One of the mob

By Rhonda Dredge

The buildings are grander and more institutional if you approach the CBD from the north. Even the houses on the northern fringe have arched verandas. 

These classical forms speak clearly of an early Melbourne that took itself seriously.

Old Melbourne Gaol on Russell St was the place you ended up if you were a  “have-not” and the State Library was where the “haves” hung out. 

Writer Peter Mares lives in a high-rise apartment on La Trobe St in the CBD legal district.

That makes him a “have” and he feels guilty about having made money during the property boom at the expense of others. 

He comes to the State Library to do research and meet friends. You could say that the library is his lounge room.

He needn’t feel privileged because the Russell St end of the library, recently revamped, is full of millennials also treating the place as home. 

The crowd is friendly and noisy. People are constantly uploading documents, doing deals, eating chocolate, moving up to create room for others and ordering lattes with almond milk.

The library has evolved since its former, elitist self. Anyone can enter and find a spot, even a homeless character from the street who might have been arrested as a vagrant in the past and thrown into gaol.

Government by the people for the people is a catch cry and the city is undeniably a place where public intellectuals like to gather. 

Peter worked for 25 years on current affairs programs such as The National Interest for ABC radio and was a correspondent in Hanoi. 

“These days I’m more of a writer. Working in radio can be quite useful because in radio you have to write directly. People have to understand you the first time. It’s a very active language.”

He owns two properties, one in Torquay, and that gives him a generational advantage. 

“We feel incredibly lucky,” he said. “People like me have done well out of the property boom without trying.” 

He thinks he should pay more land tax to fund community housing and has put his ideas into a book No Place Like Home.

When he tried living in Torquay he missed the city and has moved back with his partner, artist Julie Shiels. 

You’ll sometimes see him sometimes chairing sessions at the Wheeler Centre.

“I don’t regard myself as part of the literary establishment. I do think we have a responsibility as residents of the CBD and as citizens to get engaged.”

He has written four books about social issues and works in ethical leadership. 

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