Sunday, December 31, 2006

So I was at Summer Hill station earlier today, waiting for a train to the City, when a woman in blue jeans & dark glasses came up to me & said: You look like a distinguished sort of fellow, can you tell me how to get to Chelmsford Street, Newtown? I did, & said, & she sat down & we fell to talking. Pulled out a pack of Winfield Blue so we shared a smoke as well. She was going to see a friend in Newtown & tomorrow was off for 40 days in Thailand. Never been out of the country before, though she'd been all over it. Had a ticket to Bangkok & one night's booking in a hotel, would wing it from there. Up north, she said, to try to recover a sense of what life is. Really about. Kind of raw, a straight shooter, wild, funny, sad, not without optimism ... from Wagga. Later we found out we're both cab drivers! That was peculiar. Swapping modus operandi as the train shuffled from Lewisham to Petersham to Stanmore ... in Wagga, you record every fare on the meter & print out the total at the end of the shift. The driver gets 41% of said total, the owner/operator, 59%. You get a lot of redbacks, she said. In two and a half years she thought she'd probably thrown about a dozen people out of her cab. Something I've never done in Sydney. And, if my boss took sixty percent of what I took I'd hardly make anything. We're under the bootheel down in Wagga, she said. It was one of those conversations that could have gone on for a long time, we were that easy with each other ... This is your stop, I said, in the brief night of the overbridge. We'd both taken off our dark glasses by then, we'd introduced ourselves to each other: Kathy Hartweg (sp?), German she said. We shook hands as she left. From the lower level, I saw her give a small, poignant wave as she walked past on the platform, even though our eyes couldn't meet again. She to Chiang Mai, perhaps, I to see the Paddy Bedford show at the MCA:

Saturday, December 16, 2006

through the looking glass

Been trying to clarify a feeling I've had for a while, which is to do with the way that driving a cab somehow increases the curiosity I feel about the nature & appearance of this City. On days off I love to ramble down any old street, any old where - so long as it's one I've driven down. Not an onerous qualification, because you find yourself driving down most streets in the CBD & the inner city at some time or other. It's a through-the-looking-glass feeling, I think: in the cab you view things from a point of view that is anonymous, global, voyeuristic, detached. You see all sorts of goings on but only at a remove. You feel like an omnipotent observer in a moving Panopticon. What you don't see is much detail, & here I mean both physical detail of buildings, shops, footpaths & so forth as well as the human detail of possible or actual interactions with people casually met in the street. This somehow makes the experience of mingling in the street much more enticing. I don't experience people in the street as alienating or alienated - quite the opposite. I'm avid for contact, even of the most fleeting sort, & Sydney being the louche, informal, anything goes kind of place that it is, such interactions are available anywhere, anytime. And, at the same time, it is, like any City of several hundred years age, so intricately, comprehensively & randomly layered that the built environment is itself full of interest, full of surprises, replete with interactions of a different kind. I wonder if, without the functional alienation of driving, I would still feel this equal & opposite degree of intense engagement?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Cossack Rambler

Hell - Bob cancelled my shift today, leaving me with half my rent ungathered. He rang back about two hours later to say he'd found a car for me to drive but by then I'd gone off on another track with what remained of the day, so I declined. I was over in Newtown looking for the new Little Axe record, Stone Cold Ohio. Driving to Newtown reminded me that, last time I went that way, last Thursday, I got a puncture. Had seen a rug shop in Stanmore, pulled up, did a U-ee, parked, went in. When I came out the back left tyre was almost flat. There's an old-fashioned garage over the way that I'd always wanted to visit, so I went there to reinflate the tyre. But the valve was shot, air was hissing out as fast as it went in. I persuaded the grumpy proprietor to get his man to change it for the spare then carried on to Camperdown. Next day I went to my local guy, Pierre, to get the tube replaced. While he was doing it, drove back to Stanmore to buy a bamboo rug I fancied. When I came back, a fellow who lives in my street was there, waiting for Pierre to give him the pink slip for his classic 1960s Rambler. I've often watched him shuffling up and down the street, he has a peculiar, small-stepped gait, like someone moonwalking in slippers. We chatted while we waited. Turns out he's a Greek from Russia. Grew up in Russia, was educated at a Russian school, speaks the language. Remembers the Nazis rounding up all the Jews in the town and taking them away. They were the first, he said. Later he went down to Greece and later still, 1950, came to Australia. Best country in the world, he observed, a common remark here. When he was in Russia he learned Cossack dancing and it was in a dancing competition here in Sydney that he won the money with which he bought the green Rambler! Wonder if that's why he walks like he does?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

blinded by the light

Weird night last night. Don't think I've ever before worked a shift where I haven't got out of the cab even once ... how did this happen? Hard to recall. Started late, drove into the City, the rank at Park Street is empty except for a gaggle of fares waiting but as I pull in a guy steps off the curb outside McDonalds & hails me. The Taxi Council bloke on the rank wagging his finger at me as I go. The queue-jumper's in real estate & wants to go to Rose Bay. Has his mobile phone switched to speaker, which irritates me 'cos its crackle interferes with some cool jazz on the radio ($18). Then I'm offered a job from Rose Bay to Hunters Hill ... whoa! Three chubby teenage girls wearing hardly any clothes. They spend the first half of the trip in the back seat reviewing the weekend's activities on a mobile phone. Then the Mum of one of them rings in & insists her baby go home immediately. Baby gets out at Town Hall to catch a train back to Bondi Junction. One of the others is pleading on her phone with some boy to meet her in town that evening; she gets the sulks afterwards. Traffic is awful, all night. At a servo in Hunters Hill, Chazza casually slings me two twenties & four dollar coins - where do these kids get their money from? - just as I'm offered a job from Hunters Hill to Ultimo. A Catholic boys school, St. Josephs, literally round the corner; except the guy, a teacher now doing admin in fact wants to go to Kensington. Maybe he's the wrong guy, I don't ask. We discuss the vagaries of State versus Church education all the way ($34) ... back in the City, Elizabeth Street is jammed up but, sneaking along on the inside in the bus lane, I'm hailed by a grim looking woman who wants to go to Artarmon. Takes half an hour just to crawl to the Bridge but she's fine about it ($47). Approaching Artarmon, I'm offered a job to the City from Onyx Road. Used to live in a road called that in Pearl Beach. She's a woman my own age, perhaps, going to a party at the law courts in Liverpool Street. I only have a social life at Christmas, she offers. I don't have a social life at all, I say ($33). Back to Park Street, where I pick up two smart young woman & take them to a pub in Paddington. Their conversation is in every respect the kind of talk you hear from the Masters of the Universe at the Big End of Town, so I guess they are Mistresses of the Universe. No idea what line of work they're in ($12). After that ... Park Street to Coogee, a quiet woman, going home from work, there's been a race meeting at Randwick today so its a crawl up Anzac Parade & Alison Road ($25). On the way back, in Belmore Road, I pick up a startlingly beautiful young woman carrying evening clothes in a plastic sheath, going to work in Darling Harbour. Her make up as thick as a Geisha's only it's brown, not white ($20). Outside the Imax, as she leaves another woman arrives, she's going to Balmain ($18). I head back to the City, thinking there'll surely be a chance now to stop on a rank & stretch my legs but I'm hailed on Bathurst Street by a stolid young woman who wants to go to Kirrawee, way down there in Sutherland Shire. It's gorgeous to drive out under the sky at sunset & we get all the way to the lights at President Avenue before I have to stop the car, even once. She's a Kiwi too, it turns out, from some tiny little town on the Canterbury Plains. Winchester. Likes it here but her husband can't get steady work ($55). Barrelling back up the Princes Highway I score another radio job, Rockdale to the City. A young Chinese couple who sound very sweet, chatting to each other softly in Mandarin in the back seat ($27). Drop them off in George Street, head back to Park, thinking now, surely ... but it's still empty of cabs & crowded with people. Another woman, she wants to go to Clovelly ($25). As I'm turning from Oxford Street into Flinders I have a moment of complete disorientation that is very scary. For an instant, I can't tell where the road is & at the same time have the illusion that I'm heading straight into a line of traffic that's coming towards me, fast. This is when I realise how tired I am & that I have to either take a break or finish the shift. Somewhere out in Randwick I'm offered a fare to Maroubra but I think no, that's enough, it's not even ten o'clock but I've made my $200.00, I'm going home. So I do. Walking back through Ashfield Park, with the fruit bats screeching & dropping fragments of figs from the trees, I'm amazed at how quickly the stiffness goes from my legs. Almost, but not quite, like being young again.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

meditation piece


(written on the left hand wing mirror of taxi 1821 & intermittently visible during daylight hours)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

alcohol & nicotine

Bernardus' post over at Maelstrom reminds me I've been meaning for a while to say something here about addiction ... b-but what? The day before I went back driving this time, in July or whenever it was, I deliberately went and bought a packet of cigarettes. This after not smoking for the previous six months or so. Or only smoking casual OPs. Why? It was something to do, I now think, with a feeling of failure associated with going back on the road. This failure allowed me an excuse for self abuse, perhaps. Masked as indulgence in a pleasure. In the same way a disappointment, as much as a success, suggests alcohol as an agent towards, or away from, that emotion.

Chinese medicine associates diseases of the lungs with disappointment, of the liver, with anger. I remember saying this to my father once. He, a slave both to alcohol and nicotine for much of his adult life, gave me one of those bald looks that used to make the kids he taught quiver in their shoes. That's interesting, he said. Remarkably, he gave up both addictions towards the end. I was impressed by the fact that, when he stopped smoking, he left half-filled packets of Black & White, his last brand, lying around the house. He seemed to stop drinking with the same ease, observing, without fuss, the house rule in the old people's home he spent his final months in: a glass of sherry once a week on Wednesday mornings, otherwise, nada.

