Sunday, November 27, 2005

Taverner's Hill

Just walked over to Leichhardt to see if there was a de Chirico book in the second hand section at Berkelouw Books ... alas, no, though I saw other wonders: the Zukofskys' translation of Catullus in a handsome Cape Golliard paperback, a Life of Francis Drake, Dylan Thomas's Collected Poems, which I used to own, a first edition ... came away with Michael Jackson's Pieces of Music, a friend's copy of which I read years ago, been looking for one ever since.

To get to there from here you have to walk up and over Taverner's Hill. I was thinking only about Giorgio on the way there (yes, I'm in the grip of an obsession) but on the way back I suddenly realised where I was, in another lost suburb of the big town. I believe the name came because there was a watering hole at the top, where weary carters could rest their horses and wet their whistles on the long haul to or from the City. There's still a pub there, so I went in, just to have a look and a beer if I liked the look. It was full of guys with tats and pony tails, hard-bitten women, watching a boxing match on Sky TV, so gave it a miss.

Coming out I saw the Victorian-Italianate Brighton Hall, 1884, its facade beautifully restored, and wondered briefly what used to happen there; crossing Parramatta Road a little way down I noticed the curbing stones, those old, oblong, roughcut sandstock pieces you find along all the early roads. Remembered one in Chippendale that had the word K I L L cut laboriously into it. Always gave me a chill. From there, you get a lovely view down down to Summer Hill, the church steeple rising above the green trees on this rainy but clearing afternoon.

Walked past Petersham Oval, where Bradman made his first century in Sydney club cricket, 1926. Mean SOB that he was. (Stating that opinion could get you killed some places, including the pub with no beer.) The hillock next to Summer Hillock is Dulwich Hillock, which you can also just see from Taverner's Hill. Where John Howard grew up, the fourth son of an embittered garage owner laid off as a fitter and turner at CSR during the Depression. There is speculation that Lyall Howard was a member of the New Guard, a fascist organisation that flourished in Sydney in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

The New Guard were scary: mostly ex-servicemen from WWI, they were a kind of militia, fifty to a hundred thousand strong, with all sorts of daft schemes. One was to kidnap the Labour Premier of NSW, Jack Lang, in 1931 or 2, and hold him prisoner while they took over the government. This plan was thwarted because the Big Fella, courtesy his police chief, had infiltrated the New Guard and knew of the plan. While they waited for his limo on Parramatta Road, Jack drove his own car through the backstreets home to Auburn. Gives a whole new dimension to Howard's nickname, Little Johnny Jackboot; and perhaps also explains his malign obsession with grinding unionised workers into the dust. Or, really, anyone he doesn't like.

But I don't want to linger there. No, it was just at the bottom of Taverner's Hill, as I was turning off the main drag towards Petersham Oval, where a luxury car dealership now stands, I saw shimmer into view the matter of an old photo I once saw, of shops that stood on that corner. Walls thin as paper, pole verandas leaning crazy, dust in the street where a pony stood head down before its cart and spectral children wearing boots and hats bowled a hoop up Flood Street. It was there, just for a moment. Then it wasn't.