Thursday, October 20, 2005

"Bad Faith"

Couple of weeks ago I wrote a fairly disenchanted piece about the exigencies of applying for grants and the awkward consequences that can follow both success and failed attempts; but I didn't post it. The reasons I didn't were partly superstitious, partly rational: I didn't want to spook the progress of the applications I currently had before funding bodies; I didn't want anyone in any way involved in assessing those applications to read what I might have to say about the process. The piece was predicated upon failure because, let's face it, most applications fail. The success rate is usually below twenty percent and often way lower than that. Well, I was wrong. One of my applications succeeded and the amount I'm offered is most generous. This is the first time in this country that I've been given money to pursue a literary work after perhaps a dozen failed attempts; but, while naturally I'm happy about that, the immediate joy is for the fact that I will not now have to go and drive a cab over Christmas, which is what I was going to do. I was dreading it, but had already begun the process of psyching myself up for it; one of the oddest things about the last few days has been realising how difficult it is to de-program myself away from that intention. Guess I'll manage. Other reactions are simply absurd: driving home the other night from The Rose in Chippendale where I'd had a couple of drinks with a couple of friends, I found myself in a mood of intense regret that I wouldn't be wild in the streets in a white Falcon any time soon. I'd gone from unholy dread to piercing nostaliga in a matter of a few days! My original piece about grants was called Bad Faith; should I now admit to that, not only with respect to the things I do to get money, but also towards my own untrustworthy emotions about those things? Probably.

Friday, October 14, 2005

B, D & M

At Births, Deaths and Marriages you have to take a ticket specifying which of these categories you are interested in. I go for Births : A 42 is my number. It is called almost straight away, there's hardly anybody here this wet Wednesday morning. I show my letter of authorisation to the kindly older woman and explain my mission. She demurs. The letter is not enough, I need three forms of ID from the next of kin if the inquiry is to proceed. We spar companionably for a few minutes then I ask if I can see her supervisor. I'm not trying to cause any trouble, I say and I know she replies. While we are talking a startlingly beautiful young woman dressed in purple and green, heavily made up, passes behind and smiles at me. I sit down to wait, wondering who has left their reading glasses on the grey unbacked courtesy couch nearby. An old woman, thin, dark, on crutches, labours up the stairs with an attentive young man beside her. She also smiles, dazzling, she looks excited, she might be one of the Stolen Generation about to solve some mystery of origin. A very tall young man appears behind the screen in the booth with A 42 above it, he is the one who might be able to help me. I explain my mission again, in more detail this time, encouraged when he takes a sheet of paper covered with squiggles and begins to write the information down. The beautiful young woman passes and repasses several times while we are talking, each time with that wonderful smile. The tall young man says he has to copy my ID and, further, I will need to pay a fee so my query can enter the system. How much? I ask. Thirty-one dollars, Boss, he says. I have a weakness for people who call me Boss. I fill out a form while he goes away to check something. The glasses belong to a distracted, middle-aged Asian woman who is also filling out a form at one of the stand-up desks. The atmosphere in the grey anonymous room is full of hope, a buoyant, almost effervescent sense of possibilities about to be fulfilled. The tall young man returns, he says my inquiry can proceed but, if it is successful, I may then, perhaps, he isn't sure, need to get those three forms of ID from the next of kin. He refers my case to another clerk, a balding man in his thirties with a moon face. I don't understand the instructions given this clerk, although I know all the words : some kind of bureaucratic arcana. The clerk processes my form. I give him a fifty dollar note and a one dollar coin. He puts the money in the till but does not offer any change. I wait. After a while I mumble something about my change. He smiles, he hasn't forgotten, it seems the procedure involves an inexplicable delay between receipt of money and the tendering of change. He completes his task and takes from the register a twenty and two fives. I am unsure if he has deliberately undercharged me or made a mistake, but I don't say anything. The beautiful young woman passes for the last time, for the last time I am gifted that gorgeous smile. I want to leap the barrier and embrace her but I don't, I fold the money away in my wallet, thank the clerk and turn to go. I am sure I will see her on the way out, she must either be in one of the other booths or behind the reception desk at the front, there's nowhere else she could go, but no, I'm wrong, she's not, it is as if she has passed into the air. Perhaps she was never there at all I think, going outside into the brightening street and walking away. The tall young man said they would call when and if they found something. So far, two days later, I have heard nothing; yet the trace in my mind is indelible.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Presents Social Dancing and Fellowships At It's Best
Modern, Latin, New Vogue and Old Time.

VENUE: Petersham Town Hall
107 Crystal St. Petersham.

Great Music
Continuous Music
Spacious dance floor
Ample of off-Street Parking

Slow Foxtrot
Cha Cha Cha
Barclay Blues
Tango Terrific

(& on top of the pile of signs not currently in use the word):