Like him, I've been a smoker and a drinker all my adult life. But recently, after a conversation with my son, I decided to experiment with not smoking while driving. The context for this was a desire to test my pathetic conviction that cigarettes helped to get me through a shift. Well ... guess what? The pains I suffer in my legs from long hours sitting at the wheel are about ten times less acute if I don't smoke through a shift. Call me naive, but I was so astonished I worked through a shift smoking to see if they got worse again. Yes, they did. It's the effect of cigarette smoke on the circulation I suppose. Furthermore, the headaches I vaguely ascribed to inhalation of exhaust fumes - they're not nearly as bad either. Plus, I sleep better without the artificial heart accelerant that cigarettes also are.

Now, alcohol. I'd been in the habit of having a few glasses of red wine after finishing a shift. When I say a few, I mean two or three. Half to three quarters of a bottle perhaps. Helped me sleep, I thought. Helped me wind down. After I stopped smoking on the job, I also tried not having these few relaxing glasses of wine. Again, the effects were immediate and obvious: better sleep, better digestion, feeling better when I woke up in the morning. I held to this regime until Monday night, when there was a bottle with a bit in it left over from the weekend. So I supped it that night with my supper. Well, d'uh. Though it was less than what I used to drink, I felt even more dreadful next morning.

Everyone knows, I guess, that when our habituation to the toxicity of the poisons we voluntarily take wears off a bit, they strike with greater force. Smoking and drinking, in other words, is like a kind of anti-fitness, the more we do it, the better we are at withstanding these toxicities. Recall John Birmingham writing in one of his books (the one about marijuana, I think): I wasn't fit, but I was piss fit. On the other hand, that urge to damage yourself through intoxication runs so deep as to be almost unexcavatable.

In my own case - and I'm not sure if this is general or not - I think it arises in part from a desire to hurt myself which, in turn, comes out of disappointment or shame or anger; but it isn't only that, because there's a pleasure in the effect as well, especially with alcohol. Tobacco is slightly different, because (recent experiments have convinced me) it only becomes pleasurable once you have managed to re-addict yourself. Another peculiarity is the relationship between these two drugs and stress. Both are seen as de-stressing agents and yet both in fact act to increase physical stress. The same might be said of anxiety: alcohol and nicotine, it seems to me, don't so much relieve anxiety as answer it with the physically induced anxiety their consumption brings.

So what am I saying ... ? Perhaps I'll keep away from the cigarettes for a while (it's hard for me to say forever), and I'll certainly refrain from alcohol on the days / nights I drive. But I don't think I'm quite ready yet to swear off it altogether. I'll probably continue to, as they say on the labels, enjoy wine in moderation: which means, of course, that I will also continue to stray onto the path of excess now and again.

PS The title comes from a Gary Clail song, the chorus of which goes: Like alcohol and nicotine / The truest lovers there's ever been ...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Little Johnny Jackboot

Saw John Howard last night. Was idling on the rank outside Chifley Tower when I noticed a gaggle of TV cameras opposite, on the corner of Phillip & Bent Streets. Didn't think much about it until, a few moments later, saw them backing up the street towards the entrance to the Wentworth Hotel, filming a lone figure striding towards them ... accompanied, at a distance of a few metres, by several slim young men in dark suits and trailed by a young woman. It's always a bit of a shock when you see in the flesh someone so familiar from media images. Rather more thickset, even bullish, than I imagined. A big head. Something strange about his body, as if the torso isn't properly articulated with the hips, making his walk seem a little ... parodic, perhaps. Like an animated leggo man. Couldn't help thinking about the Prime Ministerial penis tucked away in whatever kind of jocks he wears. And the Prime Ministerial goolies too. Because the walk spoke of power I suppose, of patriarchy too, of a kind of refusal to countenance opposition of any kind. Apparently he's bothered by the way cartoonists draw him as a little man, how he's known to many as Little Johnny; but I've always preferred the long version of that one, Little Johnny Jackboot. It was, in an (un)expectedly chilling fashion, amply confirmed in this sighting.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

halve your luck

Had a grant application turned down this week. The baleful letter was waiting for me when I returned from work Monday night. Means I will have to spend the summer driving, not writing - unless I can work out a routine that allows me to do both. Which I may have to do. Some projects fall apart when they are rejected, others gather strength. This is one of the latter, and I still feel the funding body - which shall remain nameless - should have supported it.

Their rejection form letter includes this curious advice: … projects that are funded have to fit into specific priorities. Projects that don't fit into the project funding priorities may still be very good ideas ... Huh? What specific priorities? Are applicants allowed to know their nature? How do they differ from the specific criteria we have to meet? Or are they the same? It would seem there is some impenetrable bureaucratic mysterium ... I got quite angry about this and drafted a letter but, on the timely advice of a friend, didn't send it.

It was peculiar how, when my light at the end of the tunnel went out, luck also deserted me. It suddenly became much harder to turn a buck, right when the bucks I turn are the only ones I'll get for a while. How cruel seeming ... I've never met a cabbie who didn't believe in luck, just as I've never met one who can explain how it works. You're lucky .... or you're not. That's it. And yet, in my own case, I notice that, if I'm lucky, I tend to feel that it is richly deserved, but if I'm unlucky, it seems unfair, malign, as abritrary as negative funding body decisions.

So I struggled through Tuesday and Wednesday, taking five and ten dollar rides here and there around town, working twice as hard and earning half as much as usual. Last night I was so far behind I thought I'd have to give up and go home when, outside the Sheraton on Elizabeth Street, I was hailed by a man who wanted to go to St. Ives, way up on the leafy North Shore, at least fifty dollars worth, maybe more. Enough, anyway, to make my pay in and still have a bit to spend over the weekend.

A South African. Businessman, late fifties or early sixties. Quite drunk. He told me where he was going, and also that I would have to take his baby-sitter home after dropping him off; then made a call on his mobile phone. Inveterate eavesdropper that I am, I soon realised he was talking either to his mistress or his girlfriend. Not just the flirtatiousness, the boasting too. You get a lot of this: men on their mobile phones boasting how much money they made that day. There's something about the gloating tone they use; something, paradoxically, mean about it. Something truly offensive. I guess most of us now know that the economic system we use rewards all that is base in human nature: experiencing the triumph of these qualities in raw, individual form day by day, or rather night by night, is one of the least happy parts of the job. I usually listen, forensically, for the detail; but this guy was so revolting I tuned out.

Well, we get to St. Ives, and he pays by credit card, and says I should add on fifteen bucks for the extension to the fare when I take Callum, the boy baby-sitter home. I did something I've not done before - I added on twenty instead of fifteen, pushing the fare over seventy dollars. He was drunk, he didn't want a receipt, and although there was a bad moment when he tried to sign the docket - the pen didn't work - I don't believe he noticed. Callum was a sweet young man, taking him up to St. Ives Chase added only six or seven bucks to the fare, so I was away with a decent tip. It was only a matter of five bucks, nothing to him, but, petty as it sounds, I was delighted to have ripped him off.

Of course I then got lost. I get lost every time I go to St. Ives which, by night, is a strangely sinister place, like the set for a horror movie: intermittent white light, dark trees, large, hidden houses, expensive cars hissing by to some midnight rendezvous. I always think Stephen King when I'm up there and perhaps that's why, unsettled, I get lost. And so, unaccountably, I turned down a radio job to Avalon, my hand hitting the Reject button before my mind had truly engaged with the information. Then the radio, as if in revenge, tried to bully me into doing a local job at Turramurra. Hell.

Got out of there eventually, the Pacific Highway was closed at Chatswood, a bad accident, so I fled down Fullers Road, through Ryde, to Five Dock and home ... still thinking about luck and what it is or isn't, what it does or doesn't do. If I'd accepted that hail on Bridge Street instead of pulling onto the Bent Street rank for a smoko ... ? If I hadn't gone up to the Caltex servo on Rose Bay looked for a fare that wasn't there ... ? If I'd lived my life differently ... ? Would I still be occupying this lowly station ... ?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

we listen to the radio ...

Could NOT do this job without the radio, it's my lifeline out of the phantasmagoria. For a while my default setting was FBI, 94.5 FM but they play too much Thrash, Rap & Hip Hop for my taste. When the testosterone overload kicked in I'd go across to 2MBS FM which, apart from a touch of Jazz & the ever reliable Stormy Monday, plays mostly Classical. Then I happened one afternoon to pick up a DJ from 99.3 FM - it might have been Johnny Deep himself - & he told me to try his station. I did, & I like it, but the signal is too weak & fades to crackle & hiss anywhere but the top of town & the lower North Shore. Now I've settled on the eclectic 2SER FM which, this week, as their featured album, has been playing the amazing C.W. Stoneking - check this guy out, he's extraordinary. A lot of music that I like, these days, is hard to source: Deep House, Trance, Drum & Bass, remixes of various kinds, often don't have proper credits or, if they do, prove more or less untraceable unless you're some kind of fanatic. My other preferences ... Reggae, Dub, Soul, Blues &, well, anything, really, if it sounds good. Another discovery this week: Joanna Newsom, who, when first heard, I thought was CocoRosie. An American, born in Nevada City, based in San Fran, only 24 years old. A harpist & proponent of a kind of music called Psych Folk. The psych folk are my folk ... she's definitely worth a listen. Now I'm trying to think of the name of the group that sang the song I've quoted from in the title. Not the Dixie Chicks' Long Time Gone but a tune by an English (I think) New Wave band from the late 1970s. I seem to recall hearing them one night in 1979 at the Hot Club in Philadelphia but their moniker ... escapes me ...

