Melbourne CBD

The skyline from behind the Vic Market
From any angle, at night, the high-rises of Melbourne’s north-western grid are mesmerising; like bioluminescent undersea worlds, they become towering symbols of the infinitely complex, unknowable nature of life on earth. But during the day, viewed from the western corner of the grid, the skyline is like a chaotic cluster of mismatched fingers on a botched android hand. Anyone who has lived in Melbourne for more than a decade will remember the advent of the Eureka Tower in 2006 – everyone had an opinion on it: the look, the height, the shadow. Now, there is barely time to react to the various buildings; they get approved so fast and seem to go up when we’re sleeping.

The trend in façade patterns is distinct to Melbourne; in no other world city is the hangover from postmodern design so palpable as in this mess of purple and green distorted lines and graphics seemingly cribbed from Microsoft screensavers. Looking up at the super-towers from the narrow pavements is an exercise in existential economics. As a way of understanding what happens when humans are confronted with inhuman scale, take the example of numbers. A six-figured sum is not something I personally know the feeling of, but something I can aspire to, a relationship I understand. That is the equivalent of a three-to-eight storey building: by looking at it you can intuit the number of human beings and the kinds of activity going on within it, just as you intuitively know what 100,000 beans means to you in terms of hours and days you would have to work. A 70-storey building on the other hand, like the Vision Apartments tower on Elizabeth Street, is like a figure in the billions: faced with this obliterating scale, what can I be but an unnecessary comma in the ledger of space and time? This annihilation of the individual through scale is somehow pleasant in Manhattan, but in Melbourne it feels wrong. You can literally see the disproportionate power of developers and private interests and the time span in which they have come to dominate planning approvals.

The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre
Love it or hate it, approaching this building is an experience. Its bigness is almost Roman, a scale that says, ‘look how tiny you are beside the Gods’. It looks like it comes from a post-human future that we haven’t yet caught up to. The colonnades are Hadidesque and bodily, mucousoid. Its details are intentionally pleasing to the eye, like the carefully aligned fragmented lines of the bridge across Grattan Street and the glazed brick at ground level. These genteel touches indicative of a luxurious budget are rare on Melbourne façades; there are funds behind this establishment. The emphatic tech swoosh of the façade reminds me of contemporary ​sneaker design, a semantics which originated in the fashion of the early 1980s in reaction to the bio-obsessed decade that came before, designed quite earnestly to signal speed and technological advantage​​. Now, sneaker design is post-truth in a nutshell – everyone knows by now that a foot covering ​cannot ​actually improve our chances of winning​ in​ the game of life​, or any of life’s sub-games,​ but if these foolish Raf Simons or Balenciaga sneakers, by referencing a time when these forms were new, can make us feel happy inside – like an architectural folly – there is a kind of post-purity purity in that. It’s only when you consider the building’s purpose that you realise it is not taking these forms with the detached irony of the latest sneakers; the cancer centre is a genuine attempt to symbolise technological triumph over disease.

A building from a post-human future in which there are no longer any organic bodies – and no disease.



Storey Hall
Early and mid-century modernist architecture was an architecture obsessed with reduction and simplicity based on phenomena: how light and clean spaces could affect good health; how the provision of blank planes could enhance the perception of ​an​​ ​object chosen for contemplation; how something as simple as curvature could soften the feeling of a room​. It was part of the bourgeois awakening from tradition and a liberation from the barnacles of history, but also, through the design of factories and public buildings, intended as a gift to the working classes. Its rational principles aligned very nicely with the ​streamlining imperative of capitalism, and ever since architecture has been key in the quest to engineer productivity in workers. No less so today, with workplaces that are so comfortable, stylish and ‘agile’ that they give us the illusion of being in a home or a café.

Postmodernism in architecture, born out of disillusionment with so much order, began to take shape in the 1960s but took hold internationally through the 1980s and 1990s. It explicitly rejected the intellectual and physical hygiene of modernism and began to explore entropy and the joy of contradiction. The movement’s many strains had a particularly cacophonous climax in a branch known as deconstructivism. The deconstructivists aimed to take postmodern ‘play’ as far as it could physically go towards fragmentation – an aggressive game that chimed with popular disillusionment as the well-oiled, hard-bodied 1980s came to a halt in the global recession. Pop culture from the time spoke of revolution and rebirth.

In Melbourne, this radical moment was embodied quite late in the movement through the approval and realisation of controversial deconstructivist buildings in the mid-nineties on Swanston Street, the city’s unfortunate main street.

The buildings were so popular and popularly divisive that it continues to have a palpable effect on the preferences of developers, planners and council.

By far the most radical architecturally, Storey Hall is a masterpiece of non-sense: literally everything was thrown at its facade, from Fibonacci to female suffrage. It was an interpretation of postmodern chaos that was without precedent globally, especially for its heavy-handed metaphor and literal application of theory (visit its Wikipedia page to see how what looks like a random assemblage is actually a dense cluster of overt signification), and it continues to be as loved as it is derided. With this act of bringing chaos back into the city after decades of rationalism came the tantalising lightbulb moment that architecture can be funny and weird, and this gave Melbourne, the intellectual city, something to hold onto.

Never let go: the RMIT nexus
As it turned out, capitalism didn’t die in the 1990s. And in the words of Slavoj Zizek, “the more it is rotting, the more it thrives”. One of the institutions that benefitted greatly from this progression was RMIT University; formerly a technical institution, it became an industry focused university that was unbounded by traditional measures of academic rigour. While the traditional academic universities struggled to stay relevant and profitable through funding cuts, RMIT boomed by responding to whatever the market called for, with a strong baseline of lucrative, under-regulated courses for international students. Paradoxically, RMIT remains the city’s main perpetuator of postmodernist architecture – a design language which set out to critique the system that underpins the university’s success.

Standing on the corner of Swanston and La Trobe Streets and looking into the eye of RMIT’s newly renovated bling storm, there is so much to take in. The renovations on the northern side have opened up the ground level of what was formerly an impenetrable edifice, and the buildings have become permeable, like a sea sponge. Passing by on the tram at night, fine illuminations draw your eye inwards towards the freshly exposed concrete beams and columns beloved by fans of brutalism. In the day, you’re free to wander inside what could be mistaken for a retrofuture portal curated by Nickelodeon. But, far from hostile, there is something about the fullness of the furnishings, hard and soft, that says: you don’t need to be anywhere else – again, that rare but gratifying evidence of a generous budget. Wandering through the corridors you are unlikely to know where you are or how exactly you ended up on Level 7, and traversing a straight corridor you might stumble into an oblique curtained appendix – everything inside is plush and green, and the walls are whiteboards; you could close the curtains around you to be bathed in the lush biophilic shade of ‘Greenery’, Pantone colour of the year in 2017, and you could just stay, and work all night and all day.

Swanston Academic Building
Filtering back out onto Swanston Street like a lucky krill from the chops of a whale, you can’t ignore the Academic Building, erupting like a gigantic cold-sore out of a tender lip. It isn’t a secret that this building is crass and ostentatious, but maybe we like that now. Maybe it’s time to shed self-awareness and give in to these hyperbolic surfaces as a new kind of lovely thing for the post-postmodern consciousness, like an image of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West grinding on a moving motorbike against an unconvincing digital backdrop; the Academic Building is a joke but, if you can let it in, its craters and shiny crust have an undeniable allure. Inside, like over the road, the interiors are obliquely intersecting, intentionally clashing spaces, but here it is a bit more ham fisted, and it does feel more like slime might be poured from the scaffolding above onto unsuspecting new students at every wrong turn.

41X building, Flinders Lane
The first tower I noticed that made me wonder what was going on in the CBD. Completed in 2014, its façade is made up of fissures and cutaways highlighted by slime green in a display of affected discord ​that only a Melbourne architect could love. It makes you wonder, what is the trend for brutalism if not a direct reprisal against the long-sustained reign of the hypermanic façade, its grids and planes like an obliterating hit of austerity for the over-personalised contemporary condition.

Melbourne Recital Centre and Southbank Theatre
Modernist architects held that if you give people uplifting spaces they become more productive, and on the more sinister side, easier to control. Post-modernist architects, out of sheer perversity, did not wish to comply. They rightly understand that the success or failure of human beings depends on a complex interrelation of forces outside their control, not on impeccable design. This disaffection from modernist ideals, too radically applied, often resulted in architecture that was intentionally ugly and even mean. Robert Venturi, the first postmodern theorist, famously embodied the reactive spirit of the movement when he wrote, “less is a bore”. But if you look at the buildings that he and many of his followers designed, they often have tiny windows, an intentional contrast to modernism’s worship of light, which suggests that while Venturi might have been a great polemicist and clued in to the fascistic tendency of modernism, he perhaps did not have much sympathy for the people who would inhabit his buildings. In Melbourne, the deconstructivist heroes of Storey Hall fame are old now and hold some of the top offices in the architectural food chain, but while their designs still hold true to the principles of deconstruction, they are no longer torturously intellectual. Deconstructivist architecture has been fully absorbed by the establishment and is now worn as a pocket square in the evening blazers of the strawberry-nosed Boroondara daddies, sitting in the members’ rows of the Melbourne Recital Centre and the Melbourne Theatre Company Southbank Theatre while the hair grows ever faster out of their ear holes. They have embraced comfort and beauty and the twin buildings are both fun to look at and lovely to be inside.

With thanks to Neil Apted and Jordan Ormandy Neale for walking with me and sharing knowledge and impressions. Thanks to Anaya Latter for the editing and support.

Sydney Road

the bridal shops

women and their mothers     .    .    .    .    .      . 
threading through them                                         .
tinny ringing of bells                                         .
from doorways                                           .
diamantes on the dresses                                      .
winking                                                                        .
like the girls                                             .
who knew I was       (gay                            .
before I did                                                                     .
cakes                                                            .
quilted     beaded     towering                       .
the smallest        a month’s rent                         .
certificates of excellence displayed           .
as helpful as a most livable city award         .
.    .    .     .    .    .    .    .     .    .    .   .   .    .    .    .
my friend ana used to live in Brunswick

.           like for me, when I arrived
.           here and in Brunswick in
.           January 2010 it was very
.           much a migrant/poc place. I
.           remember having these big
.           goggly eyes in the car, being
.           driven to the apartment. It felt
.           so much more like Brazil/home
.           than Perth ever did because it
.           was this messy chaotic weird
.           place.

.  the business signs she remembers now
.                   peeling                           faded
.  or replaced with   the new store’s name in
.  proud                  Helvetica font

. further down
. hope street
               stretches west
…………………………… like a scar …………………………..

. a beacon of horror
.                       for women who
.                       glance the mirror by the door in the hall
.                       & for a split second
                      see Jill Meagher’s face

.     .     .    .    .
like hansel and gretel

trails  .    .    . to corners where

cheeky spews left over from the night before        hot from the sun
waft     aromatic
.     .     .     .     .    .
the penny black      brunswick green

the Retreat
cavernous            labyrinthine
empty now, save for a few           who did not grace it
the night before
nor witness it
spit men
onto the street
tongues fat with drink

hey hey          hey     


do you ha
ve a pus

i don’t car
i just wan
t to kno

here’s my friend Kylie
. talking about
. the mechanics institute
. and how                 .
.                                     .
. that carpark behind it    .
. is dark                                  .
.                                                    .
. especially                                         .
. Saturday       after the performance      .
. 10 o’clock            walking to the car     .
.                                                           .
. and how                                         .
. i heard them before I saw them      .   six of them
. white guys         working white men .
.                                                     .
. and how                              .
         .      .    .          .        .
. they  .
. surround .
. ded us   .
               .      .
saying  .      .    .
. words  .
 .   i don’t    .
 .remember   .
  .     .    .   .  .   .

and how .  her girlfriend
:  screamed  :  at them          
and how .
that’s when . they parted
like combed . hair
and how .
after that  .   every night       we asked someone to
walk us to  .  the car
. p.s.
. one time a guy just
. punched Kylie in the face
. while outside her own gig
. the police told her
. not to bother
. taking it to court
 nothing is going to happen

do you know how much paperwork that would be?

at best they’ll be given community service

and she didn’t take it to court because
a punch is one thing

but after court

her face would be
                   burned into their memory.

after this happened, everything changed
.       terrified         you always re-assess      
                   i no longer go there at night        when i go out
people stare all the time       i’m on watch
                             i was used to verbal abuse but
         now i know
don’t go into the city      don’t take public transport
taxi or uber now             taxi or uber

p.s kylie is trans
which is important
.                                    cos
i’m assuming
you assumed
she wasn’t

  further towards town    green refectory is packed with
  . childless white people          like me except……………okay much like me
sporting top knots       button downs      shaved heads     septum piercings
    .    and other
queer . signifiers that have been
glommed .                   by the mainstream
                       .      .    .     .     .    .   .   .   .   .   .   .    .   .   .    .  
excuse me while                                     .
i pause to consider the ethics of                .
appropriating a signifier                                .
that, itself, has been appropriated            .
        .          .       .       .       .      .       .       .      .       .     .      .    .     
. eating smashed  avo       instead of buying houses         that they couldn’t afford
. anyway because      the area is ballooning in price       pushing
.             painters unionists dykes fags poets dancers students clubrats anarchists
agitators benders bartenders comedians users novelists lefties socialists
. north or west or south or wherever
. isn’t here
these are the ones who
. aren’t at the Auction
. down the way
.           those are toorak types
. buying a three bedroom house for their
. children to slum it
. real estate flag dancing
. out front of
. the house my friend retreated to her room
to fuck a girl for the first time
. slick           quivering               belly full of hope

brunswick, listen to me
you are like              a microcosm of how
leftie melbourne
sees itself

listen to me      listen
to me
listen to me

i am trying to say two things

it is not enough to hang a rainbow
flag in yr window

stop patting yr damn self
on the back

i wept
with my whole body

when I saw
all those rainbow fags
hanging out your windows

all of them         lined up like voters
whispering my name

Melbourne Star

My entire day spent riding the Melbourne Star, from when it opened at 11am until it closed at 7pm, started pleasantly enough. I arrived shortly before the observation wheel opened, collected my pass from the counter and stepped into my glass-encased tomb. I did a 30-minute flight, as it’s called, taking in the sights of Melbourne as the wheel completed its loop. I hopped off, then I hopped on again. Then I did this again and again and again and again.


The second flight wasn’t too bad either. As one of my cabin-mates on that trip, Sarah, an Aucklander with a mild fear of heights, noted, “It’s surprisingly tolerable.” By the third flight, I was lulled into a deep, meditative calm, soothed by the dulcet voice of the complimentary in-cabin audio tour, centered by the soft hum of the air conditioning and the sedate pace of the wheel at just under one kilometre an hour.


I was already intimately familiar with all the sights – the back of the city, Docklands, Costco and a large stretch of urban sprawl – so I turned my attention elsewhere. I catalogued the unique characteristics of the different cabins I rode, like the slight scuffmark in cabin 20 or the nice smell in cabin 16 or the not-so-nice smell in cabin 4. I observed the subtle changes to the landscape caused by shifts in sunlight over time: a pink apartment building shuffling through shades of rose, amaranth and thulian, the Bolte Bridge towers reflecting a Derwent pencil set’s worth of grays, from 9H all the way to 9B.


From there, everything got a bit foggy. Even though a single flight was a fixed 30 minutes, the time in between started to stretch. I spent what felt like hours watching a crane lower a skip to the ground, a flock of seagulls disappear into the distance, a car cut off another car in a Docklands car park. Rotations blurred into other rotations, until it all began to feel like one unbroken and endless cycle.


After what seemed like both an eternity and no time at all, I climbed again into what I now knew was cabin 3 on account of the distinctive creak that cabin 3 makes when you step on a particular section of the floor towards the northern side. A deep, almost existential tiredness washed over me. The once-comforting sameness of the ride felt confining and oppressive. I wanted to leave.


With not much else to focus on but the Melbourne Star, I started seeing the Melbourne Star in everything.

Getting on the Melbourne Star, ascending to the top, descending to the bottom, getting off and then repeating felt a lot like the normal waking up, going to work, leaving work and going to sleep every day, day in and day out. My body ran like a Melbourne Star, powered by a Melbourne Star heart shuttling blood passengers through my arteries and veins and a Melbourne Star set of lungs ferrying oxygen passengers through my bronchioles.


Sunset was nice, though, and that took the edge off a bit. Wary of becoming too stir crazy, I sought company and tried to strike up a conversation with the in-cabin audio tour, who only responded to my polite small talk with the same facts about Melbourne and the Melbourne Star over and over again. To make it feel more like a conversation, I memorised his lines and preempted them with directed questions. “Wait, so how many tons of steel were used to build the Melbourne Star? You don’t say!” I was feeling normal-ish again.


Part of me actually began to love the Melbourne Star a little bit. I couldn’t help but feel drawn to the way its curves teased the austere straight lines of Melbourne’s city grid streets and stiff-backed skyscrapers, the way its arches mirrored the twists and turns and faux-loops of CityLink and the sinuous bends of the Yarra River. It’s nothing like Melbourne’s other, more flaky circles, like the city loops for the trains and trams, which encourage passengers to hop on and off where and when it suits them – the Melbourne Star demanded a deeper level of engagement and commitment to the loop.


A family of three from the Philippines broke me out of my reverie. We were on the final cabin to depart for the day, and they wanted me to take a photograph of them against the backdrop of the city. I was overcome with relief that the whole experience was almost over and started blabbering perhaps too enthusiastically at them. It was their first time in Australia, they told me. “Do you live here?” the father asked. For a split second, I wasn’t sure if he was referring to Melbourne or the Melbourne Star. Either way, I answered, “Yes.”


I struggled to fall asleep that night. As soon as I’d start to drift off, I’d wake with a start, convinced, in my foggy half-sleep, that I was still on the Melbourne Star and that I’d have to hop off then back on again soon. Even now, days later, I can’t quite shake it. There is a voice in my head that regularly tells me it took 1,736 tons of steel to build the Melbourne Star. When everything is quiet, I can hear the hum of the air conditioning, and if I sit still for too long, I can feel the slow pull of the cabin making its round trip. The weird thing is, I can’t remember actually leaving.

Tambo Upper

The driveway is five minutes all itself, downhill through eucalypt and uphill through casuarina. I used to think they were pine; we cut one for a Christmas tree each year. The farm-house is on a hill surrounded by cattle paddocks, rolling down from the house on all sides. Cypresses mark the fence lines near the house, upright like feathers stuck point-down in the soil.

My Pa had a dog that could hear a whistle from the porch and follow the wave of his arms to hustle the sheep. All the ways down-paddock, the dog knew what Pa wanted from her. Kelpie dogs make good listeners, good mind-readers.


My gran made fat rum balls at Christmas, famously rummy. She told me, You are sixth-generation Australian or is it seventh.

My own mum kind of laughed. God, don’t look that far back.

Gran threw shredded coconut over the sticky new orbs of cocoa and butter. Oh, everyone’s family turns to convicts that far back.

Mum picked me up, I was still small enough for that to happen sometimes, and threw a last word over her shoulder, Not everyone.




The Great Dividing Range drools out the Tambo which at some point marks the end of the farm on the river’s way down to the ocean, the ocean as it starts near Metung. My siblings and I played in the Tambo, daring each other to dive from the sticky, warm surface to the cold unders. We had to bring up sluggy mud from the river floor as proof. My sister – older, stronger – dived the deepest. Her blood nose, set off by the temperature switch, streamed quicker than the river and into it.


My mum remembers growing up in terms of disasters. She offers her memories like a photo album, discontinuous moments rather than a life, murky flashbacks. On Black Friday, she drove her ute back and forth, from town to beach, her tray full of people and animals. She kept doing that until a firey turned her away. She spent a night on the beach with children and parents and goats and yowling pets in boxes. They watched the hills burn and they stood with their feet in seawater.

I watched the fire jump from one hilltop to another without touching the valley. That’s how big the flames were, it could just hop across thin air. Mum makes an arc with her hands, waving them at me to encourage understanding, a trait I have inherited. It jumped! That’s how big it was. Even on the beach, the air was hot and my face was red and dry by morning.


Before that, in childhood, Mum remembers drought.

Their livestock skinny-sad and the feed running out. When a mother-ewe died, her lamb curled up beside her and waited. My mum and her parents and her brothers and sister collected them up, the ones they had to feed by hand.

Sixteen poddy lambs.

Mum’s hands are scarred from feeding poddy lambs, her job in the mornings before school, from the teeth of lambs that wanted only their own mother.

The older they are, the worse it is. You have to force their mouths open.

Her dad sold the lambs, one cent a head. The drought went on with cows and sheep going hungry and the cries travelling over paddocks to the house and her dad took all of them to a valley in one of the paddocks and shot them one by one. It’s the one paddock on their property that is natural now, a wild and beautiful place, overgrown with bones in the roots of tree and shrub. This is what the property would be if we weren’t farming it.

He never went back in. He could never go back there after.




All the farm is in Gippsland, that is what I call it, or Tambo Upper. It’s not far from Bairnsdale, the town where I was born. I am only sixth-generation Australian and my people spoke these new names over the originals. It is Gunaikurnai land and, right where my grandparents lived, Brabawooloong. It says BAIRNSDALE in my passport and when I tell people where I was born, I say that and, if they know where that is, I follow up with Tambo Upper.




All your stories are death-based. Dad also lived in the past, his stories are fine. Yours are all chilling.

            Not true!

Mum tells me about the cockatoo. Her brother Craig, even as a toddler, was always wandering and her mother would call him back for dinner or when he’d been out too long.

Craig! She would screech from the veranda, calling him back. The cockatoo listened.

Craig! It learned to scream.

He would come, all the way to the house from field or thicket or milking shed to find only the cockatoo had called him home.

            They only clipped its wings once, as a baby. It knew its home from then on and they let it fly. It used to pull the roof nails, take them to the edge and stick its head out to watch them drop.



And then?

Pa put an order in for a tractor part that took days to come.

            It wasn’t like now, just ordering a thing on the internet when you want it. Everything on a farm is on a schedule to fit the seasons, everything has to happen at the right time.

When it came, he took apart the tractor, resting the little part on the bonnet.

The cockatoo flew in, grabbed it, took off down-paddock. The bird dropped it, somewhere. He gave the cockatoo away to a neighbour who had just lost her husband.

There it is. The death.

            Well, it’s a farm. And I’m not funny. Your dad’s funny. Talk to your dad.


Mum tells me about the pheasants because she may as well, she already told me about the cockatoo and the widow.

They used to keep pheasants, loosely. Roaming about their property, about a dozen plump, tawny ladies and blue-headed lords. Owned and kept creatures, whether or not the pheasants knew it.

My dad was burning off. Trash from around the farm, old furniture. He had it all stacked up in a pile in the long grass. He didn’t know he was building it on her nest, the mother pheasant. She roosted in the long grass, it was probably great cover for her, and she had her eggs there. She didn’t get up, didn’t make a sound. Pa lit the bonfire. He wouldn’t have ever known what he did except the dad pheasant came back and dived right into burning heap.


I remember walking on my aunt’s farm, downhill, in the general direction of her house. I clambered over gates without bothering to open them and kept my eyes on the ground which was pot-holed from cattle-feet and dotted with cow-pats. My breath puffed out in ghosts of fog and the ground popped underfoot with frost.

Movement drew my eye to the trees just beyond the fence-line, six feet to my side.

A skulk of red foxes in the trickling light of new day. The mother twitched her laser-eyed glance at me. She had three kits, hopping behind, a light-foot family. Silently, the feline-canines wound and slid under fences, through trees and into the valley. They threaded seamlessly into the landscape without so much as bending a blade of grass. My heart thrummed to see them.

The second I walked into my aunt’s house, I ran my mouth about them.

Whereabouts? Which fence? Into the valley? Alongside the dam?

I’d made a mistake. My uncle, a man that never needed anything from me, ever, had questions for me.

He was out the door in a second and starting up the ute.

We hate ‘em. Nasty things. My aunt said, approvingly. They steal my chooks. Vicious, murdering thieves.

It’s okay to get rid of them. They’re an introduced species. They kill bandicoots and numbats and things. You can’t let them go on.

I tried to render my mum’s words into a moral feeling. Kill the foxes, long live the numbats! Long live the chickens and the sheep and my aunt and uncle and my grandparents and my uncle’s ute and the gun that kills the queen pest, the fox and her children, pests-in-waiting.

Four pops sounded in the distance, only four. My uncle was younger then, with a good eye and a steady hand.


