in Footscray or Chinatown.
What’s one of the city’s most underrated places?
In my opinion, the entire western suburbs are underrated. Because, well, snobbery and misinformation. Bit of a truth bomb there, I’m afraid. Also, the city and local libraries. They definitely don’t get enough love. Libraries are one of the few things in the city that are free to use – as long as you remember to return your books on time – and they can also be a place of community connection and vital information, often offering themselves up as a home for other community groups or services. As a new mother a decade and a half ago, kids’ library story times were a place I loved to take the kids, and local libraries have been the driving force behind a lot of my events as an author.
What’s your favourite weekend getaway from the city?
To be honest, my favourite getaway from Melbourne would be to go to Sydney (I know, I feel terribly disloyal). I grew up in Sydney and my mum still lives there, and during the last few years there have been so few opportunities for us to see her, so that’s what I’d do – probably tacking on a couple cheeky days off either end of the weekend (one of the very few perks of working for yourself).
What makes Melbourne a better place?
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Footscray and Foodbank, which is also in my area, do incredible work.
Is there an essential Melbourne book or song?
I immediately went to say Four Seasons in One Day, because ever since I moved here 15 years ago that’s what folks have quoted any time I’ve commented on the erratic weather. That phrase is drilled into us. But we’re also a Unesco City of Literature. There are so many authors, artists and musicians who I think epitomise this city – or whose work has done, at some point in their careers, even if they’ve lived here momentarily or passed through. Musicians such as Briggs, Angie Hart, Thando Sikwila and Sampa The Great come to mind. And authors like Claire G Coleman, Alison Croggon, Christos Tsiolkas, Cath Moore, Emily Bitto, Jeff Sparrow and Andy Griffiths. Comedians Sami Shah, Hannah Gadsby and Aamer Rahman. I could go on.
Maxine Beneba Clarke’s most recent book is poetry collection How Decent Folk Behave, available in most bookshops now. If you’re in Sydney, Beneba Clarke is speaking at six events at Sydney Writers’ Festival.
“My Melbourne” is a regular column discovering the places and spaces that captivate and entice Melbourne’s well-known residents.