The song isn't Elvis Costello & the Attractions's Radio Radio either, though for a mo' I thought it might be. While on the subject, but, how about this?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cab 1660 ...

which I've been driving the last few nights has a flash new computerised meter that, when you have a fare on board, shows the location you're driving through on the screen. Was stuck in traffic on the Cahill Expressway, approaching the bridge, where you do a 360 degree turn through a cutting chipped out sandstone, with a crew of film people going to a screening in Neutral Bay, when I happened to glance down and saw that we were in ... Gallows Hill. Stayed there for quite a while, maybe ten minutes. Time to think. Gallows Hill? Why was that still somewhere you could be? One of those buried places, a vestigial location whose name, for some reason, survives. Turns out you can still order flowers to be delivered to Gallows Hill, though I don't know of anyone who lives in, or goes to, or leaves that place. Essex Street is its more usual nomeclature. I had just been talking on the phone to a producer who suggested we meet next day at Guillotine, an editing suite in Redfern, so my neck still felt a little vulnerable. Later on I found that the no-mans-land on Oxford Street between Paddington and Bondi Junction is called Mill Hill. Ghost sails turning where the Reservoir now is, just above Victoria Barracks. I thought of White City, which I also drove past (or through), the other night, explaining to my fare why that name persists when all else that used to characterise the place has faded. Nothing to do with tennis. In a review by Peter Ackroyd of City of Disappearances, a book edited by Iain Sinclair, I read this sentence: What is the White City? A question I will try to answer elsewhere. It was a relief to quit Gallows Hill and join the roar of the traffic on the bridge, but also a sadness, to be leaving a place that no longer is, yet was, briefly, once more, and perhaps not again, if equivocably, inhabited.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

night on earth

Dark figures leave the lighted towers & move towards the line of waiting cars. None of the drivers knows who they will get, where the ride will take them; yet the mystery, inconsequential as it is, is soon solved. Will you be going to Moorebank with a dark-eyed fragrant passenger in the back seat? Or ferrying some Suit with a testosterone hangover to Manly? Or Bondi ... yes, Bondi, couple of skateboarders, one of whom spends the trip outlining, in great detail, the plot of a short film to the other. Shot by shot, scene by scene. They think it's hilarious but it sounds dull to me. Juvenile. What do I know? The most jaded people in the world, a film producer once told me, is who you have to interest. I never thought I would become one of these, but there it is, here I am. Can't be bothered looking for more work but, inevitably, I get hailed in O'Brien Street, a fare back to the City, back to the very rank I just came from. Is he American or English? What is she going on & on & on about? Why don't they just shut up ... dark figures leave the lighted towers & move towards the cars. No-one knows where they will be going & who they will take there. The mystery, inconsequential, will soon be solved. Shot by shot, scene by scene, the phantasmagoria unfolds. No-one is watching, no-one paying any attention, this is just another Night on Earth, exactly the same & totally different from every other. Norton Street, Leichhardt. An Irishman. That rarity, a silent Irishman. Aye.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

a bad run

On the rank at Farrar Place I did something I haven't done before: I refused to take a fare. This earned me a spray from a righteous cab driver further back on the rank - Let others do the shit work while you take the cream, is that it? he snarled. Good on you ... - and I drove off to the Airport with a sharpish Suit in the back wondering if I had offended the gods of cab driving. Things went well for a while and then they didn't. I was out in Coogee when I picked up a radio job to Woolloomooloo. Except the very drunk old guy at the Leagues Club in Carr Street was actually going to Waterloo. Waaar-loo, he dribbled, not Waaara-loo. He'd been at a funeral, burying his best mate and he was maudlin. Not a problem so much as a distraction. While he knew what he was saying, I mostly didn't. He was a big guy, and bumped his head each time he got into or out of the cab, which he did twice, since he had to stand up to reach his wallet. Traffic was intense because of a football game at Moore Park so I thought I'd avoid the worst of it by sticking to the western side of town. No use. I picked up a couple of junkies outside the George Street cinemas, going to Circular Quay, and together we inched up the car-clotted street while they alternately whinged in the back about the fare climbing on the meter and boasted about the bargains they'd got that day at Paddy's Market. They even tried to book me to take them to the Herbert Street Clinic the next day. By the time we got to Bridge Street, I could have killed them - and then I nearly did. They poured a vast amount of silver coins into my hands and started to climb out of the cab. There was traffic everywhere and I was being harrassed on all side by horns. I was so keen to get away that I took my foot off the brake before they were completely out. Hey watcha doin'?! Tryin' to kill us? An aggrieved whine. I told them my foot slipped. A young dude climbed into the car a block up the street and asked to be taken to Moore Park. We crawled up the Eastern Distributor and then out of the tunnel into Moore Park Road. The guy debated whether or not to get out there or nearer to the gates and settled on the gates. That meant, to save him walking a hundred metres or so, I had to sit in stalled traffic for another half hour or so. I tried to assuage my impatience by smoking an illicit Gadung Garam under the eyes of the cops marshalling the cars. Back in Elizabeth Street, a young man smelling sour from alcohol climbed in the back seat and said he wanted to go to Edward and Vine. What suburb? I asked. I don't know, he shrugged. You're the driver. He was surly and insolent like that, going out of his way to make things difficult, so I did something I hardly ever do, I took a slow way there. Edward and Vine's in Chippendale, it's a block from the first house I ever lived in in Sydney. As we neared I tried to confirm the address with him. Is that what I said? he said, bored. I can't remember. When I stopped on the corner and turned the inside light on he said, apropos of nothing at all: Are you from the Netherlands? No, I said, I'm from New Zealand. Are you? Yeah, via Chicago, Illinois. He paid with a twenty and then insisted I count out the change to the last ten cents. I'd get slapped for not tipping if this was New York City, he said when he had his change. So, tip me, I said. We were hating each other by then, the atmos was really mean. People don't tip over here, he said. It's included in the price. This isn't true, most cash customers tip, even if only by rounding up the figure to the next dollar, and I was quite certain he knew this. I bit my tongue, waiting for him to go; and drove back into town feeling like a dead man ferrying damned souls across the river into hell. But a Chinese couple hailed me on George Street and asked to go to the Sheraton on the Park, they were decent human beings, and after that things picked up again.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ministry of (un)Sound

Last night I was in Surry Hills when I got a radio job, 355 Riley St. to Rose Bay, someone called Sammy. I was just around the corner so was there in no time. A kind of dock or loading bay that has been turned into a small theatre, with stage and curtains and lights and all. A blonde was vacuuming the stage. Anyone here call a cab? I asked. She just left in one, the blonde said. Shit! I said.

About five hours later, up in Darlinghurst, two young groovers hailed me and asked to be taken to ... 355 Riley Street. There was an Event there: the launch of a new album by Ministry of Sound. I told them my tale ... her name was Sammy, I said. Sammy? one of them replied. Yeah, I know Sammy, she works for Ministry of Sound. Tell her from me ... I began then thought, ah, fuck it. Let the groovers groove.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


There's a ritual at my taxi base. It's called Change and refers not so much to small denomination coins as to large notes. Every day when I go to work, I take with me an envelope in which is my work sheet and my pay-in (the hire of the cab for 12 hours) from the night before plus, if I'm lucky, the rest of the credit card receipts or cab charge dockets. The balance, if it's more than the pay-in, is the Change. The wife of my boss, Chinese Bob, sits at the wheel of their car in the service station forecourt with, among much else, an envelope full of banknotes and a plastic bag of coins. She redeems the change, invariably handing over the largest notes she can to make up the amount. She loves giving out, in descending order of importance, hundreds, fifties, twenties, tens, fives, gold coins, silver coins. Italo told me that her name is Estrela, which is also, coincidentally, the name of the love of Antonio da Nova's life in Luca Antara. Estrela, who's Chinese as well, used to worry about the small amounts of change I'd be getting. I would tell her it was partly because I sometimes cash in the cab charge receipts down at Five Dock, so I can go home with actual money in my pocket, but first she didn't believe me and then she couldn't understand why I'd sacrifice the small percentage (2%) they charge for the service. One afternoon she asked me if I'd ever had a $300.00 night. I said no, and she smiled sorrowfully and shook her head. Lately things have improved, making her happier on my account, which is sweet. And then, last night, I did have a $300.00 night. Not only that, but I was home before midnight. I'm looking forward to telling her today.

People just kept cliimbing into and out of my cab, though that doesn't necessarily mean you make a lot of money. But then, outside the Casino in Pyrmont, I had a windfall. Two blokes, one in a suit, one not, hurried across the road and waved me down. The one in the suit got in the front, his mate in the back. Wide boys. They were going to an address in Botany to get a document signed; they wanted me to wait and then take them back to Crows Nest. It was about nine pm and they were sweating. As we sailed down Botany Road, they nervously discussed the prospects. They didn't know the house they were going to and they didn't know the bloke they were meeting, either. There was speculation about the possible dangers they might face. They were under instructions to view the bloke's driver's licence, or passport, or something. He wouldn't send you anywhere dangerous, the guy in the back reassured the guy in the front. I'm glad you're coming with me, the guy in the front said. I was dying to know what it was all about but didn't like to ask. The guy in front changed the radio station and turned the music up real loud. The guy in the back navigated, using my street directory. We were on a mission. It was exciting as well as nerve-racking.

When we found the house, a small brick cottage on a corner next to a highway, with a little reserve called Arthur Park opposite, the suited one left his jacket on the front seat and said I could lock the cab if I wanted to. They said they'd be about ten minutes. I leaned on the bonnet of the cab, smoking a Gadung Garam, looking into the windy darkness, intermittently illuminated by white lights, very near the shores of Botany Bay. No-one around, hardly any traffic either. I was wondering if I might hear shots or shouts or furniture crashing over. It was a lonesome part of town. The windows of the house were the antique brown of rattan blinds lit by dim lamps from inside. Then the door banged, and the voices were loud but cheerful. They piled back in and we took off, real quick. I made an illegal U turn so we could go back up via Southern Cross Drive and the Eastern Distributor and then through the Harbour Tunnel to Crows Nest. They talked about the bloke, who, it turned out, didn't have a driver's licence but did have a birth certificate. They talked about the place ... a shithole, they said. How could a bloke who commands $2.3 million live like that? This sequed into a story the guy in the back told, about a unit in Abbotsford he rented off a mate. The mate had lived there eighteen years and never cleaned up. Before this guy moved in, he scrubbed the carpets with a wire brush and took away four garbage bags of rubbish from off the floors alone. But, and this was the point, his mate had paid for his new unit in cash. Half a million. So, squalor doesn't necessarily mean poverty.