The next night, a fox broke into the henhouse. It stole eggs and chickens, like my aunt said, and it killed every last one it didn’t take. It killed more than it could eat for the joy of it. This seems right. Settlers brought them here for sport, brought them over oceans only to kill them. Now, there are always more foxes, living easily in cities and towns, stealing the burrows of other animals, playing their own sports with any living thing small enough to pounce on. There’s always one within shot of a henhouse. They’re the villains in my family stories, in the disaster narratives that my mother remembers to the occlusion of everything else. She was born in the right place for it, on farmland where it turns to bush, where the lines between past and present are more readily drawn, where foxes are criminals. And she brought me there too, her brood, born and brought and told. The bad drought is always a turn of the Earth away, the bushfire growing bigger on a Thursday, the foxes multiplying, the looking over your shoulder, backwards, far enough.


Royal Park

Jin sat on her apartment’s kitchen floor, which was also the dining room, living room and bedroom floor, and looked at her bird. It was a blackbird, which she knew because its feathers were black. It had lived with her for 47 days, and now it was dead.


The blackbird was dead because Jin had taped its beak closed the night before. Every evening as the sun set, the blackbird would begin its beautiful song, so every evening just before dusk, Jin would carefully wind the tape around its beak. Once the light was gone she would untape it, but last night she had forgotten.


There were not enough animals to go around. That’s what they said. Last year, Abe had had a lizard in his apartment. He had no idea where it had come from – nothing normally came in but the terrible heat and the blinding light – but there was this little lizard, and Abe had decided to keep it. Three days later, maybe four, the men from the Special Animal Forces had stormed in with their guns and taken Abe and the lizard away. Jin had never seen any of them again. She wanted to see Abe again; wouldn’t have minded seeing the lizard; but she definitely didn’t want to see the men from the SAF, which was why she’d taped the blackbird’s beak.


She got up from the kitchen floor, cupped the little body in her hand. She wrapped it in a cotton handkerchief and put it in her pocket and walked down the 27 flights of steps to the door which opened to the street.


She would go to the zoo. Every day, she went there to listen to the animals inside. She could hear the birds sometimes. Twice, she had heard a big cat roar. The elephants made a sound you could hear even from her apartment. Today she would go to the Zoo and on the way she would stop in the park opposite and bury the body of the little bird who had shared her home. Then she would press herself against the zoo’s red brick wall until they told her to leave, which they always did. Sometimes it was right away and sometimes she had fifteen or even twenty minutes alone with the sound of the animals.


Once, people had been allowed in the Zoo; that’s what she’d heard. She had never known such a time. The animals were not for regular people to know anymore. There simply weren’t enough animals for everyone. If you needed to see an animal for some reason, there was always YouTube and old Attenborough docos.


Jin didn’t know what the animals did all day in the Zoo, but she supposed they probably did animal things. Human guards came and went, and trucks and vans and all kinds of machinery and also people she supposed were scientists. And when there was a famous sportsman in town, or a representative of some big foreign corporation, they would go in too. Aside from the blackbird, Abe’s lizard (once), rats (most days) and cockroaches (nothing could keep them out of her apartment), Jin had never met an animal.


Today there was no way into Royal Park and no way to get into the Zoo.

Every road was blocked and the red brick wall was covered in barbed wire and security cameras. Jin watched as a big, shiny car made its way past one of the roadblocks, followed by five more big, shiny cars. Clouds of drones buzzed past and hovered above a small stage. Jin climbed a dead tree so she could watch.


‘Today is an historic moment in Victoria’s history,’ the man on the stage announced as he adjusted his tie and smiled into the cameras. Jin thought he was the Prime Minister, but he might have been the captain of the Melbourne Victory; she always got them muddled up. ‘Today we release the first megafauna from our breeding program at the Royal Melbourne Zoo into our fine city,’ he said. ‘Today will be remembered as the day when this government took a monumental step towards ecological repair in our State by officially launching our Rewilding 2020 strategy. As you can see,’ the man – was he the Premier, she wondered – waved his arm at the newly installed fortifications, ‘we have built an impermeable barrier that will restrict the megafauna to Royal Park during this trial period. The introduction of their dung and grazing practices to this once-beautiful park will nourish the city’s flora and create a rich ecology unseen since before European settlement. We are making Victoria great again!’


‘You!’ a guard shouted, ‘Get out of that tree! You’re not allowed to be here.’


Jin was used to this. With her last look from the tree branch, she saw that they were opening the Zoo gates. She inserted the bird’s body into a small hollow, climbed down and decided to walk to the supermarket for a Gaytime.


Jin saw her first wild animal a week later. She’d have recognised a rhinoceros anywhere, but this one was much bigger than she had imagined. She sat down on the ground, because suddenly her legs had no choice. In the head-on accident between the creature and a car on Royal Parade, the car came off much worse. The wreckers showed up and took the car away, and an ambulance arrived for the driver. Jin listened: there was a siren, and another and another.


She went back to her apartment. When she got there, Abe had returned. He had been gone for months. He looked different, skinnier and was very quiet. ‘I’m sorry about your lizard,’ she said. Abe shrugged. She hugged him and knew not to ask any questions.


They sat down to watch the news together but there was nothing being reported, not even the Premier (or was he Essendon’s full-forward?) making an announcement.


Even without the media’s involvement, the word quickly got around: the animals were back.


On the weekend, Jin and Abe caught a tram north to Coburg Lake, where the great herds of water buffalo had set up house. They spread out a picnic blanket alongside a family and watched the animals; some grazed on the grass and others lay in the shade of trees. A baby buffalo and its mother wandered down to the water’s edge. A kid near them started cheering as a crocodile emerged from the lake to swipe the baby buffalo. They watched as it at first evaded the jaws of the predator, before it was torn from its mother and rolled beneath the water. The little boy cried in his mother’s arms, ‘Mummy, will I die one day too?’


Jin started hearing stories: all over inner Melbourne, giant creatures were turning the city’s habitat to their own ends.

Under the Fairfield Pipe Bridge, a family of elephants had set up home, wallowing in the Yarra mud. Reduced to a diet of mainly gum leaves, they had become koala-like: lazy and grumpy, barely bothering to lift a trunk when a passing rower prodded one with his oar. Flemington Racecourse, which had shut down when the horses had finally lost the will to live, was now a dusty vacant lot where zebras and okapi frolicked then took off with bursts of speed as voracious monitor lizards lunged from the undergrowth in pursuit. Intrepid locals gave odds. In West Melbourne, close-quartered neighbours had their peccadillos revealed to one another as a slow-moving band of giant pandas devoured the city’s bamboo privacy screens before moving on to consume the latest Ai Weiwei installation at the National Gallery of Victoria.




It was a warm Autumn evening. Jin and Abe were heading home after a pizza and a movie, walking along Nicholson Street past the gated community of Fitzroy. Jin knew that the Carlton Gardens were a no-go zone during the day, since the pride of lions had moved in. They lazed in the sun on the lawns outside the now abandoned Exhibition Building, and meandered down to the fountain to lap the cool water.


‘I miss going to the museum,’ Jin said. She turned to Abe for a reply, but he was gone. Without pausing to look behind her, Jin ran as fast as she could, a deafening roar filling her ears.

Port Phillip Bay

i. The Prehistoric Age

The age of
The barbigerous
The Brobdingnagian
Marsupial King of Nairm
Begins its descent with nascent
Primitive sands vomiting saltbush
Into the dry basin’s brackish puddles
From bald rookeries and future beaches.
From the dribble-of-a-river’s furthest reaches,
Formations of preexisting rock put a squeeze on
Fossil remains of proto-ancient critters predisposed,
Exposed, eroded, exploded, grown up on, died all over
Until, non-eventually, from the footfalls of a megafauna:
Fine-tuned chaos, or: ecosystem. Plus or minus two degrees
A colossal heart is mere foodstuff, tendrils of momentary sun
Lash mammal-kind to the centre of a world crowned with land.

ii. The Flood Age

Isn’t it possible the images a gemstone holds of conflagration
Hold more truth-per-particle than the photographic

And what if words like ‘storm’, or the equivalent in Boon
Are only pale holograms of the maelstroms that made them?

What if dreamtime was realtime—a long time ago—
In language like the galactic opal in its seam of tectonic

You collect a blanched anemone of stone carried ashore by
And take what it has to say without questioning the nature of
its age.

Can’t you imagine the world in a state of shape-shifting
Of octopus potential? Don’t underestimate a language’s

You have to think of a rush of blood, a big-time sinking of the
And ask yourself if sand is anything but a radical variety of

iii. The Dry Age

Un-prised-off mussels cling
In clusters to quaternary rocks
For so long they take on
The mantle of a delicate fringe.
Silver emus flash like salt
On the horizon’s woven seam
Between sudden lances
Of daylight and wallaby grass.
A big mob of eastern greys
Lazes, raises its many heads
And legs it toward the haze
To evade the shade dwellers’
Intently levelled gaze.
Even in an arid scumble,
A stampede breed never loses
Its sense of thunder. Under
The hunting grounds, a notion
Churns liquefacted aeons
With megatons of quag and slag
Into a conspiracy of islands,
Pockets the exact opposite of
Solid matter, the latter being,
For now, the losing side. A tide
Is forever awaiting its turn
To return, turn again, and wait.
A body of water is buried
Only so long as it takes to meet
Its fate. It’s coming. It’s late.

iv. The Early Anthropocene

Driftwood lintels, hardwood architraves and wire fences’
Cuttlebone reflectors collected from mass beaching events

Architectural drawings rendered of swale-backed sandlots
Fronted by billboards heralding luxury housing stock

Cloud eggs and cold drip coffee, rum lanterns and lobster
Pots on bedecked bathing boxes’ multi-coloured balustrades

Stepping stones linking space-themed putt-putt courses
Shifting the way a petrol station price-fixes by unseen forces

Drifting linguisticisms, motorboats putt-putting on the bay
With ornamental sails to recreate the flotillas of Invasion Day

Strangulated sea mammals knocking on the jetty’s legs in six-
Packs of plastic-ringed indifference, served w/ battered chips

Cloud cuckoo eggs and long blacks, rum rebellion bumper
Stickers on marine trailers, flag-woven jumbuck jumperoos

A million tinnies floating in the fishbuckets of a rainbow
Of tinnies floating over a river of mists (or, Birrarung) below.

v. The Age of Great Re-wilding

The murder-brood of another brave new mammal
Mother echolocates itself to Canopy 7, Riparian
Habitat 2, native fruit bats backfilling the ominous
Role of the radically de-introduced English raven.
On a scientific research vessel crossing the Strait
A dozen of the best-adapted marsupial survivors
Make up a stern quorum whose ancestral memories,
Lit by the geomagnetic storm aurora of prehistory,
Share a vista under the Southern Cross, a lightyears-
Distant moment of being from which the brilliance
Of their sympathies pours. Meanwhile, on Country,
Census takers are still shepherding remnant species
Into their penultimate pens. Farting, snorting, a vast
Assortment of herbivores makes a neat circle round
The crater of Earth’s latest, most cadaverous gurgle:
A chthonic rebuttal to man’s insistence on kicking
The planet, just for kicks, in the doubled-over guts
Of its world-bearing time turtle. A goanna falls in
With the rank and file mustered by the steamy lake
To have a stickybeak. And there—retched, eldritch,
Improbably slight, mucosal, jelly-legged and affright—
A diprotodon mother trumpets the final arrival
Of her much-anticipated miracle baby: the Antichrist.

The author acknowledges the Boonwurrung people of the Kulin Nation, first people of the area known as Nairm, or Port Phillip Bay, and pays respect to elders past and present.



My mother broke her back

trying to do the impossible:


grow us new tongues

crack into new bones.

In Springvale I foraged the streets

for low hanging fruits. Floating


back and forth. See Iraq with black

and white vision. There are no new


images. Peer through the window

at abundance, a far away place.


I dragged books across the ground,

danced with unfamiliar sounds.


The house here is shrinking.
It was so large


when we arrived. Or maybe we were

small. I see shop signs that speak


to me, only me. There is a gap

between my teeth wide enough


for two countries. I push

my tongue into it.



It appeared one day in 1991 and some people will tell you that it happened overnight, like magic. Others will say that it was commissioned by the Birchip Promotion and Development Committee and unveiled by Councillor John, “…or was it Josh, or maybe even Julie”. Either way, it ended up taking pride of place in the centre of the wide nature stripe running down the middle of Cunningham Avenue and it was called Big Red ‘The Mallee Bull’, and it is exactly that – a statue of a big bull in the centre of Birchip, 300kms North of Melbourne.


Big Red is painted a burnt browny-red, sienna all over except for two tufts of white on his forehead and throat; his white, round, bulging eyes; a white, swaying, switch of tail; his two white horns; four big, black hooves; and thick, black outlines around his nostrils and mouth. Depending on the time of year you visit, Big Red can be in any state: his paint fading and cracked; his plaster exterior fractured and/or patched with putty; or, a piece of horn or fetlock broken off. However – and thank god – the maintenance of Big Red is of utmost priority for the good people of Birchip, so for a majority of the year, you’ll find him as though he were brand-new. Flash as. Indeed, many an eager tourist in a bid to obtain the perfect photographic trophy of Big Red has climbed upon his frame only to be given the sternest of talkings-to by one or more local guardians protecting and maintaining Big Red’s condition. Mounting The Mallee Bull is strictly forbidden.


Although I am older than Big Red the sculpture, there was never a moment that he was not part of my consciousness. As a child born in Birchip, and then a frequent school holiday interloper, I, like most kids there, would laugh at its embarrassingly large balls, and laugh harder still at tourists taking photos of those large balls. Whatever the story of Big Red was, or whatever the reason for Big Red’s creation, I, perhaps like many of those tourists and passers-by, was drawn to the absurdity of the structure itself and the paradoxes of its form that subvert its authority. I thought that the levels of affection generated for a bull mascot were strangely placed in a town not known for cattle farming; or, how the weight, strength and virility usually evoked through the image of a bull were curiously undermined by the cuteness of Big Red’s puppy dog face; his flaring nose, furrowed brow, and back leg pawing at the ground, ready to charge, sabotaged by his strangely static, grounded body incapable of any forward momentum. Real bulls, of course, can be scary beasts to come across, but Big Red with his friendly cartoon eyes and passive fakeness, has a genial look about him. Big Red is going nowhere and attacking no one. And I liked it that way.




As a child, it was just as easy to believe that Big Red was always there as it was to believe that there is ongoing continuity to the places in my mind.

It’s easy to think that The Mallee Bull, and by proxy, Birchip have always been there in this corner of Victoria.

But the story of The Mallee Bull and of the town of Birchip are tales born of settlement and colonisation, and it is important to remember them as such.


The almost flat and very low-lying area now known as the Mallee in north west Victoria is a relatively ill-defined region between the Wimmera and Murray rivers that takes its name from the wide distribution of mallee eucalyptus that grows there with other drought-resistant vegetation. The word ‘mallee’ or ‘mali’ derives from the name of the traditional owners of the land, the Maligundidj people who belonged to the Wemba Wemba language group of the Kulin Nations. In the second half of the nineteenth century, European settlers arrived and surveyors and farmers staked their claims on land, cleared large swathes of scrub to sow various cereal crops and started breeding livestock. The extremely hot and dry climate was no good for cattle farming, and pretty tough going for anything else, but the settlers slowly carved out livelihoods in sheep and wheat. Story has it that some cows and bulls from the early farms escaped into the scrub and eked out an existence for themselves in the landscape. Not being native to the semi-arid area of the Mallee, only the toughest and most hardened of beasts could survive. One bull in particular – Big Red – was rumoured to roam the area alone, terrorising anyone in his wake.


As with most myths, over time the new communities of the Mallee invested real emotions in the story of the Mallee Bull: after all they too felt toughened up by a landscape that they were not native to. The myth of these vagrant bulls gave birth to the local phrase, ‘fit as a Mallee Bull’, interchangeable with other idioms like ‘fit as a fiddle’ or ‘tough as nails’. Quite simply, a Mallee Bull symbolised physical strength and a kind of invincibility produced by the landscape. It became a central way in which settlers in the region imagined and discussed themselves. This settler experience is emblematic of a pioneer mentality replicated across Australia and other colonised countries that pit the European immigrant in an ongoing struggle with nature. But to see it only through this earnest lens is to misunderstand the dry, self-deprecating humour at work in the use of the phrase ‘fit as a Mallee Bull’, which in part takes liberties at the expense of those the term is used to describe – often one’s self. Quite simply, the phrase is used to take the piss. Likewise the iconography of the Mallee bull as seen in the symbols used for the Birchip-Watchem Football and Netball Clubs, on the sign that welcomes visitors entering Birchip, and in the statue of Big Red himself, humorously recognises and cherishes the absurdity in its very existence. People are fond of it and self-aware too.




To catch Big Red in the flesh – presuming you’re in Melbourne – get on the Calder Freeway and drive North. Bypass Bendigo on the Calder Alternate Highway just north of Ravenswood, through Marong and keep going. At some point, about 90 minutes later you’ll get to a town called Wycheproof. Instead of continuing on the Calder Highway, you’ll turn left, just north of the town centre and adjacent to the Mt Wycheproof Racecourse, onto the Birchip-Wycheproof Road. Keep driving.


The Calder Highway is where our story of Big Red, the sculpture, actually begins. Linking Melbourne to Bendigo in central Victoria and Mildura in the north-west, the highway went through a series of upgrades in the 1970s and ’80s. If it wasn’t before, in this era it became the main thoroughfare connecting northern and southern Victoria. Better motor vehicle technologies and a dwindling population in the second half of the twentieth century meant fewer and fewer people were passing through town. Not prepared to stand idly by as Ford Falcon after Holden Monaro after Commodore after Torana and even after Chrysler Valiant passed the ol’ Birchip-Wycheproof Road by, some particularly conscientious Birchipites put their heads together. And so they gave large, concrete form and new totemic significance to the myth of the Mallee Bull. There must have been some kind of ‘spooky action at a distance’ type of thing happening across Australia because in the ’80s and ’90s, like the newly minted sculpture of Big Red, other Big Things started popping up all over the place: The Big Pineapple of Woombye, Queensland; The Big Prawn of Ballina, The Big Bench of Broken Hill, The Big Wickets of Westbury, and The Big Tennis Racquet of Barellan, all in New South Wales; and, one of my personal favourites: The Giant Koala (because a simple ‘Big’ was not suffice) of Dadswells Bridge, Victoria.


Like in Birchip, these structures were often built to lead people into towns by-passed by highways.


But often they were merely built by businesses next to thoroughfares to tempt weary travellers into a quick pit-stop and the purchase of tea towels or teaspoons along with a scone and tea. It clearly worked because Big Thing statues became ubiquitous, and taking photos in front of whatever Big Thing became an expected part of all family vacations. But not all Big Things are equal, and as time wore on, and the novelty wore off, some people were left to ponder, what to do with that sick looking Big Lobster, that no-longer-orange Big Orange, or that definitely anachronistic Big Captain Cook? In states of disrepair and strewn around the countryside, suddenly these Big Things became a big problem. But not Big Red.


Big Red matters not because he is big, but because he is a bull. From the prehistoric to the contemporary, the idea of the bull has pervaded our language and culture: when we grab something by the horns, we’re seizing the moment and confronting a problem; when we are like bulls in a china shop, we are aggressive and clumsy; when we call ‘bullshit’, we call out exaggerated nonsense; and, when we hit the bullseye, we are spot on or exactly correct. We might think about the Minotaur of ancient Greece, or look to the sky and see the constellation of Taurus; we might think about the water buffalo stories spoken of in Yolngu lore, or the cave paintings of Lascaux; we might think of the bull races of Indonesia, or the bull riding of Mexico; we might even think of Pablo Picasso and his self-portraits as a bull, or the strange formaldehyde suspended bovine bodies of Damien Hurst. Big Red evokes all of these things and simultaneously unsettles them. He becomes part of a world that is more than Birchip, more than the Calder, more than Victoria, more than settlement, more than the nation, or at the very least, different from what we think of when we simply think of kitsch, Australiana and Big Things.

Great Ocean Road


The Great Ocean Road waxes, wanes and stretches out across the eroding spine of Victoria’s coastline. Its movements are a comfort, familiar, so much so that Tamar doesn’t even notice the rain until they’re driving through it.

Past the empty paddocks, blurry road sign after blurry road sign, distances and destinations escaping their eye into the rear view.

They focus on the windscreen; hands sore from gripping the wheel. The speed limit out here is mostly 80, though regulars know to not take that to heart. Winding through a coastline of bushy scrub and farmland Tamar sits on 65 – they may rock up late but at least they’ll rock up at all.

Besides, as far as work routes go, this one is fairly scenic.


Tamar passes a blue sign with a petrol pump that says 2km. They slow right down to 50. Below that are the road’s own brand of adverts; “THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD: THE TWELVE APOSTLES” a sign says and a little smaller beneath; “THUNDER CAVE AND BLOWHOLE”. The L-O-W has been scribbled out, replaced with U-T-T.

Tonight is one of those nights where Tamar kinda wishes they could drive and keep on driving, ’cos they drive the same route on the same road every day and have seen the peppered signs for geological points of interest more than they’ve ever really seen the actual points themselves.


A car creeps up behind them, as much as something going over 100 can creep. Tamar sticks to their 60. The car tailgates.


On the barest of straight runs, the car behind overtakes, pressing hard and long on its horn as it passes then speeds out ahead, swerving the next corner.

Ten and two, Tamar’s hands are on the wheel, they slow down to 50.


The servo’s a blurred glow. Its lights cut through the weather like someone bat-signaling “FUCK YOU” into the sky. There are stars overhead, thousands of stars. The rain seems to warp them a bit, stabbing hard through the night on an angle.

Four hundred metres. Three. The turn-off isn’t sharp but feels it in the rain. Tamar pushes the Sedan’s tired engine up the exit lane, ignores the luxury of a practically empty car park by just pulling into the first spot they see. There’s service stations all across Australia and Tamar’s one, this one, is not the worst of them – just one of many pit stops along the world’s largest war memorial.

Washed out in the lights from the servo, Tamar sees a woman standing outside, who gives them a long, meaningful look before dissolving.

They’re getting started early tonight, Tamar thinks, stepping out of the driver’s side. They can’t see the tail lights of the other car anymore, but can still hear the horn in their ears.


OPEN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS. Tamar steps under the sensor of the door and slips inside. Pale, chilly, they hear that familiar humming white noise you kinda get used to after a while. They hear Friday.

“You’re late.”

It’s as accusatory as if Tamar’s own mum had spat it at them.

Friday’s sitting up on top of the front counter, the way melted cheese and tomato sits on top of a Parma. She draws one knee down, foot collapsing onto the ground; a load bearing leg. “Could you drive any slower?”


“Please,” Friday rolls her eyes. “Relax, seriously. It’s been slow and no one else’ll be out now.

They know betta than that.”

“I’ve seen a couple.” Tamar says.

Friday pffts. She doesn’t get it.

“I mean, I’ve seen a couple.”

The sudden epiphany going off in Friday’s head is lit up by a set of lights, headlights Tamar decides, from outside. They glance out but the pumps are empty. No one’s there.

Friday’s expression twists. “Just,” she tries while shuffling past. “Just chill out, mate, okay? Y’know. Grab a Coke or something. Stand in a circle of salt. You’ll be good.”

Though she’s not wrong it’s not exactly comforting.

The only lights outside Tamar sees for the next hour are Friday’s peeling away from the car park and onto the road.


Alone, Tamar stands behind the counter and watches the shadows shift on the wall in front of them. The cameras don’t work here, security risk, yeah Tamar knows, but that doesn’t mean they’re not being watched. Just not being watched by anyone able to help them if something does go wrong.

Tamar smiles at the first customer who enters, a woman, but it’s not acknowledged. She’s lost in her own thoughts, perhaps, probably. She buys two sludgy coffees and a pack of chewy, then leaves.

Tamar doesn’t tell her she should probably stop for the night.


Tamar’s second customer—a couple they can only describe under the low lights outside as white and middle-aged—pull up in a roaring Four-Wheel Drive, shattering the silence of the night.

Tamar watches the couple through the window. The woman sits stationary in the car until the man gets out and smacks his fists down on the bonnet. It feels like anger, not real anger though just, the kind that’s around in video games and in TV. Their voices, when the woman slides out are muffled yet raised. It’s not aggression when the guy scoops her to his side by her waist, but aggressive. They break apart as soon as the servo doors slide shut behind them. She’s gunning for the far side of the servo, while the man with his pinched sweaty face comes up to the counter.

He wants to know how far off the nearest beach is. Tamar thinks for the second time that night yet says for the first that they feel the couple should maybe stop for the day.

It has to be almost midnight. The road gets crowded around then; blind bodies shuffling—

“The roads here on out are pretty narrow.” Tamar goes on, “there’s a motel nearby in the next town—”

“I asked ya about beaches not bloody motels.”

The man’s eyes are red and veiny around the iris, while his partner glances over from browsing the chips. The man slams his hands on the counter. “I asked ya—”

“Apollo Bay, like I said is the closest,” Tamar swallows. “But while unpatrolled, the beach is closed to swimmers.”

“How can you close a beach!”

