High life suits retired down-sizers down to the ground, writes Sue Williams
When grandparents Irene and Maurice Ward revealed to their family that they had become the first off-the-plan buyers of an apartment in a massive new development on the banks of the Yarra River, their children were horrified. They argued that if the couple, both nearing their 70s, were thinking of moving from their fourbedroom house in Forest Hill, it should be into a retirement home; certainly not into a 60-storey, 534-unit showpiece tower on Southbank.
“But we’d given it a lot of thought, and felt it would be perfect for us,” says Irene, now aged 80, nine years after moving into a one-bedroom apartment at Freshwater Place. “And, you know, we were right.
“Our children took a while to come to terms with it, but this place has everything we ever wanted from a home, and more, and we didn’t even have to look after the garden or pool ourselves, and we were among people of all ages, not just our own!”
Retirees, downsizers, upgraders, families, children, singles, couples, tenants … there’s a huge variety of people among the around 1,200 who now call the Bates Smart-designed, Australand-developed Freshwater Place home. Plenty of others have come to love it as almost a second home, too.
Joanne Boyle worked for the now-defunct Ansett Australia airline for 28 years as a flight attendant before taking a new job as a concierge in the building. “Flying always used to be my passion, but Freshwater Place has now completely replaced it as that passion,” says Boyle, 59. “I love this building, it’s like being part of a new family.
“It’s a lot like being a flight attendant, except that you’re on the ground. You see the same people every day so you’re able to get to know them as individuals, and while the two jobs have a lot in common as they’re both part of the hospitality industry, working here is a much richer experience than walking down an aisle asking, ‘Beef or chicken?’”
It’s also a great deal different to being part of the team at any other regular Melbourne apartment tower. Freshwater Place, between the Crown Casino and Southgate, is the eighth tallest building in the city and is consistently acclaimed as one of the very best apartment blocks in Australia, with a full range of facilities on both levels 10 and 40, including landscaped gardens, pools, saunas, steam rooms, function rooms, well-equipped gyms, a theatre, BBQ areas and a retail village on the ground floor.
When apartments first sold, prices ranged from $649,000 for a one-bedroom apartment on the lower floors to a penthouse at the top with panoramic views for $3,096,000. Price tags have risen considerably since. There have also been a lot of things added to the building by the dedicated members of the various bodies corporate to keep its value rising.
A highly productive vegetable garden has been dug on one strip of the landscaped podium – overseen by the green-fingered Irene Ward. A pergola has been erected, an outside section added to a function room, highspeed internet has been introduced along with Wi-Fi hotspots, and a website and app have been produced.
“It’s also been very important to us to develop a real community spirit in the building,” says Peter Renner, 64, of the Body Corporate, with an annual budget of $3.5 million – $4 million. “I think it’s much more friendly than a street would be in suburbia, where you often only see your neighbour when they drive in or out.”
Renner, a former NAB executive, bought an apartment with his wife Robyn because they were tired of all the time they had to spend gardening and maintaining their house. The idea of a lock-up-and-leave unit really appealed. “We both love it,” he says. “From here, everything is at your fingertips. You can walk around the city, hop on a tram, and the facilities are the best in Melbourne, if not Australia.”
That’s a verdict echoed by younger residents, too. Twenty-one-year-old Tanya Cheng moved into an apartment bought by her parents in 2009 so she’d be closer to her uni arts and law course, after a period of renting to check that she’d like it. She’s never looked back. “I use the gym every day, which is great,” she says. “I also sometimes use the pool and I invite my friends over to the theatre so we can watch the footy together. I’d like to think it might make me more popular, but who knows?”
For potential buyers, the facilities often provoke a feeling of love at first sight. Indonesian Roth Prisno arrived in Australia from Singapore three years ago to finish off his studies, walked past the building, looked inside and then bought an apartment straight away. “I didn’t do any research or anything,” he admits. “I didn’t know if it was a good building or not. But I liked the look of it. It’s in a great location and I liked all the amenities.”
Prisno, 23, an intern at the nearby Monash Medical Centre who qualifies as a GP next year, is now very glad he bought on the 56th floor. “I don’t use the gym as much as I should, but I’ve used the pools quite a few times,” he says. “I love having a concierge there to pick up packages, too. Everything becomes so convenient, and the place is very friendly.”
As concierge, Boyle prides herself on greeting every resident with a smile at the start of each day, and welcoming them back home at the day’s end. Occasionally, people don’t quite understand her role, and she’s asked if she can order them a pizza – she gently passes over the number of the nearest, best pizzeria instead and explains how an apartment block functions differently to a hotel – but problem-solving has become one of her favourite parts of the job.
Naturally, in such a big building, there are problems, such as the time someone hung their washing on a fire sprinkler, setting it off and flooding the apartment, and one day when the entire concierge staff became trapped in a lift. But such emergencies never last for long.
Air-conditioning contractor Peter Cooke is a regular visitor. “There are occasionally water leaks, noises, different water temperatures, just as you’d have anywhere,” says Cooke of company AE Smith. “But they’re all fixed very quickly. “I actually really enjoy coming to Freshwater Place. The people there are all lovely, and I’m in the fortunate position of people always being very happy to see me!”
Another major problem-solver is building manager Mike Zverina. He lives onsite together with his Maltese- Shitzu cross Buffy, one of many dogs in the pet-friendly building, which range from a tiny Chihuahua to a giant Rhodesian Ridgeback. Those dogs not on diets often receive treats from the front desk, which tend to make them even friendlier.
“But everything, and everyone, here is very friendly,” Zverina, 65, says. “We have people from all walks of life, of all ages, and at all stages of life – we’ve had a baby born in the building, weddings and even, once, a death. “It’s a wonderful place to live, and to work. I think it’s certainly a unique building, and one of the very best Melbourne has to offer.”