As we came up to the Falcon Street exit the guy in the front said that I must think they were doing something dodgy like a drug deal. I said, yes, I was curious. Turns out it was property, a place in Byron Bay that would go to auction at eleven this morning if the contract wasn't signed. A cash deposit of $100,000 had been made and the document was the guarantee for the rest of it. Where's the hundred grand? I asked, looking around hopefully. In a safe place, he said, and laughed. I dropped them off outside the Crows Nest Hotel on the corner of the Pacific Highway. There was about 70 dollars on the meter plus $7.50 in tolls. The front guy handed me a green hundred dollar bill and asked for fifteen bucks change. And a receipt. I wrote the cab number on the receipt and told him he could fill the rest out himself. He was happy about that. Said he'd put maybe 102. They both thanked me as if I really had been the driver of the gang for a half hour or so. While I was resetting the meter, another bloke came out of the pub, crossed the road and got in. Lewisham, he said. Later I took a young Asian woman home from work, all the way from William Street in the City to Lugarno, another 70 dollar fare. The whole night was like that. Change.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Farting in taxi cabs is a largely undiscussed and thus far wholly unresearched subject. Nevertheless, the phenomenon is real and can have unintended consequences. Suspicion may become mutual between cabbie and fare and still the matter is seldom, or never, raised. My own feeling is that there should be a tariff on all releases of hot air in confined spaces, howsoever expressed, though there are of course practical problems in the realisation of this ambition. A vexed question, to which there is no obvious answer. Winding down the windows sometimes helps.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

some sydney street names

Aloha Street, Mascot

By The Sea Road, Mona Vale

Curt Street, Ashfield

Done Street, Arncliffe

Early Street, Parramatta

Fur Place, Rooty Hill

Goodchap Street, Surry Hills

Herb Greedy Place, Marrickville

Ice Street, Darlinghurst

Joy Street, Gladesville

Kia Ora Arc, Double Bay

Little Darling Street, Balmain

Modern Avenue, Canterbury

Nulla Nulla Street, Turramurra

Orphan School Creek Lane, Camperdown

Powder Works Road, North Narrabeen

Quirk Road, Manly Vale

Runnymede Way, Carlingford

Sunning Place, Summer Hill

Tram Lane, Randwick

Universal Street, Eastlakes

Vicar Street, Coogee

Woolloomooloo Walk, Sydney

Xenia Avenue, Carlton

Youth Lane, Burwood

Zig Zag Lane, Crows Nest

( ... have driven down, or past, most if not all of these streets at some time or other ... )
The lurid, late afternoon western sky invites thoughts of apocalypse. Is the sun closer or bigger than it used to be or is that just how it seems? A great black winged shadow moves across the glass face of the Stamford Hotel at Airport Central. I am so wrapped in thought that it is a moment before I register the impossibility that a bird this size, bigger than any eagle or albatross, actually exists. Am I so delusional that I'm starting to see pterodactyls? It's only just before the lights change that I see, towards the top of the tower, a small dark pigeon fly past the expanse of convex blue-green glass and into the cerulean beyond, leaving its mirror maze image nowhere except in the back of my eyes.

* * * * *

Fifty black-robed men come round the corner of Spring and into Gresham Street. An orchestra? Delegates to a Magician's Convention? No, I can see in the ambient yellow light a gleam of ivory white at every throat. They are priests or ministers of religion. There is something both gay and collegiate about their passage down towards Circular Quay, like kids on an excursion. At the rear, unnoticed, unattended, limps a bulky older man, also robed and dog-collared, with a tartan scarf flapping from his shoulders, trying vainly to catch up with the crow-black gaggle ahead of him.

* * * * *

Outside a late opener, two women are thinking of stealing a taxi while the driver is in the bottle shop. They are trying to entice the drunk young man across the road into joining them on their journey to the end of the night. What is the cabbie doing, buying booze? Why has he left the women alone in his car with the key still in the ignition? Did they offer him some tryst, some midnight liaison that requires alcohol and cigarettes as well as willing bodies? I want to know the answers to these and other questions, but not enough to get involved. The lights of Annandale, the birthplace of Mr. Sin, Abe Saffron, who died aged 86 last week, dim and fade behind as we accelerate down the hill towards the Great Western Highway.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sometimes at night above the Harbour Bridge or the massive pylons of the Anzac Bridge, hundreds of seagulls gather the way moths do about an outside light ... tossed like fragments of paper rising from a fire, or like dust swirling in an updraft. In the stark white glare of the lamps they can seem like bits of light themselves and I wonder what attracts them there? It's always too noisy at road level to hear, but I imagine them skirling and screeching as they dip and turn and scatter about the delusive sensors that they perhaps mistake for navigational aids in the ineluctable darkness of the City.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

total recall

is of course impossible but that doesn't stop us trying. Last night was my final night driving for a while, so I thought I'd try to remember every ride ... went ok at first but there always comes a time when events overwhelm the apparently simple desire to record and recall. Pick up my first fare on Broadway, a cyclist and his manager. The cyclist talks about his legs. His manager talks about sports promotions. After I let them out at Martin Place, a few metres up on George Street there's a very out-of-it young woman yelling into her mobile phone and waving hysterically for a cab. I ease past her, something I hardly ever do, and am hailed immediately by a fellow in a suit with a battered leather briefcase. Manly he says then doesn't speak again for the entire journey. Blond, blue-eyed, English or perhaps South African, he looks like a dissolute Wehrmacht officer. Legs crossed, hands clasped on his knee, wrapped in some cloud of unspeakable sorrow. Coming back through Mosman, I score a radio job from HMAS Penguin. A sailor called Ben, going to Maroubra. He's having his wisdom teeth out and has just had a consultation at the Naval hospital there at Middle Head. He's been in Timor - you didn't see much - and thinks he's probably going to Iraq next. He's an electrician off HMAS Kanimbla, a helicopter capable amphibious transport ship. An impenetrable silence descends when I ask what he and his mates think about the death of Private Kovco. It'll go on for years, is all he'll say. There's been an accident on the bridge, traffic going north is backed up for kilometres. Doesn't bother us, we whizz down Southern Cross Drive and soon I'm heading back empty to the City again. It's only just after four and already I've made $90.00. Around about this time, or a little later, someone is run down and killed by a train in the tunnel between Central and Town Hall stations, on the Illawarra line. Passengers in the train behind have to get out and walk back to Central in the 45 degree underground heat. The City is thrown into chaos as commuters try to get home by road. I take a young Asian woman with a limp to a doctor's appointment in Hunter's Hill, she's so nervy that when someone toots me as I change lanes in front of him, she nearly jumps out of her seat. Coming back, I pick up a Macedonian woman in Bathurst Street and take her to Bondi. She's thin as a rake, with a great beaked nose, lustrous eyes and a bowed, generous mouth. A nice person. We chat happily together as we scoot away from the madness. In Macedonia, the cabs are 1980s Ford Lasers with the door handles and window winders in the back removed, there's no air and everybody smokes and yells and it's hopeless ... There are so many people looking for hails in the City it's ridiculous. On the corner of Oxford and College Streets I stop for a woman who's going up to St Vincent’s hospital to see her sister. She has visited her every evening after work since she was diagnosed with leukaemia late last year. Today her sister, after a bone marrow transplant, thinks she can eat so my fare is taking her a pear she bought at DJs. She's from New Zealand, an Aucklander. She doesn't think her sister's going to make it, she has that look ... I ignore all the frantically waving people on Liverpool Street and make my way up Pitt to Park. There's no cabs on the rank and a desperate huddle at the head, but I need cigarettes if I'm to survive the night, so I leave the car and buy a packet of Gudang Garam from the African in the convenience store. Three people pile into the wagon, they have luggage, they're going to the Airport. It's a multiple hire, they're a couple and a single guy, they don't know each other so, by rights, they should each pay two thirds of the metered fare. I tell them this and then say I can't be bothered enforcing the rule. The single guy in the front seat tells me that, on his way in from the airport last Sunday, his taxi driver fell asleep at the wheel. They stopped at some lights and when they went green, the cab didn't move. He had to lean over and wake the cabbie up. An old chap who drove at snail's pace anyway. When we get to the Virgin Blue terminal, there's 23 bucks on the meter but the guy writes $35 on the cab charge docket. I smoke an illicit cigarette, my first of the day, on my way back up O'Riordon Street to the City, where I'm once more besieged by hails. I get a young businessman going to Oyster Bay, at the southern limit of the metropolis. I can sit back and relax as we wind down towards Brighton Le Sands on the shores of Botany Bay. He's a Pom, he has a cold, his wife doesn't want to talk to him on the phone so he calls some mates instead to arrange boozy weekends in London and Paris. I can't work out if he's in music or sport and in the end decide it doesn't matter. This is where I start to lose it ... remember smoking another fag as I barrelled back up the Princes Highway into town, but what happened after that? Took a young woman to Central Station, the Country Trains, an Eastern European guy from there to the Casino, picked up in Pyrmont, a chef getting off work who was obsessed about the greasy smell he carried like an atmos around him and reckoned he wants to buy my car ... let him have my mobile number but doubt he'll ring. His grandmother gave away his deceased grandfather's '67 Chrysler Valiant with only 23,000 on the clock and the plastic still on the seats and he hasn't got over it yet - Steve, the chef from Adelaide, I mean. I took two people, one after the other, to Moore Park, a fussy woman and a fat American. Took a nice bloke to Potts Point ... might have gone any number of other places but I just can't remember now where, or if, they were. Much later, I sit for about three quarters of an hour on the Park Street rank outside the Criterion Hotel, watching the passing to and fro of the night people, until a sad Irishwoman who's been sitting on a nearby bench eating some kind of bun she bought from the McDonalds across the road, stands up wiping her fingers and, leaving the paper bag and the stained wrappers to blow away into the gutter with all the other detritus of the day, climbs into the back seat and asks to be taken to Lane Cove West. After that I go home.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Easy Street