“I—I don’t know sir.”

The man is put out by being told this.

“This is Australia,” he says, as though Tamar’s unaware.

They take a deep breath. There’s an urge to slam the drawer, but Tamar doesn’t do it. They do make the man reach for his change though, hold onto it tight, just that extra second longer than they should, so he has to tear it away. The man jerks one thumb over his shoulder.

“Step outside and we’ll finish this.” He takes a step back.

“C’mon, Steve. C’mon,” the woman’s there now, tugging on Steve’s arm. “I’m tired.”

She pulls him a few steps backward. Steve looks to her, red-faced and reflective under the buzzing servo lights.

The lights flicker. There’s the sound of a bulb popping, the crunch of glass on tile.
Steve’s so friggen keyed up he jumps, starts, and spins. Tense like barbed wire. “What the—”

“Steve,” his partner tries again. “C’mon.”

Tamar’s smile does not fade; they have perfected customer service to an art. “Have a good night, sir.”


There’s no glass on the floor when Tamar goes to search for it. All the lights above them, though cracked a little, are whole. They buzz quietly.


Tamar buys and eats a Kit Kat on their break because chocolate is a natural antidepressant. It’s not really any sort of dinner or breakfast, but labels like that don’t really fit when you start your day at midn—

There’s a crash from the back room, the sound of something breaking.


The servo’s cool rooms and freezer are in a nook next to the toilets and chips. Facing the used-to-be-mens-bathroom which now is appointed as “FOR ALL”, there’s a sliding door that leads into them. Tamar ducks their head inside and sees cases of V ripped from the shelves, cans scattered all on the ground, milk pulled open leaving a white creamy puddle.

They stare at the mess, people steal from the servo every day, but damn it they’ll have to write out a report now. They turn—

There’s a pale carroty-haired girl standing beside the batteries. Tamar closes the door behind them. The girl fizzles. Oh…alright then.

“Hey,” says Tamar.

She doesn’t blink or look away as Tamar edges past her. Her eyes follow their feet into the next aisle, stopping when they stop. She stares at the floor under Tamar’s shoes as though there’s something there. Tamar pauses just off from the counter, glancing down; there’s only white tile beneath and their own dark shadow—

The girl turns and bolts. Feet pounding the tiles as though something’s after her.

The woman outside, the breaking glass, the fridge mess, this. It’s early, it’s too early.

Chilled, Tamar heads into the office to turn up the heater.


Tamar can’t say for certain how many people have died on the road, from its explosive construction to its tragic completion, to now. The people who take narrow corners sharply while trying to choose the perfect filter for their pic are as much a part of the scenic 664 km drive as the eroding twelve—now eight—Apostles, the limestone cliffs, the London Arch, and the search for a solid floor in a bottomless Thunder Cave.

But what Tamar can say for certain is that at midnight, every night, the dead come to be served.


Time crawls. One ghost asks Tamar what it smells like here now. The servo, the road, the land, Tamar isn’t sure which he’s asking about. They listen as the ghost says he can still remember walking through the gums with his eyes turned up to the canopy, the dense wilderness of unspoilt coves and caves, the salt and tea tree scent on the wind, can Tamar smell it now over the steel trap machines that hurtle down the flattened cliff faces at impossible speeds? Tamar, while mopping up milk and rotating stock, tells him his land smells like armpits, now, sweating in the sun, like dust in an aircon, like warm Coke and petrol.

He asks what Coke is.


One lady, old enough to be in black and white but strikingly in colour, appears in the corner of the store and starts shrieking. Ragged, wet hair, sallow cheeks, she is never not screaming while she’s here. Perma-frightened, constantly lit under oncoming headlights.

It’s a good thing she never hangs around long. Tamar fetches a mop to clean up after her, then has to sit down for half an hour out back, pressed against the wall, knees pulled up to their chest.


All along the Great Ocean Road, ghosts wander through oncoming headlights like zombies. You have to flick your lights on and off, to confuse them into staggering across faster. Most are lost, Tamar believes, fumbling around for meaning, for something to do, for somewhere to rest. Others find their way inside.

The servo’s like a beacon. They come in, and the ones who can tell Tamar their stories, ask for directions, ask questions Tamar can’t answer. Some ask after tokens they think will release them. Others are stuck on replay right in front of them, reenacting echoes of their last moments, unaware of where and when they are. Most of the time, they don’t realise they’re dead.


Terry comes in sometime just before midnight saying the same things he always does.

He appears. “Evening,” Terry says, putting his varnish-stained hands up on the countertop. “A cuppa and a pie thanks, black. It’s cold tanight.”

“Yeah,” says Tamar, watching as Terry struggles with his cards as though anything electronic seems fundamentally magical to him. He decides, eventually, to just stick with cash.

“Heard about a bloke down the road a bit on my way in,” Terry says, rummaging. “Fell asleep at the wheel or something on a sharp turn, went right off the edge, right damn off, near here into the surf. Only in a dressing gown’n’moccasins, froze out there. Nothing but a dressing gown’n’moccasins, can you believe it? He’s in hospital now or something. Was all on the radio this morning.” Terry sets his coins on the counter and picks at the skin around the nail bed of his fingers.

“I’m sorry.” Tamar says. Tamar knows what they said back then, some platitude about watching the road, experienced drivers. They say nothing now. A dressing gown and moccasins. Terry’s own look like they’re soaked, falling apart.

Terry goes on not hearing them. He’s talking to himself here really. “Bullcrap Timmy, it’s all bullcrap—”

Tamar sighs. They don’t wear a nametag anymore, but unseeing, Terry acts as though they still are, as if they corrected him.

“Tamar? Ta-mar. That’s a helluva towel-head name Tamar.”

“It’s Arabic,” whispers Tamar, quieter than they proclaimed it the first time, that night months ago. “And I’m Jewish.”

Terry blinks. Coughs, scrubs his face. His ignorance somewhat benign now. “Sign says help wanted,” he points out unhelpfully.

Tamar looks to the sign out front. Servo’s always hiring.

“Any interest?” Terry asks.

There was a time where Tamar would say what they said back then, an actor reciting lines, but it was worse doing that, somehow, made them feel like their guts were somewhere up around their tonsils.

“I really am sorry,” Tamar tells him. “Really, Terry—”

“No one wants the graveyard shift, eh?” Terry smiles.

Tamar closes their eyes.

“Alright, yeah. Yeah alright,” Terry pays with no money, just empty gestures. He steps back. “You have a good night, now.”

There’s always that moment, while Terry’s going, that Tamar feels, for just a second that they might be able to stop him.

“S-see you Terry.”

“Yeah, alright.”

Terry shuffles out, sipping at a coffee he doesn’t have, biting into a meat pie he cannot taste, his dressing gown flapping around his chicken-leg knees.

Tamar has to sit down again.


Becoming a ghost is never as difficult as one would expect. No murderous killers or unfinished business need be involved. A little aimless wandering while on holiday goes a long, long way. Some explosives to carve out the coast’s first road. One moment with eyes on a phone screen. Being on the wrong side of a railing. Rain. Sleet. Fog. Cloudy weather. Shutting your eyes for just a second.


It’s late (or early) when Tamar hears the first sirens of their shift. They whizz past. Whirls of blue and red flashing on white tile, on bottles of soft drink, on glass that, in the light from their spot on the cool tile floor, Tamar can see needs a scrub.

They’re starting early tonight then, Tamar thinks, and, after a second, pulls themselves up to their feet to get on with it.


Jes grew up on the land of the Guidjan people, who along with the Gadubanud, Girai Wurrung, Wathaurong and Gunditjmara peoples, are the traditional owners of the land along the Great Ocean Road.



Christopher foraged through the
Spoils of bankrupted retailers
Finding the finest clothes, curtains and sheets
For his people across the brackish river
They called him ‘The People’s Draper.’

This city once wore white gloves
That you could buy from Forges
The West’s Own Department Store
Even tossers from the other side of town
Knew a good discount when they saw one.

In my teenage years, when our mothers
Got us white cotton crop-tops like
sashes of erased desire across our chests
We went to Forges for the Benton sales
Bird-coloured corsets and bras that came
With sachets of gel not to be ingested
Mountains of upturned cups
And eyelets and hooks and invisible zips.
Never pay full price for quality goods
When your suburb has its very own Robin Hood.

His grandsons supplied the town
With full-length wedding gowns
for fifty bucks
Maybe a packet of drinking mallows
for fifty cents
Chinese clocks with shaky minute hands
Sterling silver wedding bands
Vinyl dinosaurs that with a diet of
six AA batteries every month will roar
as loudly as a Rottweiler
A rubber head of Henry the Eighth
if fed the same diet as the dinosaur
will sing of the fate of his multitudinous wives
losing their treacherous, good-for-nothing lives
A plastic Jesus poster with fairy lights
embedded in his ruby-red heart
Eyes a little off kilter because the guy in Vietnam who
did the printing is a little bit blind himself

They call this stuff tacky
Kitsch in student share-housing
But quel horreur to realise that Filipino mums
Who carry their Louis Vuitton bags to the
Wet Market with the wet-blood floors
Would pray to Plastic Jesus
In earnest –
for their sons to make it through their teens
For their daughters to stop being mean
And for their own feet/back/teeth/eyes
to stop aching.

Historical note: Christopher Forge (1860-1912) opened Forge’s of Footscray in 1898 with a sensational sale of clothing and Manchester bought from bankrupted retailers. Operating on minimal overheads, low profit margins and high turnover, Forges operated as the ‘West’s Own Department Store’ for 110 years, until it finally closed its doors in 2008.


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Mount Donna Buang

Every winter, my parents wrapped my brother and I in mittens, beanies and ski gear that made us look like polyester sumo wrestlers. We piled into the Volvo and took off to the greatest ski resort of my childhood: Mt Donna Buang.


Okay, it was the only ski resort of my childhood. Oh, and it wasn’t really a resort. In reality it’s a tiny mountain with snowfall that can be best described as erratic. There were no lodges filled with rich people like in a James Bond movie set in the Swiss Alps. It was just a few vehicles in a free car park, loaded up with Kmart skis, hot chocolate in thermoses and cheery optimism.


Actually, a better name would be Mount Optimism.


You might think I am making this place sound bad, but to my 7-year-old mind this place was better than Gumbaya Park and Wobbies World combined. So the trip would be preceded by weeks of anticipation. My brother and I would be glued to the weather on the nightly news waiting for the SNOW REPORT.





Lake Mountain VERY GOOD



And then…




It was always the final mountain to be mentioned on the weather report, like if it was that awkward kid picked last for a cricket team. A midget kid at only 1250m in height.


“Okay,” Dad would say, enthusiastically, “Let’s try again next weekend.”


But there are not many weekends in a Victorian winter, so eventually at the tail end of the ski season dad would cheer: “You don’t need snow to enjoy a snowfield.”


Mittens on!


Located in the Yarra Valley in Victoria, overlooking Warburton, Mt Donna Buang used to be the most popular ski field in Victoria. In the 1920s and ‘30s only the richest people with vehicles could travel the distance to the deeper, lush snow. However, Mt Donna Buang was only 76 km by rail from the city if you got off at Warburton then trekked up the mountain.


On June 24 1924, the President of the Warburton Progress Association took a group of skiers up the mountain to gauge its potential as a ski destination. Soon with the assistance of a 5 pound donation from the newly formed Ski Club of Victoria, the Progress Association cleared its first ski run. It was a proud moment, although the first recorded group of skiiers on 11 July 1925 deemed the run far too narrow to be safe: it was 130m long but only 2.5m wide.


It was widened but was still steep, with lots of fallen timber as unexpected obstacles. In 1927, a field report by Jerry Donovan describes the slippery slope of skiiers and onlookers, claiming the run “provided comedy for a number of pedestrians who appeared on the scene. Subsequently, when introduced to skis, greater comedy was supplied by the visitors.” 


Despite its slapstick origins, Mt Donna Buang became a serious destination for winter holidaymakers. The Argus recorded that the busiest day had over 12,000 people at the summit with 2000 vehicles (incidentally more people than any modern Victorian ski field today). You could say it was the Myer Stocktake Sale of ski resorts, except instead of a throng of people fighting over the last 70% off Dyson Air-thingy, the scuffle was over a thin patch of snow to call one’s own. There were rivalries between skiers, the casual sightseers and amazingly even tobogganists.


In 1933, The Sun newspaper reported that a ‘war’ had broken out between skiers and tobogganists. One skier was so incensed that a tobogganist was on his designated ski run that he took to the toboggan with an axe. The only pleasure I take from this incident is to use the word toboggan often and repeatedly.


After World War II, as better transport routes to other ski resorts with larger areas, glamorous peaks, and less erratic snow conditions opened up, the popularity of Mt Donna Buang dried up. Gone are the traffic jams, overcrowding, deadly axes and the odd fatal snowball fight (I’m sure). Today, the primary visitors are what Wikipedia today describes as “family snow play groups”.


The Leung family snow play group arrived into the carpark most winters of my childhood. The ritual was always the same. My brother Dennis and I dragged our orange, hard-plastic toboggan out of the boot and ran up to the highest elevation we could find to slide down. Mum and Dad would climb the wooden lookout tower to watch our efforts to not die. Chinese people aren’t known for their snow expertise. Apart from the odd Japanese ski-jumper I’d seen on the Winter Olympics, I can’t think of many Asian downhill racers in James Bond movies. Skiiing seemed a thing rich white families and tuxedoed spies did.


Tobogganing, on the other hand, was something the Leung family excelled at – if you can ascribe something that requires no skill, as excelling. There’s something about sitting inside a flimsy plastic shell complete with no brakes and maximum vulnerability that made me want to come back to the snow every year. Perhaps it’s important to connect to Mother Nature and your sense of mortality on a seasonal basis. Perhaps Donna Buang was the safest place to do this since there were less people to crash into and gentle, mundane snow slopes.


On a good day, our family would throw snowballs, make snowmen and drink hot chocolate or soup from a thermos.

On a bad day, which were more often, we would throw slithers of ice, make deformed snowmen out of the mud-filled sludgy sleet and still enjoy hot chocolate and soup. Our toboggan would be scratched up from the exposed rocks and slowed down from the dirt and grass that the ice could barely hang onto. We didn’t care. Mt Donna Buang was fun.


As the closest snowfield to Melbourne, Mount Donna Buang was my family’s resort of choice for two reasons: 1) it was the easiest to get to and 2) the most convenient one to leave if you turned up and there was absolutely no snow. Yet, it was also quite lovely.


No overcrowding, no pretentious rich families and (I assume) no tuxedoed super spies – things which I imagined were staples at the other Victorian resorts. We were free to enjoy the day among the myrtle beech trees and woolybutts (also a type of tree). Even if the Weather woman on the TV said Donna Buang’s snow condition was POOR, to our family this place was always JUST FINE.




Recently I went to Sweden and saw snow falling for the first time! Yes, from the sky! It looked just like in the movies. My partner and her Swedish family took me to the snowfield in Salen and I tried skiing – not tobogganing. In real snow! Not ice with muddy bits and grass, but WHITE SNOW! A place where it looked like the snowman would never melt. To be honest, it was overwhelming.


Now, I have a strange dilemma. I have a new baby daughter who is half Swede, half Australian, half Chinese. The dilemma isn’t about my maths ability, but where she should experience snow for the first time. The new Leung Family Snow Playgroup. Part of me wants to honour her Scandinavian heritage and return her to a place like Salen – where children half her size are born with snowboards attached, and would zoom past my head, spraying fresh powder in my face as I laid tangled in my skis, unable to get up.


The other part of me wants her to experience the same Aussie childhood I had. Maybe we can sit in front of the TV snow report, crossing our fingers that Donna Buang would have at least: GOOD.


Maybe I can irresponsibly push my daughter in a plastic toboggan down a hill.

Maybe we can climb that wooden lookout tower at Donna Buang, drinking soup from a thermos. We’d admire the inconsistent wonderland of patchy snow, icy grass and gravel. I would give little Freja a cuddle and whisper something I was once told.


“You don’t need snow to enjoy a snowfield.”


You know before you arrive that ‘the last corroboree was staged in 1862, about two miles outside Hexham, for the amusement of the white conquerors’.[1] There are a lot of lasts around here, after all: the type you find on obelisks and studio portraits, they pass unseen

(‘let others tell the tale I cannot’).[2]




By the time you call it home, really there is ‘no evidence’ of settlement at all.[3] Even the squatter’s run at Hexham Park has been gridded up for you. Home and identity become ‘homogenised’ and the soil takes you in.[4] The famous, molten loam is fed by soaks and southern storms; in this lushness there are no gaps and no time for them. In this industry you become a monument by a highway.[5]




Tony Birch writes that, ‘where gaps exist within historical narratives, monuments act as filler … the monument has been the commonest answer to the absence of continuity’ in the colonised environment.[6] Now gaps are rising from where the saltwater tide rushes upriver, climbing the stones, ponds floating within mounds of basalt and bulls standing knee-deep in red mud. Rising to the high emu plains, big sky weighing down on cypress windbreaks. You follow the Hopkins River pressing through the tablelands, the skin of lakes flashing clouds.


Behind the greasy sheep under your crowds

of wheat, beside your graveyard the drained swamp.


A gazette of Hexham, disintegrated into neat selections, is dominated by the Hopkins as it inscribes itself through the land. The river makes even the alphabet turn sideways, bobbing down the page.




There are ways to read inwards, and beneath what you are told.


When you arrive, in fact, you meet signs of a long-cultivated landscape: ‘the pastures consist of native grasses, and the character of the soil and climate keep the grass growing right through the season’.[7] Kangaroo apple, yellow box and tea tree grow wild by the roadside and around the cemetery, thickly tangled. There are discarded bark and sapling roofs to be removed from the blackwood stands, and basalt bricks to be dragged from oven mounds into borderlines. And before long, you learn that ‘the former camps of the natives are now mostly grassed over … at Hexham Park, on the Hopkins River’.[8] Every day you pass the sunken stretch of earth as you enter town, open flats leading up to the banks. Ducks scramble up from the shady water as you approach.


You call it Weetya    for the Djab wurrong’s blackwood


and no one knows how you acquire this word for a place of trees that cover you in planets of light as you clear the boundaries of your living.


You travel the old eel highway through Girrae wurrong land, from Hexham to Lake Bolac. Kestrels and herons work over the tributaries of the river, following the fish runs. Salt Creek remains lush, there is a small storage pool on its floodbank. You may hear of the lava flows in Gundijtmara country, their village walls and spiral stone doorways in bracken to the west.[9] A smoking gum. Inside the ashes of its gut, its fat, steady fire, and the rain in its muscles like sleep. An old timer may tell you that where your pub stands near the ford of the river at Hexham, is where GA Robinson noted a large weir of sticks erected to snare the shortfin eel as the waters rose.


You have witnessed evidence of what one surveyor calls, ‘a dateless monument of incredible labour’.[10] But you forget it all, because there is ‘no recognition of the process of displacement that was occurring’ for generations before you.[11] The gaps between what is told and untold, seen and unseen, close up. You say nothing, there is no one to listen; and so it is as though you had always been here. Bulrushes fill the clearing.


You are becoming native. From the crushed oven mounds, your boys collect flakes and glass, and keep them precious on a windowsill. They draw a pair of scar trees, still there, further up the river where it turns into the town. Writing of this district, Maggie Mackellar argues that ‘first-generation Australians were blind to the transnational encounters that were happening all the time’ in sovereign lands.[12] ‘In spring on open country they watched for the first blue orchids and in sheltered places sought greenhoods. They climbed hollow trees to find parrots’ nests … they could fish the creeks for yabbies and on summer evenings sit, bare toes in the water, listening to the croak of frogs and the shrilling of crickets. They could hunt wallabies, possums and bears, and make rugs from their skins’.[13] Everything else is the past.




Your forgetting is a basalt pool where you might drop.


Lie down. In a place where you first made yourself.


In Hexham, you are neither 2,000 sacks of heroic wheat, nor an inheritance. You’re a guest, gathering leeches as you dwell in the country that feeds you.


If you learn and know, you can remember.


Ross Gibson insists that this ‘remembering is something good we can do in response to the bad in our lands.’[14] Memory is walking in time, learning ‘advice from the past’.[15] This remembering is how ‘people strive to know events in their entirety, abhorring denials and erasures’, like the texture of things in the soil and the way it rearranges itself as you gently turn its layers.[16]


Start again there, in your ‘entangled histories, because boundaries and uniformity are essential to the consistency of settler-body identity, which in turn produces a habit of forgetting, or a careless body.’[17] This feels like digging, not invasively mining and extracting, but sifting and handling the surface of the place. The twists of iron from a plough and the repaired weave of a fish basket are witness to entangled lives: Hexham can be ‘an assemblage of lots of real things’ that subject familiar myths to different realities.




Huddling there below the road, you watch blokes crossing the ford into your pub; they are talking about blood again. Perhaps you are starting to let go the forgetting that has made you, as it fizzes like dead cells and husks into that gentle, constant plains breeze                                          water ribbons                                   an emu drinks           the swamp is refilling.


These words are useful for doing that remembering, some of which is imaginative.


In the dark, you can hear Mr Pellow’s lecture on Australian Missions, droning into the street.[19] Beyond his voice, you may also hear what Reverend Stähle can: the ‘silence that descended … after the children had been taken away’ from Lake Condah mission.[20]


In Letters from Aboriginal Women of Victoria, 1867-1926, the voices of mothers, doubly dispossessed, ring out across this district. You might hear the mail coach carrying those letters, down from the plains and across the stones. You are charged more than once for keeping your boys back from school, but it’s a small penalty for the extra help.


You petition for a rail line extension to transport groaning loads of wheat; then perhaps you remember black Diggers climbing aboard at the siding as you load. Some of them come from Framlingham, where families from the former mission fight the BPA to cultivate land. You extend your property from 1,200 to 2,000 acres of wheat.


If you can remember, you can see.


See how seeing is made.


See how the vernacular of the Hexham bluestone is a homage to the Girrae wurrong fish runs, ‘built of indigenous stone [that] seemed to grow out of the ground’.[21] You are subject to the same desire for settlement: that lushness, the generosity of the volcanic soil; its goodness the creation of a meeting place for neighbours to share; the way ‘it becomes increasingly difficult to separate residences … from the activity that sustains the people occupying them’.[22]


See that name, Weetya, not as a token of exchange but as a false certificate of ownership.[23]


See how Aboriginal men from nearby nations, forced off the missions, labour with you at your project of crushing, smoothing and covering.[24]


See how you are driving ‘the same roads that took Aboriginal children from their families—firstly on foot, then on horseback, in coaches, trains, and finally in the back of police cars’.[25] Nothing looks the same.




You follow the diesel wake of a ute as it cruises the plains. ‘Justify Your Existence’, reads the cabin’s rear window, a decal in gothic script.


Justify the insistence of your voice in a place of resistance and survival. Rewrite the landscape and the narrative of the selector, the pioneer, the agriculturalist, the ancestor. Embed that small life, entangle it in transnational encounters and unrecorded evidence. As Jan Critchett writes, after collecting oral histories of Aboriginal lives in the Western District, ‘I saw a landscape enriched by new layers of meaning … not part of the experience of the non-Aboriginal community among which the Aboriginals live.’[26] Record, remember, imagine, research what your myths have forgotten or ignored.


Your voice is a proposal: ‘the “contact zone” of a shared existence’.[27] You are a ‘monument to complex histories’ that will never be finished because it is made of gaps. The ‘proposed monument – the way that the boundary between the monument and the real world is not clear – suggests that there is also no clear line between our lives and our past.’[28]


In this mode, you are implied; you are learning how to see deeply. To see lots of real things, scattered here, through the property you once called mine.


[1] Aldo Massola, Journey to Aboriginal Victoria, Rigby Ltd, 1969 (55).

[2] Caleb Collyer, qtd in Ian Clark, Scars in the Landscape, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1995 (2).

[3] HC Builth, ‘The Archaeology and Socioeconomy of the Gunditjmara: A Landscape Analysis from Southwest Victoria, Australia’, PhD Thesis, Flinders University, 2002 (81).

[4] Maggie MacKellar, Strangers in a Foreign Land: The Journal of Neil Black and Other Voices from the Western District, The Miegunyah Press, 2008 (248).

[5] Thanks to Ian Black at the Hamilton History Centre and Ian Rees at the Wimmera Association for Genealogy, for their help with researching the settlement of my ancestor, Herman Anders, in Hexham.

[6] Tony Birch, ‘“Death is forgotten in victory”: colonial landscapes and narratives of emptiness’, in J Lydon & T Ireland, eds., Object Lessons: Archaeology and Heritage in Australia, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2005: 186-200 (186; 195). Thanks to Tony Birch for his kind permission to quote from his work.

[7] ‘Cutting up the land: its progressive effect’, The Age, 31 March, 1910 (9).

[8] Massola (55).