Sunday, October 09, 2005

there is joy in being where the angels are

Just took a drive out to Rookwood, the cemetery a few suburbs west of here. It goes Ashfield, Croydon, Burwood, Strathfield, Lidcombe. Running more or less along the southern side of the Western line the whole way until you hit Centenary Drive, a major north-south artery and go left and then right. Through a works depot, past the Lidcombe mail exchange—I nearly got assigned there once years ago when I worked as a postal officer—and in the ornate sandstone and iron lace gates on to fetchingly named Necropolis Drive. Rockwood Necropolis is the largest cemetery in the Southern Hemisphere, my Sydway says. It is the final resting place of nearly one million people. That's a lot of bones I think as I drive slowly through open grassy fields where tombstones stand, lean, or topple in all directions. It looks like some crazy chessboard, endless, as if a forgetful god were playing an infinitely complex game with himself before losing interest and going off elsewhere. The day is warm, blue, blustery, a buffetting wind blows from the south west, strong enough to rip small branches off the eucalypts and strew leaves along the paths. I'm not here for any special reason, it's just a recce, I'll probably come back with actual questions to ask some other time; today I just want to get a feel for the place. I go right to the end of Necropolis Drive until it turns into Necropolis Circuit, with the Martyrs Memorial in the middle of it. Round the circuit and there, on the left, I see the old section I've sometimes looked at from Railway Street at night when I've been out in the cab. Down here the tarmac is pot-holed, the seal is disintegrated, it's like being on some country road in the backblocks. I park the car under a tree, get out and start walking amongst the graves. They're mostly from the 1880s, English names ... later I find out it's the Anglican sector, maybe even Old Anglican, because Rookwood is demarcated along religious lines. There seem to be a lot of people native of Manchester. Even the impressive and intact white marble column of the paterfamilias of a Greek family, native of Athens, turns out to have had a Mancunian materfamilias. One of their daughters was Aphrodite, she died young. There are odd names: Glasscock strikes me strangely, as does one Tan Dann, whose monument is so faded I can't make out anything else about him ... or her. As I walk the landscape becomes wilder, the trees bigger, the gravestones more tumbled or, in many cases, missing altogether. I come to a place where a swarm of honey bees has made a hive in a crack in the bole of an old blackbutt tree. Bees start flying into the back of my head as I stand there looking at it. Not far away is a set of commercial hives, about a dozen of them, which seems curious: who harvests honey from the fields of the dead? There is a metallic smell, clean, antiseptic, emenating from these hives, I don't know why. Here's a pond with the headless statue of a young woman in the centre; the water is cloudy with yellow weed and there is a new, newly abandoned brickwork canal leading to and from the pool, which is old. I wonder if this is the bed of a natural stream? Past the pool it's starting to look like real Australian bush and I recall that, when the local authority announced they wanted to clear the bones from some sections so that they could be re-used, conservationists answered that there are unique relict stands of the original flora of the Cumberland Basin in Rookwood, plant communities that no longer exist anywhere else. I turn and go back a different way, walking through fields of knee-high brown grass and wild flowering ixia and spraxia, thinking about snakes. A hare breaks from under a tree and goes drumming away down the hill. I see it sitting at the bottom of the hollow, its long ears raised up. I come to a grave that has been paved with very beautiful old ceramic tiles, some of which have broken or come loose. I pick up a couple of fragments, then very carefully replace them where they were, remembering the last line of Shakespeare's epitaph: Cursed be he who moves my bones even though these are not bones, just tile fragments. Near an enclosure fenced with heavy iron chains, anchors as posts, where sailors are buried, I find the daisies I've been looking for and pick half a dozen. Stark white with purple centres that crimson as they age. I take them back to the car and drive away, randomly. Near the Chapel for the Independents, someone has been practising topiary on the shubbery, cutting the bushes to look like tombstones; they are truly bizarre. Then I'm in the Catholic section, which is shiny and bright and busy, like an open air mall. Later I pass by the crematorium and with a pang recall that I have been here once before, Maundy Thursday, 2003, when Paul's body was burned.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

doubting thomas

When I started to become a taxi driver this time, back in December of last year, on my first day at the school Andrew handed me a Sydway, subtitled Greater Sydney & Blue Mountains Street Directory inc. Picton, Helensburgh & North to Hawkesbury River. I love this book. So much so I will not ever leave it in the car, preferring instead to bring it inside every time I park. Actually, while I always take it out on a taxi shift, I don't usually carry it with me in my own car because I mostly know where I'm going and more or less how to get there. What I love about it is that EVERY STREET is in it. It's like the solution to any mystery can be found here ... I'm aware that only urban geographical mysteries can in fact be solved there, but I have quite a lot of those these days, especially now I am consumed by Local History. However ... one geographical mystery that has intrigued me ever since I came to this town will not be solved with reference to Sydway, although there is in it ample evidence to support the claim of ... mystery. The first street I lived in was Thomas Street, Chippendale. Number Nine (say it backwards ... ) I was astonished one day soon after moving in to find in nearby Ultimo another Thomas Street. And then another in adjoining Haymarket. Sydway lists 27 Thomas Streets and that's not counting the Thomas Places, the Thomas Roads, the Thomas Avenues, the Thomas Lanes nor the solitary Thomas Way. And this pattern of repeated use of a few names is re-repeated, not just in the Sydney metropolitan area but throughout Australia. The Goulburns, the Elizabeths, the Victorias, the Wentworths, the Edwards, the Georges, the Jameses, the Darlings, the Philips ... go on and on. And on. And that's just a few English names. But this is perhaps the point: esteemed and loquacious author Thomas Keneally was in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day wittering on about the fact that Sydney is a Georgian city. Though I find Tom's chipmunk avuncularism hard to take (reminiscent of John Howard's chipmunk deceptionism), he's right and I think in that identification a solution to the mystery of the repeating names might lie; not least because they all have a whiff of the stark descriptive realism of Cook's names which, as time has passed, often reveal a strange poetry: think of Inscription Point, on the southern head of Botany Bay. Think of Botany Bay, for that matter. That repetitive use of street names, in Sydney as elsewhere in this almost-fictive land, seems to suggest that individuality has to be sought elsewhere, not in the nominal but in the - what? The emotional? It could just as well be the experiental. The callers of jobs on the old taxi network would say Thomas Street, Paddington in such a way as to suggest the kind of thing that might happen there was qualitively different, to the nth degree, from what might occur in Thomas Street, Ashfield. Except there is no Thomas Street in Paddington. There is in Ashfield, but. My boss, Chinese Bob, lives just off it, in Alt Street. In a cleft that's christened Alt. I might have to give him a call sometime soon.