An ibis flies between the towers, looking anxious and out of place as it glides down towards Hyde Park. Two Arab cabbies are doing standing jumps onto the round, fixed metal pillar where you're meant to drop your cigarette butts and your ash. The tubbie Indian from the cab behind mine smiles and says: They happy, they making good money. It's about, oh, 9.15 pm on Tuesday. I think. Could be Wednesday. The Park Street rank in the City. Outside the all night convenience store, in the bright white light, a kid in a green school uniform and an adolescent in torn jeans and T shirt are kicking an undersized soccer ball around. One of the happy Arabs decides to join in. All three of them start kicking the ball with what seems like excessive enthusiasm. It skitters past the legs of passers-by then cannons into the bags of rubbish piled outside McDonalds, spilling coke and hamburger mush onto the footpath. Everybody laughs. I'm thinking about Easy Street. I told the Ambassador there was one in Randwick but, although I've seen the street sign flash by, I've never actually worked out where it is. I crush the last of my Gudang Garam out into the free standing ashtray and get back into the cab to check in my Sydway. Turns out there's two, the other one's in Rozelle. But, this is disappointing, the Randwick one has been eaten by the Prince of Wales Hospital and is now entirely contained within the insititution while the other, in Rozelle, is a service road running between White Bay and the Glebe Island container terminal. Does this mean that nobody actually lives on Easy Street anymore, I'm wondering, as I move my cab up the front of the rank, point as it's called? What a shame. What a fine address to have, either in Randwick or in Rozelle. I see someone in the rearview mirror walking towards me with that oddly determined gait people have when they're going to catch a cab. I can only see the midriff, the tops of the legs, a suit, can't even say right off if it's man or woman. A woman. I have an absurd premonition that she'll ask to be taken to Easy Street. She's Scots and wants to go to Bondi, Francis Street ... that's fine. The kid picks up his greasy soccer ball and looks around for someone else to play with. The ibis will be splashing in the Archibald Fountain by now. Or maybe it's down at the ponds in the Botanical Gardens. The Scottie is pregnant and spends most of the trip on her mobile phone, calling people back home to tell them how Junior's getting on ... s/he's 23 cms long! Also relates in detail some fairly arcane vaginal exercises learned in a class, which her husband refuses to help her with. Insert two fingers and rotate, she hoots. Maybe their kid will live on Easy Street? Now I've got lines from Tom Waits in my head, the song from Small Change called The One That Got Away:

The jigolo's jumpin salty
ain't no trade out on the streets
half past the unlucky
and the hawk's a front-row seat
dressed in full orquestration
stage door johnnys got to pay
and sent him home
talking bout the one that got away

could a been on easy street
could a been a wheel
with irons in the fire
and all them business deals ....

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

rugger buggers

Was idling yesterday afternoon on the rank at Chifley Plaza - where stands an enormous cut-out of Our Ben, shot full of holes as his dream of a light on the hill - or maybe just rusting - when a giant of man came out of the government building that stands there. He had an aura and he was looking around as if he expected to be recognised. Jesus, I thought, it's Phil Kearns! And it was. Unfortunately - or perhaps not - I was one back from point, so he took the cab in front of me. Seconds later, another rugby player, as I thought, climbed into the front seat of mine. An expensive suit, a loud tie, the build of a 2nd five eighth, as they used to be known, rather than a front row forward. Going to Randwick. I asked him which way he wanted to go, because it was rush hour and it pays, literally, to implicate the fare in the chosen route, especially if you're likely to end up stuck in traffic together. He didn't mind. He wasn't au fait with Sydney traffic, he said, since, these days, he lived in Rome. What took you to Rome? I asked. I'm the Australian ambassador there, he said. You don't look old enough, I offered. I'm 52, he replied. What do you say to an ambassador? I wanted to ask him how he got the gig but it seemed too much like effrontery. I wanted to ask him about what a National Party staffer told me last week, that John Howard has a near perfect understanding of the dark underbelly of the Australian psyche. I would have liked to have heard a bit more about the fallout from the Andreotti affair that Peter Robb wrote about in Midnight in Sicily ... we talked of other things. Going up Oxford Street, his palm pilot rang with one of those old fashioned black telephone off at the hook rings. There was a brief discussion about the appointment of an honorary consul somewhere then we went back to talking about this and that. Via the Italian-Australian match at the (soccer) World Cup, we got on to rugby. Yep, I was right, he'd been a player. Knew his stuff. He said the Aussies can't win the (rugby) World Cup next year because their forwards are too young and their backs too old. But that the All Blacks will have to watch out for the French. You only want to play the French once, he said. When he got out in St. Marks Road, there was an odd hesitation between us. I had the sense that there were things he would have liked to ask me as well. But I'll never know what they were. Meanwhile, Phil Kearns was halfway to Mosman, driven by a perhaps oblivious, dour Pakistani with jihad pamphlets in his glove box.

Friday, August 11, 2006

... queens ride in it ...

Twenty Rides & a Love Note

The Curator of Cambodian Art at the Denver Museum, name of Bunker, she looked like a cross between E Annie Proulx and Madelaine Albright and walked with a limp. Art Gallery of NSW to Sydney University.

A Japanese psychologist who specialised in coaching trauma victims giving evidence at criminal trials. A small, extremely alert, birdlike woman who said that Recovered Memory Syndrome does not exist in Japan. University of NSW to the City.

A Czech-born, German speaking, Swiss orthodontist here for a conference. We talked about that variety of homesickness which does not know where home is. City to Darling Harbour.

Two drunken Russian mafioso who'd been at the opening of a boutique in Double Bay and spent the ride to the City discussing recalcitrant employees and amenable strippers.

A Saudi man with three beautiful daughters and one son, whose wife rode on ahead with the boy in another cab, here with his family on holiday: a man of grave courtesy, impeccable manners and the air of a slightly weary prince from another age than ours. City to Glebe.

A mother and daughter, seemingly identical apart from the difference in their ages, 'of Middle Eastern appearance'. I could not tell if they were Arabs or Jews and didn't dare ask. City to Brighton le Sands.

Two Prison Architects from Melbourne who were extremely stressed by the manifold demands of their work. City to the Airport.

A chaotic, Botswana-born IT guy, a White African; we discussed, among other things, marijuana cultivation; he loved Australia but missed his adrenaline fuelled youth, when each day was an improvisation and the stakes life and/or death. He left his keys in the car, but it was a radio job so I remembered the street number and posted them back to him, resisting the temptation to address the envelope: Botswana Bwana. Newtown to Rose Bay.

A large, long-haired man of indeterminate occupation who'd worked for 25 years, on and off, in Chile. Very well informed about both banking and politics but veiled, veiled ... Darlinghurst to Brighton le Sands.

Two half cut Crim/Businessman picked up outside a car yard on Parramatta Road. They were going to a pub in Balmain but, when they realised ‘Jean’ would not be there, changed their minds and went to the Airport instead, along the way hatching nefarious schemes to eliminate rivals and defraud governments.

A Spanish girl with a broken elbow and wrist, sustained when she hit a speed bump while simultaneously riding her pushbike, texting a friend on her mobile phone and attempting to apply balm to her lips. She was delirious with morphine but her friend got her home. RPA Hospital in Camperdown to Marrickville.

Two young smarties on their way to a Christina Aguilera album launch. One of them said he had that very day discussed farting on set with Toni Collette; they other was involved in the buying and selling of pearls from Broome. Glebe to Kings Cross.

Two aging, serious music fans who'd been to hear the Arctic Monkeys at the Enmore and meticulously deconstructed the gig on the cab ride home. St Peters to Kogarah.

Two drunken young men who'd just cleaned up big in an illegal poker game. Though they were het boys, they spoke to each other like lovers as they planned further clean-outs. St Peters to Paddington via Surry Hills.

A garrulous Irish IT guy who spent the first part of the ride abusing the government and the second, after I'd been stopped by the police for speeding, abusing cops. As they wrote out the tickets (there were two, I hadn't filled out my worksheet properly) I found myself explaining the derivation of the word 'fiction'. City to Potts Point.

A woman and a man who'd been dining out together and were now going back to his place for a tryst. She called her husband and children as we drove along, setting him straight on details needed for the Census form and reassuring her kids that she loved them and would see them in the morning. Crows Nest to Bellevue Hill.

A Dancer with a little-girl voice, wrinkled hands, grey thighs, and pink feathers at ankle and wrist. She inadvertently left a perfumed feather behind on the front seat. Surry Hills to Kings Cross.

An obsessed Film Director (is there any other kind?) who meticulously summarised her day's emails for the benefit of her monosyllabic boyfriend, grunting in the back seat; it was about the financial shenanigans of her Producers and the deals they were or were not making with some crooked German financiers. They were looking for a writer but I managed to keep my mouth shut. Darlinghurst to The Rocks.

A couple of stock brokers who never said where they were going: I had to work it out from their conversation with each other; one, an American, rhapsodised about the $330.00 worth of fatty tuna he ate in a sushi bar in Hong Kong; he was making a special detour on his next overseas trip so he could gorge himself there again. City to Bondi.

The Head Caterer at the NSW Houses of Parliament, a big, beautiful Fijian man called Joseph. We spoke about Fiji and he knew every place I’d been there, some of which are very out-of-the-way. Invited me to come and dine at Parliament with him one day, and bring my sons. Macquarie Street to Kogarah.