[9] I pay respects and thanks to the Winda-Mara Corporation for sharing Gunditjmara history and landmarks at Budj Bim National Park.

[10] Max Ingram, qtd in Builth (64).

[11] Mackellar (248).

[12] Mackellar (248).

[13] Margaret Kiddle, Men of Yesterday: A Social History of the Western District of Victoria 1834-1890, Melbourne University Press, 1963 (428).

[14] Ross Gibson, Seven Versions of an Australian Badland, UQP, 2002 (3).

[15] Gibson (84).

[16] Gibson (178).

[17] Lisa Slater, ‘Waiting at the Border: White Filmmaking on the Ground of Aboriginal Sovereignty’, in Beate Neumeier and Kay Schaffer (eds), Decolonizing the Landscape: Indigenous Cultures in

Australia (Rodopi: Amsterdam, New York, 2014): 129-147 (136).

[18] Stephen Muecke, ‘A Touching and Contagious Captain Cook: Thinking History through Things’, in History, Power, Text: Cultural Studies and Indigenous Studies, eds. Timothy Neale, Crystal McKinnon and Eve Vincent, CSR Books, 2014: 153-166 (157).

[19] ‘Lantern Lecture’, Mortlake Dispatch, 8 April, 1914 (2).

[20] Jan Critchett, Untold Stories: Memories and Lives of Victorian Kooris, Melbourne University Press, 1998 (235).

[21] Kiddle (283).

[22] Builth (71).

[23] See Pascoe (73).

[24] See Critchett (193).

[25] Tony Birch, ‘Come See the Giant Koala: Inscription and Landscape in Western Victoria’, Meanjin 3 (1999): 60-72 (71).

[26] Critchett (237).

[27] Birch, 2005 (186; 195).

[28] Clare Land, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener: The Involvement of Aboriginal People from Tasmania in Key Events of Early Melbourne, City of Melbourne, 2014 (6).

Fitzroy North

Estragon leans against a trestle table of childrens picture books. He turns an envelope over in his hands. The envelope is unstamped. He is third in line.


The line doesnt move.

Outside the sun hangs lower in the sky.

The line doesnt move.

Exhausted, he puts the envelope in his bag.

The line moves a little.


Enter Vladimir. He is fifth in line.


ESTRAGON: Nothing to be done.


VLADIMIR: (shrugs and leans against the table) I’m beginning to come around to that opinion. All my life, I’ve tried to put it from me, saying Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything–


He is interrupted there is a sound of packages being moved violently. A crash and a yell from the front of the line, though we cannot tell why.


A pause. He continues.


VLADIMIR: And I resumed the struggle.


The struggle of…the post office.




There’s a rule in our share house now. If the doorbell rings between 7 and 9 a.m., it is likely to be Australia Post, and so, you must answer it. It doesn’t matter if you are deep in slumber, tucked into a lover, or even if you, personally, are not expecting a package. The ringing triggers a moral imperative: whoever hears it first must get out of bed, throw on whatever decency demands, and run to the door before the postman leaves. The consequence of not doing so, is that we are left with the blue slip. The blue slip that says, ‘Sorry we couldn’t deliver your package. Please pick it up.’, but might as well be saying, ‘Your housemates didn’t care enough about you. Perhaps they don’t like you after all? Yes, that’s probably it. Goodbye social contract!’


To receive the blue slip, you see, means that you need to leave the house and pass by Edinburgh Gardens, where the good people of Fitzroy North lie supine, laughing and watching their many tiny dogs. You must then walk by the cream-coloured behemoth that is Piedimontes supermarket, lope past the angular Pinnacle Hotel, and stop on the quieter side of Scotchmer Street. There, unassuming, emitting a steady fluorescent light through unglazed glass, is your destination: The Fitzroy North Post Office.


None of this would be an issue, of course, if this were an ordinary post office. But this is the Fitzroy North Post Office. Many people love a stroll to their local AusPo branch – how quaint! how civic! But these people, their local is not the Fitzroy North Post Office. And their mail does not live at the Fitzroy North Post Office. And their post office would never have cause to provoke such an intense degree of online attention (Google reviews, blog posts, two separate, passionate subreddits), because their post office is not the Fitzroy North Post Office. No, their lives simply march on, day after day, beads on a chain, untouched by the spectre that is haunting Fitzroy North. The spectre…of the Fitzroy North Post Office.




Before you think me histrionic – which would be a valid call about 76% of the time – know that I speak both from lived experience and from long-term observation. I have investigated the matter. I have frequented the site. I have polled and communicated with the masses. And these are my conclusions.


Few who have encountered this local P.O. can call it merely ordinary. It leaves its mark, it induces response. Its disproportionate digital footprint is proof of that; as are the many reviews on platforms like Reddit, Yelp, and Twitter. Further, when I requested interviews and distributed an online survey for this article, the replies were rapid and stretched far beyond my network. The quotes that follow below are from a combination of these sources.




Whilst most people agree that the Fitzroy North P.O. is a sui generis institution, not all encounter it in the same way. For some, a vocal minority, the post office’s most remarkable trait is just that it manages to be far more irritating than is usually acceptable in customer service.



North Fitzroy LPO was my local about 9 years ago

and it was terrible back then.


In a perfect world, a post office should be straightforward,

 functional, exact and methodical.

 It should provide a basic level of customer service and

provide simple processes that people require. The North Fitzroy Post Office

 is doing none of these things.

Line out the door at Fitzroy north post office!… Whyyyyy?? 😫”


Will avoid ever entering this place again. Wow is all I can say


Just enter your address as Clifton Hill 3068 and

go get parcels from the post office on Queens Parade.

The people there are much much better.



These customers tend to remark on the many inconveniences they experience, all of which seemed designed to annoy: the line is a little slow, there’s a lack of stock, packages are hard to locate, and the couple– an elderly man and woman of Chinese descent – who appear to run the place, aren’t your usual AusPost fare. Some venture that they’re siblings, others spouses. Whatever the case, they are always either a bit too talkative, distracted, judgmental, bored, or annoyed to serve you. It’s all just a bit off, a bit much.


Yet these complaints barely scratch the surface of the full Fitzroy North post office experience. Many of these customers have probably only visited on a good day, or just once. A much larger contingent actually experiences the P.O. as something wilder: a site of furious, extravagant bewilderment.



Every time they make a huge deal about it, like it’s not their job and they

are doing me the biggest favour. Especially if I couldn’t come straight away and

am picking up the parcel after a few days – oh my, how dare I? Now they have to go

and check somewhere in the back room for it the horror!


I couldn’t believe what I was seeing… as a caring citizen

I fear I couldn’t disengage from reality enough to revel

in the insanity at the expense of the hapless customers



For these people, the queue is not just slow, but unbelievably arduous. What on god’s earth could take so long? Just moments ago we were out in the sun, and now we are in some kind of time warp. The couple at the counter – yes them – is the old man actually yelling at a customer? Is the old woman actually yelling at him? And is she now telling you a long story about the stamp you’re trying to buy? A story you didn’t ask for, but moreover can’t follow. It’s a verbal labyrinth. Except, there is no minotaur at the centre. The minotaur’s been replaced by a stamp. And the stamp probably, definitely hates you. The lady is very enthused though and it’s all sort of endearing. Maybe this isn’t so bad? Wait- where’s your package? That’s definitely not it. Also while you’re here – have you noticed there’s a bunch of boxes climbing out the store room that have bunched together to form cardboard turrets behind the counter? It’s like a castle. A castle that probably, definitely hates you. Perhaps your package is in the castle. Never mind – here comes Jimmy! Jimmy’s the younger guy who actually owns this branch, which is a fact you learned a few weeks ago. Or maybe it was yesterday. Or maybe it was today. Look – Jimmy’s returned with your package, and he’s handing it over without comment. Ah Jimmy. So efficient, so tight-lipped, too-rarely present. Oh wait, he’s leaving. Jimmy’s done for the day. Goodbye Jimmy. We hardly knew ye. Also, can someone answer me this: a) where is my mummy, and b) why did I come in here again?



I once left a package at the Fitzroy North Post Office for two weeks, because I was too scared to pick it up.


What is this place? An anomaly in the space-time continuum?….when you get back you feel youve been gone for years.


Anyone got morphine? I have to go pick up a parcel from the Fitz North Post Office.


“Ran into a friend who looked like he’d just escaped a torture chamber. “I’ve just been to the Fitzroy North post office” he said.”


Honestly, this place is the complete opposite of normal.



The bewilderment never quite wears off. It accumulates, morphs, and strengthens. As most veterans of the post office will tell you, there’s eventually acceptance that you have entered an altered space. And you begin to delight in its possibility. This doesn’t mean visits aren’t still ordeals – loins must still be girded – but there’s also a kind of joy to it all. It’s the sensation, I think, that arises from experiencing something genuinely new. It is perhaps why 80% of survey respondents expressed a fierce desire for the P.O. to remain as it is. Few hesitated to label it ‘a local institution’.



I have been living away from North Fitzroy for so long that I’ve started to feel homesick for the strangest things. I would be so, so grateful if somebody on here could go to collect a parcel or pay a bill at the North Fitzroy Post Office and film their experience.


I personally love going in there, particularly being served by the lady. So amusing. So chaotic.


The Fitzroy North post office is a star franchise. Always classic fun…


“…North Fitzroy Post Office: a much-loved local dictatorial regime.”



About to enter the North Fitzroy Post office. Once more into the fray…




P.O. veterans can be identified by their body language. Spines are relaxed, indolent; but the eyes are usually alert, taking everything in. Complicit glances and grins are common. Occasionally, a mass haziness will settle in, a sense that we’ve all slipped sideways into the same delusion. But it’s never panicked, just excited. For once you submit to the logic of the Fitzroy North Post Office, a generative energy can arise. It often manifests in jokes or performative commentary (like when you’re compelled to write an entire essay for the City of Melbourne). Indeed, a recurring and significant feature of people’s responses, online and on the survey, was the gleeful drive to map their P.O. experience onto other cultural products. References to immersive theatre, performance art, and TV shows such Fawlty Towers and Twin Peaks were common. For me though, it’s always been Beckett.


I’m assuming the proprietors at this Post Office are a one Bernard Black or Basil Fawlty.


I just laugh at the Kafka-esque service

Every visit offers golden opportunity to the would-be writer of a short film or comedy sketch


I assume it is an art experiment


David Lynch should do season 4 of Twin Peaks at the North Fitzroy Post Office.


“People loathe it, but I love the small-scale masterpiece theatre of it all.”


It is its own circle of hell. I take the time to think of my sins.



There is something in these responses that resembles hate-watching. To hate-watch something might seem passive or wasteful, but can be a fertile impulse. To hate-watch something is after all not to actually dislike it, or to even love it in spite of itself. It is to love and pursue it in spite of yourself.  Despite how terrible or ridiculous the experience, you’re drawn to it. It has some value to you.  You subject yourself to it, sensing that it helps you excavate something you couldn’t (or think you shouldn’t) otherwise: your trashiness, blood-lust, melancholy.


But what is this in the case of the Fitzroy North Post Office?


Initially I feared that it might be something racist. Were the inhabitants of Fitzroy North poking fun at the staff’s difference for their own amusement? Was the otherness imputed to the post office just a lack of cultural understanding? But on further reflection, I think not. The idiosyncrasy of the P.O. exists independently of cultural signifiers (as well as of time and space). Most of my survey respondents of them, like myself, people of colour, also dismissed the idea. However, a couple of interviewees did suggest that for them, the P.O.’s allure was connected to race and class, just more…subversively.

“The Post Office is like a break from the gentrified banality of the rest of Fitzroy North,” says Sunita, 33, who’s lived in the area for three years. Eileen, 28, who was born in the suburb, agrees: “I like it because it’s a bit resistant to everything around it, and the whiteness of it all. I think people can be confronted by anyone who doesn’t look like them behaving not-boring. That’s a good thing.”


Perhaps this is what the P.O. offers us then:  a chance to displace ourselves, just briefly, from officious gardens, baroque shop windows, and blanched streets; from a suburb frequently identified as a key part of the inner north’s transformation to the ‘New South’. We may think we dislike the P.O., but if we let it, it provides relief through chaos, a chance to play with the rules of reality, and what most of us crave: community through shared experience. On the quieter side of Scotchmer Street, a bulwark against encroaching numbness.



I send parcels to myself, just so I get to talk to the staff. It’s a cracker!


the stuff of legend…


more than once I, and others in the queue, have broken out in laughter at the antics going on behind the counter.


I have learnt more about myself and my neighbours in one visit…


don’t think I’ve ever had 21 likes for a tweet before. You guys really love the North Fitzroy Post Office, don’t you? I’m safe home now.

The very best community spirit arises from trials of this kind.”



Maybe we love it because we know we need it.


Maybe we have advanced Stockholm syndrome.


Maybe it’s Maybelline.


No, okay, definitely not that last one.






ESTRAGON: I can’t go on like this.
VLADIMIR: Mate, for fuck’s sake. Just get yourself down to the Fitzroy North Post Office already.

City of Dandenong

In third-grade, my teacher Mr Collins asked us all to submit floorplans of our houses. I think we were learning about ratio and scale. While in hindsight this project seems sinister – why really would our teacher want us to hand in something so private, and why didn’t my parents question this? – I submitted an A3 drawing of our house, newly-moved in, with descriptions detailing what we did in various rooms. Kitchen: cooking, washing dishes, feeding the dog. Bedroom: music, reading my books. Our concrete backyard was a work in progress and resembled a junkyard, so I wrote place where we put our rubbish, accompanied by drawings of piles of trash. Ma was very angry when she saw what I had submitted. “Why would you tell people that? Why would you want them to see this about us?”




Years before we’d moved in, Noble Park North had already assimilated and become part of the City of Greater Dandenong. Greater Dandenong’s borders weren’t strictly outlined, but it became greater in scope following the fusion of suburbs, with its innards, its encompassing suburbs, marked out by demographics and cultures. Springvale, our neighbouring suburb, had been amalgamated the year prior.


Like any city, Greater Dandenong is a containment of cultures, ideas and fiercely-held beliefs. The city sits on a snake nest that jealously guards the inner circle: those vipers in the bosom are the old Caucasian, Anglo-Saxon, whatever-they-want-to-call-it guard of the eastern suburbs who strike out at any discordance. For a long time, if you were different, they didn’t want you. And they looked for any excuse to keep you out.


The further I got from the epicentre of Dandenong, the warmer I felt. Things changed; so did I. Madeleine Thien, in reference to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, says cities are subjected to memories and history and every other emotion; they’re ‘visible structures of the human condition’. They showcase triumphs, of course, but they also are sites of wounds and fear and unpleasantness.


1998 – Our House in Noble Park


Appearances were important to my parents. We lived in the largest house in our court. A two-storey, white chateau, of sorts: it had a pool, a front lawn and a backyard that Ma wanted to eventually convert into a living greenhouse. They framed a hand-stitched portrait of the Polish coat of arms, the white eagle with a golden beak, wearing a gold crown. Another wall was adorned with several silver icons of the Mother Mary. A few years later, my father put a brand-new Ford onto the mortgage too. For all intents and purposes, we aesthetically represented a wealthy family.


Not long after we got settled, my parents started working nights in the garage – a space they’d converted into a home-made electronic studio and warehouse – where they repaired timers in washing machines by the hundreds. I can still remember holding the foreign, brick-like object in my small hands: one would occasionally have small wires poking out of its metal and/or plastic shell, like weeds growing through soil.


On the corner of our court was a house that constantly generated whispers.

A new family moved in every few months. My mother and the next-door neighbour would sit at the kitchen table, drinking instant coffee, and gossip about the African family that had settled in recently. He is only there a few nights a week, the neighbour said. He has another wife, another family. Ma commented on the unnaturalness of polyamory, the immortality. The neighbour nodded, sipping her coffee.


My folks worked to keep up the illusion of affluence, whether intentionally or accidentally. Though we never went without, most things in the house were second-hand. I never thought anything of it. We went dumpster diving at our nearby Target. It’s where I got my first alarm clock, fully functional, with a paint stain that I couldn’t scrub off. They eventually put a padlock and chain on the dumpster at the back of Waverley Gardens shopping centre – to stop people like us, I imagine, bringing items back into the store, asking for an exchange without a receipt.


1999 – Books in Boxes


Most, if not all, of my books were what people would call ‘loved’. Slightly tattered, creases in the covers of paperbacks, and that smell of old, decomposing pages. These books had collected dust in the homes of other people before they came into mine.


Our local op shop was a Salvos, housed in a huge warehouse on the corner of Jacksons Road. Ma bought books for us kids by the truckload from there. Most of them were Scholastic covers: some Sweet Valley High, the occasional Judy Blume, and many Deltora Quest titles. Eventually she got me the entire set of The Babysitters Club. In Keep Out, Claudia! (#56 of the Babysitters Club series), there’s a new family, the Lowells, who have moved to Stoneybrook. Claudia Kishi, one of the original members of the club and part of the only Asian-American family in the small town gets assigned to babysit and is coldly received by the children. The next time Mrs Lowell calls to arrange a sitter she requests someone other than Claudia, keeping her reasons vague.
I didn’t understand what had happened, even when it was explained quite clearly to the reader by the characters. In the book, the family pulls their kids out of performing in Fiddler of the Roof. Claudia isn’t rehired. They don’t even let Jessi (the club’s one African-American member) through the door. Kristy, the club’s president, is the one who finally figures it out, and explains it using a word that I had to look up – a word I only understood conceptually while finishing the book: prejudice. Kid-Kits and s’mores were easy to imagine, but #56 forced me out of the realm of imagination.


2000 – Smallgoods


Ma would park her old busted grey Camira on Langhorne street in Dandenong. Across the road I remember a police station, next door a costume shop, and a little more up the street was a bus shelter. The Wisla Continental, the Polish delicatessen, was located on this street too. The deli has cured meats and European delicacies, cheap packets of chocolate wafers we could guilt Ma into buying for us, tins of sardines that came in packages of blue, red or yellow, marked at .95 cents, and, krowki milanowskie – translated bluntly: milky cream fudge.


It became a weekly pilgrimage. Ma ended up knowing everyone within a few months of going there. She had a habit for getting people to talk about themselves, to share tidbits. She exchanged money for goods and they exchanged anecdotes for good will. She got recipes for making cured meats, cakes and recommendations for where to go to get specialised ingredients that the deli didn’t have. We came here for the tastes of what we knew as home. “I want pączki,” said my sister when we visited the Wisla. We knew everyone and everyone knew us.


2001 – The Market


The markets were – still are – the place to go for cheap(er) prices, for bartering with stallholders, for cups of unbelievably delicious hot chocolate. We visited almost every weekend. The main arena was large and loud. The floor was gritty, wet and stained, like there’d already been a stampede of people there hours before we arrived – even if we got there as soon as the doors opened. Italian men wandered around and into their shops and restocked the displays, while other shouted prices over each other: “Three cucumbers, five dollars! Best prices here!” Dotted throughout would be the occasional flower stalls, hosting buckets on the floor filled with pink orchids, strawflowers, fresh-yellow marigolds and chrysanthemums. We were part of the bustle of the market, one long snake of energy.


And then past the fruit and veg stalls, into the rest of the market, there were artisan and specialty stallholders. Folks selling honey, jams, Italian leather handbags and belts. One stall had t-shirts printed with celebrities faces lining wall-to-wall.


In the midst of that commotion, Ma always made sure to stop by Lee’s stall. Lee was the owner of a frame and portrait boutique and, as we later found out, a skilled interior designer. She hired out a stall there every fortnight but also took orders for custom frame designs and delivery. Lee quickly became one of my mother’s many friends, and, often, became a pretext for any defence against prejudice. Having an Asian friend was proof for Ma, that she was “not like the other Poles”. Maybe she didn’t realise how insidious she sounded.


2008 – Europa


I scored my first job through my mother’s friend at a European fruit market in Dandenong. A place frequented by Italians, Serbs, Greeks and Poles, predominantly. I made friends with the other checkout chicks, Mui and Slavana. We regularly grabbed drinks after work, sat at the Pancake Parlour at the Glen and compared notes after being sexually harassed by the pigman of a boss.


Over the year that I worked there, I received a litany of visits from family friends who were delighted to see me. One was the mother of a primary school friend, Ms K. During one visit, a particularly busy Saturday, she made a beeline for my queue despite the line for Mui being shorter. When she finally reached the front, she told me she was so happy to see me. We chatted about her daughter and the weather, mostly casual remarks. Then she leaned in, her tone dropped in volume and told me, behind the counter: I’m glad you’re here because I don’t want to be served by them.

I could only stare at her: she spoke it, she transformed incivility into inhumanity.

I packed her bananas, shoving them hastily into a plastic bag, under the guise of the heavy foot traffic on a Saturday.


2018 – Rebuilding


I don’t live there anymore. I left when I was twenty-one, moving eastward, inward towards the city of Melbourne. I forged a new blueprint, forgoing the one I grew up with back at home.


Greater Dandenong is (mostly) a city made up of migrants, whether Sudanese, Polish, Serbian, Bosnian, Czech, Vietnamese, or whatever. I lived there before the multi-coloured buildings came up, before they wanted form to reflect self. Before the project of transformation.


In the last six years, the City of Dandenong has undergone massive redevelopment. The municipal building sits parallel to the train station – now as a transportation hub – with ninety-degree parking lining the building itself. Its various layers are painted bright red, white and orange, a hint at liveliness. The library got a facelift. The street signs got replaced with shinier versions. For all intents and purposes, it is an open city. Or rather, it aspires to become an open city, and currently, shoulders the burden of that aspiration.



The days before I left Fitzroy I tried to do all of my favourite things there. I’m prone to sentimentality and wanted to savour every moment. When I shaved my head at the start of the year I nervously went to Marios, my then local, hoping they wouldn’t make a scene about my hair. The vested barista told me it looked good and quietly made my coffee. I had coffee and pasta at Marios, admiring the kitsch artwork that adorned their walls, the earnest photos of places around Fitzroy. I ate two different pies from Smith and Deli, spilling the hot mess of them on my shirt as I’d done countless times before. When my grandfather was hospitalised in 2011 at St Vincent’s hospital, we spotted a bright café from his ninth floor room. We went down, fell in love with it; the South American books scattered around, the records playing old South American music in the background, the old indoor plants that they have inexplicably kept alive over the last six years. My brother worked there for nearly two years and was on the staff futsal team. We watched the owner’s tummy swell with baby one and baby two. I had more than one breakfast (soy flat white with a vegan arepa) there before I left.

I recently moved to Brisbane. This isn’t my first time living in Brisbane, I spent ten years there in my adolescence and moved to Melbourne at 21. It should feel like home, I’ve spent enough time there, but the hot and sticky country has become foreign to me. I might live in Brisbane but I don’t feel it in my bones. I might live in Brisbane but when I texted a friend the other day to say I was heading back, I didn’t say Melbourne, I said I was heading home and felt like I was cheating. I might live in Brisbane but there is a black duffle bag in the living room that has never truly been unpacked. I have been at the airport more times than I can remember this year. I am constantly in transit; maybe my heart isn’t in a place, it’s in the movement.

This transience is a childhood hangover.

One of my earliest memories is moving to Bundaberg from Gippsland and making our way up there on a cold Greyhound bus. In 1995, somewhere between the 1800 kilometres between Melbourne to Brisbane, my Mum had stepped out for a smoke and the bus briefly left without her. Not one year after that bus trip Mum and I were on another bus back to Melbourne to say goodbye to my great grandmother in Gippsland. One of my only memories of Nanny would have been an early 90s Christmas as a toddler playing near the old rusty water tank at the front of her house. She wore long dresses with high socks and slippers. I thought she might have been magic or a mind reader in the hospital when she was dying. I had just had a haircut the week before and somehow she knew I’d had one. A few days later Mum and I were back on another cold bus not able to attend the funeral for fear of violence.

The longest I’ve lived in the same house was four years. I never stayed at a school longer than three. I’ve never had a job longer than two. It is not surprising then that home is confusing. Home is not a singular vessel for the soul, in my case there are many,. Home is where I intend on being buried down the road from my great grandmother’s house on the mission but it is also where the heart is. My heart is housed in the ribcages of a few others, but often I think I left it behind in Fitzroy.

Fitzroy is not my country. Fitzroy is Wurundjeri country. I’m Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta. We associate diaspora with people of colour (white people are “expats”) who are not Indigenous to this country but I feel like it could be applied to First Nations people too. Fitzroy throughout post-invasion history has been a black diasporic centre. My mother’s family is from Bung Yarnda (Lake Tyers). My great grandmother was stolen when she was eight at the lomandra filled mission by the lake and taken to an institutional wasteland in Parkville, ripped away from her family. She returned home when she was about 20 in 1952 with my grandfather, who had also been taken. Later on she moved once more because the government wanted to shut down Lake Tyers.