On Wednesday when I took over from the day driver, an Ecuadorian called Italo, he showed me a love-note a fare had given him and said: This taxi has holes in the floor, but Queens ride in it ...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

memory city

Whizzing round town at night as I do, I'm always passing by sites that hold memory traces: houses or flats I've rented, rooms where I've made or unmade love, places that held parties I was at, places where friends, now dead or departed, lived and laughed or suffered. The other night I drove past a house in Bondi Junction where, in 1981 or 2, having being hailed by a bloke up on the main drag, I picked up a woman who was in the the throes of a severe asthma attack. They were Greek, and he did not come to the hospital with me, I don't know why. I drove her hectically up to the POW in Randwick as she curled forward in a ball of breathlessness on the front seat beside me. Convinced she was dying, I ran shouting into Emergency, where they gently took me aside as they lifted her into a wheel chair and carried her away. I never found out what happened to her, thin and grey and alone as she was; but when I returned to the cab, there was an enormous plastic bag sitting on the floor and in it, a purse containing a single five dollar note: the fare. There are dozens of places like this for me in Sydney, some intimately connected, others, like this one, only randomly significant. Sometimes I feel as if I am abroad in a vast memory city, half fantastical, half real: those places that have changed irrevocably, as so many of them have, are no less strange than those that appear, like this house does, exactly as they were a quarter of a century or however long ago it was.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Blue Monday

Going back to work hurt so bad. The first night, the radio network refused to sign me on. I was, they said, suspended and had 9999 hours to serve before I could be unsuspended, or perhaps cut down. Radio work is, or can be, the icing on the cake, and it's also your connection into the larger cab driving world, you get messages, you can call the network base if you have a problem, you exist. It only took a phone call to fix it, and I made that Tuesday morning.

Tuesday night my cab broke down. I'd taken a fare out to Newington, which is what they call the village from the 2000 Olympics, now transformed into a kind of Stepford Wives type suburb. I got a radio job from Telstra Dome in nearby Olympic Park, a fare to the City, a prize. But the car would only change gear with the greatest reluctance, you could hear the belts in the transmission stretching and lurched before they engaged.

I parked outside Gate L and, in amongst the interplanetary grandeur and vast folly of the deserted stadia and environs, under brilliant white arc lights, made a series of all but futile calls to my boss - a dead spot in the mobile phone network I guess. The fare never showed, some other cabbie had somehow snaffled it, I had to limp back to base and pick up another car, which took an hour out of my night, or about fifty bucks, not counting the lost fare to the City.

Wednesday ... was Wednesday. It was as if I'd never been away. Running on cigarettes and pain killers, coffee and adrenaline, chewing gum and kebabs. As if, somewhere in me there is a cab driver who can be conjured up with a few well worn moves, or routines, some doppelganger, some other or familiar. He took over, and I sat back, spending most of the evening re-writing an old film treatment in my head.

Monday, May 22, 2006

the phantom phockers

Ever since I moved into this building about 18 months ago, I've been intermittently aware of a couple nearby who like to engage in energetically vocal sex, usually, though not always, on a Saturday night. I call them the phantom phockers, because I've never been able to work out who they are and where their serenade comes from. Well, not any more. This Saturday night just past, they engaged in a truly extraordinary session - not being an aural voyeur, or auyeur, I won't go into detail - which in the end I simply could not switch off from and ignore, as previously I usually have managed to do. I had to get up, make myself a cup of chamomile tea and read a chapter of George Bataille's Blue of Noon, just to calm down. I ended up leaning on the window sill staring up at the night sky, and it was then I realised that they were not, as I had always imagined, in the next door building but in this one! From there, it wasn't hard to work out who exactly these two are. I must say I was surprised, but there you go, people are surprising. I'm not going to say any more about them, that would be indiscreet. But ... I know.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Impossibilities

There is something about the City in the early evening that is productive of an intense melancholy—perhaps because, for one who spends his days at home, at the computer, or in the local area, to get on a train at 4.45 and ride into town is to reverse the pattern of most daily journeys ... coming up the stairs from Town Hall Station into the fading afternoon, I find George Street full of smartly dressed office workers hurrying away from their places of employment towards their homes or to assignations with friends or lovers. The lights are just coming on and I am reminded, as always, of the cities of my youth, particularly of Wellington which, in my late teens or early twenties, seemed replete with all the possibilities in the world. I used to sally forth at this time of day with the feeling that I might meet any of my literary heroes, any of the queens of my imagination, during a stroll down Willis Street and into Lambdon Quay. Or that, at a table in Barretts Hotel, the secret of the universe would be revealed to me, most likely at the bottom of a glass of something or other. To roll out into nighttime streets several hours later, on our way somewhere else—probably Macavity's, a restaurant named after the mystery cat—was to embark on another odyssey into the further reaches of possibility, even if what actually happened was only a drunken stumble up Plimmer Steps to the Terrace or, if it was still running, a cold ride on the outside of the Cable Car to Kelburn ... it isn't that I don't still feel a leap of the heart at the chances that might come my way as I go down Druitt Street and into Kent, looking for #400 where, on the 11th floor, the book launch is taking place; rather it's that, even with my sense of expectation intact, I no longer believe in infinite possibilities the way I did then. And perhaps that sense of the infinite was itself a mere index of youthful vigour, youthful ignorance ... ? Perhaps, too, it had its own melancholy, arising from my fear of exclusion from the all I wanted to be part of? Then, I did not know that most lives are made out of the humdrum, that even grand passions lose, over time, both their grandeur and their passion, that most of what we do, we do over and over again. At the launch I feel, as I have always felt, younger than everybody else in the room although, if I look carefully around at those I am among, I have to acknowledge that this is my generation and we are all pretty much of an age. Later, I don't go with the authors and publishers to dinner in Chinatown, preferring to catch a cab with a friend over the Anzac Bridge where we settle for a coffee at her place. Later still, having said goodnight to her, I'm rambling up Darling Street in the direction of Victoria Road, since I always like to walk a bit before looking for a ride ... and then, although it's not late and I'm not drunk and nothing's really happened, suddenly the potentials do return in all their infinite variety and I feel, just for a moment—but how long is that moment?—that all things are possible, even the impossibilities.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


Have neglected this site lately, a whole month has gone by without a post. Partly this is because there doesn't seem to be a clear distinction between here and my other place, although for a while I was reserving this one for journeys of various kinds and the other for, I don't know, speculations? Sometimes everything seems like a journey, at others, nothing does. Anyway, the point is, this site might soon return to its original purpose since, today, I completed all the formal tasks necessary for the renewal (for three years) of my taxi driver licence. I haven't actually got it yet - I have to have new photos taken and send off the relevant papers with a $120.00 fee - but within a couple of weeks I should. Then, if I can persuade myself I'm desperate enough, I might start driving the odd shift. One a week, maybe. Easing into it. Like that ... shudder ...

Saturday, April 01, 2006

One p.m. or thereabouts, I'm looking askance at the makings of the pastrami sandwich I was going to be making for lunch when the phone rings. It's Miro, she's in Annandale and wondering if I'd like to meet her at that Thai place in Rozelle we've been to before. We indulge in a bit of banter about the name ... Thai-ed Up? Thai-ed Down? Thai-ed in Knots ... before agreeing to meet imminently. When I ask her how long it will take her to get there she says, mysteriously, eight minutes. I jump in the car and drive over, certain I know exactly where to go, mildly excited because the other day I saw a 2nd hand shop in that strip I'd never noticed before and thought I'd check it out soon. Ah, serendipity.

I get there, find a park on the main drag, cross the road towards the Thai place I can see a couple of blocks up, thinking I don't recall any of these shops, have I ever walked along this street before (irrelevantly almost-echoing one of my least favourite songs from My Fair Lady, which I watched most of the other evening)? The Thai place doesn't look right either, it's a fairly tatty takeaway shop with just a few rickety tables, full of Friday lunch-timers cramming - where's the red velvet? The Buddha? The incense? I have to walk up to the next block and then back down the last one before it dawns on me that I'm in completely the wrong place. I remember Miro saying roundabout, saying kebab place on the corner, there's nothing like that here, although that old theatre looks interesting ...

I tear myself away, jump back in the car and drive across Victoria Road to Darling Street where, two or three blocks up, I see the real place ... and catch a glimpse of Miro sitting pensive and elegantly alone against the wall. She doesn't see me driving by but, after I park where we parked last time and am walking up the side street, my mobile rings and I'm able to say I'm just about to walk through the door ... afterwards she says she's going to Gleebooks to buy the new biography of Truman Capote and I say I'm going to the Haberfield Library to pick up an old one of Anna Akhmatova but I don't or not just yet, I go back to check out the 2nd hand shop.

There's a ragged 1994 Melbourne Street Directory in which I look up the name of a street I've been writing about, surprised to find it's not called Emerald Way after all, but Emerald Hill Place. This leads to a quandary I still haven't resolved: do I revise towards fact or do I maintain the inadvertent fiction? How did I make the misattribution to begin with? Fading sight, internet maps? A pristine Everyman of Rimbaud's Poems, with no clue as to who the translator was. Another Everyman, Dylan Thomas's Collected Poems, appropriately battered, and I pick it up with a pang. I've never got over lending my hardback Collected to a film maker who was doing a documentary about photographer Max Dupain, which somehow necessitated her borrowing my Dylan Thomas to lend to him. Max died, the film was never made, the book disappeared and despite many opportunities, like this, to replace it, I never have.

Downstairs is a kind of cellar where I have to bend double to inspect a range of curiously wrought, ugly 1940s furniture, cheap and nasty, and anyway I already know I will leave the shop empty handed. It's about three p.m. now, a sunny/cloudy afternoon, quite warm. The theatre is an old cinema, the interlocking T R (or R T) stands for Theatre Rozelle (or Rozelle Theatre), it's being remodelled as apartments. I realise that what attracts me to this block is its about-to-be-renovated dereliction, plus it's just up the road from the major location for the film I'm meant to be writing but haven't quite got around to yet, through absorption with my book. I can see the grounds of the old psychiatric hospital ahead, where the road bends, I haven't looked at it from this vantage before, it gives me a thrill.

The Catholic primary school next to the Haberfield Library has been having a cake stall, the streets are full of Italian mothers and children with extravagant sweets in their hands or mouths. There are posters on lamp posts for the forthcoming Italian elections (in Italy) because for some reason (some) people in Australia can vote. But the Akhmatova bio looks dull, it's one of those books that uses poems-as-narrative, plus the pages are yellowed and I simply can't bring myself to borrow it. I return to Summer Hill by the same route I used last year when I was a cab-driver, going home at one or two a.m. with my right sock full of 20 and 50 dollar notes and a great longing for a drink and then to sleep.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Today I saw the Hartog plate. I felt nothing.

Not true. I felt the corrosion of a history of words.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

from the dark side

Went to a class today at the Sydney Taxi School as part of the requirements to renew my licence. It's interesting to spend a day in a room full of Turks, Bangladeshis, Chinese, Iraqis and so on, especially since these classes are fairly perfunctory so far as actual learning is concerned. Or, the learning consists more of listening to stories than it does absorbing information. You always end up talking about security issues in a group of cab drivers. One guy had a shocker to tell. He was driving in the St. George area, in the south of the City, not long after the Cronulla riots. It was one or two in the afternoon. He was hailed by a woman with bags, pulled over, popped his boot, got out to help her with her bags. As he was bending down to pick them up, he was set upon from behind by two or three guys - he wasn't sure how many, because they knocked him half conscious (with some kind of, again unknown, implement) then started kicking him when he was down. He surmised it was a racist attack because he heard the abuse they were shouting as they hurt him, calling him a wog. This guy had recently been stitched up after an operation to his stomach - they undid that. He had to have his nose rebuilt. He still has a bruise under one eye, three months later. He doesn't know how he got home but assumes that he somehow drove. His wife took him to hospital. He can't work and he said his kids start to cry if they even hear the word taxi. And this happened to him, with malice aforethought, purely because of his appearance. He said he looked around as he got out of the cab but saw no-one; the police later suggested the guys waiting were hiding under a car (!) Don't know what his background is, he didn't say. Perhaps Turkish, his friend, next to him, who knew the story, was. The guy taking the class said he looked Italian. I just thought he looked like an Aussie. But, no. But, yes.

Friday, March 17, 2006


Luca Antara, the book, tarries a while in the QVB, because, when I first came to Sydney, that's where the Public Library was. I was interested in telling a brief version of its history but as I was in New Zealand when I wrote that section, I got my material on-line. Now, preparing the Notes on Sources, I find that there is a book about the Grand Dame. The Queen Victoria Building 1898-1986, by John Shaw with photos by David Moore (among others), was written at the initiative of architects Stephenson & Turner, who carried out the restoration of the building in the 1980s. Lovely book. One of its glories is the archival photographs, which are not restricted to the building itself but cover many aspects of Sydney's CBD down the years. I was fascinated by the pictures of arcades, most of which were demolished before I came here. The Imperial Arcade, which resembled a theatre set; the Victoria Arcade, with its elliptical glass dome; the Royal Arcade with its Roman and Florentine echoes. Only the Strand Arcade now remains, along with the QVB itself which, although it is a free standing building, has many affinities with arcade buildings, for example, its glazed barrel vault roof.

I can't remember now where we'd been - perhaps to a concert or a gig - I do recall one night, late, wandering with my then wife into the newly restored QVB, which was wide open, brightly lit and vastly empty; this was before the shops had been tenanted or opened. There was distant music coming from the upper levels. We walked into each other's arms and waltzed together along the tiled floor of the promenade known as the Avenue. This floor slopes, there's a slight hill running down Market Street towards George Street, probably the old bank of the Tank Stream, and the makers of the building followed that fall. I'm no longer sure either if it was the same night or another - probably the same - that, climbing the stairs we found, on the top-most level, a function or celebration of some kind going on. Passing across the floor we encountered Barry Humphries, so shickered he could not stand up, being escorted, like an ocean liner by tugboats, by two gorgeous young women from one revelry to another. Or perhaps from revelry to bathroom.

After finishing the book I went and had another look at the QVB, and at the Strand Arcade. Beautiful structures, beautifully restored (Stephenson & Turner did the Strand as well), yet I couldn't help feeling a slight pang of disappointment. Why? I think it's just the dullness of the use they are put to, at least from my point of view. I can remember being absolutely fascinated by the arcades in Auckland in the 1970s, because of the strange variety of shops, businesses and other organisations you found there: erotica, philately, obscure foreign friendship societies, fortune tellers, dance academies and who knows what else. Whereas now what you find is the relentless shininess of contemporary consumer culture. Many wonderful things are there which you can buy if you want, but something else is lacking, perhaps aura, perhaps grime, perhaps a whiff of the disreputable. The QVB replaced the George Street Markets and was built as a market itself. In its early days it attracted palmists and mind-readers along with teachers of music, art and dance. Now mostly what you find are handbags, hand lotions, hand made chocolates. It'd be an awful confession to say that I preferred the QVB derelict and that isn't quite what I mean. I just wish there was less shininess, more texture, some fluid and chaotic tactility there.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Had a good time with my kids this weekend. Or, should I say, they had a good time with me? Partly it was because Jesse's friend Monty came over Saturday night for a sleepover. Kids like being in a pack, even three is better than two. At one point we went over to the local park for an hour or so. It was early evening; tennis on the courts, skate-boarders and bike riders on the skate-board rink, smaller kids on the equipment and the littlies in the fenced off playground; a soccer game featuring, I noticed, two of the guys from the local liquor shop. At one point Liamh, who's obsessed with them, found a stash of sticks behind a tree on the far edge of the park and enlisted the other two in a game. I watched it from a bench on the other side, far too far away to hear anything or see detail. They were big, robust looking sticks, thick and long; but the boys seemed to be using them not as weapons but as ... I don't know? Wands? Their movements had an hieratic quality, they held them gesturally and moved them slowly through the air. It looked like a dance and went on for quite a while, quarter of an hour maybe. Then, all of a sudden, they laid them down (behind another tree, for later perhaps) and came tearing back across the park towards me. As we were walking home I asked what they'd been doing. Orrh, said Jesse, We were playing Runescape. He didn't expatiate and I didn't ask. Runescape's huge among the kids and it seems like a different sort of game from the usual shoot 'em up, bang 'em down. My boys don't play it here much because it requires a PC for its full range to be available and I'm on a Mac; when they do I'm impressed by the contemplative air that comes over the flat. One day this weekend I watched them build a canoe and sail it down a river. Another time, I recall Jesse telling me he knew how to fletch arrows. He described the process in great detail and then allowed that, yes, they were virtual arrows. This is a game where groups form and play against/with each other; some of these groups are very large and, it goes without saying, they are multinational. I'm intrigued ... but not as intrigued as I was by the stick game I saw across the park the other evening.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Once on Chunuk Bair

Am I getting sentimental in my old age? The other morning, just after I woke up, I felt the need to check some geographical details with respect to the Gallipoli peninsular. I was trying to understand the precise relationship between Lone Pine, Chunuk Bair and the Nek. Also, which were the troops that took the first, and the second, though only briefly, and were slaughtered in their hundreds at the third site. Was it simply the sound of the names in my head, on my tongue, that blurred my eyes, so that I could not read the words on the page? It was strange to lie back on the pillows and feel the tears running down my cheeks - why?

Sunday, March 05, 2006


As anyone who has ventured there knows, Ern Malley Alley is a hall of mirrors, an infinite regression, a world of answers without questions and questions lacking answers. You go there at your peril and if you will be so bold or so foolish, you need allies: a sense of humour, an unimpaired sceptical sense, what Keats called negative capability ... anyway. Something I hadn't quite considered when I entered the labyrinth was that I would be dealing with my father's generation, obvious as that might seem. He was born in 1920, the second of three brothers. Ern Malley was born in 1918, the 14th of March, Einstein's birthday; James McAuley in 1917, Harold Stewart in 1916 ...

Another thing I did not anticipate is that I would find myself wrangling with the ghost of Don Bradman (b. 1908). How did this happen? Well, partly it's simply local history: the boy from Bowral made his first century in Sydney grade cricket just down the road from here, at Petersham Oval (there's a plaque), which means it's at least possible that Ern, who grew up in the area, was there that November day. Partly, too, it's because if you read Australian history between the wars, you simply can't escape the Don. He is ubiquitous. So that, a few weeks ago, I went to the Ashfield library and brought home a couple of books, one of which, written by an Englishman as social history as well as sporting biography, was so good that I read it cover to cover in a matter of days. Now, coincidentally, I've just watched the second instalment of a two part television documentary on ABC, which covers the same ground as the book and even interviews its author. So what have I learned?

Well, it's an emotional minefield. And very personal. My father loved two sports, rugby and cricket. He'd played both, with some skill, in his youth, coached school teams while he was teaching, later on spent a lot of time listening to games on the radio or watching them on television. I inherited these enthusiasms from him and maintained them during his long decline partly so as to have this neutral common ground where we could always go when we talked. Now he's gone I don't know why I keep them up because the actual sporting culture as it has evolved, mostly disgusts me. That's one thing. The second thing is the intimate relationship between Australian life and sporting prowess. Much has been made of the fact that Bradman's prodigious feats as a batsman began during the Great Depression and that for many people living in penury and misery, he became a kind of secular saviour ... this strange contract, between sporting success and the pride of individuals in themselves, is not confined to Australians but they - we - are certainly paragons in its expression. As an expat New Zealander who is an Australian citizen, I express this fanaticism in reverse, taking no pleasure in Australian wins and great delight in their unfortunately rare losses. Weird, huh?

But, Bradman. The great hero of the common man, and a common man himself ... except he wasn't. He was a protestant in a land of Irish Catholics, a teetotaller in a country of drinkers and drunks, he played the piano and listened to classical music, in the evenings after a day's play, instead of celebrating with his mates, he'd go to his room and write letters or read books. And get an early night. He was also a Royalist in a culture that at least fancies itself to be 'naturally' Republican, he earned his living as a stock broker and wasn't above taking financial advantage of circumstances when he could see a way to do so - when, in 1945, his boss in Adelaide informed the Stock Exchange he could no longer meet his commitments, Bradman had taken over the office and hung his shingle out within 36 hours of the declaration, apparently with the consent of the receiver. In some of this, he shows a character not unlike that of my paternal grandfather, who was all of those things: protestant, teetotal, royalist, businessman, devious, a sporting fanatic - and Australian; most of this description also fits the present Australian Prime Minister, John Howard (I don't believe he is teetotal). The other thing the three men - Bradman, my grandfather, Little Johnny - have in common is their ruthlessness.