Home for her too was complicated and worse, out of her control. Her home was decided by men in suits in a government department office. I do know during those years between Parkville and Bung Yarnda she found sanctuary in Fitzroy. Letters my Mum has been able to collect from the State reveal that my great grandmother on more than one occasion would take off to hang out with sailors off of Brunswick St. I find myself walking along the cobbled back streets of Fitzroy, wondering if she too had walked the same paths. What did she wear? In the moments she stole from the state to take off to Fitzroy, was she having fun? I know she got drunk on wine for the first time there, and she wasn’t the last Gorrie to get tanked on wine on a Fitzroy street. Did she enjoy herself? What did her drunk laugh sound like? Did the Fitzroy cobble stones ever catch her heel and make her lurch forward like they have to me? Did she ever share a shivery winter’s kiss with someone at Carlton gardens?

When Mum was 19 she left my father and headed to Fitzroy to my grandparents’ place on Best street near Piedimontes. It was cold and rainy and she had to convince my grandmother to let us stay. Their house looked like most other terrace houses. I don’t remember much about it now; a long, narrow and dark hallway with items on the left that my grandmother was waiting to take to the op shop; a kettle, books, and clothes. Cold grey tiles in the kitchen. I don’t know how long we stayed there but I know not long after that we were in Gippsland. My maternal grandfather Poppaduck had also spent much of his life on those same streets. He lived in the area for all my life. He worked in the city at the Department of Human Services and would catch the tram everyday to go to work. The 96 tram was decorated as a bee and for a few months one year every time I called him he would make jokes about buzzing along the 96.

In July 2004 Dad (not my biological father) left Mum and a few months later Poppaduck nearly died from an aneurysm. I flew down for the school holidays to look after him. We spent every day in the lounge room together watching Murder She Wrote and wrestling. I sat for hours using MSN, and tried hummus for the first time. Shops along Smith St were selling those “Jesus is my homeboy” shirts. That month I mourned my Dad but was grateful to not have to mourn my grandfather also.

Paternal figures, like houses, were ephemeral but my grandfather remained so we always came back to Fitzroy.

For safety we left Gippsland and lived across central Queensland and eventually hot and sticky Brisbane. We bounced from house to house but almost once a year I would visit my grandparents.

As a child the area frightened me. I never grew up around my biological father but the handful of times we did see each other it was often around Fitzroy or Collingwood where the Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association Limited (VASCAL) was located. Pop was the CEO. He and my other grandfather were best mates. They would make jokes about who I loved more or who the better grandfather was. For years VACSAL was at the old bank building on Smith St near the Woolworths. It has an Aboriginal flag painted on the roller garage door that still remains.

I used to associate the area with knots in my stomach. I didn’t grow up with my biological father around so any time we spent together felt forced. My father and I would awkwardly stroll around together and he’d introduce me to the fullas drinking on the street, “This is so and so, my cousin, this is my daughter Nayuka, she lives up in Brisbane with her mother. Yeah she’s getting big aye.” I remember one stroll we got a Bánh mí together and I was so anxious I couldn’t finish the meal so I waited until I got home, then shoved it in my bag while no one was looking because I felt bad about an uneaten meal. I forgot about it until weeks later I was back in Brisbane. It had become a powdery light blue and black mould mess.

When I left my partner of six and a half years in 2015, it was Fitzroy I found myself retreating into. Like three generations before me, I found safety there. It was where my then nineteen year old mother went back to after leaving my father. It was also where my great grandmother used to take off to while she was still under the “care” of the department. It was where my grandfathers used to hang out together. Beyond me and the three generations before me, it has been a sanctuary for many others. Walk along Gertrude St and you can see the ghosts of the pioneering black organisations that were birthed there. It’s where a lot of blackfullas have lived because before Gorman and Lune, it was all we could afford.

It’s weird that an inner city suburb could be such an affirming place for Aboriginality. So much about those kinds of suburbs are in conflict with it. They are so built up, have little native vegetation, were some of the first suburbs to be built during early colonisation and increasingly are filled up with the white petit bourgeois. It is not the white people I see when I am there, though. I see my history. Sometimes I like to squint and imagine what places looked like before invasion. Sometimes in Fitzroy I like to squint and imagine my teenaged great grandmother wondering the streets or my two grandfathers going around together running amok. Now when I head back to Melbourne I only really spend time in Fitzroy. My brother and sister still live there but it is also where I left a bit of my heart. I go back to Marios and the staff tell me my hair has grown.


(A song cycle in 5 parts)

You’d think the fell they monged would be
day’s cut, mountain ash & red gum, hard
lumber sluiced down the river named
Falls, over the falls named Dight, to the
shallows     or failing that, fell as in
hill as in   that fell up the Slope from
the Flat (foul, miasmatic no-man’s
land) as in   whence the good wood
comes as in   where you meet, make terms,
name the wood so as to claim & then
consider it.

But no. Fell is hide. Is hold
your breath the carcase-butcher’s skin-
cart comes, is drain the blood to paste
the lime to gape the pores & rip
the hair out, Fuller’s Earth the pelt &
pickle it in acid salt     is all it’s
ever been down here — blood in soil,
blood and soil, beasts most fell and
us besides, by, here at run-off’s
end, these ample offal fields (heads we feed
to the pigs) for the boiling-down &
boning, the slicing & scouring, watch
us flush the fell-poak, watch us watch the
brown river going so so gorgeous with

Can’t see it in your hands but. It’s
there and then it’s not. Not the same
river (nor the same then), the stone with
standing but on amended grounds and
who, in any case (I hear you ask) (and
fair enough), is ‘we’?     God, how bored with
clemency this land must have been — to
dream up European man & method, his
last names riving the first, the old
names, telling of dead set industry, of
long damage, all the dark work to be
done in the sun.


Comes the Oriental with his blue
teeth, because of gold. Turning white men
white as they’ve ever been. Larrikin means
you can spit on him. Local means we stick
together and they stick together (scum
on sap), side by side, sessile, squat in
best so beneath it we lived, sweating
$40 fleece-lined trackies for $1.40 copping
cops & cap-questers galore getting
the knack — did I mind? my boy, what’s
because. Newly alived we were — beleaved,
uplooted, and this beautiful country, this
no-joke land of the flee     it lift us
up give us cow juice & clothes it make
loom for us in the high-lies flats.

(Did I mind!)


Sydney auction. Surgeon, coroner &
special constable for flood duty John
Dight sits, saturnine, waits. Happens to
be rain’s on his mind, the iterative
nature of its speciation and a
minore ad maius its divine
ontology (the land pre-gridded into
pasturable lots, says the auctioneer (“A”))
vide that rain that deliquesced the
mortar at many-roomed Durham Bowes,
eased up the stone groundsel with soft
fingertips (fronting five miles of handy
river, says A) and tender bore the
edifice entire — post & beam, frame &
fixture — and Hannah & the children trapped
in the loft! — down Hawkesbury deep unto
the drownèd valley — and who’s to say the
Great Flood that drowned the world wasn’t
accreted by this same gentle, noiseless
rain, falling from high, light skies — the kind
of rain that makes you want to step outside?

Flood, yes, distance too. And the blacks
hostile (and no blacks at all, says A); the
stableman at Stafford, spear depending
from gut to skim the ground (or else they’ve
been treatied with, says A, and anyway
the Melbourne blacks are famously meek
as cabbages.) Time to move, thinks Dight. To
stop moving. He lifts his hand, our man of
many grants, amicus commissariat, at
£18.10 — the day’s highest price — and
procures Portion 88.

Best not think about it. Value’s
value. But think about it: that base
mechanic Batman makes a killing
(coinage from across the Pacific viz
the future — true court of value) scoring
600,000 acres for a grab-bag of
trinkets — scissors & flannel jackets (and
even annulled, first claims, all know, cut
deepest)     while I, a ‘free settler’, only
four years hence, am out a hundredfold
for a twenty-thousandth part! Enough
to make a man. But the river. The
future, think about —
15 falling feet of
water to put to the wheel. The shallowest
crossing to tax the stock, to toll the
drays & days. Even, in time, who knows (I
know!) a weir, a mill, a candleworks, and
(play your cards right) packed all round the
proximising bend a full, hardy deck
of woolwashers & scourers, gutcleaners,
fatboilers, tanners, gluemakers,


(Mouth’s my own but your tongue twisted
all through. I don’t speak for no-one. If
you were spirits why steal our women cannot
disobey day’s end’s summonses, maybe
you knew this. The sealing places, the
eeling places. Why kill our dogs were all
you’d left us by then. Sickness is staying
in one place and we saw you move so
we let you come so why come sly     it’s true
your god, dying again every seven
days, was strong — this we understand. We
were like you. They broke our mouth into a
thousand tongues too. We pitied you, futile
& pale, but you were not spirits, but your
spirits kept ours dulled & dreamy and who
knew they would stop our songs stop the
babies in our daughters they were so strong.

‘You’ is heaps easier. Your slow, dim
animals with destroying feet. Your
animal skins, sorry business all round, with
all the animal soaked, sprained out of
them. Fell is sly and sour too. You felled
our land became ours the moment you
came. Denatured the mist river for (your)
shame. Where there’s shade do you walk in
the sun tells us when it’s time to move
on     but you came, stayed, the sickness took.

Nothing now grows. Would that the
Great Water had stayed shut up in the
mountain — the looking glass a basin, the
tomahawk a bluff — nothing itself with
you. Would that we had listened to the
stories you told about yourself. Would that
you had not transported your fault all
this way — athwart borders of blood &
ice, the salt tide tracks, the vast sea country,
to protect us.)


River remains. City taken its
name. Though the East is gone, the
keepers of the names. Inspectorate of
Nuisances. Headwaters dammed, high
catchment for white irony. Welcome
to country, whispers the mirror. Thirst &
spate telemetrised. Now is the Age of

District, Borough, Town: stacked
we are, & sprawled, set in our stories but
there’s scum yet hues our hands. We
their issue     you ours     sited unstable
on chemical & carnal swill, every
motherloving part of the animal
and so be it (& what) — show me pure
terra, show me a bloodless plot, your
immaculate consents (where we come,
my boy, shit’s just meaning you not

All that maul & moil. Tongues
& toil. Those ruined meadows, newly
enstranged (nothing native remains — how
we mocked your weird, weakly beasts &
trees you brung how here they are, settled
past taking back and where are we and
anyway what’s back). Wrong. In dream
questions force their own answers. Time is
swim-through. Future liquidity. The
volcanic plain dreams of life, that loves
itself, and kills to grow, quickens to
corruption: soil turns to sump, breeds
tent city dreaming of rookeries
in the upmost stratas where sleep my
mother & little brother still, where
roost the favoured wogs & muslims, the
mong-faced slants & africans, where
once I saw a junkie come into the
lift, slouched with story, carrying a head
of lettuce so green it burst my heart.

North Melbourne

Our house was at the bottom of a sloping street. A converted cream workers’ cottage, turned into a 2-storey terrace. It had a creaky iron gate that never closed, and a reddish brown front door that required a key-jiggle in the lock to get in. Encased in a bluestone fence and too-steep stone steps out the front, was densely packed earth with a ‘garden’ we promptly killed after moving in.


We were an embarrassment to our neighbours on either side, who had perfectly manicured, thriving front gardens. Particularly, Loris who harboured a deep dislike for our household. One of the most passive-aggressive people I’ve ever met, she offered to fix up and maintain our patch of dirt, rocks and shriveled bushes. We knew we were the shame of the street, so we let her. Whoever was living in the front bedroom would often open their curtains and see Loris, right there, bent over with secateurs in hand pruning the bushes, or jacking up our water bill by using our hose willy-nilly.


We lived across the road from Sigrid Thornton, who would wave at us when we saw her. We called her ‘Siggy’ behind closed doors or while drunkenly passing her house coming home from a night out. She and her husband once called the cops on one of our parties.


Our other notable neighbour was Maria, who we always thought hated us until several years in when we went over to let her know we were having a party. We had braced ourselves for a puddle-inducing scowl and potential name calling. But when she opened the front door, she cupped my face with her hand and called me ‘lovely’. The encounter seemed to kibosh the theory that Maria had stolen the decorative white pebbles from our front garden to add to her own. Her story at the time about a ‘suspicious ute’ taking off with them had been extremely sketchy.


Inside the house, it was part ski-lodge, part unregulated ’90s DIY renovation – the upstairs bathroom opened onto a tiny balcony of which 70% of the floor was taken up by a skylight. If you risked standing on it and leaned forward, you could get a peek of Melbourne’s city skyline. The stairs inside were so steep and skinny, that there was a permanent streak of dirt on the wall from people using their hands to balance on their way up and down. If you’d been drinking, you could crawl up on all fours and remain upright. Downstairs we had floorboards that didn’t meet the skirting, exposed brick and pine walls. Upstairs was a bit fresher, with painted brick walls and greyish carpet that we were promised would be replaced but never was. Domain currently values the four-bedroom house at around the $1.6 million mark; I lived there long enough to know that if you bought it, you’d have to gut the entire place and start again.


The Housemates


Fiona, Chloe and Jess

Approx. 18 months


Our first household included Fiona and Chloe, two of my high school friends from Geelong, and Jess, who we’d befriended in our first year of Uni while living at the RMIT Village. We moved in to our North Melbourne abode in June of 2008, our parents all signing on as guarantors that we would keep up with the rent.

We were 19 years old and right in the thick of studying and partying four or five nights a week.


We were a combustible foursome of different temperaments, teetering between chilled hangs on beanbags on the front porch, laughter-filled pre-drinks featuring $10 goon, very cheap (too strong) vodka jelly shots, and passive aggressive notes left on the kitchen bench. Oh, to be 19 and ‘mature’. It is now that I would like to confess that to Fiona, Chloe and Jess that I hid the kettle lid during a house party, so we had to use my kettle instead. I claimed it boiled faster, and felt justified because I drank the most tea out of everyone, but it was also a bit of a dick move. Sorry pals.



Replacing: Jess, when she went backpacking

Approx. 6 months



Almost like a housemate exchange, when Jess decided to do the backpacking thing across Europe, a bubbly Bavarian named Susi moved in. She had the very admirable quality of being able to laugh at herself and not be embarrassed. While we were the same age, she was a bit of a fairy godmother to me. I still think a lot about the card Susi gave me when she returned to Germany. Everyone could do with a Susi in their lives at that age.



Replacing: Fiona

Approx. 12 months


Tilde was a bit of a hippie. She was over from Sweden, studying at Melbourne Uni and had brown short cropped hair and thick black glasses. She was a couple of years older than us, and seemed to have some odd interpretations of social conventions.


She once hooked up with a guy she met walking down Sydney Road. I think she met up with him on one other occasion, but after that every time she called his landline he was ‘busy’ or ‘not there’. (Meanwhile, this might have been 2009, but who was still sliding 8 digits instead of 12 then?) One Saturday afternoon in the TV room with Chloe and I, this conversation with Tilde followed:


“Where’s Sunshine?” she asked.

“Western suburbs. Why?” I replied.

“I haven’t heard from Jimba. I was thinking of getting a cab to his house.”

“Uhh, that doesn’t sound like a very good idea.”


“Uhh, ‘cos it’s kinda weird to just show up at someone’s house and it’s quite far out. Plus, you’ve never been out that way before – you could get lost.”

“Yeah, but if I’m at his front door he has to talk to me.”

“I don’t think that’s a good move.”

“It’s worked before.”


It was then that Chloe and I learned how she’d gotten together with her ex-boyfriend back home. Over several months, Tilde had waited on her future-ex’s doorstep every day until one day when she wasn’t there, he texted her and said he missed her. Boom: they were a couple.



Replacing: Tilde

Seven years and counting


When Matt moved in in 2010, he had a girlfriend of ten years. When I moved out in 2015, he had a boyfriend of two years. Outside of my family, he’s the one person I’ve lived with the longest. We share the same birthday, but he was a few years older. Coming in at 6’1, with golden blonde hair that curled at the ends when it grew out, he smoked and drank like no one I’ve known. Yet, still went to the gym and drank protein shakes.


Matt introduced me into the intricacies of Survivor, and he was my favourite person to watch reality TV shows like Ladette to Lady and Snog, Marry, Avoid with. There’s nothing quite like the frailty of the human condition as seen on reality TV that can bring two people watching it closer together. I’m glad there are no records of our running commentary, particularly as neither of us could really cast stones. Matt, in nothing but his red undies, legs strewn over the armrest while also eating half a lasagne, and me clipping my toe nails (I made sure I put them in the bin, don’t judge me) while sitting on the living room bed we pretended was a couch – the irony was not lost on us. God, I miss it.


Mike (was that your name?)

Replacing: Jess

Less than 3 months


The shortest period of time I’ve ever lived with someone who signed the lease. He was an Adelaide boy, who decided to ditch us for super cheap rent in a 14-person sharehouse full of other Adelaideans.


Look, his departure might have also had something to do with something I did. It was an accident, I swear. Jack, my boyfriend and I took ‘a late night shower’, and we accidentally directed the shower head onto the bathroom tiles. The tiny bathroom quickly flooded and overflowed with water, which then trickled down through to Mike’s bedroom and onto his head, waking him. We didn’t notice until he started banging on the bathroom door. My bad.



Replacing: Chloe

2 years


I knew I wanted Raisa to live with us as soon as I read her Gumtree email. She was into a lot of the same things I was, and her message had a good vibe (something that’s immediately identifiable because of all the fucking weirdos who can’t hide their terribleness even in written form on Gumtree). When Chloe moved out we did the sharehouse shuffle: Matt moved into the big room and I moved into Chloe’s.


One night, my boyfriend made a quick dash to the bathroom in the nude. A minute or two later I heard Raisa cackle with laughter. On his way back to my room, auto-pilot had taken over and instead of slipping back into my room, he had opened the door to Raisa meditating on the floor. The following day, recounting the story to Frida, Matt and me, Raisa high-fived me.



Replacing: Mike (Marcus? Seriously, what was your name?)

9 months


Babiche was Catalonian. She was studying architecture at RMIT, and would obsessively clean our house almost every day. It was not uncommon to come home to the strong scent of bleach.


A month or so into living with us, Babiche asked the house if her friend who was travelling could stay with us for a few days. We said: yeah, sure, of course. A month or so later, a second friend was visiting. Could she stay? Yeah, no worries, we said. Then not long after that, a third friend stayed… I’m not even sure she asked that time. Um, yeah, not cool, but ok.


I lost it when yet another friend (the fourth, the fifth? Who knows) stayed with us. An English guy stayed in our tiny TV room on our bed/couch for two full weeks and contributed zilch to the house, despite showering for 20 minutes every day and sometimes eating our food. One day, I came home from work and he informed me we had run out of toilet paper. I was ready to march down the street to get toilet paper just so I could jam it down his throat, but instead I asked him how his day was.


“I didn’t get up to much,” he said. “Mostly hung about here and watched TV.” That story checked out.

“Big day!” I said.

“I did some washing.”


Oh, did you? I thought. Probably with my washing detergent, too.

It had been a long day and all I wanted to do was mindlessly watch some TV, even if it meant keeping up the chit chat with this guy. As it turned out, later I would be grateful for this conversation, because I found out that, actually, he didn’t really know Babiche that well. He had known her only a few months and they met in a backpackers IN AUSTRALIA. Matt and I confronted Babiche and informed her we were not a halfway house for backpackers and could she please stop offering our home to complete randoms to stay. Thankfully, she did stop. Until…


Babiche’s friend

Replacing: Babiche

2 weeks


When Babiche moved back to Spain after less than a year, she convinced us to let her friend stay in her room for the remaining two weeks’ of the month’s rent. He was a bit odd, didn’t speak much English and kept to himself. When Raisa’s sister Nish moved into the room shortly after he left, she started to clear out the room of the things Babiche had left behind and accidentally knocked over a teacup of urine left beside the mattress on the floor. Please note: the bedroom shared a wall with the downstairs bathroom.



Replacing: Raisa (2 months) and Babiche (6 months)


Nish, Raisa’s sister, is some kind of high-powered project manager for big banks. She stayed with us twice – a few months before moving overseas – and a few months before she bought her own apartment. She has lived everywhere you wish you have, and ticked off most major cities, including  London, New York and Amsterdam. I think she’s in Paris right now. Nish always invited me to stand-up comedy nights at the Lithuanian Club. I did not attend even once. I still feel a bit guilty about that.



Replacing: Nish

Approx 18 months


Frida was a friend of Raisa’s from school. When she came into the house, it meant our household was made of a Jew (Frida), a Muslim (Raisa), a Catholic (me) and a gay atheist man (Matt) all living together, in what I think was the most harmonious mix of people our house had ever seen. Frida had recently broken up with a long-term boyfriend, and was giving herself a year of fun to try new things like gymnastics and surfing, and meet new people. Little did she know she would meet her now-fiance – also named Jack – within a matter of months. When they started dating, sometimes house convos would get confusing. Matt joked we should refer to them as Jack 1 and Jack 2 to help differentiate the two. This evolved into calling them both Jack 2 for LOLs, or even better Jack 3, so they would always wonder who the third Jack was.


Jack 2 and Frida now split their time between Indonesia and Australia, being cute and running a small business together.



Replacing: Frida (temporarily)

1 month


Max was a smart guy. He had a VPN before I knew about VPNs and they were the only way you could watch Netflix. We decided to watch Cabin in the Woods one Saturday night as a house. When he was setting up his laptop and the projector, we caught a glimpse of what he’d been browsing on the internet. It wasn’t porn, but it was the Wikipedia page on Quantum Mechanics.



Replacing: Frida

Approx 18 months


Ilya was Frida’s little brother. When he moved in, his room was directly below mine. Our walls and floors were so thin (between the top and ground floor there were only floorboards and threadbare carpet) sometimes I would reach for my phone before I realised it was his phone vibrating and not mine.



Replacing: Raisa

Approx 10 months


My soulmate. I don’t know what else to say except she’s lived with me, worked with me (twice!) and still wants to be my friend – for which I am eternally grateful. I hope we’ll be sneaking beers into Hoyts on a Saturday night to watch Gone Girl until we’re old biddies.



Replacing: Sinead

6 months


Sam was a Kiwi, doing Honours in history. One morning, I visited the bathroom and discovered someone had left a small, smooth poo on the corner of the bathmat. I refused to deal with another person’s literal shit. Surely whoever deposited it there would see it, be mortified and clean up after themselves. No one mentioned it. No one owned up to it. The shit remained there for four days.


To be clear, I’m 100% certain it wasn’t Sam, but I think the poop was the limit for her. We both moved out shortly thereafter. I bought myself a new bathmat.




In 2015, I had to move back to Geelong to live with my parents. I’d been made redundant and was burning through my savings fast. I’d called that North Melbourne house my home for seven years. When I left, I almost expected a gold watch and a plaque installed in my honour. But of course, it was nothing so ceremonious. I was out within a month, and replaced by a Greens activist. I didn’t event take my kettle with me in the end.


Now I live alone in my own one-bedroom in Carlton North. My friend Brodie described it best when she moved into her one-bedder: “It’s great! No one is EVER home.” Even so, a little piece of my heart will always fondly look back on that house – teacup urine and all.


A year ago, Matt told me Loris had invited everyone at the house to Christmas drinks. “I wonder if she’s had these every year and we were just never invited,” he joked. After the drinks, Matt messaged me: “OMG. Loris just admitted to stealing our rocks.”


As I put on my shoes, I hear again the voice of Abu-Umar, Sheikh One-Sermon as we called him, claiming that a white couple once converted to Islam because he was an honest used-car salesman. They were so astounded by his honesty that they demanded to have him over for dinner, and over months, he opened their hearts to Allah and they came into the Ummah. I tell Idiris this story when he comes to pick me up. Do you think it’s true? Idiris scoffs. That man is confused, he says. I recently read a book written by a foreign-correspondent who covered Uganda during Idi Amin’s era. He said that the dictator had this curious force of presence whereby you immediately believed him no matter what he said, and that whatever he said sounded eminently reasonable. I recognise a polite version of this quality in Idiris. I’ve always believed him, and his opinions are instantly my own. Hold on, he says, I’ve got to step into my house.

He pulls up at his place on the corner of Hogans and Tarneit Road, heads inside, and emerges a few minutes later wearing his Richmond Tigers jumper and chewing some roti. Idiris’ beard is getting long, and his hair is wild and thick as barley. We’re going to be late for… should we just skip it? He looks at me, starts the car and we silently agree to get high instead of going to class. We had one subject together at uni, and we had mutually arrived at the determination never to go. When are you moving? He asks me. Tomorrow night, you’re coming round to help still, right? I look away as I say this. I want to open my body up to him but he pretends not to know that. We both do.

There was an Eritrean kid we knew, Obie. He had a habit of calling people ‘blood’ and ‘fam.’ What up blood? What up fam? He had gone to the UK one summer and came back with blood and family on his lips. I pay attention to the way people talk too much, and I justify this by wringing meaning from it. For example: blood and family are one, but you call someone ‘blood’ and that’s different from calling them ‘fam’ and that, too, is different from ‘bro,’ or ‘cuz’. I called Idiris ‘bro’ but he always referred to me as ‘Ahmed’. I think he recognised that I relied on him too much. I think the distance was slightly deliberate on his part. I think he was making room for another kind of closeness. In the years to come we will drift apart and reconnect and drift apart again and again, in perfect un-meditated confusion.




Three years ago when we were fifteen, Idiris came over to my house; we were planning to go to the park and meet up with Shitsy and his mates who had some booze and Idiris asked to borrow one of my shirts and undressed right there in my room and there was a small, brief moment where we gazed at each other with knowledge, that he knew exactly how I gazed at him, and our knowledge was united in shame. I move on from that thought the same way I move on from my discomfort whenever I am caught in his gaze now and feel that I can’t help but agree with him, because helplessness is a learned trait, and shame is a learned trait, and ignoring both is also a learned trait. I forget everything except these small charged moments: the looks, the heat, the snatches of conversation.



It’s high-noon and I don’t know where the sun ends.

The roads—straight and joined at the knees by roundabouts—remind me of a long-limbed insect. Houses line up on both sides, squat and unassuming and new. Idiris, roll down the window. Okay, he says and he blows his smoke outside. Bro, you’ve got to stop smoking all the damn time. I know, he says, but his eyes say, what can we do about it? Allah wills what Allah wills, and Allah wills his servants to smoke sometimes. He smokes Grantas’, my dad’s brand. For the rest of my life I will always reify the emotional weight of my friends and lovers by their smells, and when I think on this I will remember this moment, so long ago now, in the car with Idiris, with his scent and my dad’s scent mixing together in confusion, and I realise that smell is my alphabet and my Qibla combined. Here is my son: twenty years from this moment, he will smell to me like a boy from high-school, Moey, who wore Lynx Africa like a cloak. It will make me uneasy and I will make my displeasure known to my son, who doesn’t know any better. And here now, is Idiris, who smells of incense and dust and Grantas’. My father doesn’t even smoke anymore: he quit when I was nine.


On our way to The Bakery, Idiris decides that we need to eat, so we stop by the Maccas. We do our thing: go through the drive-thru to order, but then park the car and eat inside. We started doing this years ago because it’s faster and more comfortable. ‘McDonalds is actually in the real-estate business, not the burger business,’ said Mr. Morgan, our High School P.E. teacher, once. He had read it in a self-help book. In the flatlands of outer-suburban Melbourne, the golden arches are the tallest thing around. Mr. Morgan would probably have something to say about that too: something about how a visual identity imposes itself upon the land and upon our minds in the same way: about how the body is a map and maps are representations, interpretations, imperfect analogues to reality. He always had little pearls like that to share. He had read a lot of books, more than I have, though the quality of his reading was questionable to me at times. He always had the air of someone who was ready to be deceived.

As we walk into the Maccas, Idiris pulls at my sleeve. Look who it is. I look up: it was this African kid. I couldn’t remember his name, but I knew him. He was friends with Dini from Wyndham Vale. He had a scar running down his face that seemed wild to me. Idiris walks up to him and they shake hands. He had a white girl with him, his arm around her waist. There’s something in the way he was possessing her that was at once familiar and uncomfortable to me. When I am older I will learn to pinpoint this sense as a hyper-awareness of the intersections of identities, about how black masculinity would always be oppositional and instrumental to white femininity. I would think about these constructions when I walk down the street with a partner, white, or a friend, also white, and catch the glances of white and black folk alike. I would notice how I tend to dismiss the gazes of white people but burn with a closely related species of shame under the gaze of black people. Once, ten years from now, Idiris would call me and say, ‘are you going to marry her?’ and I would say yes, and he would then reply, ‘You know, Frantz Fanon had a white wife.’

After they say goodbye to us, Idiris tells me that the white girl used to date Ibrahim, who was seeing this Somali girl now.


Idiris eats pensively. I’ve been having these dreams, he says. I am in a car, snaking through a road in the dark. My high-beams illuminate the trees shooting up from right onto the edge of the road as we ascend. Do you remember that time we went to Lorne? It’s like that road. And in that moment a truck full of schoolchildren screams into my vision, lights blinding me, and my car soars off the road into a ditch and fills rapidly with water. I drown right there in the driver’s seat, still buckled in, looking calmly ahead.

I ask him if the dreams are always the same or if they change sometimes. Idiris thinks for a moment. Sometimes my hands are still gripping the steering wheel, and other times they are folded neatly in my lap, he says finally. I look outside: a fire truck screams past Heaths Road. Something dad once told me resurfaces. I must have been five or six, and he was walking me to school. Over the pedestrian bridge, we watch an ambulance with its sirens on snake through traffic on Boundary Road. It’s bad luck to see an ambulance, he says, and he tells me that it’s a reminder that someone, somewhere, is having the worst day of their lives. I think about my dad’s words every time I hear a siren. I always circle this moment, this specific thought.

The dreams definitely mean something, I told Idiris. He shrugs and finishes his burger.


Along the way we pull up for a fire truck to pass us, another one. We later catch up to the trucks along Derrimut Road, near the cricket oval where we had Eid prayers. A large house burns vigorously, and traffic has crawled to a stop as one lane is cut off by the fire trucks. A small crowd gathers on the median strip as Idiris parks the car. We’re checking this out, he says. We stand at a distance for a while, as if gathering the sufficient amount of curiosity and nerve to come closer. The air is smoke and fumes, and a woman on the phone ahead of us sputters and coughs. The firefighters move about with an agility that contradicts their bulky outfits. Many of the people watching, like us, stood aimlessly, as if they’d been struck in the head. A red-headed woman in cutoff jeans walks in circles nearby, staring at the fire with wide, disbelieving eyes. She has a bright blue top on that says, ‘Bossy’, in pink lettering. She’s in my line of sight, directly in front of the burning house, such that my eyes keep slipping from the house to her and back again, and she must have sensed my gaze because she turns towards me. I look away, overcome. What’s up, says Idiris. Nothing, I reply. A man walks toward us, shirtless, holding up a large phone. His hairless body bulges in the heat of the day. His face rises and falls as he sweeps the scene with his phone camera, taking in the firefighters, the paramedics, the crowd, the television news van. It’s a big one, he says to us. Idiris nods. Anyone caught in there? He asks. The man shakes his head. That place has been vacant for a while. Check out the ‘For Sale’ sign out front. Probably an insurance job hey? Idiris is thrilled by the implication of foul play. I can tell he is running the scenario through his head. It’s a big house, vacant, worth a lot. We stand around for another half-hour, as the firefighters manage to contain the blaze. The crowd disperses quite quickly after that, though the shirtless man remains, and he and Idiris fall into a lurid commentary. The man, Shane, is convinced that it’s a suspicious fire. I’m a sparky. I could rig the place up to blow in a second, he says. I catch a glint of his eye from behind his sunglasses. Seen it happen before. It’s a modern house—it’s not going to go up in flames unless you want it to. Shane is deeply tanned, with thick arms and a large southern cross tattoo over his shoulder. His right arm is darker and more weathered than the rest of him. I could almost see it, his driver side window open, his elbow jutting out the car door. Long days spent driving from job to job. I recognised something in him I wanted—a lack of pretense, a lack of shame. He did not pretend that we were the same.

Later when we got back into the car, Idiris turned to me. I bet he was the one who did it, he says. Once we escaped the traffic, it didn’t take us long to get to The Bakery. The Bakery was a small carpark behind an old Great Leap Childcare Centre. The company that ran the centre had gone bust years ago, due to an unsustainably mad period of expansion, and only these derelict buildings remained, each fully equipped with toys and playground equipment and brightly coloured posters still visible inside. The carpark, a large secluded slab behind the centre and surrounded on all sides by a fence, with a park beyond that, was the perfect place to get high if you were a kid from the suburbs who still lived with their parents. Abshir was there, in his old beat up commodore, and we pulled up next to him. He got out of his car, into ours, and he sold us some weed. Like me, Abshir was from Flemington, so when he got in we also caught up on things.

The week before I had learned from my older brother that this Vietnamese kid we knew, Alex, was now in a mental hospital. Abshir also knew Alex: we went to primary school with him, and his family lived down the road from us. He burned down a shed once, and got on the nerves of every teacher, but I never would have pegged him as, you know, a hospital case. I tell Abshir the story.

They’re experimenting on him, he says immediately. They give people some fucking crazy medication to keep them like sheep, wallahi bro. I remind Abshir of the time Alex burned down the shed but this didn’t deter him. Remember that fat guy on floor five who used to scream at people in the lobby? Remember how he was taken away by the police and when he returned three months later he never spoke another word. Completely silent.

What did they do to him? Idiris says, and Abshir replies that it was obvious they gave him injections. Trust me bro, they’ll do the same thing to Alex. Idiris says nothing, but I can tell he agrees with Abshir.

They’ll only take you away if you have no family, I say. Abshir replies that we don’t know even half of what they’re capable of. I remembered reading about things like that, where they kidnapped people and experimented on them, but I thought that was in the past. Abshir returns to his car. I’m alone with Idiris again. Have you started packing yet? he asks. No, I haven’t even bought any boxes, I say. I’ll come round tomorrow morning and we can go to a self-storage place and buy some boxes. You won’t need many. Your house is completely empty.

A silence settles in the car, and I try to think of something to fill it with.

I almost wish Abshir was still here, talking up vast conspiracies. Did I tell you about how I once almost drowned? I say to him. Distracted, he doesn’t answer for a while. When was this? He eventually asks.

I must have been eleven or twelve. My brothers and I had snuck into  the North Melbourne swimming pool one night. It was one of those gross nights you get when summer is at its height, where you almost forget what it was like to not be hot and sticky. My older brother helped me over the fence and as soon as I touched down on the other side, he let me go and took off his singlet. A few moments later I heard a splash. My younger brother also ran off in the direction of the pool. I hung out on the edge of the water talking myself into diving in. I wasn’t a strong swimmer as a child, I had always feared the water, I don’t know why, and my brothers knew this. They began taunting me from the water, encouraging me to dive in. I could barely see, and I couldn’t hear a thing except for my brothers’ voices. Even the sounds of the trucks and cars on Arden Street conspired with the darkness to obscure my senses. I jumped in, surprising myself, and immediately I was swallowed by the water.

What happened? Idiris says. I shrug. I don’t remember much of what it was like, except that my older brother pulled me out and took me home, making me promise not to tell our parents about it. I take my glasses off and hold them in front of me, inspecting the lenses for marks. They’re absolutely clear, which doesn’t feel right. You could have died, says Idiris. I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it that way. The sun is setting, and Idiris turns the music up a little louder. I feel like I’m floating. He lights up a cigarette and passes it to me. You always know what to do, I say. He gives me an abbreviated smile as I breathe out a cloud of smoke. When it clears, he is looking the other way, his hands folded neatly in his lap.

Hoppers Crossing

Suburbs are living stories. They have a beginning, or several beginnings, depending on where you start. Characters appear and depart. Things change: an arc.

A suburb is retold again and again, like mythology, made constant and new­.

One story about Hoppers Crossing rests on the name. The old road from Geelong intersects with a train line running southwest from Melbourne. Stephen Hopper and his family lived on a farm nearby, minding the railway gate for more than 30 years from 1875.

It is a tidy tale, rather self-contained. ‘Ah, so that’s why it’s called Hoppers Crossing’. The story might well end here.

But Hopper was also a labourer, who had arrived in Victoria in 1856 from a village in Dover, England. He was then in his early 20s and presumably came for the gold. He went on to marry and have 11 children.

Other names in Hoppers Crossing point to settler history. The roads Heaths, Hogans and Morris are named after farming families. Baden and Powell Drives are named for HL Baden Powell, an ex-shearer who subdivided land for housing in the 1960s. He was a fan of the Richmond Football Club, so many of the streets in this estate are named after players, including Jack Dyer, Frank Hughes and Kevin Bartlett.

There are far older stories than these.

This is Woiwurrung country, land of the Wurundjeri.

For time immemorial, the clan Kurang-jang-balluk lived east of Werribee River and up to Kororoit Creek. Their name refers to red earth, the colour of the volcanic plains of Iramoo.

After the first disruption of British colonisation, the remaining members of the Woiwurrung joined other Kulin language groups at Coranderrk in 1864. This broke cultural protocols that had been tended for many generations. But they made something of themselves there, until being forcibly displaced again in 1924. This is a Hoppers Crossing story – about its first refugees.

On street signs, ancient words now stand next to or across from foreign names, a kind of subterranean cartography. Mirambeek (mine), Moorillah (pebbly ridge), Tandarra (camp), Wynarka (stray).

In the wider district, there are places named after Aboriginal people or animals. Truganina, for Palawa woman Truganini. Mambourin, a Barrabool man. Balliang (bat), Cocoroc (frog), Parwan (magpie). A lexicon of the land, without which stories about it would be incomplete, too simple.

Here is another story about Hoppers Crossing.

On a wedge in its heart, a Catholic parish, a Pentecostal church, a masjid or mosque, and a Sikh temple are within walking distance.

This isn’t the start of a joke, but reality. People can live together, if we let them.

At the metropolitan fringe where waves of new arrivals find their way, the old institutions are a comfort. Faith communities are a port of call for refugees and migrants, but those communities also benefit from the new arrivals. Christian churches, for instance, may have shrunk in certain pockets of Victoria, but they thrive in places like Hoppers Crossing.

At the local masjid, which is named after the mother of Jesus, those who attend Friday prayer are not so different from the Catholics who go to Mass on Sunday. They converge from many parts of the world. There are notable communities of Filipinos, Indians, Karen, Maltese, Maori and Sudanese in the population.

Hoppers Crossing is a vastly different suburb to what it was before Powell offered land for housing. Back then, it only had a general store to its credit. It wasn’t until 1970 that a state primary school was established. Today it is a significant commercial and educational hub, with nearly 40,000 residents. It is rather young – 49 per cent of the population are under 35 years old.

In all this, perhaps the name captures the suburb more than it first seems:

The calamitous collision between Aboriginal peoples and British settlers. The railway that delineated modernity. The passage that brought refugees and migrants to new lives. The intersection between people of different creeds and origins. The trajectory from unremarkable locale to regional centre.

There is no such thing as a single story.

And because suburbs are living stories, it may well be that Hoppers Crossing may yet be told in a new way.



Rush of ascension, to know this
kind of high—height—&
falling, the sky’s
pulse yours,
this lift & freight: ‘famed
aeronaut’ three times
thwarted: days of rain a weight
in canvas & silk, until—

[May 17, 1890]
—the balloon made of Irish linen & measured
                        75 feet high; 156 feet in circ., w cubic
capacity of 70,000 feet

Lick of wind, salt, palm
leaves heavy under
sun, each shadow some
improbable tether, so that

—finally the parachute, the top of which affixed
                     to hang limply partway up—
—Having at this point attained an altitude of
             est. 5000 ft., & seeing—

there’s only possibility—
a sharp turn & dissolve,
light swept under
lashes, strand to lip

surge of wind, cirrus,
gleam of isthmus,
as though you might fall
in shards, glancing

—beneath her, Mlle Viola parted company
           with the balloon—

Kick to shore, then—
water reckless, teasing
your eye in threads of colour, glint
of bauble, string

                              —a graceful and somewhat rapid parachute descent
                                                                By means of a little swinging— 

to this stretch of jetty, glassed-in
carousel & contested
Xmas tree, silver
surface of glamour

breaking, breaking
stone to shore to stretch
of pale beach, knot
of weed & edge

—she soon got beyond the possibility 
of a ducking in the bay—

cuttlefish, bone
quartz strewn strip,
painted posts brilliant
white as brides.

So to land: green
crescent of peppercorn, bud, blue
stone banks. Not the death
of nerves, your body yours as yet—

                           —eventually the parachute 
                             with its fair freight alighted— 

not breathless, exactly, not
like that; some senseless
rapture. To be under the sky, now
out of it—

                                                                        —in Pevensey Crescent, close 
to Bell’s Terrace—


Notes on the poem: the italicised lines are taken and adapted from archival sources as well as the book A passion for flight: New Zealand aviation before the Great War – Volume One: Ideas, First Flight Attempts and the Aeronauts 1868-1909 by Errol W. Martyn, Volplane Press, Christchurch, NZ, 2012.


City of Whitehorse

On a cloudy Tuesday in October, Coral waited on the platform at Blackburn station in the same salmon-pink pantsuit she had worn to Mac’s funeral six weeks earlier. Though she had worried that someone might tell her it was an inappropriate outfit for the occasion, despite being his favourite colour on her, no one had seen fit to criticise a widow after all and today it perfectly matched the handbag that fit her notebook, a sandwich, a bottle of water and, out of habit, two muesli bars. When the train pulled up and she walked on board, no one put their hand out to steady her when it lurched before she sat down.

It was only one stop to Nunawading, where she walked to the industrial estate, passing the desolate smokestack surrounded by rubble and an expanse of grass and dirt. Every month since he retired, Mac had walked by here with a velvet bag of gems to sell to Graham Northumberland, a man, Mac liked to say, who paid little and gave away less. His store was tucked between two warehouses and had bars on the windows; when she opened the door, the handle came off and she dropped it in surprise.

“You watch yourself now,” came a rough voice from a dark corner. “This is a fragile environment.”

She bent to retrieve the handle, adjusting to the light and finding Graham’s face behind a metal desk, carved into an expressionless mask. “I’m Coral McEwan,” she said. “My husband was Joe McEwan.”

“All right,” he said.

“I just wanted you to know that my h-husband has passed away.” She had practised it, this line, as she brushed her teeth in front of the mirror. “I’m here to take his name off the mailing list.”

“All right,” he said again. “I’ve already done that.” He picked up a tattered clipboard and showed her a thick black line through a name. “I saw it in the paper. You’ll be getting rid of his lathe, I expect.”

“I suppose so,” she said. She hadn’t thought about it.

“Not worth anything,” he sniffed.

Coral, who had lived through months of Mac’s research, said, “I think it might be.”

“Only worth the postage,” he said. “I could take it off your hands.”

“No thank you,” she said.

“I can still reach you at the same number?”

“Please don’t,” Coral said, backing away. “It’s too soon.”

“Tomorrow then,” he called as she left.


The train was quieter this time, and she sat gratefully on a seat. In the three minutes before arriving in Mitcham, she got out her notebook, crossed out 1. Precious Things, and sighed.


Upstairs at Tall & Trim, waiting for someone to answer the bell that rang when she came inside—the door handle stayed intact this time—she wandered to the floor-to-ceiling windows and looked down at the people walking along Mitcham’s main street so carelessly, as if no one had ever died. Eventually, a young man she didn’t recognise came out from behind a doorway she had thought was a change room, and said, “I’m sorry, do you have an appointment?”

“No,” Coral said, and held her breath before saying: “I’m here to let you know that my husband, Joe McEwan, has passed away.” No stutter now, she thought. “Phillip made his suits, so I would like to take our address off your mailing list.”

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” the young man said, his hand on his chest.

“Yes,” Coral said, because it was a statement that had no good response.

He whisked open a laptop so flat she’d assumed it was a placemat. Coral added politely, “He liked Phillip’s suits a lot.”

“I’m sorry that he’s interstate on business this week. I’ll be sure to tell him when he returns.”

Coral pictured this young man telling his boss someday, when he remembered it: “Oh, old Joe McEwan died,” and Phillip saying, “Who?”

“No, that’s fine,” she said, her hand already on the door again. “Just fine as it is.”


After a muesli bar on a park bench out of sight of Tall & Trim’s windows, she caught the train to Mont Albert and walked the long way to Whittaker’s News & Papers, down the leafy streets they used to walk with their children, where they’d play who-lives-in-the-house: princesses in the turrets, dragons in the double garages. Behind the counter at Whittaker’s, a woman with spiky teeth said to her, “Why would we be handling the newspaper delivery for a house in Blackburn?”

Coral blinked. There was a cough behind the post-its.

“Well, we used to live near here,” Coral said.

“Well, you don’t now, do you?”

Coral opened and closed her mouth, unable to answer this question. She thought to ask Mac to speak up for her, but before she could there was a strange whiteness—the shop began to shift sideways—feet scuffling—a gentle hand guiding her elbow—and then she was outside on a park bench, sitting next to a teenager who reminded her of her grandson.

“Barnaby?” she said, even though she knew he wasn’t.

“Thomas,” he said.

“You look like my Barnaby,” she said. “It’s the nose ring. And your pants don’t fit, but it’s on purpose.”

He laughed.

“Did I have a moment in there?”

“A little one. Can I call someone for you?”

“Mac,” she said. “But he died.”

“So I heard.” He smiled at her. “I’ll go in and get you a glass of water.”

“No need,” she said pulling out her water bottle. “I’ve got some here.”

“That’s a relief,” he said to her. “I don’t really want to go back in there again. I stole some TicTacs,” he added. “Would you like one?”

“Very much so,” she said.

Thomas walked her back to the station, but she refused his offer of accompanying her further, and he refused the ten dollars she tried to give him for being kind.

“Your husband died,” he said. “That sucks. Go buy a beer.”

Instead, she put it on her Myki card and caught the train to Box Hill. At the Town Hall, she sat on the grass and looked over the crisp white building while she ate her sandwich and watched the students walk by, holding hands and laughing. She thought: don’t tell them to savour these moments together. If some old biddy with an egg sandwich had told her that when she was young, she would have laughed at her.

Every week, Mac would come home from the library with an armful of crime fiction and say: “Can’t knock you off until I’ve done more research.” Now, under the air-conditioning, the woman behind the counter cancelled Mac’s card and said the word “sorry” in every sentence. Coral left before the single tear hovering by the woman’s eyelashes fell and ruined her composure entirely.

Later, after a wait and a bus and a hill, at the Burwood caryard where they bought the brown station wagon Coral had christened “Peanut”, the salesman reached for her with icy hands and told her that, taking their customer loyalty into account, he could get her a very good deal on a much smaller car: “An automatic.” While she didn’t actually like driving Peanut very much—it was spacious, but hard to park—she withdrew her hands and told him with the coldness of his that all she required was that he no longer send any leaflets to their address, thank you.

Down the tram line at VicRoads, she waited patiently in her chair, grateful to sit again in a seat that wasn’t moving, stretching as her podiatrist had instructed. When her number was called, she sat opposite a woman with a bright frizz of hair and told her, “I’m here today to change my car’s registration from my husband’s name to mine. I have his death certificate here for you.”

“Oh, honey,” the woman said, reaching past the glass partition to pat her hand. “What a terrible job for you to do. Let’s get this done quick-sticks so you can pop up the road for a big, restorative slice of lemon meringue pie, what do you say?”

Coral didn’t know if it was the woman’s kind face, or her mention of Mac’s favourite dessert, but all the tears she hadn’t cried that day fell then, on her pantsuit, on the desk, on her carefully collated papers. After summoning another employee and instructing them sharply to finish the paperwork, the woman strode around the counter with a packet of tissues and said, “Oh my, what a day it must be. I think you could do with a hug.”

And Coral took it.


A driving instructor named Truong dropped her by the 24-hour Kmart on his way to pick up a student, staunchly refusing the money she offered as payment. She found a café in the complex and, in front of her pie, got out her notepad and crossed out 6. VicRoads, then wrote underneath: send staff recommendation letter to Vicroads. After she picked up the crumbs with her fingers, she crossed out 7. Acorn Nursery. She had never been one for the garden; anything good that came out of the ground was entirely on Mac. Still, they might send some handy advice in those newsletters. At the very least, they would have the number of a good concreter.

A bus to Springfield Road took her to her final destination: the chemist she had been avoiding too long. To get there, Coral had to pass the GP clinic where she had driven an anxious, unwell Mac, and it was there Peanut had sat for almost a week afterwards, abandoned, until she remembered where it was.

The proprietor of the chemist was a triangular woman called Hazel, and as Coral approached the counter Hazel brushed her hands on her front and said to her, “Oh, Mrs McEwan. We were sorry when your doctor notified us that your husband had passed away. We took the liberty of cancelling his prescriptions.”

And that was it. She even used Coral’s own phrase, passing. Coral stared blankly at the counter and recalled, suddenly, the time that Hazel caught Mac sorting through the jellybean packets for the one with the most black beans, and scolded him like a naughty child.

“Well,” Coral said. “That’s that then.”

“I hope we’ll see you soon,” Hazel said.

It seemed, Coral thought, like a curse: who would wish medical misfortune on someone? “You will not,” she said, and crossed her arms. “From now on, I’ll be taking my business to somewhere that doesn’t tell off customers for touching the jellybeans. Good-bye.”

As she stalked away from Hazel’s sharp intake of breath, Coral passed the teddy bear by the front door with the sign around its neck saying “WE LOVE OUR CUSTOMERS!”, and tipped it on its face.


At home, she put her feet in a bucket of warm water and called her local newsagency on the cordless phone. Yes, they handled the newspaper deliveries for this address; yes, they would cancel them; yes, they would send her a bill for the remaining amount. They didn’t ask why, and she didn’t tell them.

She felt buoyed enough by that to listen to the message on her answering machine. “Carol,” Graham’s voice boomed, “Just calling about the lathe. If you tell me when you’re next in, I’ll come pick it up, save you the postage.”

When the throbbing in her feet subsided, she went outside to look at the lathe, and the bench stacked with little drawers. Rough rocks were sorted into a mysterious order, and when she switched the machine on it made such a sound in her home’s longstanding quiet that she jumped. She leaned against Peanut’s bonnet and watched its steady whirr for a while before opening one of the drawers and placing the door handle she had inadvertently pocketed from Precious Things inside.

Inside, she returned Graham’s call. “Listen,” she said, “It’s Coral McEwan here. I’m keeping my husband’s lathe, and you are going to get your thickest texta and cross my number from your clipboard, then never call me again.”

Before she went to bed that night, she checked Peanut’s oil and looked up the weather forecast. There was a gem shop, she knew, up in the Dandenongs; maybe they could put her on their mailing list. Maybe they even gave lessons. Tomorrow, after all, looked like a good day for a drive.


It was always on. Every summer. The soundtrack of the holiday season coming from a small television in the corner of the lounge room. Even in non-sporty households the Boxing Day Test at the MCG was compulsory viewing – or at least it was compulsory to tune in, like somehow it was understood that it was the right thing to do; sure, you didn’t have to watch the actual cricket, but it had to be on, a presence flickering away in the background.

As a child growing up in Adelaide I spent most of Boxing Day outside, playing my own form of test cricket – epic contests around the Hills Hoist with my brother. When we came inside (and walked past the adults who’d camped in chairs all angled towards the small screen) it was only to eat, and to keep tally of our game on the notepad on the fridge – one column for ‘wickets taken’ and one (fiercely debated) column for ‘classic catches’.

Every year we’d be back at the MCG – or, more precisely, the MCG would be back inside our lounge room, and although the sounds coming out of the commentary box weren’t as sweet as the mythological Sirens, the lure to be there for the first ball of the Test was just as strong.

Then in 1982, while still not quite a teenager, I watched on as Allan Border and Jeff Thompson ‘almost’ (it still hurts me to write that word) pulled off the greatest of great escapes against England (think Steve McQueen busting out of Colditz and Alcatraz in the one night).

Going into the final day we were 9-255, chasing 292 for Ashes victory.

Nobody had given us (in sport it’s always ‘we’ and ‘us’) a chance. The TV was turned on at the start of play, and my brother and I did the unthinkable: we stopped our own summer-long game. Here we were, on the floor, front row seats, grown-ups behind us, all glued to the television. All of us experts, all of us running our own commentary, all of us locked in as the final pairing chipped away at the diminishing target. They couldn’t – surely? All of us adding to the ratcheting ball-by-ball tension in the room. It was the first time I can remember being so nervous that I had to remind myself to breathe; at the end of every delivery gulping in big lungfuls of air, looking around the room and seeing sets of wide eyes and wincing faces, me shaking my head at my brother, here we are, here we are bearing witness…

The fact that England won by three runs hurt, but that wasn’t important – the theatre, that shared wild ride, that almost impossible victory had left its mark.

That was the moment for me.

From then on, the MCG was more than just a sports stadium – it held a deeper meaning – something special. It was a part of the festive season; it was part of the Australian summer, part of Australia and, by extension, a little part of me.

As a girl I had no idea that I’d end up working as a sports journalist and documentary-maker living in Melbourne, or that the MCG would become my second home.

I’ve been there so many times, both for work and as a fan, that its layout is hardwired into my head.

I’ve sat in the ground with my people (Adelaide Crows fans) and I’ve dined in the mahogany-paneled Committee Room. I’ve sipped champagne in the (formerly men’s only) Long Room; I’ve been there when the stands are empty and watched the ground staff meticulously prepare the turf for cricket, football and concerts; and I’ve just stood in the middle and taken in the 360-degree view (and given myself a secret little pinch).

Although it’s become familiar to me, I still get a little tightening of the stomach when I take the walk through Yarra Park to Gate 2. I suppose that’s inevitable though. The release of butterflies and the squeak of adrenaline are a memory reflex for two of the best days of my life: two Adelaide Crows’ premierships, back-to-back, 1997 and 1998. And to make it all the more sweet, both years we were underdogs, Bonnie and Clyde-style roaring into town and stealing the Cup, while I danced for joy in the Ponsford Stand.

Even through adult eyes the MCG has lost none of its aura.

But what comes up must come down. As much as this is a love story (of sorts), like all great love stories there is pain and suffering.

We’re told it’s not winning that shows your character but rather the manner in which you handle defeat … I am not a good loser, at least not in the comfort of my own home where I’ve been known to launch cushions into walls and barricade myself in the laundry after a close loss.

And I’m still working hard with my therapist to expunge the memory (the horror, the horror) of being at the MCG on 30 September 2017. “We were the best team all year. But not in the Grand Final … Why do I put myself through it Doc? What happened to our ball movement?”

Fortunately, most sports lovers have the dual traits of long memories and boundless optimism. My beautiful MCG, you might have let me down this time, but you know I will be back. I don’t have a choice. We’re stuck with each other, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer. I’ll be back to chase new memories.

Bring on season 2018.


Merri Creek

Tully is standing in line with the other girls. Since signing up she’d been told she would be relocated at the next community meeting.  A few days ago she had travelled to the station with a group she didn’t recognise, headphones in, eyes unfocussed, hoods up. On the short bus ride they passed new demolished suburbs, busy with hazard uniforms. Biodegradable plastic plant guards flapped around dying seedlings in neatly fenced off lots. Hope Station was built on a narrow strip of land where the back opened to the Merri Merri. The front of the station welcomed visitors to a solid pine community hall, and it made Tully think of environmentally sustainable retreat advertisements and primary school camps. All the buildings tucked in behind were flimsy airless demountables.


That morning Tully walked out of her dorm to see white policy officers wondering around the station.  She could tell someone had told them to dress casual. They were all wearing polo shirts with various department slogans like ‘Decolonise Now’ and ‘Article 10’. Finally, doors moved and a frowning customer service worker lets them in the hall. A registration desk with more polo shirts fills the front space. Tully waits until she gets waved over. She gives her customer registration number and watches while an assistant taps her details into the screen.

“I see you signed up to the Work for Restoration program last week.”

“Yeh I suppose. They told me I had to sign up to get my payments.”

“Thank you for your commitment. You are our future,” he says flatly. “Here are your relocation papers.” Handing over a stack of forms he quickly turns over pages showing her all the different places where she has to sign. Tully starts reading and the officer becomes agitated. Cold air con shrinks the room Tully tries to concentrate, restless bodies keep inching the line closer.

“You can read the papers over there” he snaps, pointing to some cardboard booths lined up against the wall. The assistant avoids looking at her, nods to next in line.

“I don’t understand. It says that I am relocating to Wurundjeri country, but my mob is from NSW.”

“You have been relocated according to the Article 10 Agreement.”


Tully reads the disclaimer at the bottom of the forms.  I understand that by agreeing to the terms and conditions of my relocation I waive the right to any other forms of future compensation under Article 10 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. A few rows up Tully sees a girl crying and refusing to sign the forms.

Two protection officers move in and everyone watches with heavy silence as the girl is pulled towards the emergency exit.

It reminds Tully of the time orange head curly coppa pulled out pepper spray and called her a cunt. She watched them bounce her friend’s head off the ground, useless legs couldn’t move. She was stuck to the bitumen for ages after the red and blue lights were gone. Tully hears the girl yelling now. She sinks into the square patches of grey government carpet and signs. The assistant smiles strangely for the first time and stamps her papers. He tells Tully to line up again and wait for the welcome. She stands with the rest of the newly relocated women. A video link starts loading on a projected screen.


An older man is sitting behind a large desk staring directly at the camera. He’s wearing an office shirt but Tully can tell he’d be the type to wear RM Williams boots. There are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags displayed on gold flagpoles behind him. Congratulations on your relocation. I am Assistant Protector Williams. I am honoured to welcome you to your new home, Hope Station. Through your dedication to country we have hope. Hope for a future. Hope to slow the devastating ecological impact of our species. After the landmark Agreement for Article 10 was signed we have been working hard to implement the new policy.


“What the fuck is this gub talking about?” someone yells, chucking a dirty reusable coffee cup at the screen. The video feed continues.


The right to just and fair compensation for land, enshrined within the Declaration, was legislated by all levels of state, territory and federal governments. In good faith, after extensive community consultation with your leaders, the standard of free prior and informed consent for relocation has finally been achieved. You are now among the first Aboriginal people to return. You are our future.


The cup thrower protests to no one in particular “I’m only here cause they stopped my payments and signed me up to this poxy fucking card.” The audio cut off and the room hums as the video loop loads and starts again.


Congratulations on your relocation…




It was grey and hot under the bridge. Tully knows he is gonna be late. She scratches the letter ‘T’ into the base of the wide concrete arch. Things were different at the creek lately. No plastic bottles and wrappers caught in sprawling rotten branches now. Just clean water.  Last time she was rotated on the collection team the discoloured filmy water was low. The station suspended collections after that, said it was contamination. She only returned to the creek cause she started breaking out at night. That’s how she met him.


Rubber tyres crunch over gravel. Tully watches him drop his bike and swing his backpack off one shoulder. He is real neat, Tully thinks. He is wearing black air max 95s and poppers. He grins at her showing his crooked front teeth.


“Protectors on the lookout tonight or what?” he asks.

“Nah big day planting kangaroo grass out on the new demo burbs. Everyone is resting up for sure.”

“Alright then,” he unzips his backpack and pulls out a Gatorade bottle complete with a cut off piece of hose sticking out. “Just cleaned her out today too.” He points at the murky bottom.

“You know we not allowed plastic, anyone sees it they’ll be more mad about rubbish than the yandi.”

He coughs out smoke and grins again handing her the bong, generously offering the rest of his bowl.

“Go on then.” Tully grabs the lighter.

She didn’t much like the feeling but it was worth sneaking out of the station. Getting around fences, talking however she wanted. That’s why she met up with him.


“Ay. Look at my eyes, are my eyes ok?” His voice was slow. She flicks the lighter and gets real close to his face. Tully nods and laughs through her nose. She moves her hand over his and passes back the Gatorade bottle. Pushes up against him, moves his hand down between her stomach and the top of her jeans. His lips taste like smoke and gum.

Bursts of static noise travels over the water. Tully looks towards the bend in the creek bed.

Light was moving up and down in the distance. A spotter was sweeping the area. “Come on,” he lifts his bike, one foot resting on the pedal. Tully steps on the stunt pegs and grabs him around the shoulders. He takes off skidding towards the creek trail.


They ride until they reach the edge of the grasslands. Tully squeezes his shoulder and he slows down.  Coming around the bottleneck they stop at high fences and security gates. Solar LED light bounces off yellow flowering seedlings.


“I’m not staying,” he says.

“Alright.” Tully jumps off the bike and he rides away with one last crooked smile. She walks up to the gates and looks through wire. Only protection officers can access the murnong. Freshly demolished suburban plots had been turned into mandatory murnong restoration areas. Tully hated Hope. The girls have to work on restoration fields all day.


She steps back and takes a running jump at the fence climbing upwards. Not so gracefully she flops her leg over the top, tummy squished against wire she rolls her body over and climbs down the other side. She walks over to the shed and grabs a digging stick. Randomly she starts attacking the fields turning out tubers and throws them over the fence. Tully can see spotter lights in the distance again. She doesn’t stop. She doesn’t care anymore. She wants it to end.


Two protection officers had already reached the security gates.

“Stop what you are doing” yells one of the protectors. Tully saw he’d pulled out the stun gun.

“I’m stealing ya murnong ya dawgs.”



Hope was growing into a floating demountable island of relocated women. Polo shirts were roaming around the paint blistered station making sure their recommendations from the Department of Hope and Relocation had been implemented. A new concrete access ramp had been built out the front of the hall, finally. New relocatees now got bamboo cotton tote bags and insulated water bottles. Sometimes there were recycled rubber wristbands in tote bags, the red, black and yellow wristbands were imprinted with the words: “”


When silence settles over the house once again, Farya quietly opens the door to the boys’ room and watches them sleep through the crack. The covers have been kicked to the perimeter of the bed, carving angels out of the sheets. Farya stalks into the room and lifts the doona back up to cover their bodies. She stops and sits with the peace they are enjoying now. They hate it when she observes them, whether they’re asleep or awake, the same way she used to hate her own older sister watching her play in her imaginative worlds as a child. She would rush to her bedroom door and slam it shut as soon as she caught wind of being watched, throwing her toys to the ground and ending her fictions for the day in a huff. Her lips draw tight in a purse. How quickly life sneaks up on you like that, she thinks. Closing the door to their room, she walks down the hall, picking up the boys’ debris as she goes. As usual, Arjan’s hot rods are sprawled across the floor. It looks like the cars have crashed, flipped and fallen away from the plastic motorways. Arben’s Happy Meal animals are more consolidated towards the end of the hall, facing each other in a circle, as though holding a conference. When she reaches the kitchen, she begins the process of packing away dinner. The nuts must be covered in cling wrap, the rice must be scraped from the bottom of the pot and the salad will barely be edible tomorrow.

She wants to believe that Amir will be home soon, that he will be hungry and apologetic when he returns, but she knows better. He could be at his brother’s house playing tabla with the men, he could have gone out with his coworkers and forgotten to tell her, his phone could be dead. But experience convinces her otherwise. Not knowing is easier to digest. Of course, the less respectable possibilities will return to haunt her later in the night, after she has washed up and changed into her night gown, when sleep evades her. These are the nights when the ambiguity makes it manageable. She is far more lonely on the rare occasion that she and Amir are both awake in bed together at the same time, when the children are asleep and none of her efforts to cajole his lust summon anything but resentment. “Farya,” he warns, furrowing his brow towards her wandering hands. “Enough.” He rolls over and she stays motionless for a while, paralysed by the silence. When Amir finally begins to snore, Farya flips herself and gets comfortable, while the conversation they don’t have hangs tensely between them like the foiled punchline of a joke.




My buzzer goes off. The sound interrupts a grotesque dream where I’m running through endless grids of dark and windy trees. It takes a moment of lurching dread before I realise the sound isn’t part of that paranoid landscape. I reach over to the floor beside the bed and fumble for my glasses. My phone tells me it’s 5:15am, right about when the last clubs in Melbourne disperse. I walk over to the intercom and, without pausing to inspect the screen, accept the visitor into the building and unclasp the door’s lock. The nice part about this new apartment being so small is that I can get from bedroom to door and then crumple back onto the mattress again before my eyes adjust to the light. Besides the asymmetrical blue evil eye hanging from a nail above the front door, the walls are uniformly white and largely unadorned. The kitchen and living room are conjoined, separated only by the dull-green linoleum floors beneath the sink, oven and fridge that surround the entrance hall. I am half-asleep when I hear Amir creak into the apartment, kicking his shoes off and dropping his car keys on the bench. The fridge door opens, humming, fluorescent. I hear the snap of a plastic tupperware lid, probably the leftover kofta chalau from the other night. Though I can’t see him do any of this from the bedroom, there is something safe about its familiarity, how welcome someone else can feel in your home.

The weight of his body sinking onto the bed wakes me a second time.

Besides the white jocks, all his clothes are strewn across the floor. He stretches his knees around my legs at the foot of the mattress and slowly crawls atop my body on all fours. It is clear that he has been drinking, and his movements are more lumbering than graceful. I feign sleep, amused by his attempts to arouse me. I can feel his dick hanging down loosely in his underwear, newly unencumbered by shorts, tracing the length of me from the bottom up and getting harder as he rises to greet my face. There is no need for clothes between us, especially in the heat of these late Summer nights. “Janum,” he says, teasingly. I can feel the grown out stubble from his beard tickling me as he kisses the soft of my neck.

“Janum,” he says again, now closer to my ear. He presses his pelvis down hard on my body and holds me taut against the bed for a moment. The groan he makes from the back of his throat rumbles, and I meet its urgency with a gasp. I roll over to unfurl my legs around him. He sinks onto me and I raise my head to meet his lips. For a moment, between the grind of thrusts, we lock eyes, and start panting as the pace of our sex escalates. I am driven to aching moans. We do not exchange many more words. Soon, the fervour of his need will recede, the reality beyond this room will set in and he will disappear once again.




A well-visited memory is like a castle whose gates are fortified with fabric. The moat is shallow, the draw bridge opens without fanfare, and the grand hallways are oiled by the passage of time. When Farya finally turns the house’s lights off for the night and slips into bed, the darkness cloaks her in a sense of possibility. Her eyes discern only the faint edges of nearby surfaces, and she is suddenly a woman of anywhere, free again to paint the night with the script of her fantasy. The betrayal and abandonment that sticks to the walls of the house fall away without light. Somehow, alone in the bedroom, the warmth of her own body underneath her fingers is enough to awaken her desire. Closing her eyes and leaning into her fantasy, jealous thoughts of Amir relent. Soon, her mind returns to Hamid.

The first time she remembers him she was fourteen. She had wandered into the outskirts of her parent’s property in Ghourian, a rural district outside of Herat filled with pastures and hills that back onto the Heray river, which travels from the mountains of Central Afghanistan to Tedzhen. Locals didn’t need fences to understand the boundaries of mine and yours. In the Summer, the trees became ripe with fruit and made perfect hiding spots for the village children to disappear into for hours at a time. Friends found each other after helping their families with the day’s work and played until dinner, if they were lucky. She first spied him by the edge of a creek at the foot of some rocks, where a smaller stream was cascading into a pool of jade green water. Breaking free of the tree line, she bursts right into the stillness of his rest. He kneels down in a squat, cupping water into his mouth with both hands. When he sees her, the rest of the water spills out of his hand and he gets up. They stay there, observing each other from a distance. He is thinner and shorter than Farya, who is already well within her pubescence, and his cheek bones slope high over his face. Tired of watching, Farya hops over the rocks at the foot of the pool. She climbs over them and into the hills, judging from experience which rocks are sturdy enough to hold her weight.

Behind her, she can hear Hamid following and calling out for her to stop, clumsily sending rocks down the hill as he climbs. Her feet are nimble and quick, and she quickly gains distance on him. Soon, his laughter fades out of earshot and she hides behind a large rock face jutting out from a knoll. She is panting and the anticipation sends adrenalin coursing through her veins. When he finally catches up to her hiding spot, she jumps out from behind the rock and wrestles him to the ground. They jostle their weight back and forth and roll over the small patch of grass between rock forms. Somewhere in the cheerful cries of joy, Farya pins Hamid beneath her and taunts him playfully. They catch each other’s eyes and the competitive air shifts. Farya feels something grow beneath her open legs and lowers her body down onto it. Whatever it is feels good rubbing against her. With one hand, she reaches into his tombon and grips the firmness of his cock. The weight of it surprises her, but she holds on tight, unclear on how to reciprocate the stimulation she feels from its touch. With her other hand, she grabs the back of his head and presses his face into her chest, grinding it onto her breasts.

Excitement erupts across their young bodies. Something about this is wrong, but they are far away enough from home for it not to matter. Farya moans from the perch of her marriage bed and caves into her wetness, pulling her underwear down and sliding her fingers over her clitoris. She returns to this memory often. It is a complex form of lust because, as much as she fantasises for Hamid, the desire is also tied up in another longing, one involving pre-war Afghanistan and the innocence of that time in her life. Little did she know that, while a mischievous girl was coming of age, warlords were already scheming in the mountains nearby, and the Soviets were planning their invasion. Just another Bollywood storyline, she thinks half-heartedly, interrupting her own moaning to laugh. Except, this time, the privates aren’t covered and the endings are real.




As the sun begins to rise, the heat of the day creeps in through the curtains and the bedroom starts to bake. I lay awake, listening to Amir’s loud snores. His nostrils flare with each exhale and I feel his lungs expand and deflate under my face. A layer of moisture has developed between my ear and his chest overnight. For the first time in months, we lay together in bed for hours after sex, tangled up in brown limbs and drenched in each other’s sweat. The furry black hairs covering our bodies stick together in the heat like dark dandelions when we touch. This morning, the fan is turned to its highest setting. It whirls above us, slicing the warmth from our bodies and sending shreds of recycled air careening back into the room. If it is already this hot, the day will likely be scorching. I trace the crest of Amir’s bicep lightly with my finger, shepherding moisture back and forth with each rub. My eye socket is nestled snugly onto his collar bone and his fingers are interlaced behind his head, suggesting a relaxation that his eyes always betray. Always, it is his eyes where I find him hidden, in his eyes that he is longing most, even at the point of orgasm, for something else. Something I cannot give him.

Normally, the gulf between us reappears and cleaves us apart right after he cums. It is a certain kind of cruelty that, like clockwork, the moment of greatest proximity, where we pour our lungs into each other, is followed quickly by a resentment so searing that he can’t bear to look me in the eye. As soon as his breathing levels, he will rise and shower immediately, as though the ejaculate bares the heavy burden of his shame. Perhaps there is less to be ashamed of in the Summer, when everything is dripping wet. I smirk at the thought. Without sex beckoning, the entwinement of our bodies holds a more intimate form of sexuality, one far more illicit in its taboo.

My arm is wrapped around his hairy chest, like a rib bone banished from his rib cage, pulling the girth of his torso closer to mine. I am aware of the desperation of this gesture, aware that it does nothing to change our situation but, at the very least, I want to prolong this tenderness. For a brief moment, I feel rage coursing through me. Rage that I’ve paid such a heavy price for my sexuality, fled war and persecution with people who now dispute ever having a son and dare not utter my name in community, while Amir still has a wife and family to return home to. I look outside my apartment window at the intersection leading into Dandenong city and struggle to swallow. My muscles tense up for a second, seething, but it is too hot to hold rage in for very long. The sex is done, the bridges are burned, and, for now, Amir is still here beside me in bed. Count your blessings, Wahid, you were one of the lucky ones.

I lift my head and look up at Amir for a moment. He is preoccupied with the fan’s cyclical motion, which sends miniature ripples of wind running over the beads of sweat on his forehead and through his curly black hair. Slowly, I sink back into his chest and resume the work of imagining a life together, mapping out the steps involved in divorce and custody. I could help him pursue the legalities of separation and he could move in with me and we could start again, I think. If only it were that easy. Eleven thousand kilometres away from Herat and the social codes upholding reputation immobilize the Afghan community of this tiny diaspora. Back home, at least the Afghans were more straightforward with their position. You could discretely fuck whoever you wanted and never needed to come out as anything to anyone. There was nothing to come out into. In Australia, with so many faggots around and on TV, we can forget, if only for a moment, that openness doesn’t belong to us. When I walk down Thomas street now, past the carpet shops and the halal butchers, the metal shutters from the stores snap shut behind me and I hear my name, Wahid, chasing my heels down the street. My throat is parched all of a sudden. This may very well be the best it’s going to get for us.




The next morning, the boys’ spring onto Farya’s bed. They jump under the covers and toss them to the side with quick sweeps of their legs. It is finally the Saturday they have been anticipating all week and they are reverberating energy. Farya stirs but remains half-asleep. Quickly, the contact between the boys devolves into a scuffle.

“Madar, Arjan pulled my hair, even though you told him not to touch it.”

“Arjan, you promised you wouldn’t pull on your brother’s hair,” she says, then scolds them both. She looks down at herself and realises her nightgown has risen up to her hips overnight.

“But Mum, the boys at school say long hair is gay, anyway.” The boys resume their trademark wrestle, toppling anything that comes in the way of their warpath and falling from the bed to the floor.

“Don’t ever say that word in this house, or I’ll call Mrs. Singh and tell her to forget about driving you to Pranjeep’s birthday.” The sharpness of her voice is startling, and it impacts the entire room. The boys clamber off each other and up from the floor, smart enough not to push back. She doesn’t have the heart to pull such a stunt and, regardless, the day off will be a welcome relief. The boys don’t know this, though, which means she is doing something right. They sulk quietly out of the room almost as quickly as they arrived.

This is not the first time Amir has disappeared, and it hasn’t even been a full day. During the worst of their fights, he will drop off all communication platforms for days. As soon as he logs in once, and becomes a visible green dot on Messenger, the end of the episode begins, and the coaxing starts from all fronts. Together, Farya and Amir’s sisters will launch a combined front to search and return the doting but misplaced husband to his devoted family. It is these collaborative search parties that have brought Farya closer to her sisters-in-law, united in their resistance to Amir’s independence.

As the sounds of the boys resuming their squabbling picks up again from downstairs, Farya tries to think back to the exact point where Amir’s absence became a staple to the family’s diet. When did the boys stop asking where their father disappeared for days at a time? His absences used to contain themselves to weekends, but in the last year they’ve started stretching out into the working week. His bosses will catch on quickly, assume a bad drug habit and send him right back to MAX Employment.

When finances get tight, his sisters step in without asking, overestimating how much the family needs to survive. They come to the house in the afternoon for tea, timing their arrival in the liminal space between meals so that no food can be offered. They greet the boys, update Farya on the gossip of the global Afghan community and, right as they leave, at a point Farya has yet to properly catch, one of them will slip an envelope with cash under an object by the door, as though paying her to keep quiet. Though she’d never say so out loud, it is clear that Amir’s relationship with his sisters has always been strained. They treat him like he is a time-bomb waiting to explode and Farya has been tasked with the unfortunate duty of managing the fallout.




All of a sudden, the buzzing from beside the bed resumes. It is late afternoon now, and the frequency of the calls has been steadily increasing all day. Amir rises occasionally to check it, and returns to bed each time. The rectangular patch of light appears beneath the folds of his upturned pair of khaki shorts and we both brace ourselves, hoping for the short interruption of a text. The vibrations continue. He wrenches his body out from underneath mine and my arm peels off in the wake of his movement. Amir holds the vibrating phone in his hand, contemplating the call.

Undoubtedly, it is Farya again, begging him to come home, pleading for the husband she was promised, the educated and diligent family man who grasped her waist tightly at the grand hall in Narre Warren four years ago and posed with her for wedding photographs. In one swift movement, he answers and starts speaking in a hush, reassuring his wife that he is safe, as though they haven’t had this conversation countless times before. Hearing the concern in her voice is enough; it is always then that, with a sigh, he caves.

Farya will not ask questions about where he has been all night and all day. She will not enquire about the stench of liquor clinging to the starchy collared shirt he is gingerly buttoning up now, phone held loosely between ear and shoulder. She will not inform the children that he was spotted at a nightclub on Peel street last night by an Afghan taxi driver, one of many who patrol greater Melbourne and feed information back into the community. She will not ask Amir about the text messages she knows his sisters sent, dismantling his resolve in the way that only family can. She will, however, prepare the meal he criticises least, sabzi chalau. As soon as the call ends, she will take the spinach and the meat out of the freezer and defrost them under warm water in the sink. In an hour, she will start chopping the meat and boiling the spinach, and it will be ready for him at home when he returns.

Finally, at dusk, when his car etches into the driveway, her spine will jerk up and she will call out to the boys to come greet their father. Arjan and Arben will rush to the door and greet Amir affectionately, as if he has been away on a work trip. They will tug on his shirt excitedly, shooting news from Pranjeep’s party up at him. He will scoop them both into his arms, spinning them upside down and over his shoulders with ease. She has raised the kind of sons who will suspect misconduct using their own minds one day, and they will come to resent Amir for making their mother the other woman in his life.

Tomorrow, when the kids are at school and Amir is out and she finally has the house to herself again, she will sink onto a dining room chair facing out onto the pebble garden outside.

She will dial the familiar number of her older sister and break down over sobs that she inhales in the same breath as they emerge. She will plead for advice about how to tether her husband to the family they created together, and the instructions she receives will not work. Her sister will mutter her name repeatedly, but she will not hear it, because she is tired of listening to her name spoken at her by others, and even more tired of not being heard when she says it to others herself.

All of this runs through my mind as I watch Amir collect the last of his belongings from the floor. I’ve created an entire fiction to stand in for everything I don’t know about Amir’s home life. I hate her for having him, for not letting go. The truth is, neither of us can claim him completely. I scan Amir’s face, and I can almost see the strain in the heavy bags underneath his eyes. The evil eye stands guard above the doorframe, privy to every struggle, every bit of our sordid business.

“Amir, you don’t have to go so soon,” I say, as he reaches for his keys on the bench. Usually, I surrender to the inevitability. He looks as startled as I feel.

“Janum, you know it’s not that easy.”

“My mother is sick, worse than usual. She might not have long to live. I think I need to go back to Sydney and help look after her.”

Amir is quiet for a moment, processing the information. Then he looks up, catches my pleading gaze and nods his head. “Let me know when you return.”

He turns around, opens the door, and walks out into the evening, letting a wave of heat into the apartment, before the door slams shut. In truth, I haven’t spoken to my mother in many years. The last time I visited her, she spent the whole time scurrying around the house, cleaning the surfaces until they gleamed. I avoided asking uncomfortable questions and she did the same, both of us vowing to preserve ourselves with distance. I guess if she really was approaching death, it’s possible I might find out through whatever slivers of community I’m still connected to. Four years and eleven thousand kilometres later, this is what I have to show for myself: a barren apartment and the ghosts of a family I have chased but never known.



If there is despair here, it is of the manicured, medicated variety. Windows glint in the sunlight, there are lovely nature-strips. I wander down to the oval where I played football for several years with the Balwyn Tigers, for it’s around here that my memories of the suburb seem to coalesce. It’s school holidays, there are very few cars on the roads. A couple of kids wearing brightly coloured dastaars run around in the playground with their mother. I haven’t been here in more than thirty years. The old clubhouse, the road, the grass. It’s all the same, it’s different. The small hill where I received my Best and Fairest award, which was a plastic trophy with my name misspelled on its little wooden base. Mick, our coach, always wore a grey mackintosh and told us to do our best and have a good time even if we were getting flogged by ten goals.

The sun is hot and I stand by the boundary line for a long time.

There’s the sky, muscular clouds to the north. A shirtless man sits in the middle of the oval while his little dog runs around in circles yapping. Two couples play tennis on the adjacent courts. One of the women chastises herself for a blunder and her voices carries across to me like – what? – nothing, really. I suppose I am yearning, like everyone, for a revelation, a glimpse of The Wizard behind his curtain. It’s this place, I suppose, right here, from where I might have made a different life for myself. But nothing comes. An oval where I played football a long time ago. The shouts of boys. A wall against which I used to hit a tennis ball by myself on Sunday afternoons. The trophy is long gone, of course. Ah, memory – that ruined palace. Chris Nomersley. Yes. I was here.


The house replays Nan
her circular patterns of speech,

like the living room caught wind of her

lineage and wanted to listen in

There are mid-century pallets on floors, and garish colours that pale

everyone who enters becomes a witness
to automatic narration

A name is a gift, I think. I appreciate the filial ceremony of it.

I can even impart it to a friend, like the way you fulfill things mid-sentence, half believing it and then
believing it, in totalising abruptness

Bev had spent a long time making histories and names with her mouth before we all came along, assigning them to us – the babies of her babies –

housed in sandstone and cucumber-coloured cement,


And then she made them more carefully

She probably can’t remember the last visitor she touched. Anyway, she knows many other vital things – how blankets are padded in the cupboards, the cupboards, the way
groceries line the streets so privately, tinctures of objects hitting hard aluminium,
bowling clicks and taps and the belts her friends wore on their birthdays, & that
people all become divisible after a time

In her head she knows everything right. In her head everything knows her right.
What do I know?

All information is lived, all those threads symbiotic, pragmatic. She remembers minutiae more than anyone else can – knows exactly what the Belindas and Aprils’ of undesignated anniversary parties did at 3:45am 16 years ago, and the way their hair was pinned up, the trichotillomanic expression the women kept. This is the small town ecosystem at work, teaching


That body means more, and does more, than just operate,

even if she had to coax the stories out of herself, a woman of unspecific age, a dragonfly in a
sea of men offering their sentences unsolicited,


Whether in Bendigo or Bairnsdale. It’s possible that once she might have been a girl but it’s hard to prove. Maybe she’s two women, coming to life in my personal scripture.


When she goes, so will all the spoken histories – no parchments here, only bodies.


It’s kind of a cliché now to talk about how you can’t afford to live in the city you love or the city that made you or the city you need to be in for things to make sense. There’s just no point in dwelling on it. Things change. Mostly for the worse? Feel free to disagree.


The way I feel about Brunswick is old news. Was old news. I’m pretty much over it. It’s just a place I was in and around for a while. Now I’m somewhere else. It’s changed, but so have I, and so have you. Whatever. You think you know someone, and then they go get a job in finance.


In the early ’oughts, there was a milk bar on Union Street. Before it closed down it was where you could buy one-dollar singles while in school uniform. The air inside was thick and dank, and it smelled like maybe they were always boiling offal out the back. I’m pretty sure it’s medium-density housing now. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.


There was also a pub half a block down that apparently had topless bartenders on Thursdays. ‘Titty Thursdays,’ I heard from two boys who swore they had witnessed the living breasts themselves. Did they hire young, beautiful women to bartend on Thursdays? Or did the regular bartenders just take their tops off for one shift a week? It was not the kind of pub I imagined beautiful young women worked at, but I could be wrong.


Anyway, now it’s a gastropub.


Still, I don’t know which is better, or which is worse.


One morning before school I was smoking a one-dollar single outside the milk bar when the principal drove past in his 1970s Toyota Corolla. He honked his horn at me.


Shit, I thought. It’s over.


He was a hard man in charge of some pretty wild teenagers and was known for making the tough calls, expelling the unexpellable. During first period, my name was announced over the loudspeaker followed by Please report to the principal’s office. So I slunk into his office, which was famous for being the only air-conditioned room in the school, ready to be let go. But he barely looked up at me, and just uttered in a chilling tone of unquestioned authority, ‘I’ve received the petition, and we’re going to go with the new tape. So you can let it go now.’


He was referring to a petition I had created to get grip tape installed on the outdoor, unsheltered, aluminium stairwell on the side of the B Block, which became a terrifying wet ’n’ wild slide each time it rained.


So that was his game. Psychological manipulation. He knew that my main priority in life was acquiring teacher praise for civil leadership. My commitment to destructive lifestyle habits was a side-project at best. I had to admit it was clever. But sadly for my adult skin elasticity, it didn’t work. I spent the rest of the year happily wagging Science to smoke in school uniform while pashing my first proper boyfriend at Barkly Square. I was in uniform, but my boyfriend wasn’t, because he didn’t go to school. He was a filmmaker. You could say that after that I spent the rest of my life doing some iteration of the same thing.


This was probably a ‘bad look’ according to most people’s parents, and the teacher who once walked past me in this pose but pretended not to see, but I wasn’t trying to be bad. Or, I was trying to be bad, but only in the highly controlled manner that goodie two-shoeses the world over need to as a measure against developing anxiety and/or becoming corporate lawyers.


The boredom of these years was unrelenting. But then boredom isn’t confined to years.


A lot is made of the transition between being a teenager and being an adult, like Titty Thursdays could be read as a metaphor for adolescence, and gastropub equals adulthood. I reject that. Adulthood is just debt and wrinkles and deleting people from social media because you don’t remember who they are. Titty Thursdays don’t go away when you raise the rent. They just change shape, into something like overpriced burgers.


A few years after I finished high school someone sabotaged the school’s Wikipedia page. They edited it back before I ever got to see the damage, but I heard it was pretty good. Some of the younger kids from school who I saw at the pub told me they thought the digital vandalism had been my doing.


It wasn’t me. That was never me. But I was touched that that’s how I was remembered.


Ramsay Street

On a street that doesn’t exist but does exist – not just in a ‘This Is Not A Pipe’ smug way, but in a you can send mail there and everything, way – live several families who hate each other. They hate each other for reasons that we can’t remember and reasons that sometimes they can’t remember, and for reasons that mean nothing and will never affect your life in any concrete way. It doesn’t matter anyway, because those families don’t exist either. The street is called Ramsay Street, but is also called Pin Oak Court.


The explanation for this is easy, as all the best explanations are. On the night of March 18 1985, a new universe (Ramsay Street, Erinsborough) split from the original cell (Pin Oak Court, Vermont South), forging an alternate plane of existence that runs simultaneous to its parent but doesn’t interrupt it, like two veins running trickles of blood back and forth, side-by-side. The people who existed in the parallel world didn’t realise they were new, because they already had relationships and history and old age and feuds and a nice and carefully nurtured bushel of geraniums growing in their front garden.


No matter what the residents of Ramsay Street think – do they think it’s fishy that the street is named after one of the families who live on the street? Does that mean they know that the street didn’t exist prior to 1985? Or did the Ramsays come over on the First Fleet? Are the Ramsays convicts? My dad once told me his family home in Ireland was built on ‘Stubbins Bend’ but I still don’t know if that’s true – Ramsay Street doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter that people have fought there, kissed there, entertained visiting policemen who stop by with “just a few questions” or murdered each other and hid the corpse in a rose bush there. The place where we store all these collective cultural memories of fabricated, not-true events, is Pin Oak Court. That is the real place, where real people live, because the other place never was – except that it kind of still is. See?


It’s complicated.


* * *


The cul-de-sac of Pin Oak Court is located in the suburb of Vermont South, which back in the 1970s, was the location of the Australian Gun Club – and now is the location of the largest Bunnings Warehouse in the Southern Hemisphere. Pin Oak Court is a flat and wide street full of dignified trees that look like dense green fairy floss, the kind of trees that seem like they came here on a boat from England by request of some governor or other. The imperialist trees are spread out, making them ideal for standing behind and spying on your neighbours from while they have illicit affairs with each other.


There are only six houses on Pin Oak Court.

I read once that an Englishman who owned a private jet company had paid almost $100,000 to buy Toadie’s house.

It wasn’t even the first house on the block he owned – he had already bought The Scully’s house like a decade before. English people love Ramsay Street. Maybe it’s the trees. The houses are all positioned like they’re facing one another in conversation, their red brick faces and surprised window eyes watching each other for signs of misdeeds. I wonder if the residents of Pin Oak Court ever think about what’s happening in each other’s houses. I wonder if they feel really lucky. I wonder if they also take in lodgers and attractive siblings who are down on their luck. I wonder if they watch Home and Away.




Every day, except on weekends and public holidays, you can pay to go to Pin Oak Court for three hours for an ‘OFFICIAL RAMSAY STREET TOUR WITH STAR MEETING’. You can take photos on the street and afterwards, you’ll receive a complimentary postcard. On the Frequently Asked Question section of the website, the tour employees type as if they are already exasperated by your inane questions, even though they are posing these hypothetical questions to themselves.


“Ramsay Street is a real street where ordinary people live!” the website insists, when it asks itself if Ramsay Street is real. “There is no entry into any of the houses!”


“There is only one Neighbours actor (past or present) who will meet you on tour!” they assert, just in case, upon seeing the exterior of the house where Madge died, you experience such ecstasy and greed that you start having frenzied conniptions and demand to see Harold Bishop or ELSE.




Here are a list of things that have happened on Ramsay Street in an order that is not dictated by sense or value: Steph Scully ran down the street in her wedding dress, her veil trailing in the pristine gutter, after she found out during the vows that her sister Flick was having an affair with her fiancé, Steph Scully tried to steal Libby Kennedy’s boyfriends on at least two occasions and almost married Toadie, Steph Scully was arrested for murder, Susan slips on some milk and loses her memory, Susan finds out that Karl was having an affair with Sarah, Susan finds out Karl was having an affair with Izzy, Susan gets back together with Karl anyway, Bouncer the dog has a dream that he marries the dog next door, Harold goes missing and then turns up five years later and tells Madge that his name is ‘Ted’ before remembering that his name is Harold, there was a street-wide competition about who could cook the best sausage, Stingray dies in the middle of a block party to a Hunters and Collectors song, Scott and Charlene get engaged, Stuart Parker joins a cult called ‘Life Mechanics’, Jim Robinson takes magic mushrooms, Dee ‘returns’ from the dead, Toadie lets Lou cut his ponytail and Lily Allen promotes her latest single.




Here’s a list of things that have happened on Pin Oak Court: people arrive almost every day to take photos in front of someone else’s nature strip and pretend to slap each other, Englishmen pay thousands of dollars to own the front door that Toadfish Rebecchi sometimes stands in front of.




The only places that exist outside of Ramsay Street are London and Colac.

The rest of Erinsborough is extremely dangerous. If you go to the beach, you will probably slip on a rock and catch amnesia or drive off a cliff and accidentally kill your wife. If you go to the bush, you will get your foot stuck under a fallen log or get in a car accident and end up wandering around the bush with your newborn baby, only later to die from internal injuries. As far as I’m aware, Vermont South isn’t nearly as dangerous. I’ve never been to the Bunnings, though.


Besides the looming threat of death at every corner, Pin Oak Court and Ramsay Street have a lot in common, which is to be expected from two places that are actually the same place. People move in, live there and die there because that’s what people have done since suburban streets were invented. They settle in these pleasantly dull places and there’s a comfort in it. They build walls that look like a bunch of rocks just fell out of the sky around the perimeter of their property, but still insist on living in clusters. Inside the houses, two families live side-by-side in different realities, one solid and the other ghosts, like echoes of extremely unremarkable suburban poltergeists haunting the cul-de-sac for all eternity.


When I was growing up I lived in seven houses and out of the seven houses, I can only tell you the names of two out of a potential 14 neighbours. I think I could probably name every resident of Ramsay Street from the years between 1994 and 2002, though. These memories occupy a sleepy part of my brain that I don’t often access, because I take for granted that right now, at this moment, there are still imagined families on Ramsay Street yelling at each other for buying a pet sheep or accidentally giving their pregnant sister mushy tea, like a constant and never-ending hum in the background of normal life. Ramsay Street is a construction that nevertheless holds a real place in Melbourne’s cultural memory, even if Harold Bishop never actually lived there. It evokes the same mundane coziness that the south-eastern suburbs likewise ping in my brain; the bus stops, the quiet milk bars and the concrete footpaths decorated with dog footprints and drawings by particularly rambunctious and profane Years 7s.


Pin Oak Court is the vessel for these soothing echoes; that manicured, alarmingly clean street, which is real but still fake, filled with people who also have memories of the unreal and who continue to plant those non-native trees, willing them to grow as if they are a natural part of their surroundings, living in sets of their own making, and sweeping the streets as if leaves never fall there.


My revenge against Wang has been to reduce it to a series of humorous anecdotes. I know just how to tell them.

There’s the one about how the local technical college used to be called Wangaratta King College, which they eventually changed because … wang-king college, you get it.

There’s the one about how I was there when our first and only cinema opened, which is an anachronism that makes city people’s eyes widen like moons.

There’s the one about how Nick Cave got expelled from my high school – and how, with almost artful pettiness, the music department still excludes him from their dingy Hall of Fame because of it.

There’s the one about walking home from a youth theatre rehearsal, and having the Under 21s break from training to yell “POOFTER” and break a beer bottle on my head.

Nobody ever guesses that I grew up in a country town. I don’t sound like I did, which isn’t an affectation I picked up later in life. Even while growing up in Wangaratta, I didn’t sound like I was from Wangaratta. I’ve always sounded nerdy and effeminate, stuttery and cerebral, pedantic and strangely Canadian. Wangaratta, on the other hand, sounds like a Brucks truck hitting a bike. It sounds like a muffled domestic violence call in the house next door. To me, Wangaratta will always sound like a chorus of disbelieving guffaws as glass shatters around you and blood begins trickling down your neck.

There are tactile pleasures to the place too. The furnace blast of hot wind when you open the front door. The slow squishy pedalling of a flat-tyred bike on melting tar roads. The pushy resilience of scratchy yellow grass.

The clean Blu-Tack-coloured concrete of St Michael’s, which my older brother tried to skate on before getting told off by an elderly parishioner in pressed brown slacks. (My brother gamely argued that Jesus would have wanted us to skate.) Three Mile Creek, with its sad floating condoms and quasi-mythic tiger snakes. The duelling milk bars on Appin Street, one of which solid Fizzos while the other stubbornly sold Fads. The Wangaratta Table Tennis Association, filled with the pock of middle-aged fascists rallying under corrugated iron. The rows of single-storey houses, sunk low and wide by the heat. The whole connoisseur’s spectrum of gravel. The sky plastered on your eyeballs. Splinters from the playground.

The truth is: I remember the things that helped me escape from Wangaratta better than I remember the place itself.

I can remember every single route in Pokémon Blue in vivid detail, but can’t recall the names of the actual streets I rode to school every day. I can recite the names of every random Ravenclaw mentioned in the Harry Potter books, but have forgotten the names of most of the kids I actually went to school with. To me, all the bright lines and harsh sounds of Wangaratta faded in comparison to our dumpy beige Amiga 500 computer, with its black-and-red joystick and tinted plastic container of floppy disks, each elaborately hand-illustrated with blue biro supercars and street fighters. Once every few years, our dad went and bought a new shopping bag full of games, all illegally cracked for us by a guy who lived in a trailer at the foot of his mum’s property.

My childhood ambitions didn’t extend much further than one day becoming that guy. Imagine having a trailer all to yourself, I marvelled, and every Amiga game. I stood nervously behind my dad as he paid for the games, not saying anything, taking in the Star Trek bedspread and goofy plasma ball as if it were a vision of unfeasible paradise.

When all your fondest memories of a place are of the ways you escaped it, the place itself starts to flicker and dim. I don’t know how to think about Wangaratta outside of how I experienced it. It’s the place where I was small. It’s the place where I was scared and arrogant and self-involved. It’s the place where I was still trying to be a boy.

This warps my memories in utterly predictable ways. I remember Wangaratta impossibly wide and flat. I remember it unflowering and imposing and impassive. I remember it seething with masculine threat.

People want to think that violence only lives in the moment of it, but it doesn’t work like that. It leers and sprawls across your whole life; it changes the way you hold your books. One night at the Table Tennis Association, I was curled up on one of the threadbare old armchairs, reading Roald Dahl’s Matilda between my matches, and a paunchy middle-aged man came up behind me. He grabbed the book out of my hands – “What are ya reading?” – and the old paperback immediately flew apart into a bunch of different pieces, scattering across the concrete floor. He laughed and said, “Whoops,” leaving me to piece the book back together as he sauntered off.

This was a negligible incident; on the Richter scale of small-town violence, it barely registers. But the analogy between this man and Mr Wormwood, Matilda’s book-hating father, was not lost on me. Reading made me a target, just like it had her. Unlike Matilda, though, I had no power in my eyes (beyond short-sightedness) and no stomach for revenge. I just had to awkwardly hold my copy of Matilda together every time I read it after that, and tighten my grip on my book whenever I sensed someone walking behind me. It took me until a few years ago to even try to unlearn that tic. Even now, I occasionally catch myself doing it.

That’s the sort of thing I keep with me from Wangaratta, toting it through every move of house like my leather-bound folder of Pokémon cards.

There are only a few objects I’ve kept, and they’re a weird group. There’s my brother’s inexplicable ‘Rocklord’ toy (basically like a Transformer action figure, but one that, instead of turning into a car or truck, transforms into an inert rock, presumably striking terror into the hearts of scissors everywhere). There’s a small cheap plastic bear with “JEANS” printed in red text in the place where his actual jeans might have been on a less synecdochic toy. There’s the folder of curiously mumblecore comics my friend Adam and I made about our teddies in grade one, sixteen years before he’d kill himself and I’d avoid his funeral.

Some things you keep, and other things you lose forever.

At five years old, I was crawling under our veranda, inhaling dirt and tears in the horrified search for a teddy I’d never see again. At 11, I was frantically scanning the streets as the sun drained away, trying to find the class guinea pig who had mysteriously vanished on my watch. At 14, in the boozy dusk of a theatre after-party, as everyone else was laughing and singing along to Queen, I saw an older guy I’d admired drunkenly grope a girl my age. I never spoke to her about it. I never spoke to him again.


The last time I headed back, it was for a friend’s 21st. I was able to get a lift with my parents, so I was in the back seat, sunk deep in my book and my headphones the way I’d always been on trips like this. It was late afternoon, and sunlight slanted through the car. I hadn’t looked up once the whole trip. I was going back for a person, not for a place, and I wanted the place to know that.

When we turned into our street, I didn’t look up. When we pulled into the driveway, I was affectless. Only when the car stopped did I stretch slightly, put my bookmark in my book, and – grumpily, dispassionately – opened the car door.

Instantly, the smell overwhelmed me. Before I’d even stepped foot on the ground, it had flooded into every corner of the car: crabgrass and dandelions and dust. Eucalypts and smoke‑stacks and wattle. Horse-shit and bloody knees and boredom. I hadn’t even realised that Wangaratta had a smell, let alone that it smelled like my entire childhood.

I had every reason to loathe this place, but my senses overwhelmed those faculties. It was like a dog smelling its owner after years away. My whole body, inchoately yelling home! Before I knew what was happening, I’d started to cry.

How do you feel nostalgia for a place you never felt you belonged?

Your body does it for you, it turns out. Over your objections, and under your skin. Like a second, horrible, silent heart.