As we know, sport is a surrogate for war and despite all the waffle about playing the game, you can't really engage in it without a determination to win. Afterwards you may fraternise with your opponents but while the game's on you have to be prepared almost to kill. In our peculiar culture, that analogy with war does extend to business and to politics, but with this difference: the wins and losses are real, there are real victims, real casualties, real deaths. Bradman's extreme ruthlessness as a cricketer, later as Australian captain, was mostly visited upon the English, whom he took great delight in humiliating howsoever and whenever he could; but there was no contradiction with his Royalism or his Empire Loyalism, because it was just a game. For precisely the same reason, sport/war is a very bad analogy for business and politics, but pervasive nevertheless. Watching Little Johnny bask in the approbation of the local version of the great and the good during his ten year anniversary celebrations made me realise that he has a conscience white as the driven snow, as they say, most likely because he's left all that behind on the playing field. Watching the obsequies for Kerry Packer, that superlative sporting man, the other week led to the same conclusion. For these kinds of people, the end does justify the means and the end is, in the end, very simple: to win.

My father set himself against his father and attempted to live an ethical life; it ended in alcoholism, loneliness and despair, with one of his few consolations, the rugby or the cricket on the TV or the radio. This doesn’t mean that he made the wrong choice and nor is it sufficient to ascribe his fate to that choice: of course not, there were a lot of other factors involved, which I can’t go into here. But it was a conscious choice: the poetry he wrote in his youth he abandoned in order to dedicate himself to a form of social action which would make a real difference to peoples’ lives and in this he was remarkably successful; the visits he sometimes got from those he had taught were another of his consolations.

Ern Malley didn’t have to live with the consequences of his dedication to poetry, though both James McAuley and Harold Stewart did. Sometimes I imagine Malley as a kind of Anti-Bradman, feckless where the other was conscientious, ironic rather than sincere, profligate not abstemious, raucous not calm, unsporting, twisted, decadent, sardonic, rude … but of course he wasn’t an Anti-Bradman so much as an Anti-Everything: everything, that is, that could not be fitted into the world view of two gifted yet resentful men, both self-hating, one of whom became a Catholic conservative academic, the other a scholarly Buddhist monk. As for Bradman, he lived to a ripe old age and was, so far as one can tell, kind to his old opponents - but never forgave his enemies. I understand John Howard is a great hater too.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Houses of the Poets

It's never quite clear to me what is to be gained by going to look at houses where known people were born, grew up or at some stage lived, which doesn't mean I don't sometimes do it. At the very least, I suppose, there is subsequently a memory trace where before was either a blank or something imaginary. Which isn't to say the imaginary isn't preferable, only that it will in most cases recede before the real. Anyway ... having learned from Michael Ackland's book Damaged Men the addresses of the houses where James McAuley and Harold Stewart grew up, and realised they are both within a few kilometres of here, I went today to look at them.

52 The Crescent, Homebush, McAuley's home from the mid 1920s until he left home during WW2, is a small brick Victorian villa in a now leafy street running parallel to the main western line just down the road from the Homebush shops. It's shabby and neglected now, it looks like it's rented out, but it was probably far more prepossessing and indeed, straight-laced, when it belonged to the McAuley family. Jim's Dad was a successful real estate agent which raises the question as to why he kept on living in this rather small house in this rather grim suburb with its stockyards and its abbatoir; on the other hand, according to Jim, he was a rather grim man.

Although McAuley remembered the scent of wisteria, there's now a small frangi pani tree outside the window of the bedroom next to the front door, which may have been his: At night he watched the dancing shadows created by the lights of passing trains on his bedroom walls and dreamed of unknown destinations, Ackland says. The most startling presence in the street is an enormous Gallipoli Pine growing behind the house, one of the largest I have seen. McAuley, born in Lakemba in 1917, may have come into the world contemporaneous with this tree and I took its sombre presence as a sign that he still haunts the neighbourhood.

Chowringhee, where Harold Stewart was born in 1916 and where he grew up, is or was at 31 Tavistock Street, Drummoyne: a short, also leafy street, running up hill from Drummoyne Park with its green oval, not far from Five Dock Bay. All three streets crossing Tavistock are now major traffic arteries so the area does not have the quiet gentility it did when Harold lived here. His father, who was in India until his early thirties and spoke fluent Hindustani, was the local health officer.

The house at #31 presented the same drab exterior as did the McAuley residence, though it was clearly a much larger place. However, it seems to have been divided at some point into a makeshift duplex; the name plate, if there ever was one, has disappeared and I did wonder, since the other half of the duplex was #33, if I had the right house. Perhaps the street had been renumbered at some point?

This is what Ackland describes: Tavistock Street was shaded by camphor laurels and small gardens set off the entrances to most of its serried brick houses. The drab exterior of the Stewarts’ home accorded ill with its exotic Indian name ... and its tastefully presented interior. A large rear veranda afforded easy access to a modest oasis of calm, with fernery, fish pond, vines and a spreading apple tree, while Marion (Harold's sister, younger than him by nine years) remembered home-life as characterised by ahimsa, or non-violence of thought and deed.

There was a bullish looking man in a large 4WD parked outside #31 with the talkback radio turned up loud in his cab and he gave me the leery eye when I turned the car around and parked across the road to get a decent look at the house, so I didn't hang around for long. Ackland also writes: ... in the 1920s the future poet could still wander along dusty, unmade roads lined with gumtrees and post-and-rail fences, reminiscent of country towns, and shimmering water was always close at hand.

In contradistinction to the grimness of McAuley's bedroom (ordered and impersonal, its furnishings kept to a minimum with a bed, dresser and bare walls), Harold's served as study, art studio and music room ... the bed, which doubled as a settee when friends called, had a deep blue coverlet shot through with muted gold thread and [the room] contained a large desk, ample library, music stand and gramophone, as well as a small table for displaying art works — making it the prototype of his successive dwellings.

The strongest impression I took away from both houses is perhaps paradoxical: they each in their different way reminded me of the house at 40 Dalmer Street in Croyden, Ern Malley's sister Ethel's house, where the imaginary poet spent his last few imaginary months. This house was, as they say in fact, owned by Harold's sister, the aforementioned Marion ... the other thing I glimpsed, though only in passing, was the uniformity of these lower middle class western Sydney suburbs between the wars, with their rows and rows of near identical houses made of liver coloured brick, their pubs and corner shops, their bare streets where the trees, if they had even yet been planted, had scarcely begun to grow.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

This site is allegedly a year old today tho', not really, because the first few posts appeared on the sister site & were moved over here later ... b-but it is a year since I got my taxi licence (for the third time!) & thus time to renew it again. Because I'm not driving at the moment that can be done in a fairly leisurely manner, still costs about 500 bucks however, which I don't like paying, specially because I don't really ever want to drive a cab again ... on the other hand, common sense tells me that, things being as they are, precarious, I can't really afford not to (renew my licence I mean). Will probably run out of money not long after this financial year ends (June 30) &, unless something else comes along, how else am I going to make the rent? pay for the kids? feed my habit(s)? ... ah, yes, sometimes I really do wonder how much of this money anxiety I feel is constitutional, how much circumstantial? Would I still feel insecure on 500 grand a year? Some of my happiest times have been when I've had nothing blah blah blah ...

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Last week two nights in a row, at the same hour, I went to the Dendy Cinema at Circular Quay to see a film. The first, the premier of a short I'd been invited to because I'd been speaking with the producer about another matter; the second, the opening of the IndiVision Screenings for this year - I was a participant in the IndiVision Lab last year. Neither film was quite satisfactory but that's not what I'm here to say.

I always prefer being early to the movies so I caught the train about 5.15 and was at the Quay by 5.45 for a 6.15 screening. There I was, ambling along, in no hurry, intending to stop in at an art shop where you can reliably see lithos by the likes of Chagall and Miro and Dali and Bonnard, when I look up and see this:

She was moored in West Circular Quay and took up the whole length of harbour on that side, seeming as long if not longer than the bridge, which kind of grew out of her bow. A few lights on, a few idle figures lounging on her decks taking the evening air - they were all David Niven types in white cravats to me, smoking Sobranes - while hanging below her funnel, bizarrely, was a hand written banner saying DO NOT APPROACH CLOSER THAN FIFTY METRES. For terrorists, I guess.

Big old ocean liners always make me think of Fellini's Amarcord, the night scene where the characters row or wade out into the water to see one passing by, like a space ship from some wonderful, perhaps alien civilization whose planet you might one day be lucky enough to visit.

Thursday was hot and then about four the thunderheads rolled in, with a spattering of big fat drops which, by the time I went to catch the train, had turned to steady though not hard rain. The train must have travelled with the cloud because it was raining as well in the City, which had been clear when I left - I can see it from my balcony. I don't mind getting a bit wet, I was enjoying it and anyway, there's a covered walkway from the Quay to the Toaster and the Opera House and the QE2 was still there, looking more like this:

though rather more beautiful in the after storm light. I knew by now that she was departing for Melbourne that night and could already see a thin thread of diesel smoke drifting from her funnel. I was hoping that after the movie was over we might be lucky enough to see her steam out - that would have been something. The film, from Israel, was an inconsequential tale about a unit of girl soldiers patrolling Jerusalem which somehow managed to be trivial and claustrophobic at the same time and, instead of ending, just stopped. The last shot was interminable, two girls on one motorcycle riding through the city with, for some reason I will never know, the word KIWI written on each of their helmets.

It was dark by now, we stood around in a roped off enclosure in a bar area under the Opera House as canapes and wine waiters circled and networks got worked. I was with a director friend and she was with an actor friend and none of us could raise much enthusiasm for working the nets so, just as they served trays of boxed stir-fried beef noodles, we left and ate leaning over the rails looking at that fabulous apparition which, while it was smoking more than it had been, did not look like leaving before we ourselves wandered off into the night.

So she's gone now but, if I'd got around to the other side of the Quay in daylight, I might have seen something like this: