Across Victoria, telecommunications are failing: mobile phones have gone dead, the Internet is unreachable, televisions and radios broadcast only static. And now reports of incredible, weird happenings – strange transformations, portals to other dimensions and invasions of magical creatures – are reaching friends and loved ones. Somehow, throughout all this, the postal network continues to function. Our intrepid 100 Story Building investigators, determined to spread the truth, have collected the following postcards describing examples of these weird phenomena. Please contact us if you find any more!


We’re in Los Angeles, my boyfriend and I, eating cheap Thai food and talking about how much we miss Portarlington. Right around the corner thousands of tourists tread the scummy Hollywood stars pavement, which we (also tourists) will march over once sated. Somehow the glitz and glamour (mess and poverty) of Hollywood doesn’t make us starry-eyed like Portarlington.


It took 15 hours to get to the States, but we long to be where we were over 15 months ago. We’re focussed on our impending homecoming and begin making plans to move back to the bayside town with a population of about 3000, located about 30 kilometres from Geelong. It really feels that, no matter where we are, we always come back to Port.


Even in LA, every cafe we visit we compare service to that at PostScript where everyone knows Toby’s name and order. We laugh when Uber drivers recommend visiting the famous LA beaches —  Santa Monica, Venice —  because why would we go to see subpar shorelines when we’re from Australia?


Hollywood is bustling but the epitome of dirt and density, even though Los Angeles itself is a collection of sparsely dotted laid-back cities that take a car ride to reach. While moving around LA, we’re always looking to be elsewhere. The “SoCal Vibes” (as printed on our coffee cups) are felt, it’s pretty chill. But it’s nothing compared to the daggy nature of Port’s retiree population and the sound of the gently lapping of the water a street away that felt like freedom.




It’s the first time we’ve been to Portarlington. Our friends invited us to stay at their place while they’re away, giving us a break from the hecticness of life in Melbourne and the recent tragedies rippling through our small arts community.


As we drive over a slight hill road, the speed limit dips and we’re on the main strip: two bakeries, one bank, a heritage listed pub and a Woolies that’s replaced the local IGA (soon to be out of business).


We can see the water from the house and spend our time reading, walking along the small shore and looking at real estate websites.


Here rent for a property is less than half of what we were looking to pay in Melbourne for a room. We’re going to move in together, to cohabitate in that mid-late twenties way that loved-up couples do to live up to social conformity but, if we’re being honest, also fiscal responsibility: Why pay off two landlords’ mortgages when you can share one roof? Why travel to be tranquil when you can live there? How’s the serenity?




Why Portarlington, my friend asks with a tinge of disgust in her voice when I explain our plans. I’m instantly defensive: because we love it, we need it. It feels like home, I explain. And for the first time in forever mean it.


Within two-months we’ve relocated from Fitzroy North to the Bellarine Peninsula. It feels like a current carried us to the little two-bedroom asbestos cottage on Clarke Street, which is funny because the water in Port Phillip bay is flat and if I was to break it down, the turning of the tide that lead us here was more a mixture of grief and desperation, displacement and confusion, pressure and the desire for relief.


We relish the walks along the bayside with our newly adopted pups pulling us along. We point at Melbourne and say how little we miss it. The air smells like seaweed and sulfur and a used portaloo but it’s fresh and crisp and we’re not conscious of our breathing for the first time in months. Each person we pass says good morning and we don’t baulk at the prospect, rather bask in it. Hello, good morning, we say back to them. And everything is so genuine and we love it —  will I ever outgrow my academic roots, seeking ‘authenticity’ whatever the fuck that means?


Less than a year later, with two dogs in tow, we’ve moved back to Melbourne bringing along a different kind of grief, one tied to location.

We didn’t want to leave Portarlington, but the call of capitalist duty and debt made it necessary.

I cry as we pack up our place and make the 2 hour drive back to the inner-city suburb of Elsternwick.




It’s 1 January 2016 and my best friend and I are sitting in the flat bay on our flat butts sinking into the flat sand of the Bellarine Peninsula. We’re soaking in an effort to rid ourselves of NYE hangovers. We have the beach to ourselves because even during the peak holiday periods, Portarlington isn’t busy-busy. We had seen in the new year in my large green backyard under a gazebo that wouldn’t fit in any of my Melbourne homes.


Sitting in the water, the sun is hot on our backs with Melbourne literally behind us, skyscrapers reflecting like matchsticks ablaze on the skyline. One of the beauties of Portarlington is the visibility of the Melbourne cityscape: I don’t just feel the distance between myself and the city I no longer inhabit, I can see it. I miss Shaun, my best friend, but he visits regularly and there’s something joyful, like an earnest joy, about being able to offer friends a free bayside retreat.


Twenty-minutes before I get bored and suggest we walk back to the cottage, I wonder why I don’t spend more time in the sea given it’s only a street away from where I sleep. Maybe it’s because I’m not really even a beach person; I hate the feeling of sand between my toes almost as much as I hate my toes. The only time I really think about water and relief is when I feel like I’m drowning and want it to stop which seems physical but is mainly a state of mind.




We’ve been living back in Melbourne for 18 tumultuous months. After a short trip to Los Angeles, I’m back working in the CBD – as in bureaucratic work-work not career-based writing-work. My desk is on the highest floor of a building that looks across Melbourne facing east. I can see all the way to the Dandenongs. From this position, seventeen storeys up, I watch as a haze gathers while it rains over Camberwell while sun glows over Fitzroy and I wonder how much connection to place is a state of mind, something programmed in us. I look out of the window and contemplate whether I have become a cliché, wanting to quit my job, skip town and move back to the water to write, like all the characters in all the rural settings of practically all the ‘classic Australian books’.


During our time living in Flemington, I’ve been sleeping too much and too little. I constantly dream of Portarlington, but it’s never really Portarlington.


I once dreamt we went back to stay at our house in Port, that was never even really our house. And in the dream it wasn’t even really the Clarke Street cottage, in both architecture and design but also because a stranger lived there. We had nowhere to go so decided to pitch a tent on a sand bank. I went for a walk but went too far up a ridge, into the bush (that doesn’t even exist in Port) and was chased away by a large inky creature, part equine, part canine, that was desperate to attack me. When I woke all I could do was laugh at my fear and the inability for my imagination to conjure anything but a black dog. How original.


In waking reality, I know that in Portarlington there are fewer people to fail in front of, flail in front of. I have less obligation to attend that event, attend to this person, attend the needs of a social life. Essentially, I don’t have to wash my hair to leave the house because there are fewer people to avoid at the five-aisle Woolies. But isn’t avoiding avoidance just a step up from avoidance itself? And isn’t avoidance a symptom of depression? How much is this presumed paradise an attempt at a geographical cure, and how much is a geographical symptom?




We’ve just moved to Portarlington (for the first time, hopefully not the last) and I’m driving to St Leonards to pick up a secondhand wardrobe for our spare room. The GPS leads me to one of the many new housing developments in the area and I’m surprised by how young the women are. It’s a sharehouse, she explains as we awkwardly manoeuvre the cabinet into the ute.


Port is between, and feels very much apart from, these places, though towards the end of our residence the developments are popping up; swathes of land are being sold further and further out and the shops next to the pub are being renovated into apartments.


Driving around St Leonards later that day I become distracted by the street signs: “Diver Dan Lane”, “Pearl Bay Passage”, named after the TV show SeaChange that was filmed in the area during the late-nineties. I wondered about how ironic or how genuine this homage was; how many people were inspired by that influential show, how many people moved to these streets, this area, out of fandom or by accident.


Was I one of them? I used to watch it with my mum on the couch, did I subliminally absorb the influence?


The idea of a sea change isn’t new; humans are constantly moving, Manifest Destiny and all that. How often are we on our own odysseys on the sea of life, forever seeking individual homecomings navigating invisible boundaries and borders, personal and political?




Recently Toby returned from a workshop where an established writer discussed her move to Brisbane for exactly the same reasons we moved to Port. The same reasons our friends, who first introduced us to This Portarlington Life moved there. Lol, we’re not so different after all.


As our lease nears its 12-month end, as we make daily plans to relocate to Portarlington again, I wander through Flemington thinking how pretty but how temporary it all feels. The grass, the sea, the trees are always greener; maybe I’m never really trying to escape a place because I can move around forever but no matter the postcode it’s impossible to escape myself.


Venus Bay


In the spotlight of a half-moon, the sixteen-year-old tan Subaru Forester almost looks dark blue. It’s parked between the front porch and a pile of mulch that’s awaiting distribution.

The keys are tucked into the centre console. If necessary, I could get to driver’s seat in a sprint. I know the curves of the gravel road out of here and could gun it without skidding into any of the tea tree on the long driveway. Then all I’d have to do is speed the 10K towards town on the sealed road—not hitting any kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, or rabbits—and I’d be safe.

But what sanctuary can Venus Bay offer me? The one main street is already closed for the night, but someone should be around. Kids congregating for a smoke, retired Mafia characters scanning the road. It doesn’t matter. A living person would be there, at minimum. But the houses out where I am, near the pointy end of the land, are strictly for weekenders, and it’s Thursday.

So there’s just the dog and me for the next three nights, enjoying the gift of a friend’s house. The days are for writing, allegedly. The nights are for relaxing, allegedly. Perfect quiet, my friend promised, and perfect quiet I get. There’s barely enough of a breeze to carry the white noise of the surf over the dunes into this yard.

What if there was a distinct sound? For instance: a knock on the window? Or: the conversation of strangers walking up the driveway?

I lock the front door.

The plan is to think happy thoughts and to not even think about taking a phenergan to get to sleep.

Inside, all is ostensibly cheery. The white tongue-and-groove wall has ceramic kookaburras kingfishers flying around on it. Imagine my blood splattering across them? The fire in the Rayburn is going full force, loaded with enough red gum to go for hours. Ready to burn me, the place, and the peninsula to ash.

The B-side of ‘Young Americans’ is on the record player, some funk to fend off the silence.

Wylie, a kelpie-collie, lays half-off his mat with his chin on the floor. He watches me with mild curiosity, only because his eyes happen to be open.

I nest on the couch, wrap my feet in an itchy brown blanket and cuddle up with my phone. No wind means at least two bars, so I’m not completely abandoned here to die. The Guardian diverts me toward more realistic fears: I browse the usual suspects—civil war, nuclear war or climate emergency—before putting down the phone in search of something more chamomile. From the shelf: I scan the first page of a novel I’ve meant to read—times are hard in suburban Sydney; then the first page of another—times were also hard in medieval England.

I cannot think about focusing because the song “Fame” has come on. The descending distortion near the end as Bowie repeats fame sounds like a mantra, but also, on these old speakers, like a nightmare of falling. He was cocaine jittery then, drawn thin like a zombie, and doesn’t even remember recording it. Not hard to see him dead, his blue bell bottom suit hanging off of him, his sepulchral makeup smeared. I convince myself that behind the music I can hear him limping up the driveway. The song ends and I swap the album for ‘Hejira’.

I rescue a copy of The Good Weekend from the kindling pile and read every word.  My heart is momentarily warmed. I do the quiz.

The dog’s ears spike. He looks intently across the room. I follow his gaze to the across the room. It’s the reflection in the window of me on the couch. There I am in the surveillance monitor. Is this what he’s looking at or is there something on the other side of the glass?

I get up and lock the back door—pointlessly. If someone wants in, this house is far enough from the road that the crack of a door being forced, or glass breaking, or for that matter, any scream I might be able to scream, would not carry to the next property—which, as has been noted, is unoccupied.

A Scotch is justified. Wrapping myself in the brown blanket and carrying the shot glass like a binky, I survey each room, closing every curtain and shade as I go. There: I can’t see the car or the woods or the shifting crowd of people outside.

To the outside world, however, my shifting shadow is backlit against the curtains. A short study should be enough to assure a blood-hungry Bowie or a hopped up ice addict that a home invasion here would be a cakewalk. Why anyone would get hopped up and come out here to commit a crime is a mystery. A mystery that makes the prospect more unsettling.

What I do know is this: the sharpest thing in the house is the bread knife in the kitchen. Even with my steadiest hand though, it couldn’t slow down the drug-fueled, or, my luck, the undead.

As per the fire plan, I could flee. Assuming whomever it is is composed of matter and chooses to push in the front or back door, I could stay alert enough to unlock the opposite one and escape into the bush. I have enough knowledge of the paths and clearings to hide out until the threat is gone. Assuming I don’t startle the copperhead that lives around here. And assuming my would-be assailant doesn’t have red-eyed night vision. Or the ability to smell fear.

There’s a chainsaw in the shed. I try not to think about what I will do when I hear it suddenly grind into action.

Realistically, this whoever is most likely the wombat in the hole near the barbeque, whose main interest is drinking from the water bucket on the porch. This is the only sort of home invasion that will get a rise out of this “working” dog.


I grew up in New York City on the ninth floor. At any hour of the day there was traffic, sirens, airplanes and helicopters, the thumping of neighbours and the shouts from crazy people on the street below. Cocooned in that nightly hum, I could fearlessly read Stephen King, and lose myself to the array of horrors that befall a person alone on a chilly night in the empty forest. The spoiler, learned from every story: The forest wants you to think it’s empty.

I part the curtains. No face on the other side of the glass. The car is still ready to go. Unless my assailant gets to it first.

I check my phone. No Service. Great, nuclear winter.

No panicking, no. The cloud of fallout would take a while to get here (and me with only a few day’s worth of pasta).

I turn the lights out, one by one. At least my movements won’t be visible through the curtains anymore.

When beckoned, the dog follows and curls clockwise twice before settling onto his burlap bed, adjacent to mine. I have deployed hot water bottles strategically under my doona and pillow. The tenets of good sleep hygiene dictate that I don’t even check mail, much less The Washington Post, before tucking my phone more than an arm’s length away. Yes, it shouldn’t even be in the room, but—safety first.

I switch off the last light. Not even the neon light of a standby mode button to be seen.

Wylie is snoring. How did he drift away from me so fast? I am alone.

Possibly the oddest of the Watergate conspirators, G. Gordon Liddy, wanted to conquer his fear of lightening when he was a child, so he sat in a tree during a thunderstorm. He was also scared of rats, so he caught and ate one.  Surely going to sleep in a warm bed with a dog at my side should be survivable.

I came here with a fantasy, that I could be at ease in the bush, gloriously free, while all around me the nocturnal and crepuscular bushland go about their evening. The possums in the gum trees, the kangaroos and wallabies nibbling the grass almost out of existence, and the owls keeping lookout. Every now and then they notice the smoke coming out of the chimney, give a helpless smirk. Foreigners.

With my head between two pillows I can’t hear the silence.


The hot water bottles are no longer hot and the house is still dark. The phone tells me it’s four, which tells me nothing of use

I wrap myself in the blanket. The floor creaks its middle of the night creaks as  I lead Wylie outside to pee. More clouds have moved in front of the moon. What was dark blue is grey. Wylie understands the purpose of our mission and follows me to the lemon tree at the top of the driveway. We pee together.

And then he trots off down the driveway.

I call, but he’s on the scent of something good. Summoning all the gravitas I have, I command him to come back. He gives me a courtesy glance before darting off the road into the woods. My next call is a notch more anguished and is met with the cracking sound of him running through the woods. I walk under the canopy of tea tree until the world is all shades of black. At the spot where Wylie left the road, there’s a kangaroo track. Wrapped in the blanket, I lean over to peer into the low gap in the trees. After a few feet, it fades to black.

I call again. No response.

Finally, here’s the clarity I’ve been waiting for: I am the ghost that is haunting these acres of Gippsland. Whatever I was afraid of before I went to sleep has already happened. The burglars who didn’t even mean to kill me, the snake I surprised, the meth head who got jittery with his knife, the army of dead Bowies. It turns out my death was painless. All I know is I don’t have to go back to the house because there is nothing there for me. No more terror at the setting sun. No writing to do in the morning.. From now on I will wander, barefoot and naked under my blanket, searching in the darkness for my dog.



Her back hunched as she stepped gingerly through the slip of water on the sandbar. Tea tree tannin had steeped the river in amber and you couldn’t help admiring the dark ginger fox on a ground of golden liquor.

Why did I think of you when I saw the fox hunting mullet in the river shallows? She must have been engrossed in her work because her coat was damp and she’d ruffled it into feathers to protect herself from the cold. Her back hunched as she stepped gingerly through the slip of water on the sandbar. Tea tree tannin had steeped the river in amber and you couldn’t help admiring the dark ginger fox on a ground of golden liquor.

The only awkward posture in the scene was the way she hunched her back, whether as reaction to the cold or coiled to pounce on fish I couldn’t tell. She didn’t seem pleased by my sudden appearance but refused to look at me directly. The insouciance of vixens.

She would endure my presence simply because she was unwilling to waste the investment in her hunt. I was hunting too and knew how she felt, the intensity, the coiled energy, the hope.

I felt guilty for having imposed on her radiant quest. I passed on the opposite side of the river guiding the boat through the shallow channel that hugged the melaleucas and wattles growing on the bank. I looked back at her when I could take my eye from the navigation, fascinated by her high stepping stealth.

And I thought of you. Once again it took me days to return your call and you probably think I’m rude or neglectful, but I try to avoid the telephone as you know and my attention is so thoroughly in debt to the river, the insistence of its life.
The mist was thick at dawn. It hung like the gauze curtains you see in the back rooms of some old hotels where any welcome is reserved for the public areas. The old forgotten rooms where guests would stay in more prosperous times are left to decay, to shred, to dream old tattered dreams. The river mist wreathed in frayed drifts like that grey gauze of disappointment.

I had to peer into those old shabby rooms to find the river banks and the landmarks I used to follow the channel in the sandy river’s course. At last I could make out old Geoff’s fence. He shot himself last year. I wish he hadn’t. Took it bad when he had to sell the farm. The town blamed her but I’d seen them only a month before he died. Fishing together. They seemed happy. But how can you tell? Was the fox insouciant or careless? I chose the pride of insouciance because I’m just an observer, as distant from the true workings of a fox’s brain as I am from the motivations of most humans. Just an intrigued observer. No other gift than curiosity.

I loved Geoff. When I returned prodigal to the rivers after twenty five years away Geoff was delighted to see me and I clung to his welcome. He sat me down to remind me of a cricket game we’d played together thirty two years ago.

Geoff loved his cricket and loved talking about his two game career. In Geoff’s version of events his contribution was vivid, not overly embellished, but his ordinariness was central to the play. It was a great way to be welcomed.

I wish you hadn’t done it Geoff. I can’t bear to look at your hillsides now. Without you.

Then you pass Byron’s farm. He was a city man, a nerve nut, nose eroded by alcohol. He decided to become a market gardener but the tomato wilt got him. Really it was the absence of his wife. She couldn’t stand the loneliness of the river, the dawn mists parting reluctantly like the shrouds in a funeral parlour. Byron couldn’t explain its beauty and she couldn’t bear the awful screaming of the yellow bellied glider, the haunting white ghostliness of the masked owl. And its call; like death itself.

Byron grieved and so, after another year of battling the wilt, he left the hothouses and went back to the suburbs. For love.

And the next farm, on the bluff above Byron’s empty gardens, belongs to a Samoan abalone diver. His brother was shot by a gay man. The surviving brother played one game of cricket just so he could use his dead brother’s bat. Geoff would have loved it. So did I. I taught both brothers. Wild men of the sea. Lovely lost Samoans.

The mist still obscured the land marks and I peered through its veils to find the sandy beach which marked a treacherous bend. A mate saved a kid’s life here when he cut the fishing line tangled around a toddler’s leg. The other end was attached to an 80 lb mulloway heading for Bass Strait. That toddler’s father later sold the river bank farm to Phillip, a man who made his fortune recovering swamplands in the green and environmental eighties. The river community hated him for allowing the salt water to resume its old course across the paddocks. Old Geoff didn’t like it either and sawed off the two giant ironbark gateposts which Phillip used to block the communal roadway. Well Geoff thought it was communal, Phillip thought it was his land. Geoff sawed his posts off and told me of his act of defiance with enormous glee. He even rubbed his hands together as he retold the story as if he was in some rural cartoon.

Now Geoff is dead and Phillip is ill but it was Phillip who took in Geoff’s ancient blind terrier, Mate, after Geoff died. Funny world, peculiar humanity.

Phillip is combative but he would say assertive of his rights. He doesn’t get along with the abalone diver across the river. Being a fisherman Dean likes fast boats even though one of them is a yacht.

I love seeing that yacht on the river. Phillip sees a fast boat.

And their upstream neighbour is Marion. Some of Marion’s partners weren’t evidence of her ability to make good choices. One of her men set alight to himself after an argument as I happened to be leaving the hotel adjoining Marion’s house. I saw all Marion’s kids, including one I didn’t know she had, vaulting the fence. I taught them all except the one that’d escaped education completely. No homework handed in tomorrow I thought as the house burnt down.

But she was a great person, Marion, full of life and cheek. I was surprised when she moved in with Col but on more thorough consideration it was her most inspired choice.

Col was a Jackson of Jackson’s Bridge and his family had held the farm since it was first cleared. Some say the Jackson’s have Aboriginal blood but that claim that could be levelled at most of the district families who can trace their inheritance back three or four generations. It’s a lonely river. My great grandfather got lonely, but on a different river.

Col played in those golden cricket games that were so vivid in Geoff’s memory. But Col was even worse than Geoff; although he was the best horseman in East Gippsland. Col indulged his cattle’s roaming personalities just so he had an excuse to ride through the mountains looking for them. He never built a fence in his life, preferring to ride into New South Wales or up into the Alps to retrieve his esteemed line of cross bred duffers. Ayrshire being amongst the sires. My Ayrshire, my broken fence.

Thanks Col.

If you’re chasing your cattle, and those of farmers less attentive to stock control, across a couple of state borders you need good dogs.

Col had about thirty mixed bred border collie-kelpie-dingo beagles. Bad dogs. Savage, independent, bloody near feral mongrels. Col’s cattle breeding techniques were also applied to the refinement of his cattle dogs’ pedigree.

I was milking one misty morning. That old river mist is a river in itself and we got it in all seasons. Even as high up as my farm on the Maramingo, a wilder tributary of the wild Jinnor just before it joins the Wallagaraugh. It was breathtaking to watch the stealthy grey curtain steal entire mountains from your gaze only to reveal them a moment later with a flick of the magician’s wrist.

My jersey, Milly, was a darling cow and let me press my face into her loin while I milked her. We had an agreement about the amount of milk I could take before she’d stamp her foot to remind me the rest was for her calf.

But this particular morning of funereal mist she swung her head to look down into the valley long before we’d reached the point of agreed shares. I peered beneath her steaming belly, and could see these mongrel wild dogs. Two, three, six, Jesus, nine … Col. He must have been doing one of his interstate stocktaking visits, or bringing his cattle on a raid to my Ayrshire bull. Thanks Col.

On an earlier occasion I docked my old open clinker on Col’s beach beside the bridge so I could remove the Simplex engine and take it to be repaired by Larry Blair. But don’t start me on the Blairs. When I turned up to re-install the motor the Nadgee was no longer there. She was called Nadgee by Doug Barrow snr, who sailed her down the coast from Narooma and surfed her across the bar into the Mallacoota lakes. The Barrows were one of those wild early families and their forefathers had overlanded from Sydney across the Alps to Bombala in 1832. I bought a bed off old Doug once and on the back of the bedhead was scrawled in chalk, Barrow, Bombala, 1834. It’s an ugly bed but I kept it for the chalk of Australian history. But don’t start me on the Barrows either.

The important thing was that the Nadgee was gone. I enquired of Col about the boat’s location. ‘Gawn,’ he said, ‘in the flood.’ A week previous we’d had two inches of rain but not enough to take a styrofoam cup off the bank. I wonder how much Col’s riverside enterprises benefited from the disappearance of the clinker.

Did I say I wasn’t going to start on the Blairs? Well you can’t talk about the river without them. When Larry Blair’s wife, May, left him she took up residence with a very peculiar man in a very peculiar caravan on the opposite bank of the river to where she was born as a member of the Jackson’s of Jackson’s Bridge. She said Larry was mean and had individualised the meaning of the marriage contract. The caravan was her way of returning to the seat of the family estate.

Larry was an old fisherman turned boat hire magnate and lived in a broken wooden house on a green bank of the lower lake. He knew everything there was to know about the Simplex engine. He could fix the magneto by putting it beside his wood stove. Worked a treat. Blocked fuel lines, seized pistons, he had a rural solution for each problem. Except marriage.

He looked most of all like Steptoe and had a wheedling little voice and licked his lips and hunched his shoulders whenever he spoke so that it felt like a conspiracy whenever he talked to you about the weather or a cow with mastitis. I think May was right.
The German baker said that Larry would never have the right change for his bread; he’d always be a penny or threepence short. The baker kept a book. Larry never paid. The baker never forgot. May was right.

Above Jackson’s Bridge old Simmonds had a farm where he boiled down wallabies and dead chooks for his pigs. Local women used to have Christmas parties on the farm where they bounced around naked, so it was rumoured. Everybody has to let her hair down once in a while.

And above the captain’s block was old Burgess. I never knew him, only saw him once in an open boat he was rowing upstream with the crudest pair of mismatched oars I’d ever seen.

Burgess would never go into town. He’d leave anonymous parcels of fish on people’s back step at dawn and they’d leave groceries and grog on his. The secret transactions of the unseen. Fair proportion of grog in the groceries.

When I came as a teacher in the 70’s all the river people told me the original teacher used to row a long skiff as far upstream as Burgesses’ to teach all the river kids. This was long before Burgess arrived of course but that teacher’s students were the Jacksons and Blairs and Barrows and Donaldsons. Wild kids. No shoes, no interest, but the best ship handlers on the east coast of the continent.

Across the river from Burgess was Bobby Nicholls who married a local Yuin woman. I regret selling my tractor to Bobby. I bought it from Robert Arnot’s father who farmed on the New South Wales end of the river, above the highway. The Arnots were an old, old family from Timbilica and the tractor I bought was the old man’s first tractor and he parted with it like a man who knew his life as a real man was over, from now on he’d be a man who didn’t farm.

I remember harvesting hay with him a year before he handed the farm on to his son. It was a hot day in December and we using ancient steel tined hay forks to pitch mown hay onto a wooden cart which the old man towed behind the tractor to a shed with slatted walls and floor. Old Man Arnot’s father had built that shed to dry corn; one of the first farm structures built in the entire district. If you didn’t count the thatched houses of Aborigines. Which, of course, no-one did. We pitched hay all day, the old man and I, in grim silence. He was one of those quiet country gentlemen, but that was not the cause of his silence; he just resented that I was young and he was old. He died.

The tractor I bought was a hundred years more recent than the shed but it was still old. A Fordson Major petrol-kero model. You had to start it with kerosene before switching over to petrol. It was a beast, could pull anything, drag the stumps of old trees straight out of the ground as if they were pensioners’ teeth. I loved it. My daughter did too and insisted on riding behind me. No roll bar, not many brakes and when I think of that little red haired girl riding between those giant wheels I shudder. Tractors and wild river children.

Anyway I sold it to Bobby Nicholls.

In a hurry. I’d split up with the little girl’s mother and the farm had to be sold. Probably the reason why Geoff killed himself. No regard for himself without the farm.

But what Bobby Nicholls did to that tractor really upset Robert, old Robert Arnot’s son, because it had been his father’s pride and joy. The Arnots arrived in Australia to go whaling with Ben Boyd. They’re proud of their history and prouder of their tractors.
Bobby Nicholls was a humourless fundamentalist Christian and he oxy torched three inches off each side of the tractor’s grader blade so it would fit onto his trailer. The act of a heathen Robert believed.

And the Arnots are family of mine. My son-in-law’s grandmother is Jean Arnot of Wangarabell. How can such remote acts of chance occur on such a lonely river?

At the top of the river on the day of the fox I caught my fish from a snag I’d last fished six years earlier with Robert’s brother-in-law, Kevin, two weeks before he died of a heart attack.

I can’t fish that river now without thinking of Kevin, or Geoff, or my tractor, or Larry Blair’s funny way of talking.

And I thought of you, mate, when I saw the fox, not because you remind me of a fox, but because as soon as I saw such a strange thing I wondered who would be interested in the story. Do all people do that as they watch an event unfold, or is it just us, the storytellers?

Coming back down the river I kept a lookout for the fox and she was still there, hunkered down on the sandspit. As I passed the first time I had noticed a plover sitting on eggs on the downstream end of the sand island and thought it typical fox behaviour to sneak out onto the sand and outlast the plover’s indignation.

Two dotterels were running backward and forwards just metres from the fox’s nose desperate to distract attention from their young.

I watched the fox to see if it would react.  I cast a line to make the sinker splash as close to the animal as I could manage. I saw the ears twitch to the sound but it showed no other reaction. Cunning bastard, I thought, pretending it’s not there. Typical fox.

So I stepped out of my boat, Nadgee III, and waded to the island. I saw the ears rotate toward the sound of my steps.

There was a good boondi on the sand and I picked it up, not willing to be attacked by a cornered fox. It got to its feet and faced me, swaying slightly before it tottered and almost fell, still trying to look defiant and strong. But it wasn’t strong, it was a sick fox.
If it was fishing for mullet it was the act of a desperate animal not the invention of artful adaption. The expenditure of energy in becoming wet and cold could hardly justify the potential catch.

No, this was just a sick fox, probably bleeding to death from ingesting a fox bait which are almost pure warfarin, the haemorrhaging agent with which we poison rats.

The golden eyes could barely focus but she knew my intent. She avoided the first swing of the club by the merest turn of her head but I collected it with the returning pendulum and cracked that fine skull. Blood gushed from its ears and nose, the warfarin was already well into its work.

I returned to my boat burdened with sorrow. I’d misjudged her actions with my prejudice, even inclining toward admiration for fox cunning and innovation instead of reading her actions for what they were, dying. We’re meant to kill foxes but are we meant to cause them such slow agony? And her teats were hanging too. Was there more agony to come?

I’m sorry not to visit you more, old mate, sorry to be tardy in the mere return of a phone call but the river is such a demanding home. She insists you bear witness.

As you have just done.


Val would pack her kids into the car and visit her mother-in-law, Kathleen, most days. Dad has visions of the car pulling up at the homestead, the kids bursting out the doors and running down the path, past the old kitchen, into the back entrance of the main house.

“…and Nana would come out, and we [would] nearly knock her over jumping into her arms.” Dad’s eyes twinkle as he talks and I’m taken aback by the tenderness of the memory.

“A large part of my, um, confidence in dealing with the world comes from Nana,” Dad laughs. “I thought that I was the most important person in the world.”

My father and I are in the sitting room of his house, our house, the house I grew up in, the grand house he and my mother built. He sits on the leather upholstered sofa, cradling beer. Behind him a huge bookshelf is jammed full. Photos of our family smile at us, decorative Catholic-themed plates, old knick-knacks and genuine antiques share space with law books, classic novels and pulp fiction.

The thick summer air is fitting, given that so many of my memories of Swanwater involve the baking Wimmera heat.


The Swanwater homestead has been in my dad’s family for over a hundred years. When I was younger we used to ride our motorbikes there from what we called the Home Paddock. It sounds comfortable, but ‘home’ was a tin shed with a dusty, cobwebbed toilet in the corner and one power outlet.

Even back then, when I was seven or eight, I noted the vast chasm between how we lived when we visited my dad’s hometown, and how grand the old homestead must have been.

It was a ruinous site, and you could feel the pain in the air. At once peaceful and tortured, it was a rumbling assortment of half fallen-down walls and chimneystacks.

But even in its decayed state, there was an undeniable grandeur; bluestone floors, quartz inlaid into the outer walls, and an impressive scale.


Dad remembers the homestead being a house full of warmth and hospitality. There’s a particular armchair he used to fall asleep in by the fire while his grandfather Toby played the fiddle and his aunt Sappy played the piano.

He closes his eyes, and starts tapping his foot as he sinks into the chair.

“Such a beat … with the violin and the piano, it was just … It was just heaven.”

The old place, as it was often called was the centre of family life, and an important part of the social fabric of nearby St Arnaud. Nana’s hospitality was legendary and Toby was a huge, charismatic character.

My father remembers stumbling across a cupboard bursting full of violins, later learning that one of them had been chased for forty years and bought in the early fifties for the price of three new Holden cars. There were racing cars and horse stables, guns, and bicycles. It was a very exciting place to be.

When he got to school age, Dad, sometimes with his younger brother, would often go to the homestead rather than home. Nana would always have a cup of tea ready and loved to chat about his day. Then he’d spend languid afternoons wandering around the trees, the creek bed, the cemetery, imagining that he was in a Secret Seven or Famous Five novel.


In the North West of Victoria, Swanwater sits in the traditional lands of the Dja Dja Wurrung people.

The first squatter in the area was Cpt John Harrison, a retired merchant sailor with a colourful history. He took up, or stole rather, a 70,000-acre run with two lakes on it called Swanwater.

The Harrisons built the first European house on the land. If you visit, you can see the hand-adzed timbers that make up the structural beams.

By 1850, after an unsuccessful five or so years, Harrison moved off the land and the Swanwater run was divided in two.

The southern half of the old run was purchased by the Moggs, a family of carpet makers from Bristol. By 1856 Valentine Nott Mogg had moved onto the land and began building a grand estate.


On one of his childhood jaunts around the estate, Dad came across an enormous old draught horse. He was stunned and elated: he’d been desperate for a horse, and here one was, lazing around a half-forgotten paddock. Dad convinced his father, Laurie, to bring it home.

She was called Old Doll, and she was gentle and quiet. Dad would ride her to the homestead, hoping that the gates were open along the way, because she was so huge that he had to get an adult to help him on and off.

In telling this story Dad gets drawn back into a tune playing in his memory, he mentions again that sometimes he’d walk in and the house would be awash with music.

Dad rubs his face, leaning forward. We’ve talked around and around, and we can avoid it no longer. He sighs.

“So, it all gets very traumatic then.”

Nana had to go to Melbourne for an operation he tells me, “and she was a bit histrionic when it came to illness” – so she needed to take some keepsakes for comfort, to remind her of her beloved homestead. She was sure some tragedy was going coming for her.

On a Saturday afternoon in 1967, Toby visited Nana in Melbourne before driving back home. “And Toby, being Toby, he may well have stopped in a pub here and there.”

Dad was asleep in bed, and remembers being woken by an almighty bang on the front door. He heard his father’s heavy, rushed footsteps. The swing of the door.

“The old place is on fire.”

A neighbour had seen the flames from the highway and sped to get Laurie.

“I remember the banging and the hullabaloo, and my father jumping into the car and [he] zoomed down there.”

Meanwhile, two volunteer fire fighters were on their way home from a dance. They saw the blaze from the highway and headed into the property to see if they could help.

Laurie arrived moments after them and leaped out of his car, rushing towards the house. “Toby’s in there!”

The whole main house was an almighty blaze, the roof on fire from end to end, parts falling in, and thick, deadly smoke streaming from every gap.

“And they said, ‘well you can’t go in there,’ and they tried to stop him. And he’s just knocked them away and charged in there.”

Laurie disappeared into the thick smoke and blinding flames.

The boys knew that it would be impossible to survive the smoke and heat, and resigned themselves to a second loss of life.

“And then a couple of minutes later… he comes out with Toby over his shoulder.”

But by the time Laurie found his father collapsed in a hallway, he had already died.

The intense flames tore through the entire main house and licked a few of the outbuildings. Everything was lost. The violins, period furniture, family heirlooms, photos – all the hard work and love and care incinerated in a matter of hours.

All that was left were charred brick walls, warped iron bedframes, and the sad remnants of the piano, now just a collection of surviving metal parts and a melted frame.

There’s a sense that the shock of the loss still reverberates today. It’s not just a house that was gone, not just a father and a grandfather, but the spiritual life of the family, the sense of having somewhere to go, the social and emotional security of a true family home. What they lost symbolically seems to weigh as heavily as the man who perished.

The cruellest irony of the situation is that Toby, a part time insurance agent, thought that home insurance was a waste of money. He used to say that brick houses don’t burn.

Dad visited soon after the night of the fire in a blur of tears. “A veil of grief” he calls it. “The entire place was like a mausoleum… it was like visiting a grave.”

I tell Dad that that’s how I used to feel, amongst the excitement of exploring, that this was a place of great tragedy, a place of reverence.

He would ride his horse down a few years later, a proper horse this time that he could canter on. He remembers standing amongst the ruins and thinking, “I can do something here.”


My father’s namesake, Pat O’Shannessy, was an Irish migrant who as a young man worked on a railway line through the Wimmera, up to Cope Cope. The story goes that while labouring on the tracks he noticed the fertile black ground and decided then and there to take up a plot.

The selection acts of Victoria had passed parliament and large pastoral runs were being split up into 320-acre lots to encourage more intensive farming, and more population density.

“And there’s one interesting fact on Cpt Harrison’s lease” says Dad, “Right through Gooroc, stretching out towards Jeffcott, which we all know as the best black ground, it’s got written on it, ‘No Water. Useless.’”

Pat O’Shannessy, along with many other working-class migrants in the region, was highly successful in that ‘useless’ black ground. He eventually began buying up more and more land. By 1912 O’Shannessy bought the Swanwater Estate, but never lived there.

The stately homestead had been liquidated in 1899 and was empty and in disrepair until Dad’s grandparents, Toby and Kathleen, moved in as newlyweds.

It was the early 1930s and Nana Kath set about restoring and repairing the old homestead to her former glory with a grim determination and a fierce will.

She painted the dining room ceiling by balancing on top of a 44-gallon drum, which was sitting on top of the dining table. She’d have to paint a little section, then get down, move the whole thing, get back up again and continue painting.

Dad talks about Kath’s hard work and determination with bittersweet pride – he calls it her life’s work. She restored building elements, got the extensive gardens back into shape, collected antique period furniture. She was utterly devoted to her homestead.


“Now, of course, the disappointing thing was, by the time I got a chance to start repairing buildings, they’ll be falling down quicker than I can put them up. Gravity is an unremitting bastard of a thing.”

Decades of frustration simmer in my father’s voice. I do quick head maths. If he was 11 or 12 when he first wanted to repair the homestead, and he’s only been able to begin recently, that’s close to fifty years of watching gravity erode his grandparents’ legacy.

Nana moved to Melbourne. My grandfather farmed the land around the homestead for some years after the fire, leasing it off his mother to provide her with an income. Dad used to play in the shell.

It was still an exciting place for a kid with a ferocious imagination.

He’d notice, even then, the signs of decay, and lament at the received wisdom that it was all too hard to rebuild, too expensive. After all, there was no insurance money, and by this time any family wealth had dried up.

Laurie eventually moved the family into town. Another farmer took over the lease. My father grew up, moved to Melbourne for university, became a lawyer, had kids of his own.

In the early 1990s, Dad and his siblings began buying farmland in the area. They’d all left the land and dispersed across the world in professional jobs, but the older ones were nostalgic.

Eventually they bought a share of the homestead, and we kids would visit occasionally, always noting the further ravages of time.

We take a break, and as Dad gets up he blurts, “you can repair bricks and mortar, but you can’t repair flesh.” He thinks I haven’t heard.


Dad is avoidant when it’s time to go back to the sitting room, and I don’t want to push it. He flicks through the paper, does the dishes, takes out the rubbish, all of a sudden extremely fond of housework.

We finally sit back down. His whole demeanour has changed. He’s still answering questions but now he’s less forthcoming – he slumps in his chair, there’s an echo of a grieving teenager. He wants to talk, but he doesn’t want to talk.

The selfishness of my endeavour hits me. I knew he’d have to talk about this but I’d been ignoring it, and now it was here, looking at me, my father more exposed than I’ve ever seen him because I thought it would be a nice story.

Once verbose and easy, Dad is now withdrawn. He throws it onto me, “what’s your next question?” It’s almost an order. You take the reins. My inexperience begins to show but we fumble along.

“The thing about the fire,” Dad eventually offers, “is that it taught me that the unthinkable happens.”

I ask him to elaborate.

“[It] just taught me that really bad things happen randomly,” he adds with a resigned shrug, “and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“So it informed a world view,” I say.


“That’s kind of beautiful.” Dad looks at me like I’m a crazy person. He’s a little hurt by my glibness. We’re at the sorest point in his personal history and I’m calling it beautiful.

I want to say that I find it beautiful, because I’ve always known my Dad to live in the present. I learned from him that you can’t waste time worrying about what might happen. You must forge ahead and simply deal with what comes as it comes, not trying to control or predict. Simply being. It’s beautiful that such a gentle worldview is born of such devastating pain.

But I make a mess; I’m nervous and guilty. Dad moves on.

“And then… it’s only a few years later when Valerie dies,” Dad can’t bring himself to say ‘Mum’. He continues, “so just in case you thought that it was a one off, no, it taught you that bad shit happens.”

Dad was thirteen when his mother died, leaving Laurie to take care of the six children. Kath helped where she could. Extended family took care of the youngest ones. The family was shattered once again.

The homestead continued to crumble. It was very difficult for my father to see. To him it was obvious that something could be done. Or, at the very least, could no one else see this brick falling, or that wall leaning?

I bring up Dad’s offhand comment about not being able to repair flesh and bone. He pauses, not quite able or not yet willing, to see how his grief, projected onto this building is relevant to our conversation. He’s caught up in the seeming lack of logic in of the feeling – only one person died after all.

By the early 2000s Dad and his brothers were no longer leasing out the land around the homestead and were farming it themselves with the help of contractors and neighbours.

There were working bees. The extended family would head up to the homestead and we’d pull out a hedge here, straighten a wall there, clear decades of debris out of the cellar, repair a roof here or there – just nibble away.

I ask Dad how that felt and he concedes that it was extremely satisfying to finally be doing something. He’s quick though, to tell a story about how he fell off a high wall and somehow walked away unharmed.


In the past few years, serious repairs have finally been started at the homestead. I ask Dad what’s changed, why this sudden flurry of activity? Is it simply a matter of having the money to invest?

He pauses. “[it’s partly] money,” he begins thoughtfully, “Number one, Tony Tillig, number two David Chapman, and number three, money.”

Tony is an old family friend, and I get the sense that through his enthusiasm and positivity, he’s given Dad and his siblings more confidence that something can be done, that the family tragedy can have an epilogue.

David is a local bricklayer. Tony mentioned him to Dad, saying that they should give him a go at repairing the quartz inlayed walls that had fallen down. Of course Dad was sceptical – this is a technique that’s rarely used in Australia.

Thankfully Tony was insistent, and it turned out that David was, in fact, highly skilled.

There’s such glee in Dad’s voice at this, there’s a reconciling that is palpable.

There is a new period emerging in the history of the homestead and my father’s relationship to the past, a period where things are possible, where loss is not the final chapter.

The trouble with this incongruous trio is that they’re all over sixty and there’s urgency now, as they get older. David is the only one who can do the complicated brick work, and Tony’s enthusiasm along with Dad’s dogged determination are driving forces behind the repairs.

I ask what would happen if one of them has to retire, or gets injured, or simply runs out of steam.

“It won’t happen,” sighs Dad automatically.  It’s a matter-of-fact observation that belies how painful the thought is – the grand old estate falling once again into decay and neglect. A lifelong dream abandoned just as it was crossing that cavernous divide from maybe to this is actually happening.

We talk about his plans once it’s finished, if it gets finished. He first says that it is more of the process than the end result. It’s the pleasure of doing it.

Then he stops and thinks. I can see him imagining a time in his life when he gets to see the homestead whole again. He doesn’t quite allow himself the joy of the fantasy, but it’s obvious that he’s touched.

“[It’s] both,” he adds, “the more you do … [the more] it becomes tantalisingly possible.”

So the motley crew, sometimes involving another brother or two, but always David and Tony, do little bits here and there. We often get pictures of the progress emailed to us. It’s extraordinary to see those neat farmhouses fully repaired, elegant slate roofs, and pretty quartz boarded by tidy red bricks. Slowly, slowly it’s becoming, once again, an elegant estate.

“Now when we get to the main building and start on that,” says Dad, “that will be a huge job.”

Still, there’s momentum and the pictures we get these days are weeks or months apart, not years. There’s a spirit of excitement and adventure.

I come back to Dad’s comment about repairing flesh. I venture that maybe, in his mind, the homestead, the decay of it and now the repairing of it, has come to take on great emotional significance. That he is, in repairing the bricks and mortar, making peace with an incredibly traumatic period.

In his stories, ‘before the fire’ usually means before the years of grief and upheavals, before that horrible moment in time when Dad discovered the cruelty of random tragedy dealt twice in a few years.

He hasn’t thought about it like that, not consciously, but he agrees that the process of repairing is emotional too.

“That’s part of it. And also, when you inherit something as…’ he fumbles, leaving pauses in odd places – he’s a little at sea with the emotional weight of the idea, “historically significant and architecturally splendid… you sort of have an obligation to look after it a bit, to leave it better than you got it.”

He’s lying back now, stretched out on the leather sofa, looking at the ceiling, thinking deeply.

“What happens when you’re gone?” I ask.

Dad lets out a hearty laugh, “your problem, mate!”

He lets the moment of levity hang, then continues, “oh, I hope it’ll just stay in the family.” The implication is clear; he’s asking would our generation finish it if he can’t.



We moved to Doncaster when I was nine, and a few months after we got there, Doncaster Shoppingtown turned one.


We’d been living in the country for a few years for Dad’s work and then one day it was announced that Dad had a new job and we’d be moving back to Melbourne.  In preparation, my parents drove to the city one weekend to look at houses for sale and bought one then and there. Mission accomplished. Things were simpler in those days.


They brought back little jars of Darrell Lea Bo Peep lollies for us – tiny sweets in beautiful pastel colours, our first taste of the joys and sophistication of Melbourne. We looked up Doncaster in the Melways, Map 33, a page we’d never been on before, so near and yet so far from Northcote where Dad’s parents lived, and Balwyn, where Mum’s mum lived and where we had lived before for a time.  Everyone was excited. In this new promised land of Map 33, the roads weren’t only simple grids – some curved, twisted, or bulged, and even had different names like courts and rises. We pored over Map 33, thrilled by the huge park called Doncaster Municipal Gardens down the road, the fact that the swimming pool was only a short walk away, and that our new school was nearby.  Who knew street directories were such fonts of information?

Mum and Dad had brought back plans of the new house to show us, and from those we learned what an ensuite was, because Mum and Dad’s bedroom had one, and we delighted in the fact that as well as there being two bathrooms in the house, there was a bedroom for each of us children. Riches indeed. And it would actually be ours, not rented like the houses we’d lived in till then. I’d really wanted our new house to have two storeys, because there always seemed to be something magical about two storey houses, but I consoled myself with the steps that were in this house – two down into the formal lounge room, one up again into the kitchen, my introduction to the concept of split level.

Our new house was in a new subdivision, which had once been apple orchards. The edges of this subdivision represented everything to us about Doncaster and our transformed lives. One side was still apple orchards, one side was bordered by the huge park with through which dribbled the unloved, unwanted Ruffey’s Creek.  A third border was the busy road which we crossed to get to the wonderful swimming pool. And above the fourth border, another busy road, the not-so-far-away vista of Doncaster Shoppingtown loomed like a castle.


When we got to the new house, we discovered Shoppingtown was in our line of sight – the white tower striped blue with windows, full of offices, and the lower brown bulk of the mall. A whole shopping mall of our very own, even though we didn’t know whether to say ‘mal’ or ‘maul’. One end was a Coles supermarket, the other end Myers, which seemed the perfect arrangement of sense and sensibility. In between sat a multitude of shops ­­– good solid practical shops like Clark Rubber and McEwans hardware, Brash’s records, Norman Brothers stationery, Woolcraft, plus clothes shops and a couple of cafes. Cafes! The discovery of toasted ham sandwiches!

Being that close to all those riches was intoxicating. Not to mention the implicit promise of pyrotechnical celebrations every year (that we could see from our house!).

The new house was brand new, speculatively built by the building company that over a few years built nearly every house around.  When we moved there the area was still mostly empty blocks, which we thought of as fields. There were only about a dozen inhabited houses, occupied by young families like us, and a few empty brand-new spec-built houses for sale.  Not a week went by without another house being finished, another family moving in, coming from all over Melbourne and even interstate.


Our little pocket was suspended in time between the open country and farmland it had been, and the archetypal suburbia it would become.  We kids would climb over the back fence and head down to the park – going deep into it to the cliff or all the way to the road other side, or staying at the creek, daring each other to crawl into the giant drainpipe that the creek came out of.  We had it pretty much to ourselves. Or we would go to the latest house being built – playing forts and castles in the footings that had been dug, or on scaffolding that was put up as the walls grew, and when the wall frames were there we would speculate as to what each room was to be, walking on the joists before the floorboards were laid, magically crossing rooms without floors. And after the houses were finished we would play around them and underneath them.


Sometimes the developers called in ‘landscapers’, who created concrete edged kidney shaped areas of river stones in the lawns, and brought in a couple of big feature boulders, balancing them delicately, and adding the occasional log, which they would lean up against the boulders.  The final touch was a large stand of pampas grass which sprouted giant feathery tassles, and had long strappy leaves which would cut you as you ran past if you weren’t careful. But if you were careful, you could make these garden features fit into whatever game you wanted them to.


We had a huge space at our disposal, and we roamed in packs with other kids or in smaller groups or even alone. As long as we stayed within the space defined by the four borders, including the park itself, and came home in the evening when the street lights came on, we were free to wander wherever we wanted after school and on weekends. Shoppingtown was outside the borders and required special permission, which we often sought on Saturday mornings, and walked almost as the crow flies across the not-yet-built on blocks.  If someone had money we would get a red and yellow bucket of hot chips – who knew chips could come in a bucket?  Unless we wanted to sleep in, because ‘weekend shopping’ in those days meant Saturday between 9 and 12 noon.


The area was so new that when we first moved in that it wasn’t uncommon for salespeople to knock at the door in the evenings selling paintings or copper wall hangings for inside, and twisted metal mandalas for outside. All those square metres of brand new plasterboard and brick veneer in desperate need of decoration. The paintings were mostly black silhouettes of Australiany things against fierce red and orange backdrops – barns, windmills and trees against sunsets, the paint smeared on thickly and quickly.  The copper wall hangings were abstract, rectangular shapes beneath stippled copper sheeting. Later we learned to make these at school (ask me if you want to know how). Because my father was interested in art he would look through everything on offer and equally, because he was interested in art, there was never the vaguest possibility that he would buy any of it.

Doncaster was so new that it was actually a swinging electoral seat, another new term that it introduced me to, with Mum explaining that that meant that voters like her and Dad played a vital part in deciding who would win the election.

For a time the voters of Doncaster were very important. As for the other swinging of the 70s, Mum told me recently that there were rumours of ‘wife swapping’ (why is it the wives who get swapped?).  This talk swirled especially around the couple whose house was not only split level but had an actual sunken lounge room too.

Doncaster is a green and leafy suburb now, with a house on every block. The voting heyday of the area is long over – after the initial excitement it settled quickly into steadfast conservatism, a blue-ribbon capital L Liberalness. About the other swinging I don’t know, and anyway they were only rumours back then. Empty blocks sometimes appear fleetingly, and with increasing frequency, as another 1970s house gets pulled down and replaced with a bigger fancier house, one that stretches from boundary to boundary. Construction fencing goes up all around as the first step in the process – there’s no chance of anyone playing on the emptied block or in the half-constructed house.

Nowaday lots of people now use the park, which has been planted with many more trees, and boasts walking paths, barbecues and playgrounds. It also has the new fancier name of Ruffey Lake Park, and the part of the creek where we mostly played is now a carpark.

My parents still live in the same house. The concrete of the patio has been covered with terracotta pavers, and trees have grown all around, but you can still see Doncaster Shoppingtown from there. It’s several times as big now, a brooding grey mass taking over the hill. The old practical shops have gone, it is the new era of luxury brands. At night seen from the patio, its security lights make it blaze like my idea of industrial-military complex.


It is the story between deeply sleeping, dreaming, and waking.
– Juliana Spahr

Raised in the middle of slight, significant—no neighbours that the eye could see, Fiery Creek full of tadpoles and so many hills to roll down. On a mild Summer’s day I could streak laps of the house with the air whipping my arse, a lark to make my sister laugh. Spear thistles on the lawn around the Hills Hoist, my soles too soft, too sensitive. Rustling of grass: caution—or, just a blue-tongue. Southwesterly through tussocks. White frost. Huntsman in my father’s palm. He built us hay-bale cubby huts in Spring with separate rooms, caught mice in his boot for us to inspect. Puss puss puss. Stray cats on the back porch. Stray cats under the house. Chooks in the tin shed, scratching in the dirt. Barbed-wire fences and the thwack of a scaled gate. Saddle Rock/Elephant: what’s in a name? Smell of gums after rain. There are trucks, heavy with logs, that hurtle along the bitumen, composing potholes, tornados of earth. Tumbling sky, thunderstorms. And the explosive cry of a sulfur-crested cockatoo leads a pack off to roost. Come evening, the roof tick-tick-tick-tick and cows in the paddock, can you hear them?

Collective voices singing the alphabet or counting aloud or Yes, Mrs. Thomson, drill into memory and sit there, echoing uncanny, into adulthood. There were two rooms only at No. 523—little and big. We learn to spell, we learn to read, we do our sums. We behave, salute the flag. Days, months and seasons are taught using paper wheels, each rotated on a split pin. (This means that Sunday & Monday are always touching, so too are December & January, and the seasons have clear boundaries, like a pie sliced into quarters.) History was a goldmine: specks of dust, colonial paintings and the sun beating down. The land, pocked and knotted still with traces of rush and shove. Memory dislodged from history, is it possible? We were children of farmers, weather-contingent and woven from yarn. We lie on the grass, squint in the sun, head resting on difficult soil. An ant storm, swirling round the tongue. I love it, still.

Like a dream that pulls you back somewhere you have been, have never been before. Recall the middle, deep in the chest. To the north, Mount Cole in a eucalyptus haze; Nanna’s playing euchre with her friends. South-east to the township—grainy footage of my father as a boy, skipping electric, Dec. 1961. And then, me, in the school yard, singing silly songs with my friend; Hopscotch; Rounders; 44; séances in the cleaner’s closet until the teachers found out. Christmas concerts at the Hall across the road, so many blinking eyes, generators of past, of present. Bearable memory, crossed over. The place remains, does not remain, is never the same. Tumbling sky, tornados of earth. Huntsman in my father’s palm.

Major Thomas Mitchell, explorer, spends a night beneath Saddle Rock in 1836. Within twenty years, a gold rush along the creek, Hello, mate! What luck? and fifteen fights in a day.
Lord FitzRoy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan, demanded his right arm be returned to him—post-amputation —at the Battle of Waterloo; there was a ring on it! He died of dysentery and depression and was played by Sir John Gielgud in The Charge of the Light Brigade (the 1968 version, not the earlier version with Errol Flynn).
December 3, 1855 and Raglan saw the longest bare-knuckle fight on record (6 hours and 15 minutes). James Kelly was triumphant over Jonathan Smith, who gave in after 17 rounds. The site is known as ‘FightingFlat’.
The rush subsides; men turned to farming, wood cutting. Messmate from Mount Cole. In the 1860s there were two sawmills, two hotels, and a school. Belmont, “bush architect-ure”, erected in 1858. Still standing.
In 1996, Raglan Primary School No. 523 closed down.
Major Mitchell, explorer, surprises two women and their children of the Utoul balug.

Melbourne CBD



Senior Constable XXXX XXXXXXX, XXXXX.

Q 1       All right.  XXXXXXX, do you agree that the time is 4.15 – – –

A         Yes.

Q 2       – – – a.m. by my watch?  O.K.  Can you please state your full name and address?


Q 3       XXXXXXX, I intend to interview you in relation to an incident – a – a serious incident that occurred overnight.  Before continuing, I must inform you that you do not have to say or do anything, but that anything you say or do may be recorded and given in evidence.  Do you understand this?

A         Yes.

Q 4       All right.  I must also inform you of the following rights.  You have the right to communicate with or attempt to communicate with a friend or relative to inform that person of your whereabouts.  You have the right to communicate with or attempt to communicate with a legal practitioner.  If you are not a citizen or permanent resident of Australia, you have the right to communicate with or attempt to communicate with the consular office of the country of which you are a citizen.  Do you understand these rights?

A         Yes.

Q 5       Do you wish to exercise any of these rights before the interview proceeds?

A         Too late for that now.

Q 6       Pardon?

A         Nothing.

Q 7       So you don’t w̶a̶n̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ wanna exercise any of your – – –

A         No, nope.

Q 8       – – – rights before we – O.K.  I just w̶a̶n̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ wanna emphasise that it’s not – you can call whoever you need to call.

A         No, that’s fine.

Q 9       All right.  Well – and those rights still apply throughout the interview, if you w̶a̶n̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ wanna call someone at any time, you just – – –

A         Yep.

Q 10      You just let us know.  O.K.  What is your age and date of birth?

A         XX, date of birth XXXX of the XXX XX.

Q 11      Are you an Australian citizen?

A         Yes.

Q 12      Are you a permanent resident of – – –

A         Yes.

Q 13      Are you of – – –

A         No.

Q 14      – – – Aboriginal or Torres Strait – no dramas, O.K.  Now, just to begin with, are you able to explain to us how you came to be in police custody this morning?

A         No comment.

Q 15      O.K.  Would you agree that, at around 2 am or 2.30 am this morning, myself and some other police members attended at  your – –

A         No comment.

Q 16      – – – address of – O.K., well, I put it to you that we did attend [3] at your address this morning, where we arrested you and conducted a search warrant at the address.  Is that correct?


Q 17      And I put it to you that your boyfriend – your – your partner or your boyfriend was – was present at that time, and so he knows where you are right now.

A         No comment.

Q 18      Is it your intention to make a “no comment” interview?

A         Yes.

Q 19      All right.  Do you understand that this interview is your chance to tell us your side of the story, and to provide us with any information that might assist us with any inquiries that might prove or disprove your involvement or your – the extent of your – it’s obvious that you were involved in – in something, but this is your chance to – to tell us about that.


Q 20      Just out loud, if you could, for the tape.

A         Yes, I understand that.

Q 21      All right.  Well,  just in fairness to you [4], I’m gunna go through the – go through the allegations and the – we’ve got a fair few items of evidence here and a statement from the – from the young man, the – – –

A         From XXXXX?

Q 22      From XXXXX, yes, a statement from him, and some other things as well.  So I’ll just put the allegations to you and you’ll have the right to – to comment on any of those if you like, or to not – to say “no comment”, that’s also absolutely within your rights, of course.  O.K.  So beginning with some background information, you are employed by a company called XXXXX XXX XXXXXX.  Their offices are at – on XXXXXX Street in the city here, just around the corner, and they’re a transcription – a transcription company who have a contract with Victoria Police to type the – well, basically, to type up this that we’re [5] (audio malfunction) ………

A         Don’t tap that.

Q 23      Sorry?

A         That’ll make it really hard to type.

Q 24      I – will it? [6]

A         If you tap the recording device like you just did or if you – just don’t move it around, don’t touch it, don’t – whenever you touch it or move it – it’s, like, really sensitive, it makes a horrible noise.

Q 25      Oh, yeah, yep, of course.  We’ll leave that (audio malfunction).  Sorry, [7] touched it again.  That’s the last time, promise.  So you work as a transcriptionist.  Is that fair to say?


Q 26      So it’s quite clear to us that you do, in fact, work for this company, this – what was it called again?



Q 27      XXXXX XXX XXXXXX, that’s right.  We’ve contacted the company, we spoke with your boss, XXXXX, and we have your records of employment, as well as the police background check that you were submitted to when you commenced – when you first got the job.  Do you have any comment you w̶a̶n̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ wanna make on that?

A         No comment.

Q 28      No comment, O.K.  So your employment at that – with that company began on the – where’s the file?  The XXXX XX XXXX in XXXX, and at that time you were, of course, issued with a contract of employment.  Do you remember any of the conditions of employment that were included in that contract?  There’s obviously a – – –

A         What do I look like, a lawyer?

Q 29      – – – lot of them – yeah, yeah, no, it’s a fairly hefty contract, of course, but just briefly or just – just in – any conditions in there that you particularly remember?

A         No comment.

Q 30      I’ll just show you this here.  So this is a copy of your contract of employment.  I’ll show you at the back here, this is your signature.  Would you agree that’s your signature?

A         No comment.

Q 31      Well, I put it to you that that is your signature, it’s got your name next to it, and it’s dated the XXXX of the XXX XXXX.  So earlier on in this contract – I’ll just flip back to page 3 here.  Under number 2.1, it says, “employees of the company are bound by confidentiality laws, and are expressly prohibited from accessing the personal information of any persons involved in police matters except where the personal information is vital for the purposes of making the transcription,” and then a little – do you have any comment to make on that?

A         No.

Q 32      No, O.K.  And then a little further down here, we have number 2.3, “any personal information or data accessed by staff for the purposes of transcription must not be retained or disseminated by members of staff.”  So any comment there?

A         No comment.

Q 33      And finally, just on this contract, we also have number 4.1, “all operational manuals, reference lists and other organisational documents are the intellectual property of the company, and must not be retained or disseminated by members of staff without prior written permission from a senior member of staff.”  Any comment on that?

A         No comment.

Q 34      XXXXXXX, are you able to tell us what you understand the meaning of confidentiality to be?

A         No comment. [8]

Q 35      O.K.  So that’s some of the background relating to the events of – yes, relating to the – I’m actually just g̶o̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶o̶ gunna – yes, I’ll start with this.  Can you pass me the – thank you.  Do you have Facebook?


Q 36      I’m just g̶o̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶o̶ gunna show you a picture here.  This is a screen shot of a Facebook profile, the name on the profile is XXXXXXX XXXXXX, so your name, and there’s a photo there which – I put it to you that that’s a photo of you.  Do you have any comment on that?

A         No comment.

Q 37      O.K.  On XXXXXX the XXX of XXXXXXXXX of this year, we have – oh, before I go on, actually, can I just get you to sign that image, just to verify that this is the copy of the image that we showed you today? [9] Thank you.  And we’ll also just get you to go back and sign the copy of the contract that – – –

A         Didn’t think I’d be signing this again. [10]

Q 38      No, no.  Thanks for that.  So back to this screen shot here, this second screen shot of your profile here, this is a screen shot of a – of a status that you – you posted or that we’re alleging you posted – it’s a status that was posted from an account that we’re alleging is your account.

A         Sure.

Q 39      So [11] can you just read that out for me? It’s got your name and then beneath that there – yep.

A         “An excerpt [12]  from the XXXXX XXX XXXXXX police transcription style guide. Quote – ‘it is important to notate the suspect’s speech exactly as spoken, or as close to it as possible, in order to display speech patterns that demonstrate the speaker’s socio-economic status, cultural background, et cetera.’  Just a few pages later, another quote – ‘when transcribing police speech, do not use contractions e.g. gunna, wanna, me instead of my, et cetera.  If the word spoken is gunna, we still type going to.’  A police force and a justice system that wants to appear neutral, infallible, without class and without culture.  If it walks like fascism and it quacks like fascism-” and then I’ve – then there’s an ellipsis.

Q 40      Dot, dot, dot, the end. [13] Did you write this?

A         No comment.

Q 41      Do you think the police force is fascist? [14]

A         No comment. [15]

Q 42      So we have this – – –

A         Or – well, like – – –

Q 43      Sorry?

A         Nothing, no comment.

Q 44      O.K.  So we’ve got this status – do you wanna just sign that? [16] Thanks.  We’ve got this status from Facebook which, if you wrote it, would clearly be in breach of your contract – section 4.1 of your contract, which had the stuff about the confidentiality of the – of your company guidelines and all of that.  We’ve also got another one here from a few months later, and I’ll just read that one out, it says, “None of the crimes I transcribe at work ever happen within 10 kilometres of the CBD.  The other transcriptionists seem to believe that crime just doesn’t happen in the inner suburbs and the city.  But let’s think about what drives certain people to crimes of desperation, and let’s think about who can afford to get away with, conceal, or dodge conviction for their crimes.”  Anything to say about – – –


You got 47 likes on that one.


Q 45      47, is it?  Yes, yep, there it is – 47, including a few sad faces and angry faces.  O.K.  Anything to say about that?

A         No comment.

Q 46      O.K.  Do you have any questions at this point in time, Senior?


Q 47      These – to me, right, just speaking personally – to me, these don’t sound like the status updates of someone who enjoys their job.  Do you enjoy your job, XXXXXXX?

A         No [17] comment.

Q 48      When we were going through your Facebook – all your Facebook profile and your online presence and so on, we found a lot of information about some art projects, some pretty impressive stuff, really.  You’ve had your work at a number of galleries, maybe even – was I reading about some overseas work, as well?  That your art work had been displayed in – – –

A         Yeah. [18]

Q 49      – – – some exhibitions in Europe and so on?  Yeah.

A         Yeah.

Q 50      Some pretty far-out stuff in there.

A         Sorry?

Q 51      Nuh, I liked it, I was into it.  Yeah, me m̶y̶ wife’s a painter.  Very different stuff though, but – yeah.

A         O.K.

Q 52      So would it be fair to say that — you know, me m̶y̶ wife does the painting, and she makes a bit of money off that too, but her main job is as a librarian in a school.  And so is it the same with you?  Like, would it be fair to say that the transcription work, that’s more like your day job rather than so much of a career?

A         No comment.

Q 53      That’s it for me for now.


Q 54      All right, O.K.  I w̶a̶n̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ wanna move on to some of the circumstances around the events of last night.  Do you know someone called XXXXX XXXXXXXXX?

A         No comment.

Q 55      Well, you mentioned him earlier.

A         What?

Q 56      I was saying that we had a statement from a person involved in last night’s events, and you said “XXXXX”.  So how do you know XXXXX?

A         No comment.

Q 57      So, XXXXX lives in Broadmeadows, he does factory work, on the weekends he does competition wrestling, like, WWE stuff, he’s Fijian, XX years old, and he’s got a wife and two kids.  You live in Northcote, you’re an artist, you work a day job in the CBD, and you do trips to Europe.  Would it be fair to say that it’s a pretty unlikely friendship?

A         No.

Q 58      No, that wouldn’t be fair to say?

A         Nope.

Q 59      Tell me about that.

A         No comment. [19]

Q 60      I guess what I’m trying to get at is – you know, everyone’s allowed to be friends with everyone, that’s not the issue here [20] , but I am curious to know how the two of you first connected.

A         No comment.

Q 61      O.K.  Well, the first official matter we’ve got to discuss with you today, it is actually regarding your connection with Mr XXXXXXXXX.  Now, we’ve got no comment from you about your connection with XXXXX, so it’s anyone’s guess whether you were actually aware of this, but Mr XXXXXXXXX has, in the past, been convicted of multiple counts of aggravated assault and a couple of charges as well of breach intervention order .  Do you have any comment to make on that? [21]

A         No comment.

Q 62      Did you know about those charges?

A         No comment.

Q 63      I’ve just got a document to show you here.  This is a transcript of interview – of an interview not unlike the one we’re doing now, and not unlike the ones that you would process at work.  In fact it was processed through your office – through your Melbourne office on the XXXX of XXX this year.  So as you can see, we’ve got the preamble as per usual at the head of the page, it says, “This is a recorded interview between-” et cetera, and then when the interviewing officer gets to the suspect’s name – could you just read out the name there? [22]

A         Yep, it’s him.

Q 64      Just the name, please.

A         XXXXX XXXXXXXXX. [23]

Q 65      O.K.  So this particular interview was in relation to a – to one of those aggravated assaults.  And then, as you would know, we have the footer at the bottom of each page of the transcript, where we have the station code, the case number, and then we have these three letters here.  Can you tell me about these?

A         No comment.

Q 66      So as you would know, these three letters are the initials of the transcriptionist who typed the transcript, or they’re a unique code to identify – yeah, the typist or the transcriptionist.  So whose initials are these?

A         (NO AUDIBLE RESPONSE) [24]

Q 67      I put it to you that these are your initials.  And just in fairness to you, I’ll let you know that we do have all the evidence we need on that one, we’ve cross-checked that with – with the company and that’s all – that’s all clear, at this point.  So what we have here is a transcript, typed by you, concerning this friend of yours, XXXXX or Mr XXXXXXXXX [25] .  So as I see it, it’s one of two possibilities.  It may be that you knowingly typed a matter concerning a friend, which would also be in breach of your contract.  Did we read that part out?




Q 68      No, well, we can go back and [26]  – but anyway, so that would be a serious matter in and of itself, but from the understanding of the situation that I have so far, from statements made by Mr XXXXXXXXX and some other information as well, I believe that you in fact did not know XXXXX prior to typing this matter.  Do you have any comment to make about that?

A         No, no comment.  Nope.

Q 69      Right.  If you did have any prior association with Mr XXXXXXXXX, now would be the time to let us know [27] .  O.K.  We’ll move on – we’ll move on now to – actually, seeing as how you’ve elected to give a “no comment” interview most of the way this far, I may as well ask you – I’ve got a lot of records of [28] – some print-outs of online conversations as well as some records of phone calls – not transcripts of the phone calls, obviously, but some times and dates and durations based off of your phone records and that sort of thing, but that’s all pretty – pretty clear on our end.  Do you think you’d have any comment to make on that sort of thing?  Like, would you like us to take you through the evidence regarding your correspondence with XXXXX or you’re happy to skip that?

A         No comment.

Q 71      No comment, O.K.  I’ll take that as meaning that you’re happy to skip it.  O.K.  So just in fairness to you, again, the basic gist of that evidence is just that you’ve messaged him a few times on Facebook, you’ve attempted to friend him on Facebook, and you’ve gained access to his phone number and made a few calls.  And the tone of those exchanges is generally along the lines that you’ve contacted XXXXX with some – with just generally friendly overtones and the suggestion that you’re interested in finding out more about the local wrestling scene [29]  , and he’s sort of not particularly responsive at first, and then the messages take on a more – what we might call a suggestive tone [30] , and then there’s an increase in contact between the two of you, including phone contact, and we obviously know much less about the content of those phone calls than what we have in terms of records from the – from Facebook Messenger.  So that’s the gist leading up to the last few days.  Anything you wanted to say about that?

A         What does “suggestive tone” mean?

Q 72      Pardon?

A         You’ve said I’m meant to have messaged this person and that my messages had a suggestive tone.  What does that mean?

Q 73      Well, it means that you [31] – you – as far as we can see or from our perspective, it’s to do with – there’s a coded – a sort of language that comes into your messages that seems to suggest that you were seeking a – a – a sexual relationship with this – with XXXXX

A         O.K.  Can you give me some examples?

Q 74      Well, let’s see . [32]

Get the one about the – the match she went to.


Q 75      Yep.  So this one here, this is dated XXXX XXX, and we’ve got a message from you that says, “Saw you wrestling today.  I was there to support XXXX, and ended up sticking around for your match.  You’re so strong,” and then there’s two Xes at the end of the message.  So that would be one example [33] .  It’s sort of more – we start to see these messages where you’re complimenting him more and then – – –

A         I’m just [34] – I’m just not sure how that message was sexual.

Q 76      – – – we see an increase in – yeah, well, that’s sort of based on – we’ve got, as I said, the statement from XXXXX about his side of the story and about – about the phone calls that the two of you shared, as well as a handful of times that you’ve met in person. But if there’s anything you wanna add – – –

A         No comment.

Q 77      All right.  Senior, anything further before we address these other charges?


Q 78      Who’s XXXX, your other wrestling friend who you mention in that message to XXXXX?

A         No comment.

Q 79      Just so that we can get a bit more of an understanding of your – – –

A         No comment.

Q 80      – – – connection to the world of professional – no dramas.  Nothing further, Senior.


Q 81      Rightio.  So we’ll move on to the events that brought us here today.

A         Can I get a coffee?

Q 82      A – yep, sure, let’s just – actually sure, yeah, now’s as good a time as any for a break.  So we’ll just suspend it.  Just take a look at me m̶y̶ watch here.  Do you agree that the time now is 4.47 am?

A         4.47, yep.

Q 83      O.K.  Interview suspended at that time. [35]




Senior Constable XXXX XXXXXXX, XXXXX.


Q 84      XXXXXXX, do you agree that the time is 5.20 am by my watch?

A         Yes.

Q 85      What is your full name and address?


Q 86      Now, XXXXXXX, as before, I must inform you that you still do not have to say or do anything, but that anything you say or do may be recorded and given in evidence.  Do you understand that?

A         Yes.

Q 87      All right.  And I must inform you as well that all your rights still apply.  So you have the right to communicate with or attempt to communicate with a friend or relative, a legal practitioner, or if you are not a citizen or permanent resident – which you are, so that’s fine.  So do you wish to exercise any of these rights before we get back into it?

A         No, that’s fine.

Q 88      And would you agree that, during the break, we got [37] you a coffee, and you had a chat on the phone with your boyfriend?

A         Yep.  I also took a shit. [38]

Q 89      O.K., good.  And there’s no other – oh dear – no other rights that you w̶a̶n̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ wanna exercise at this time?

A         No.

Q 90      O.K.  So before we suspended it, we were about to talk about the incident itself – the events that lead you to be in police custody today.

A         Yes.

Q 91      Do you wanna tell us about that?

A         No comment.

Q 92      Sure. [39] So the incident we’re referring to took place yesterday – yesterday evening at around 11.30 pm at the XXXXXX Hotel in the CBD here, corner of XXXXXX XXXXXX and XXXXXXX, just at the end of Chinatown.  So – 11.30 pm.  What were you up to around that time?

A         No comment.

Q 93      Are you familiar with the XXXXXX Hotel?

A         No comment.

Q 94      All right.  At this point I’m just gunna read from XXXXX’s statement.  O.K.  So he says, “I was at the XXXXXX Hotel having drinks with some mates in the city.  At approximately 9.30 pm, a person I know as XXXXXXX XXXXXX entered the pub and approached me.  She may have been present from earlier on but this was the first time that I saw her.”  Do you have any comment to make about that?

A         No, no comment.

Q 95      O.K.  He continues, “XXXXXXX is a woman I have gotten to know over the last few months after we met online.”  Can you tell us anything further about what he means by  met online? [40]

A         No comment. [41]

Q 96      Just an interesting way of putting it, seems to suggest a dating website or something. [42] But anyway, so you have [43] met online.  He says, “She came to the bar and was standing near me, and I decided to say hello.  We started talking and were having a nice time.  She’s a really interesting person and in the short time we have known one another, we have gotten on well.  [44] There has also been some flirtation or a sexual nature to our relationship so I was hoping that we might spend the night.”  Any comments on that?

A         No comment.

Q 97      But you are in a relationship with – with someone else, with – – –

A         Yes.

Q 98      Have you cheated in the past?

A         (NO AUDIBLE RESPONSE) [45]

Q 99      Anything you – – –

A         It’s a bizarre question.  It’s just bizarre.  Your questions are bizarre.

Q 100     It’s a yes or no question.

A         Why, though?

Q 101     Why what?

A         No comment.

Q 102     O.K.  Continuing with XXXXX’s statement, he says, “We continued to drink, and I introduced XXXXXXX to some of my friends.  I would estimate that XXXXXXX consumed three to four drinks within about an hour and a half.  By about 11 pm I would say that she was not drunk but tipsy or slightly intoxicated.”  Would you agree with that?

A         No comment.

Q 103     “The XXXXXX has rooms upstairs from the pub, and we decided to rent a room for the night because we’d missed all the public transport to get home.  We could’ve got an Uber but we live in opposite directions so we thought this would be the cheapest option.  This is what we said to one another, but there was also strong body language that told me that she wanted to stay the night together.  She agreed to the plan and paid her half of the price of the room.  We rented the room and went upstairs together.”  What do you – – –

A         Could [46] we not do the rest of the statement?

Q 104     I’m just putting the allegations to you so that you can – – –

A         Yep, yep, I understand, but can we stop it there?

Q 105      [47] Do you have some comment that you’d like to make about this incident?

A         I just – whatever those two people do in that room, I don’t think I want to – – –

Q 106     Well, we’re alleging that one of those two people is you, and that the other person gets stabbed, so – – –

A         O.K. [48]

Q 107     So if it’s – if you’re O.K. to continue, I’d like to either put these allegations to you, or I’d like for you to make a statement to me about [49] your side of the story.  So will we continue?

A         (NO AUDIBLE RESPONSE) [50]

Q 108     I’d like to remind you again that this is your opportunity to – to tell us what’s happened – to tell us your side of what’s happened, so that we can get the best picture of [51] – our job – [52] my job here  is not to make any judgments.  I don’t decide who’s innocent or who’s guilty or how that stacks up against the law.  That is for the judge and the jury.  My job is to put together the brief of evidence that the court will look at.  In other words, my job is to seek the truth.  If there is anything that you want to tell me – tell us – as regards the events of last night and why XXXXX has ended up with these stab wounds, now is a very good time to tell us.  Is there something about that that you want to tell us?

A         (NO AUDIBLE RESPONSE) [53]

Q 109     If, for example, [54]  there is any – and I’m not – it’s not my place to – but for example, if this is a case of self-defence or if you felt that it was a case of self-defence, where you were alone with someone who you realised that you didn’t want to be alone with and you had reason to believe that that person was going to harm you – – -[55]


Q 110     Why were you there, XXXXXXX?

A         (NO AUDIBLE RESPONSE) [56]

Q 111     You have to understand, this is very confusing for us.  To find someone who knows this man’s past, someone who has no logical reason to be associating with this person, to find the two of you in a cheap pub – cheap hotel pub room at midnight, upstairs at the XXXXXX Hotel – to find someone like you in a – – –

A         What do you mean?[57]

Q 112     It’s surprising.  It’s not something we’re used to seeing.

A         Who is someone like me? [58]

Q 113     Well, have you been to the XXXXXX Hotel before?

A         Yes! [59]

Q 114     O.K.

A         I worked there in uni![60]

Q 115     O.K.  But you get the gist of – – –

A         I don’t get the gist of anything you say.


Q 116      [61] We can … takeanother … break … if you like.  We understand that this is — difficult.  And we understand that XXXXX is a – we know his criminal … recordandwecanseethat  it’s quite  likely  that  you – you got yourself mixed up in a-a-a-a-a-s-s-s-s-siituuaaationnn … and that you got in … over your headandwe – what has happened … is quite serious but it’s still something we want to get a full understanding ofandget your side of for our investigation, especially if there’s things you can tell us … that are different … from the picture that we have –- so — far. [62]

A        [63] There’s  things I can tell you that would obliterate your picture.

Q 117      [64] O.K.  Would you like to – – –

A         [65] Your picture is – I’d call it a child’s drawing but it’s not that creative

Q 118     We are in the very early stages of our – – –

A         Just to be clear, [66]  I’m referring to your picture of reality.  The whole thing, all of it.  Your fundamental understanding of – – -[67]

Q 119     O.K.  Well, for now, I’d like – – –

A         – – – how reality functions and how people act and – – –

Q 120     – – – to just stay focused on the details of – – –

A         – – – why is like – is like an – an ant’s understanding of the fucking moon.

Q 121     All right.  XXXXXXX, if I could just bring you back to – – –

A         The moon’s there, it’s acting upon the ant all the time, but what the fuck would the ant know about it?

Q 122      [68] If I could just bring you back to the matter at hand, we understand this is stressful but – – –

A         The ant just shifts dirt.

Q 123     O.K.

A         You shift fucking dirt. [69]

Q 124     O.K., all right, all right.  That’s fine, XXXXXXX, you’re entitled to your opinion and that’s fine, but do any of your opinions directly relate to the specific circumstances of last night’s events?

A         (NO AUDIBLE RESPONSE) [70]

Q 125     So am I gunna continue reading XXXXX’s statement, or are you gunna tell us about it all?

A         I would really [71]  rather not do either of those things.

Q 126     Why?

A         Because I don’t trust you. [72]

Q 127     And why’s that? [73]

A         I have nothing against you.  You’ve been fine.  But it’s so clear to me that I can’t even begin to explain what’s happened to you in a way that you will understand, or that will benefit me at all.

Q 128     Try me.  Tell me – now, obviously, you still have your right not to say anything and all of that, and I’ll respect that.  [74] But if your only concern is that myself and Constable XXXXXXX here are too thick to understand you, you should at least try us.

A          [75] If I
am the only person in a
forest of shining ironbark and I sink
my hands
into the earth, they
will grow
as long as
roots and I will raise my feet to
the sky,
branches and leaves
sprouting from my toes,
and as the blood
in my head becomes thick
sap and oozes me
into the dirt,
still I will
be growing,
and perhaps
one day
a great granddaughter of yours
will climb
my ironbark limbs
with her
chrome cyborg hands
and feet,
and if
that is the only chance we have
I will still take it
– will still take
you that way.

Q 129     [76] Yes, I’m afraid to say you have lost me there.

A         I don’t think I can be any clearer.

Q 130     [77] Fair enough.  Look, I think I’ll – do you have anything further, Senior?


Q 131     So your – you – if it’s O.K. with you, Senior, I’d like – – –


Q 132     Please.


Q 133     [78] I would actually like to ask  about what you’ve just said, XXXXXXX.  You say you can’t be any clearer, but I think you know – or from what conversation we’ve had so far, I think you’d agree that you are being slightly obtuse.  Would that be fair to say?


Q 134     You might take us for dullards, and I’ll basically cop to that on some level – I’m no great poet or anything.  But you might be forgetting that we’re police officers, and we see crazies every day of the week.  Right?  You don’t strike me as a crazy.

A         What is a crazy? [79]

Q 135     O.K., so that’s not politically correct, that’s fine, fair enough.  But look – it’s clear to everyone in the room – myself and Constable XXXXX and to you also – that you can probably run circles around us in terms of this kind of stuff – you work with art and you work with words, so you’re a – you’re clever, no one’s arguing with that.  But if I may, I’d like to put something to you.  One last thing, and then it’s likely we’ll be done.  Would that be all right?

A         (NO AUDIBLE RESPONSE) [80]

Q 136     So back in XXXX, earlier this year, you typed this matter concerning XXXXX, and we know that you would have had access to other audio files or other transcripts concerning him.  My understanding is that – based on conversation with your boss, is that you – the audio files are stored by surname and so you could just type in his surname – it’s a fairly distinctive, ethnic surname [81] – you type in his surname and you can get any files relating to him.  Is that correct?

A         No comment.

Q 137     Sure. [82] So perhaps you go back through his files and you get a sense of the kind of thing that XXXXX gets up to, which has to do primarily with hitting or abusing women.  And in your line of work, I’m sure you hear a lot – you’re exposed to a lot of unpleasant stuff, and of course we know better than anyone that a huge percentage of our work these days is domestic violence related because people – it’s always been a thing but people are reporting it more.  So you’re dealing with this stuff every day, and I don’t know your personal situation but maybe there’s a history with this stuff, for you or for someone you – – –

A         Why do you keep saying – – –

Q 138     – – – care about.

A         – – – this stuff?  Why do you keep saying this stuff? [83]

Q 139     This stuff?  Oh, domestic violence?

A         You’re a police officer, call it what it is.

Q 140     Domestic violence, sure, abuse.  So maybe there’s a history of abuse with … you, or with someone you care about, and for whatever reason, this particular repeat offender, this guy XXXXX that we’ve been talking about, he really gets to you.  He’s done some pretty awful stuff, you know that, we know that.  And so maybe you get curious.  You track him down on Facebook, just out of curiosity.  And then you message him, just to see.  And one thing leads to another, and then you’re actually in this situation that you never meant to actually act upon, but you have this opportunity to – I dunno, to maybe make something right – to make something feel right, for yourself or for his – for the women that he abused, and so you do, maybe.  Is that – would I be – – – [84]

A         You – you have it so wrong.  I mean you – but he also – he’s a friend.  He’s a friend. He’s really good at wrestling.  He makes me laugh. [85]


Q 141     All right, I think we’ll leave it there, XXXXXXX.  You’re g̶o̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶o̶ gunna be charged today with aggravated assault and with stalking.  Once again, you do not have to say or do anything but anything you say or do may be recorded and given in evidence.  Do you understand that?

A         Yes.

Q 142     Do you have anything else to say in answer to the charges?

A         No.

Q 143     Do you wish to make a further statement on the matter?

A         I think that’s really unclear.  [86]  I think most people who come through here don’t understand the difference between those two questions.  I think you ought to say, “do you wish to make a separate written statement for our brief of evidence?”

Q 144     Fair enough. [87]   I’ve also got some information to read to you regarding fingerprints.  You’re suspected of having committed the offence of aggravated assault.  Your fingerprints are required for the purposes of identification.  Your fingerprints may be used in evidence at court.  If you do not consent to giving your fingerprints, a police officer may use reasonable force to obtain them.  If you are are not charged with a relevant offence within six months, or you are so charged but the charges are not proceeded with, then the fingerprints will be destroyed.  Do you understand all of this information?

A         Yes.

Q 145     Do you wish to comment on any of this information?

A         No.

Q 146     And do you consent to giving your fingerprints?

A         No.

Q 147     No?

A         No.

Q 148     O. … K. then.  And you understand, as I said, that we will be able to – – –

A         I won’t put up much of a fight.  I just want you to know that you don’t have my consent. [88]

Q 149     Sure, fine, that’s – that’s noted, then.  And do you agree that the time is now 5.47 am?

A         Yes.

Q 150     Interview concluded at that time. [89]

A         Thank fucking – – -[90]


Q 151     Hey, just – – –



I regret to inform you that I will be resigning from the position of police transcriptionist with XXXXX XXX XXXXXX, effective immediately.
I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the nature of this work, and the company protocol and rules around what we do and don’t transcribe.
Perhaps my concerns are insignificant, relatively speaking. Perhaps this won’t change anything. But I needed to show this to someone.
Thank you for understanding.
Kind regards,






The footage I’m transcribing from is of a cream-walled room. A woman sits at a desk. The forearms of the two interviewing officers are visible, but not their faces. The woman dusts something off herself, rubbing a particular spot on the front of her shirt. She’s preoccupied with this for a while. When she looks up, she startles a little, as if the officers have been staring at her this whole time. She immediately becomes still. The officer continues.





















































[3] XXXXX XXXXXX: Why do they say this? Why not just say “went to”? All this obfuscating language…
































[4] XXXXX XXXXXX: Do the officers have this phrase tattooed inside their eyelids upon graduation from the academy? It gets used four times in this interview alone. What is fair about this? Why does the fairness need pointing out?














[5] XXXXX XXXXXX: The officer taps the recording device with the top of his finger.




[6] XXXXX XXXXXX: Something about the officer’s tone here makes me feel that he definitely already knows






[7] XXXXX XXXXXX: The officer chuckles a little before going on







































































[8] XXXXX XXXXXX: There’s a very long pause before this answer. The suspect seems to mouth something. Maybe “Seriously?”
















[9] XXXXX XXXXXX: The suspect signs the image. Why don’t we include this confirmation in our transcription? Seems pretty vital…

[10] XXXXX XXXXXX:  After this statement, all three people in the interview room have a little laugh – not for long. The suspect smiles at the officers. She signs the document.





[11] XXXXX XXXXXX: I hate it when they do this. They do it all the time. They’re experts in demeaning people.

[12] XXXXX XXXXXX: She reads the text aloud in a facetious, exaggerated tone.















[13] XXXX XXXXXX: There’s a long pause after this statement, where the suspect and the officer seem to be eyeballing each other.

[14] XXXX XXXXXX: There’s a surprisingly sympathetic, almost sad tone here.

[15] XXXXX XXXXXX: Another long pause before this statement, with more eyeballing.


[16] XXXXX XXXXXX: She signs it.


































[17] XXXXX XXXXXX: This is funny. She says “no comment” but the “no” is long and drawn out, and she shakes her head.








[18] XXXXX XXXXXX: The next five question-answers after this are very tense. The suspect is suddenly alert, and seems angry or agitated.















































[19] XXXXX XXXXXX: This is spoken like “no comment?” – as if it’s a question. She seems confused.


[20] XXXXX XXXXXX: The suspect scoffs, the officer talks over her.













[21] XXXXX XXXXXX: Long pause here.















[22] XXXXX XXXXXX:  The officer shows her the document, and she leans over and reads it for a moment.

[23] XXXXX XXXXXX:  She reads this, almost with difficulty, from the page.














[24] XXXXX XXXXXX:  She sighs heavily.








[25] XXXXX XXXXXX: Long pause here. She is not looking at the officers.









[26] XXXXX XXXXXX: He takes a long while to shuffle through some papers, trying to find something. He can’t find it.









[27] XXXXX XXXXXX: There is a very, very long pause here. She still won’t look at the officers.



[28] XXXXX XXXXXX: He shuffles a whole lot of papers throughout this section.






















[29] XXXXX XXXXXX: Both officers seem to find this funny. Someone chuckles.

[30] XXXXX XXXXXX: She responds quite sharply to this – she looks up, furrowed brow.












[31] XXXXX XXXXXX:  The officer is clearly flustered. He says the following haltingly, trying to find the right words. There’s much more stuttering than I was allowed to transcribe.




[32] XXXXX XXXXXX:  More shuffling of papers.











[33] XXXXX XXXXXX: A very long pause here. She does a gesture that seems to say “So?”

[34] XXXXX XXXXXX: She chuckles. He speaks over her.


































[35] XXXXX XXXXXX: The corroborating officer gets out of his chair and moves towards the suspect as the camera is turned off.

[36] XXXXX XXXXXX: The camera is turned back on. The suspect is wearing different clothes???
































[37] XXXXX XXXXXX: Some sort of hesitation in the middle of this sentence, between “we” and “got”.


[38] XXXXX XXXXXX: The officers try to continue, but both burst out laughing. The suspect also laughs. They laugh loudly, for a good 20 seconds. The officers spend the next few questions trying to pull themselves together.








[39] XXXXX XXXXXX: The officer seems disappointed – as if he felt that there was some new agreement or new rapport after the suspension of the interview, and the shit joke.



















[40] XXXXX XXXXXX: He does air quotes.

[41] XXXXX XXXXXX: She does air quotes, and mimics the officer’s intonation.

[42] XXXXX XXXXXX: Long pause

[43] XXXXX XXXXXX:  He emphasises this phrase again.





[44] XXXXX XXXXXX:  He emphasises this whole phrase in his reading of the statement.







[45] XXXXX XXXXXX:  The suspect laughs, heartily. There’s another sound on the tape like a chuckle – maybe the corroborator? Hard to tell, as we can’t see their faces.




























[46] XXXXX XXXXXX: Long pause. And it takes her a long time to get through the rest of her statement.




[47] XXXXX XXXXXX: Long pause again. The suspect starts tapping at the table again, and seems to have some difficulty breathing.






[48] XXXXX XXXXXX: Still tapping the table, still breathing heavily, now nodding her head repeatedly.


[49] XXXXX XXXXXX: She bursts into tears.

[50] XXXXX XXXXXX: She is crying.




[51] XXXXX XXXXXX: A long pause
[52] XXXXX XXXXXX: He reaches a hand across the table. He doesn’t touch her, he just reaches out towards her, placing his hand on the table half-way between himself and her. His enunciation becomes very clear and slow.







[53] XXXXX XXXXXX: She is still openly crying. She’s clearly trying to stop, but the crying continues.

[54] XXXXX XXXXXX: He continues with the very clear, slow enunciation.




[55] XXXXX XXXXXX: The corroborating officer doesn’t cut him off here, he trails off to a long pause. Why don’t we have different notation to indicate this?

[56] XXXXX XXXXXX: She is still crying.









[57] XXXXX XXXXXX: She seems enraged, fed up, exhausted by the corroborating officer.

[58] XXXXX XXXXXX: Air quotes.  She’s still crying, but less now.



[59] XXXXX XXXXXX: Why aren’t we allowed to use exclamation marks? People shout sometimes!

[60] XXXXX XXXXXX: She starts taking deep breaths, pulling herself together.




[61] XXXXX XXXXXX: The phrasing here is so difficult to notate. I’m just gunna edit this whole passage to reflect how the officer was actually speaking.
XXXXX XXXXXX: Formatted: Font: Bold
XXXXX XXXXXX: Formatted: Font: Bold
XXXXX XXXXXX: Formatted: Font: Bold
XXXXX XXXXXX:Formatted: Font: Bold
XXXXX XXXXXX: Formatted: Font: Bold

[62] XXXXX XXXXXX: I obviously know that it’s unrealistic to type transcripts in this way, but we miss SO MUCH of what is said by trying to make it fit within such a narrow grammar and syntax. His pauses and emphases carry meaning.

[63] XXXXX XXXXXX: She takes a while to say this.

[64] XXXXX XXXXXX: Long pause.

[65] XXXXX XXXXXX: She seems to be in a fog, staring at them, vague. She chuckles at the end here.

[66] XXXXX XXXXXX: She speaks very softly.

[67] XXXXX XXXXXX: She continues with the whole sentence without stopping, she talks over the officer the whole way.












[68] XXXXX XXXXXX: Slight pause, like a teacher waiting for a rowdy classroom to settle down.




[69] XXXXX XXXXXX: She leans in.






[70] XXXXX XXXXXX: She sighs. She is shaking. She rubs her face with both hands.




[71] XXXXX XXXXXX: She seems about to cry again, but she continues.

[72] XXXXX XXXXXX: Spoken softly.

[73] XXXXX XXXXXX: Seems genuinely concerned.








[74] XXXXX XXXXXX: He’s chuckling a little, as if relieved.


[75] XXXXX XXXXXX: There is a pause here of almost half a minute. When she speaks, it’s a different way of speaking, like she’s reciting poetry. I have marked the rhythms of the poem as I perceived them by using line breaks – which, by the way, are another tool we should use more often.













[76] XXXXX XXXXXX: Another long pause.



[77] XXXXX XXXXX: Completely dismissive, seems well and truly ready to end the interview.








[78] XXXXX XXXXXX: The tone here seems genuinely interested, not patronizing.











[79] XXXXX XXXXXX: Air quotes.











[80] XXXXX XXXXXX: She shrugs.









[81] XXXXX XXXXXX: The suspect sighs heavily.



[82] XXXXX XXXXXX:  As if the suspect has said “yes”; as if she’s participating in this conversation.















[83] XXXXX XXXXXX:  Air quotes.




















[84] XXXXX XXXXXX:  Again, she doesn’t cut him off here, he just trails off mid-sentence.

[85] XXXXX XXXXXX: She starts crying again, but pulls it together immediately, with big deep breaths.














[86] XXXXX XXXXXX: She’s suddenly very casual, though it seems feigned – she hasn’t quite caught her breath after crying.



[87] XXXXX XXXXX: Completely dismissive, uninterested.


























[88] XXXXX XXXXXX: Very calm, quiet, composed.



[89] XXXXX XXXXXX: The officer is already reaching for the off switch on the camera as he says this last phrase.

[90] XXXXX XXXXXX: She pushes herself up and away from the table.



[91] XXXXX XXXXXX: Maybe this is all nitpicking. Maybe it’s unhelpful. After all, this is probably the best interview I’ve ever transcribed – at least XXXXXXX knew what she was doing; knew which questions to answer and how to protect herself. She’s educated, and she’s white. She’ll probably get off lightly. But … I don’t know.

We make no note of pauses, of flinches, of gestures, hesitations, volume. We make no note of laughter, no note of crying. Surely, these things mean something. We use one set of grammatical rules for the police and another for the suspects. Our entire job seems to be to iron out any trace of the human voice, of the interaction between people in a room.

The whole procedure – what the police do, what we do, what the courts do… it just seems so cruel. So unhuman. So much the opposite of compassion, of justice.

I just don’t want any part in it anymore.


A pitch for an original Netflix series


SYNOPSIS: A 5-part TV series about a trendy inner-city couple in their early thirties who move to the country to achieve their lifelong dream of getting chickens.




LORELEI is housesitting interstate, trying to write her first book, when she gets a call from her boyfriend JEREMY.


JEREMY: You know how we’ve been talking about buying a house?

LORELEI: Yes! I love that joke! It’s the funniest thing ever!

JEREMY: Well, I just bought one. In the country.

LORELEI: Oh … kay. Where’s the country?

JEREMY: Selby.

LORELEI: Selby? Where’s Selby?

JEREMY: It’s less than an hour from Melbourne on the Eastern Freeway.

LORELEI (thinks thoughtfully): Hmm, an hour. I guess that’s just like living in East Brunswick and taking the tram to St Kilda?

JEREMY: Yes! Plus, we’ll have a backyard so we can finally achieve our lifelong dream of getting chickens!

LORELEI: Oh my goodness! We have always wanted to get chickens! Selby, here we come!


We hear the joyful clucking of chickens as the title bursts triumphantly onscreen: MY HEART BELONGS TO SELBY: A True Story.




LORELEI and JEREMY move to their new house in Selby, a cosy township positioned at the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges. Placid sheep and goats graze on Selby’s sweeping, grassy slopes. In Selby, the general store, the post office and the bottle shop are all the same thing.


A quaint steam engine called Puffing Billy chugs exhilarated tourists very slowly through the town about ten times a day.


LORELEI: Selby is so charming! I can’t wait to get chickens!

JEREMY: Well actually honey, I’ve been researching the chickens and I don’t think we’re ready to commit to them yet. Too much work. Maybe we should just have some kids instead?

LORELEI: Sure, why not! I love Selby!


They kiss passionately as Puffing Billy toots in the distance.




Four years later


JEREMY is jiggling their wailing newborn, while LORELEI delicately tries to change the nappy of their sick toddler without getting poo all over her hands.


JEREMY: Do you think we might need to move to a bigger house?

LORELEI: But honey, we can’t ever leave this house! Both our kids were born here! And I always dreamed they’d grow up here too.  We’d affix a brass plaque to the front of the house, just like the house where Mozart was born.

JEREMY: But if we get a bigger house, you could have a writing room all to yourself instead of sharing a room with the kids.

LORELEI (turns on ABC for Kids, plonks the toddler down, and opens her computer): Great idea! Let’s start looking!




One week later


LORELEI has gastro and can’t go to the open house viewings that JEREMY has proposed for the weekend.


LORELEI (in between vomits): So, where exactly are these open houses?

JEREMY (tenderly removing a yo-yo of mucousy spew from her hair): They’re in Eltham. It has a similar vibe to Selby – you know, semi-rural, artistic. And it’ll be such a shorter commute for me!

LORELEI: Eltham?! I mean, I love Heide, but is Heide enough reason to move to Eltham?


LORELEI spews dramatically as Jeremy hurries away from the vomit and towards Eltham.


Later that night.


LORELEI: Well, thank goodness you didn’t like any of the houses in Eltham! Because I realised something while I was spewing into the toilet today: I really want to stay in Selby! It’s perfect for us here. I love how green it is, and how the cockatoos and kookaburras squawk like they are having a violent showdown at sunset. I want our children to have a big backyard to run around in, and I really, really want to achieve our lifelong dream of getting chickens!

JEREMY: Yeah, you’re right. I love all those things too. (pauses thoughtfully) Selby is less than an hour from Melbourne on the Eastern Freeway after all.


They kiss passionately as Puffing Billy toots in the distance, but JEREMY pulls away due to the lingering flavour of spew.




A few weeks later


JEREMY comes home from work and casually throws a real estate brochure towards LORELEI, who has two children sitting on top of her as she types frantically on her computer.


LORELEI (barely looks up): What’s that?

JEREMY: It’s our new house!


JEREMY: I put in an offer last week and the real estate just called me to say we got it. We’re moving!


JEREMY: It’s got a writing room for you!

LORELEI: But … but … (whispers hopefully) … is it in Selby?

JEREMY: Yes! It’s still in Selby!

LORELEI: That means …

JEREMY AND LORELEI (in unison): It’s less than an hour away from Melbourne on the Eastern Freeway!

LORELEI: Oh thank goodness! I love you honey! And I love Selby!


They kiss passionately as Puffing Billy toots in the distance.


All of a sudden, JEREMY pulls away from their embrace.


JEREMY: There’s just one thing.

LORELEI: What’s that honey?

JEREMY: The new house has a huge backyard! We can finally achieve our lifelong dream of getting chickens!

LORELEI (pauses thoughtfully): Babe, I’m exhausted. I haven’t slept in years. I really can’t be bothered getting chickens anymore. Can you?

JEREMY: Yeah nah. You’re right. Two kids is plenty.

LORELEI: Oh, thank you honey! (She looks towards the camera and smiles winningly.) And THANK YOU SELBY!


They kiss passionately as Puffing Billy toots in the distance.





Hume Hwy

1. The 1970s. We were from Hawthorn and the trip along Sydney Road to get to the Hume took us through other worlds. We’d fall silent when we passed Pentridge and I’d mouth, silently to my brother, IT’S A PRISON. A lot of the highway was single lane. Overtaking lanes were treated with reverence.  Craigieburn seemed a long way out of the city. We drove through country towns rather than past them. Every time there was a sign in the road that said ‘Dip ahead’ my brother and I would bob up and down, like dancing cockatoos. We thought we were hilarious. We spied, with our little eyes. We tried to work out what each other was. (Animal, vegetable or mineral?). Dad played tapes of Rod Stewart, Little Feet, Elton John and Steely Dan. As we were not allowed to eat junk food, EXCEPT WHEN WE’RE ON LONG DRIVES, I took advantage: ate meat pies, hamburgers with the lot, iced buns. I drank milkshakes. Then, as often as not, I’d throw up by the side of the road.


2. Three weeks after I got my license I shared the driving when a group of us headed up the Hume to Sydney, then onward to Brisbane. The trip lasted twenty-four hours. We only stopped for hamburgers and then rolled the car after failing to take a curve properly sometime around dawn. We got up, shook ourselves off, and kept driving. I played Michael Jackson’s The Wall as often as my fellow passengers allowed.


3. Driving back from NSW, in my boyfriend’s Wolsley (circa 1950). There was no air conditioner and the thermometer in the car read 50 degrees celsius. To stop my bare legs sticking to the leather seat I put my feet on the dash. I played Michael Jackson and Madonna until my boyfriend objected. We negotiated. The Angels, Cold Chisel, Paul Kelly. We were agreed on AC/DC. Highway to Hell. It was all a bit of a moot point as we drove with the windows open, which meant we couldn’t hear much above the whoosh of the road. Occasionally. we’d put the radio on to listen to the news but the signal flickered in and out. There were whispered warnings of fire that we ignored until we saw flames leaping in the trees on either side of the road. I remembered what I was taught at school. Stop the car. Cover yourself with a wet blanket. Lie low. Don’t run. We kept driving.


4. 198something. Carpooling with a guy I didn’t know well at the end of a group weekend away somewhere I can’t remember. We’re driving late at night and a kangaroo leapt out of the darkness. I had no idea the crash and thud would be so loud. The driver goes out and dragged the animal’s body to the side of the road while I sit there and cried. I’m not sure if he killed the kangaroo or it was already dead.


5. 1986. Driving to Terip Terip with friends to watch Halley’s Comet. Tents were packed in the boot. We squinted into binoculars and exclaimed at various silvery blurs. Convinced they were Halley’s Comet, not the Milky Way you always see in this part of the world, away from the city lights. In retrospect it seems very unlikely we saw the comet at all.


6. Driving to Sydney, against the stream of trucks headed towards Melbourne, the occasional one flicking on its high beam for a lark.  Repeat, repeat, repeat, year after year, decade after decade.


7. Early 1990s. Heading to Terip on a Friday night, the Hume pushing north, then north-east through drought. I see a tree on a hill in the distance and to the right that looks like a rooster. I call it the Rooster Tree. I tell people about this amazing discovery only to find out that everyone knows about the Rooster Tree. Grass is the colour of straw, the earth pale yellow clay. A blank slate for the setting sun that turns straw into gold.  One trip, after it has rained, the green is so vivid I become disorientated and I think I’m lost, or have taken the wrong road.


8. In 1993 I left Sydney for Melbourne. I did not drive down the Hume as often , but then I headed back south along the Hume, my red Mazda 323 full of belongings, because seven years had passed, it was a new century, and it was time to return home. Twelve hours of hard driving. It was raining.


9. My girlfriend and I drove to Seymour to buy a Burmese kitten. We had bought our Burmese, Bird, a few weeks earlier, but she was lonely, so we returned to get her brother, the only unsold kitten in the litter. We assumed his square over-sized head and crackly meow made him less appealing to the general public, but we decided these were the precise qualities we loved. We called him Wilson. It was an awfully hot summer’s day but nonetheless I needed my hamburger. I pulled into a roadhouse by the side of the freeway (the days of highway were long gone) and got myself something to eat, but it took forever and I returned to the car to find tiny Wilson on the floor beside Virginia’s feet, panting, and drinking water out of a plastic container. He was very hot. We will never, neither of us, drive past that servo again without remembering the time Wilson drank water in the car when we first got him. Even now that he’s an old cat, and not so long for this world.


10. I was tentative as I drove past Kilmore East, then turned right off the Hume, heading in the direction of Flowerdale and Kinglake. I wanted to understand the scale of the fires that ripped through Victoria on February 7th, but I didn’t want to gawk. Black trees. Charcoal gashes slashed across hills.


11. I’d been away a few years, driving the multi-lane freeways of America. I missed the Hume and its modest two-lanes. The glimpses of the old highway off to the left or right. Old bridges. I held my hand up in front of me as I drove. The veins on my hands have become bigger, bluer, slightly gnarled.  I fancied the road was an extension of one of those veins, winding its way through my heartland. Every time there was a sign in the road that said ‘Dip ahead’, I bobbed up and down like a dancing cockatoo. I used to watch the scrappy gum trees that lined the road, strobed sunlight, and go into a kind of trance. These days I concern myself with questions regarding the trees’ names: Ironbark, Manna, Peppermint. I consider the verge, that strip of land between the road’s edge and the paddocks, vestiges of uncleared land that provide habitat for bees and other creatures. Were those vestiges always so full of road kill, I wondered? Dozens of Roos.  Sometimes wombats, echidnas or wallabies. Mowed down by trucks mainly, but also, no doubt, by fools like younger me. We need wild life corridors – but from where? And to where?


12. I often used to wish that I lived in a city that went up, not out and as I drove up Sydney Road it seemed my wish has come true. SO. MANY. APARTMENTS. But the city moves ever outward as well. It used to end not far from Coburg but these days it keeps pace with the car for at least another 20 k. There are urban growth corridors. Developments. I’m teaching in Wangaratta, and as I drove it struck me I must have driven this road, or an iteration of it, hundreds of times and it’s not just the Hume that’s changed. Recent trips have seen me napping. Legs up on the dash, timer set for 15 minutes. Once back on the road an archipelago of petrol stations and fast food joints float in and out of my peripheral vision. I play Michael Jackson. Beyoncé. Kanye West. TLC. Don’t go Chasing Waterfalls. I listen to podcasts, most of which are various expressions of despair about the Trump presidency.  But the sun still sets to my left , the full moon still rises to my right. Fat as butter, golden as a sun, large as the sky.


If you happened to be driving from the city to the Melbourne Cup, you’d whisk through our shopping centre, Newmarket, in the twinkling of an eye.

It’s a block and a half of Racecourse Road in Flemington, an old-fashioned street of peeling two-storey Victorian buildings. It’s got a few nice trees, but apart from its sprinkling of Asian and African restaurants and its small, hard-core caffeine outlets, it’s just a classic, modest, suburban strip where you can buy booze or food or a newspaper, return a library book, or catch public transport to the city. The 57 tram runs along it, and the Craigieburn train line crosses it on a bridge near the huge old pub, the mighty Doutta Galla.

On Racecourse Road, Chinese and Somali grocers unload deliveries to their battling stores. The opshop ladies patiently scoop up armfuls of useless clothes dumped at their door under cover of night. Druggies and their dealers slink along close to the gutter. Bulked-up gym junkies bound out on to the pavement and stare at the world with unblinking eyes. Old alkies sprawl spitting and cursing on the bench outside the pawnshop.

I can get a nod or a smile or a good morning out of most of these citizens, but the newer ones, people who move along the street in fluttering ankle-length robes and white embroidered caps, or with their heads shrouded in scarves or grandly bound in folds of stiff striped cloth, tend to practise what I think of as guardianship of the eyes. Not that there’s hostility: my anxious grandson bounced out of his first day at primary school and declared that he had ‘made two friends, one white and one brown’; and at school concerts the women in hijab laugh and whoop with us and ululate at the kids in their wacky home-made costumes. But on the street there’s little or no cross-cultural eye contact, none of the mutual acknowledgement I’m always longing for—until the day when, for a reason nobody could have foreseen, it burst out among us.

My grand-daughter and I stepped out of a café at ten o’clock one morning.

Something was wrong, we could feel it. Where was the noise?

Traffic had slowed and stopped. Fifty metres away, under the railway bridge, a cluster of police cars was parked nose to tail in a triangle: they seemed to be protecting something on the ground.

Robed men and taxi drivers were spilling out of the Sudanese café. One of them saw us hesitating. Instead of blanking me in the customary way, he looked me right in the eye, held my gaze, and said in a low voice, ‘Somebody jump.’

The traffic lights at the bridge were blinking emergency. My grand-daughter, in a panic, leaned forward to break into a run, but we could not get home without passing the cop cars. A crowd was gathering on the intersection, lining up along the pavement edge, every head turned towards the three cars and whatever it was they were shielding. The girl pushed through and took to her heels up the crescent. I stayed.

Shoulder to shoulder we stood, women, men, pressing close on the pavement, breathing together in silence. Some people’s mouths were open, seeking more air. Everybody needed to stare. I wriggled forward to the gutter. On the black bitumen, in the space that the cop cars were guarding, lay a deflated hump of orangey-brown cloth. A small woman beside me, tightly shawled and scarved, turned a stark face to me and whispered, ‘He dead?’ ‘I think so.’ She kept staring at me. Her eyes filled with tears, and so did mine. I wanted to put my arm around her, or take her hand, but we just stood there, packed in with the rest too tight to move, all of us strangers except that someone had jumped from our bridge, and broken himself on our road.

An ambulance slid in. Men in uniforms and hi-vis milled about in the shadow of the bridge, trying to make themselves into a screen. But when the paramedics lifted the hump off the bitumen, an arm flopped out. People uttered gasps and low cries. It was a white arm, or rather, pink: a young man’s arm, hairless, chubby, with a small tattoo near the shoulder. Hastily the ambos covered it and loaded him into the vehicle. The doors slammed and they drove away.

The crowd let out its breath, and began to loosen. Nobody was speaking, but faces of every colour, age and gender were open, chins high, eyes wide and undefended, heads turning this way and that, glances meeting and holding. People needed to look at each other. It was as if we were reluctant to disperse until someone had made a sign of reverence, some symbolic gesture understood by all of us that would express our horror, and fear, and pity, and more than that, a sudden comradeliness, the solidarity of the living.

I called the police station. I said I was a writer who had seen the dead man on the road and wanted to tell the story of how his death had momentarily changed things. But the police officer said, ‘We don’t give out details of suicides. So there’s nothing I can tell you.’ I took a breath to say I didn’t want his name, only his age, but I knew the cop had a lot of other things to deal with, and I didn’t want him to think I was some sort of morbid nutcase, so I hung up.

When I got home my grand-daughter and her mother were sitting entwined on the couch, not talking, just looking out into the garden.

I joined them and we watched the lorikeets squabbling in the branches of the palm tree. In a while I walked back to Racecourse Road to buy something for dinner. The shopkeeper was a sweet, warm, funny man who knew everyone’s name and circumstance. We talked in whispers about the man who had jumped, perhaps he was only young, we thought, perhaps even a teenager, for some reason we felt sure he was very young, oh, his poor parents. I knew nothing about the shopkeeper’s family but suddenly he began to talk about one of his children, a boy whose illness he, the shopkeeper, had always stoutly maintained was only something that his wife was imagining, that there was nothing wrong with him, nothing at all – but she had insisted and now they had a diagnosis, and then the shopkeeper began to cry and I cried too and we stood there facing each other over the counter, wiping away our tears, and he handed me my parcel and I gave him the money, and I thought, as I walked home again beside the railway line, trying to think of a prayer or a poem or some words with meaning, that the boy who jumped had cracked us all open, that conversations like mine and the shopkeeper’s, gentle revelations and exchanges of sorrow, were probably happening in every shop on the street and every house and flat in the suburb, and that this was the boy’s gift to us, although he could not know it; and although it would be of little comfort to his family, I wished they could know that a tide of sorrow for their boy had passed through our whole neighbourhood and broken our hearts and joined them to each other, even if only for one short hour.

Yarra River


When I was a young boy my father would take me to the Moomba festival each year.

Not to witness the annual parade, but the weight-lifting events held on a rickety stage in Yarra Park. We would walk from our one-bedroom terrace in Fitzroy, through the city to the river’s edge. Obsessed with masculinity and physical strength my dad seemed as enthralled with men wearing the tightest of sporting outfits and throwing a heavy barbell above their heads as a child watching the dizzying lights of carnival rides. I would quickly become bored with the grunting, farting weightlifters and wander off, down to the banks of the river, where I would search for stones flat and smooth to skip across the surface of the tea-stained water. Back then, I knew only a short stretch of the Yarra, bounded by Princes Bridge to my left and the Swan Bridge on my right.

At the age of ten I moved to a foreign land, a Victorian Housing Commission scheme in Richmond. I didn’t know it at the time, but I have since learned that the grey concrete meccano-like architecture of the high-rise estate that became our unlikely home, was a form of brutalism. And it was. The estate was over-run with hundreds of kids who had also come from someplace else, whether it be, like me, from a mile up the road, or from the other side of the world. In the first months of being forced together in government sponsored social experiment, turf was marked out, defended and fought over, until eventually, an uneasy truce broke out amongst a group of teenagers who realised that what we shared in common was more attractive than the language and cultural values that divided us. In addition to the expected shared interest in pop music, fashion and a hatred of order – heavily promoted and policed by the dreaded estate manager – we fell in love with the river.

Richmond was, and remains a suburb partly bordered by major roads ever clogged with heavy traffic, including Victoria Street, and the dreaded Punt Road, a blocked artery that a quadruple by-pass could never repair. But the east and south-east boundaries of Richmond are skirted by the meandering river, entering the suburb beneath the Punt Road Bridge and moving on to Abbotsford at Victoria Street. Soon after I moved to Richmond I was standing on the laundry roof of our housing block, itself up on the roof above our flat, a space that belonged to women during the day, washing and hanging clothes, and teenagers at night, smoking cigarettes, listening to music on crackling transistor radios while looking up a vast stretch of night sky scattered with stars. From the roof-top I could see beyond the Abbotsford (now Carlton) brewery to a mass of gumtrees in the distance.

I was immediately struck by the unlikely sight and soon began my explorations of the river.

Not long after, on a Sunday morning, along with a large group of kids, I slipped through a hole in a wire fence behind the brewery, followed a trail through a mess of weeds and rubbish and found myself on the bank of a river. My personal geographical map was so restricted in those days that I was not aware that this was the same river I’d enjoyed skipping stones across each Moomba. We explored the river that morning, along both banks from Collins Bridge in Abbotsford to the ‘Skipping Girl’ Bridge at Victoria, where in those days the still to be restored Skipping Girl herself, Audrey, performed an erratic neon dance above the famous vinegar factory each night.

From the age of ten, and throughout my teenage years, the river dominated both my experience of living in both Richmond and later Abbotsford. It also became the unlikely muse for much of my writing when I became a fiction writer, culminating into my fractured ode for the river, Ghost River, in 2015. It was a rare weekend as a teenager that I did not spend time on the river, either swimming and jumping from bridges in summer, or walking her banks throughout the year with friends, simply smoking and telling stories, some true and some fictional, all embellished and influenced by our shared love of the water.

The year I turned twelve I began Form One (Year Seven) at Richmond High School and the river followed me to class. The school was built on the site of an old tip on the west bank of the river between Hawthorn Bridge and the ‘Catwalk’ rail bridge, which would become my favourite jumping bridge. There was both comfort and satisfaction in sitting in a classroom overlooking the place I most wanted to be. The river became my creative inspiration during English classes when we were asked to write a poem or story. While some kids would struggle for inspiration, I would simply look out the window and follow the current of the river easing towards the bay.

But the river also created a sense of restlessness in me. It was where I most wanted to be. Although it was off-limits at lunchtime, no school regulation could stop some of us from spending the midday hour under the Catwalk, smoking more cigarettes and even sneaking in a swim on warm days. The struggle between the pull of the river and the confines of the classroom heightened over the following years, and by the time I was enrolled in Form Four the river had won. From the beginning of the school year onwards, the late summer seemed to drift on and on. I forgot all about school and hung out at every swimming hole along the Richmond side of the river. The change in the weather, around early April that year, coincided with my expulsion from school, due to a lack of attendance, and what the school principal explained to my mother as ‘a total absence of motivation’.


The Night Reverses is a unique two-man show that remixes poetry into a live music improvisation. Performing a selection of spoken word, Nathan presents Geoffrey with a high-risk challenge in front of a live audience. Upon hearing each piece for the very first time Geoffrey immediately replies, freestyling the poem into a groove via a loop machine and his finely-tuned instinct for soul, funk and blues. 


1. Lake Wendouree

We can start at the lake
and keep going round, or launch
from the Olympic Rings, rowing across
that weed-free strip cut fresh by somebody
each morning. We can stop for the swans
and cygnets parade-making wherever they like,
for kids on training wheels learning how
to ride, putting distance between themselves
and their parents. We can savour the view
on a sun-clapping day straight through
to Mt Warrenheip—there are photos of it,
competitions full, and that oil painting hangs
in the gallery. They’d also like me to mention
the Gold Rush, the Uprising, the birth of
the Ballarat Star, the begonias and busts,
as we board the tram, the Arch of Victory
and the Avenue of Honour.

2. Lake Wendouree

But I can only tell you about the boy
down the road, one kilometre from shore,
from the private school boat sheds and
glass-walled mansions with ornamental
bird feeders in their yards. Just one kilometre,
where teen mums push their prams along
the bitumen, and police tape decorates
the streets for months, because cops
come to put it up, not take it down.
There is a boy named Jadyn and a new
volunteer helping with the Reading Program.
She asks, If you could go anywhere in the world,
what’s one place you’d like to go? Jadyn says,
Lake Wendouree, because he’s never been,
because his mum has never owned a car
and he doesn’t know what ‘overseas’ is.
Because he can’t imagine anything bigger,
better or so impossibly far away. He’s never
had the opportunity, just one kilometre
from shore. And they’d like me to mention
the swans and cygnets, the families and
Botanical Gardens, but here’s the view of
the lake in the mind of a boy who’s never
had a chance to see it. Somebody cuts the lake
each day, everything beneath the surface,
for the rowers to row past Mt Warrenheip,
like that oil painting in the gallery.

3. Lake Wendouree

But I can only tell you I don’t know
Jadyn, or whether his mum owns a car.
I made up his name because the story I heard
is a good angle for a commissioned poem.
It’s true, I get to write the script, all
from a position of privilege. It’s true, along
with the swans, the view and the heritage
they’d like me to mention. I can’t decide
what I owe Ballarat, aside from—the lake,
and the lake is round. I park beside it,
framing scenes, hawking them as ‘home’.
To contest it here in three parts, continually
jogging the beat, knowing that the word
Wendouree translates to, go away. I remain
on the edge with best intentions, meaning to
go beyond. And yes, we get sun-clapping days.
We bloody know it can get bloody cold!




So I get on the train and sit beside the writer Carmel Bird and we talk.  Talking, we get around to favourite authors.  I tell Carmel when I’m reading the works of the Polish writer Hanna Krall I know why I write and when I stop reading her I slip back into my usual state of uncertainty and doubt.  I’ve been trying to contact Hanna Krall for a couple of years, I say.  I’ve written to her English publishers and to people in Warsaw and the States.  They have all been very polite but no help.  I went to Poland to research the youth of a dear friend whose life I wish to celebrate.  Poland, I say, resisted me.  It remained closed to my efforts.  ‘I feel as if I’ll never find someone who knows Hanna Krall.’

Carmel says, I know someone who knows Hanna Krall. I’ll send him an email.  (I’m speechless).

The following day I get an email from Carmel giving me Stefan Ehrenkreutz’s  phone number.  I call Stefan.  He asks me, so what is it you want to do?  I tell him, I’m going to write a book celebrating the life of my old friend Max Blatt.  Max, I say, was a German Jewish Socialist intellectual who lived in Breslau and resisted the Nazis.   I tell him I’m going to Breslau – which is now Wroclaw and is in Poland these days and is no longer in Germany.  I say I would also like to contact the Polish author Hanna Krall.  I ask if he has heard of her. Stefan is enthusiastic about the project and says at once he will give me an introduction to people in Poland who know Hanna and who will talk to me when I get to Wroclaw in May.  I say to him,  This is amazing for me, Stefan.  Poland has stayed closed to me, even when I visited.  Well, he says,  there is a time when these things open for us, Alex.  I say, that time is now, Stefan, this moment, talking to you.  Poland is opening for me!

On Saturday I’m out shopping with my wife Stephanie and we run into the author Robyn Annear and her partner David Bannear.

We’re outside Fig cafe so we decide to go in and have a coffee.  Robyn tells me about a video she has made for Carmel Bird’s web page.  So of course I spill the beans and tell Robyn how Carmel has connected me to Poland and to Hanna Krall in a way I could not have imagined.  Oh yes, Robyn says, Carmel is the magical connector.

Living in Castlemaine this is what happens. It’s typical of this town.  I search the world unsuccessfully for a connection then by pure chance I sit next to Carmel on the 9.47 to Melbourne on a Tuesday morning and  she calmly connects me.  As if this is what she does.  When I tell her two days later I have received a lovely warm response from Hanna Krall to my email, she tells me she is moved by this.  These connections forming the bonds of friendship!  Robyn is right.  It is magical.  It is Castlemaine. It is community.  I have never known it so richly as I know it here.

Of course there is also another side to Castlemaine, as there it to the Moon, the dark side.  I may speak of that dark side later, here we’re on the sunny side.




I’m always looking out for deer,
searching the gaps between the tall trees,
watching the road ahead,
sitting still in the clearings.
But they remain hidden.

Worse, they’re forbidden.
Stretching back their ballet-dancer ears,
alert to any approaches,
nibbling the undergrowth,
rubbing against the aromatic sassafras.
Each hair singled out by the early morning light,
long eyelashes the colour of ginger snaps.

There’s hundreds of them, invisible, criminal.
Phantoms, elusive as gold dust.

Maybe I’ll see one on a moon-soaked night,
on a winding road,
silent, poised and mystical.
The way Miyazaki sees a deer.
With flowers for eyes,
a gaze that will turn me stone.
A light step or two, a turn of the head,
the blessing of being ignored.
Like being painted into a picture
from a photograph
you didn’t know had been taken.

I understand their trespass, but I also understand my own.

They are storybook creatures – foxes too – made of pure delight.
They have homes, with fireplaces
and kitchen tables.
They tuck their fox children into bed.

Wet-nosed, they are deadly and innocent.

Such creatures call at night when distance and location is warped for us.
When shadow candlelight could count as an ancestor.
By day, sound is sharp and direct –
a king parrot whistles
and it’s a beacon to its perch on the low branch nearby.
When cockatoos wheel and screech,
they’re as boorish as drunks on a pub crawl.
How did they strike the early European arrivals
used to flitting and birdsong?
Nature here screamed in their faces.
So they brought their more genteel wildlife with them –
the storybook creatures,
fawns and cubs under their arms –
to make everywhere more like home.
Squinting across valleys with eyes stinging
they fantasised estates,
and across them on horseback well-groomed riders potting
compliant game.
And their quarry disappeared into the
backstreets and the forests, to be branded thieves and vandals.

I understand their damage, but I also understand my own.

In autumn the weather here gets psychedelic.
The sky turns melted saucepan and the sun lights every tree like butter
just before the toast.
Tiny leaves float through the air like ghosts on their way to a festival.

And the fog, nature’s magic trick,
hides whole hillsides, or hovers above creeks as a
mirrored twin.
Turns branches into antlers.

I hope I’ll see a deer in autumn.
There will be sky crystals and it will be cold.
All the mountain ashes will be expecting snowflakes,
and the ground will be wet and soft,
a nutritional blanket.
And he will flash in my torchlight,
a tawny brown coat glinting and shivering.
His eyes will shine like a cow’s
and I’ll be completely disarmed.
I will see geraniums blooming, a tiny sugar skull earring,
and glitter will ripple across the ground where his hooves touch.
The puffs of steam from his nose will spell words in the air I can read
but never again recall.
I’ll feel warm despite the air.
And I’ll say nothing.

Taylors Lake



“I have a surprise for you. We bought a house!”

“What? You and dad are in Syria, how did you sign a contract?”

“Your uncle. Oh darling, its’ beautiful.”

“Where is it?”

“Huge! Five bedrooms, high ceilings, solid construction.”

“Uncle George can’t read. What were the contract terms?”

“It’s got a bar, a pool, three bathrooms and a jacuzzi!”

“Mum, which suburb!?”

“Real marble countertops, none of that disgusting veneer or fake stone tops. You know the master bedroom has two walk-in robes.”

“How far from the city is it?”

“Concrete slabs! Concrete, darling. Solid construction not like those horrible weatherboard homes they build everywhere here. Might as well use cardboard. They fall from a gust of wind, rot from the inside.”

“There aren’t earthquakes here.  Or bombs.”

“I like solid construction. I swear, darling, if I see one more rotting weatherboard house being marketed as having character I’ll vomit, I’ll kill myself.”

“We don’t need a reinforced concrete home.”

“It’s got an atrium and a bar, three balconies!”

“Where the fuck is it?!”

“Taylors Lakes!”

“Oh god.”

“I’ve sent you the link. I’ve been glued to the real estate dot com on my Ipad. Have a look. What do you think habibi?”

“I think it was designed by Tony Montana. You couldn’t have checked with us maybe?”

“You’re all so busy with work and uni, I didn’t want to trouble you.”

“You and dad are in Syria. You got our illiterate uncle to sign a contract on our behalf. We now have to go in debt, for a Scarface/Liberace fusion, in the middle of nowhere.”

“It’s got a pool! And a pool house with an outdoor shower!”

“Do you know how hard this will be to maintain?”

“So many palm trees, like you’re in the Comoro Islands, darling. You know, II was thinking acreage in Little River. That would have been a dream, but the Chinese have beat us to it.”

“We would’ve been happy in a tiny apartment near the city.”

“Darling, don’t upset me, buying an apartment is like buying air.”

“You won’t be living in it!”

“They’re a bad investment. And horrible, plastic finishes everywhere. I’d get a heart attack just inspecting one.”

“We’re gonna live on a highway.”

“An outright scam! All these idiots paying hundreds of thousands to be packed like sardines in prison cells. This is a house. A real house with your own land.  Land never loses value. No matter where it is.”

“Wendy doesn’t even have a license.”

“What’s far today will be near tomorrow, habibi.”


Sources cited & further reading

  • Some non-copyright images, used in original form and for drawing reference, sourced from the collections of the State Library of Victoria, The Geelong Library and the National Library of Australia have been included in the comic.


Many thanks to Reg Abrahams from the Wathaurong Co-operative for his assistance and guidance, without his support the comic would have been extremely lacking. I would also like to thank Candice and all the kind volunteers and students who work with Greening Australia for their help and for letting me observe their work. Thank you also to my uncle Graham Grills, my Grandy, Beverley Joyce for their willingness to be interviewed for this work. Thanks also to my editor Veronica for all her help and patience.

This work was developed in a Creative Spaces managed studio. Creative Spaces is a program of Arts Melbourne at the City of Melbourne.



I never really noticed the seasons when I lived in the suburbs. I was aware of them only in terms of the effect that they had on my body – making me shivery or flushed with heat. I did not notice the world beyond my skin – the unfurling of new leaves or the way the earth was drying in a sudden, ferocious wind. Our farm in Silvan becomes a wonderland during spring, impossible to overlook or ignore. The grass wakes; stretches. The thick red muck of the paddocks firms back into solid earth. Our lawns are dotted with daises, then dandelions and then cape weed. Our orchards fill with the flicker of loose blossom petals and across the paddocks, willy wagtails and magpies collect horse hair and scraps of hay to make nests. Dazed copperhead snakes slither out from their winter nooks and sun themselves on our back verandah. We drink the last of Ben’s early autumn brewed beer and eat the blueberries I froze at the end of summer. We make marmalade and preserve lemons and eat the silverbeet that’s lasted so beautifully through winter.


It was winter when we moved to our farm, but I didn’t notice the seasons until a hot, dry spring came. Spring has a smell – more than flowers or mown grass. There is an elemental quality to it. Deep, cold earth. Hot metal and honey. There is wind, in spring. The howling of a world in transition; firming and greening and shaking. Our spring wind carries with it the voices of the strawberry farmers from next door; the chirpy music of the tulip festival over the hill and the rumble of our neighbour’s tractors as everyone gets ready for spring and summer crops.


There is something immersive about spring on our little farm; a sort of coursing, impatient liveliness that demands attention. Deep into the night, my husband and I talk about fencing and irrigation; about pest control and composting. So much of the rest of our lives falls away. We are consumed by all the living things on our property in a way that we never were when we lived closer to the city.


I grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne, first Prahran and Ormond and then on the cusp of the suburbs in the hilly town of Belgrave. The seasons were peripheral. So much of my life was lived indoors. Even when I tried growing things on balconies and in tiny raised beds, I would often trip into impatience, into the impossibility of growing anything substantial from a seed. I would forget about my little plants for long stretches. I would shut off from the weather and the wind. But, growing things, I notice the seasons more.

I notice the buds starting on the snowball bush near our front stairs.

I notice the new shoots on the rose hips; the way the vegetables I let winter in the garden bolt quickly to seed. I have learned to taste rain on the air while the sky’s still blue.


Growing food is an exercise in faith. In believing there will be another year; another season. There is a comfort in this, particularly for an anxious person. You enter a more primal part of your brain no longer dictated by hours and weeks and months, but instead by the slow cycling of seasons over many, many years.  I have learnt that it is useful to be engaged in things outside of your body. That the more I tinker and plod in the garden, the fewer panic attacks I have. My anxiety – always there – sometimes loses its hard edges. It is something I did not recognise the value of until we moved here – to be taken up with planning and touching and remembering.


This remembering is never more apparent than it is in spring. Where the mistakes and triumphs of previous seasons are examined, shifted, pulled into planning for a future that stretches on into something endless, not tethered to weeks or months. We spin stories about the gardens – what they were and what they will be. We map previous seasons into little notebooks. But most of our garden stories are, as yet, fiction. Ghosts of previous seasons and imaginings – dreamings – of things that are not yet real.


It is easy to forget about the borders of your body; to exist more wholly as part of this small, complex world of blossoms and bees and fresh shoots and all that pulsing green. To exist in the fictions of what this season may hold; to slip your hands into dirt that is both sun warmed, yet still damp from winter’s drizzle and hear the whip birds and the king parrots and let everything else slip tiredly away.


I’m looking forward to the bounty of summer. To days that are so long, we can be careless with their light. To apples and berries and bare feet. To the caramel that will come, as the rich green of spring surges and passes. Yet, it is in this moment – of thrashing green and winds and flowers – that our property is at its most magical. Consuming. When you can slip your hand into in-between soil and forget the boundaries of your body.

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.

1000 Steps


She leans her head against hard glass, her body swaying with the train’s long metal shimmy. Eyes closed, sunlight flickering softly through eucalyptus leaves. Her limbs buzz – they have been too long beneath fluoro lights, too long in workplace stillness. This is her first chance to throw off the city like a heavy jacket and dive into the world of green.

His eyes had glittered like dark coals as he tilted his schooner. The hum of chatter, the pub’s heating against the chill, the dark coals glittering. Her cheeks were red and her belly was fire and her wine glass was cool.

‘Go talk to him,’ Natasha hissed, tucking straw-like hair behind her ear. They were seated at the bar and he stood at a table with his friends, over Natasha’s shoulder.

‘I can’t.’ She glanced at the close-shaved beard, the tailored blazer, the elegant fingers gripping the glass. Would they be cold when they touched? Would they – his eyes met hers again, summoned by the heat of her lust. Perhaps he liked the shape of her leg, bent like this on the stool. Quick! Back to Natasha.

‘Look – he needs to come to me. He needs to want me

A dull moaning behind her. Not moaning – singing, amongst the train’s rhythmic clatter. ‘Nah, nah, boys like girls, nah, nah, boys like girls.’ A daytime-deadened rendition of a nightclub beat. She turns to the nasal, monotonous singer, only to be met with a stare that makes her shiver, the whites of his eyes like blazing headlights. A hulking figure with a long and dirty jacket, he looks uncomfortably similar to someone she once slept with. Damn it – she knows better than to establish eye contact on public transport. Her heart beats like a rabbit’s.

A woman clacks her knitting needles. ‘Nah, nah, boys like girls.’ The rocking of the carriage.

The train pulls up at Upper Ferntree Gully station and she hoists her backpack, breathes deep and steps metal to concrete, grateful for other passengers. The man with the long jacket is beside her.

‘Hey gawjus,’ he croaks.

Ignore. Look away. Headphones in – or out, depending. Keys in hand. Feminine lore – not exactly passed down, but learnt all the same; stories of near misses.

She pulls off her backpack, rests it on a bench, fossicks through it. Dawdles. The man in the long jacket overtakes. She sighs in relief as he turns the opposite way at the exit ramp.

Emerging from the brick tunnel, she pushes on sunglasses and peers at the sign. 1000 Steps trail, 1.2km. Sometimes she needs to feel the trees breathe. Sometimes she needs to get out and hear the wind whisper her name. Further into the scrub, away from steel tracks and electricity lines, away from the roar of the main road and its demand for vigilance.

At the carpark, asphalt meets white gum. Tourists with tanned skin slam car boots and joggers in lycra kneel to tie fluoro runners. At the entrance to the 1000 Steps trail, trees stretch up like praising hands towards a rich sky. In this place she is welcomed. In this place she is whole.

A man with a septum ring and dark lashes steps onto the path ahead. His body is compact muscle, a pit bull. He pulls up his black running shorts so they sit on his hips and cup round buttocks. She thinks of childhood trips to the zoo, and the lion who liked to ‘display’ to his visitors – a mating ritual, the sign said. A display of his body’s power; was it a threat or a promise? Nevertheless, when this man steps off the path to fill his drink bottle – removing his delightful display from her line of vision –  disappointment blooms.

She begins the ascent, stone steps on a narrow path between scrub and gum. Strips of old bark hang from high boughs like snakes. The scent of eucalyptus and water in the air. A thousand invisible birds make a collective song like the twinkling of sunlight on ocean.

At the first resting spot a man with enormous thighs covered with curly red hair squats low to the ground. In alarm she thinks he is dropping a turd. He stares down intently, his face crimson. Oh – stretching, a test of endurance, perhaps like the lion’s display. She imagines him still there hours later, trembling in the light of dusk, a single bead of sweat rolling down his temple as the air darkens around him.

A PE teacher used to visit her when she worked at the surf shop during university. The skin around his eyes crinkled when he smiled. He did his shopping on Wednesdays after he finished school, and always used to ‘drop by’ to buy socks or look at boards. She was a conquest, she knew instinctively. She imagined him with groups of male teachers at recess, mug of Nescafe in large hand, boasting about his cheek-kissing, his tight hug on arrival, his palm on the small of her back when he moved past. Or once, only once, when he saw her at a local cafe, sat next to her while he waited for his takeaway, put his hand on her thigh and stroked, stroked. Was it a promise? On Wednesdays she wore nice bras, tight jeans, examined the mirror with burning eyes. She thought of what he could do to her, of how he could take her hand and lead her to a secret place and push her up against a wall.

After the surf shop, a Facebook photo appeared years later (that stroke on her thigh). Midway through an enormous deadlift, his stony gaze at the gym’s mirror. She could have sworn – and she did zoom in – that he was hard.

Ferns line the side of the gravel path, brushing her shins. She stops, peers at a grand old stringybark, bright moss crawling up its trunk. A lyrebird’s chirp whips in the green air, calls her higher, higher up the trail. The narrow path is not suffocating like the brick tunnel at the station; here, she is gathered safely in.

There are steps close behind. She smiles, imagines it is the pit bull man arriving to press his shapely arms around her, to mingle his sweat with hers. The gravel crunches, slides. She hears the cadence of his pace. Does he watch the swing of her hips, the bounce of her hair? She turns – it’s not him. This man has glasses. And he is close.

A helicopter thuds in the sky somewhere. When she was small, the chop of the blades would make her dash outside to examine the heavens. Mostly the aircraft was from the news, or on its way to the hospital. Once, though, at bedtime, a giant searchlight sliced neatly through black air. The beam was searching for an escaped prisoner, her sister whispered. A wanted criminal. Maybe even a pervert. They scampered inside, giddy with the possibility of danger. Even now, whenever she hears a helicopter at night, she imagines herself scaling fences, dodging clotheslines, pressing flat against brick walls as the searchlight swings in pursuit.


The hopeful fear of being wanted.

The footsteps match her pace. She slows. So do they. She quickens. The gravel crunches harder, faster. His scent reaches her, man amongst nature. She hasn’t passed any other walkers for over ten minutes – her armpits are wet. Is this shadowing a fitness game? She keeps to the left on the tight path. Still he breathes like a wolf at her neck. She knows he can hear her panting. Perhaps he will push her down that slope. Her back will break in the tumble and the forest will consume her and the helicopter will search but it will not find, and the lyrebirds will stand on her back and they will sing their forest song.

She stoops. Ties up a shoelace that wasn’t undone. He almost falls on top of her, but strides past, turning to look at her as he disappears around a bend. She glares back from the ground.

The rest of the track, the memory of him rests heavily on her back. The top of the trail is near. It curves and opens wide: hikers in various states of exhaustion rest on rocks around the edge of the clearing. She sits alone and the cool wind chills the damp of her t-shirt and she listens for the helicopter. She doesn’t have her glasses on, but she’s certain they’re all here: the shadower, the squatter, the pit bull – even the PE teacher and the man in the long jacket and the man from the bar, too, his elegant fingers gripping his pint, those dark coals a-glitter. They are lying and stretching, squirting water bottles into their mouths, virile repose on display. Some do sit-ups.

Think of what they could do to you. All of them. Every damn one. She throbs. To be desired – that’s all she’s ever wanted.

Above, the mountain wind disturbs a thousand leaves and they shimmer in the light.


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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.”


elias and i
at the train station
his arm draped slack round my neck

the train cops

hey miss
is everything alright

like they can’t see elias is with me
and that we’re both fucken fried
            he’s my boyfriend
he’s with me
he’s with me
everything is fine

but elias runs underneath the announcement board
under the scrolling orange letter-lighting
spelling out the platforms
and times
for the sunbury
and werribee


elias looks back at me and the coppers
with this super-dickhead smile
and says
i swear to god officers
i don’t want no strife

but i don’t even know that girl
i don’t know why she’s lying


elias runs ahead
towards the station steps
slides bannister instead

the cops look at me
they stare at me strange
both of them shaking their heads

out on the street
out on the street
slows in front of me

because he knows
cause he knows i’m watching

brute cool
a brute cool black boy

but shit
i mean
what am i gonna do


sometimes a good long look
is like a long hard pash

his blue jeans slung low
like they’re making to slide off
pilled black hoodie pulled all the way up



he’s walking
walking like he knows
i’m watching
drunk-weaving in front of me
down droop street

elias is bad fucking news
the street-tar is glam-black
from january flash-storm aftermath
my swigged-dry
cola bottle is swinging
dead plastic
by my side

there is fire in the sky
from up the oil refinery
four suburbs down
twin burning giant torches spit ash
all over this beat-up town
dressed in its evening best
footscray looks like a shiny new bin
taken to with a baseball bat
but still sparkling
still definitely doing its thing

you can still piss your vodka cruisers in
flick your kfc bones and chewed chicken grit
but now it’s found art
as well as a bin

now it says
someone was angry here
someone lived someone ate
someone got fucked-up with rage

if we have to do garbage
then hell
we’ll make it ugly-beautiful

now it says
            you are not in fucking kansas anymore kid


these summer-showered streets
believe it
become some lit wonderland shit

all the ciggie butts get storm-drained
and dirty-pavement gum-circles shine
like glitter-fall from above

elias turns
and when elias turns
and looks at me
oh god

curled black goatee
and that goddamn devil smile
he’s jet dread locks
round dead-tracks-handsome face

and i try
i fucken try

but i just can’t look away


walking backwards now

neon shoelace
undone and dragging


cause elias doesn’t need to look down
elias knows he won’t trip
won’t trip huh
least not the falling kind that is

cause elias glides through life
like he’s fucken hovering
cause nothing touches him

earnest pug-dog eyes
lit up by yolk-yellow street light
but a pug is still a canine
and a canine is still a dog

i love elias
but i know what he is capable of
walking backwards with outstretched arms
            give us a hug lex
give us a fucken hug

hands either side my face
too-soft lips on mine
and that rugged-wrestling tongue

his hands
running up-down
the sides of my body

under my top
under my bra
under more
on the sidewalk

night is falling
in the folds of eli’s baggy clothes
is a tall black figure
by the red demon eyes
of speeding geelong road hyundai’s

give us a fuck lex
give us a fucken fuck

eli’s laugh
can be a warm hug
a wolf howl
or a gunshot


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.


When I was choosing the setting for my novel, The Choke, I was interested in a rural area somewhere on the Murray River.

I knew nature was going to be important to my central character, ten-year-old Justine Lee. I learned that Barmah, just north of the border with NSW, and only 230 km’s from Melbourne, was near the biggest red gum forest in the world. I was intrigued as I looked at images of the red gums growing in the floodplains of the Barmah National Forest. I read about the Barmah Choke – a place in the Murray where the banks come closer, flooding at certain points in the year, contributing to the wetlands environment. I liked those words – Barmah and Choke and the way they sat together – the first so round, lifting at the final vowel, and the second so tight, hemmed in by biting consonants. The words seemed to contradict each other.

The first time I visited Barmah I chose to stay in a hotel in Echuca, about 30 km away. Echuca is a busy tourist town and I thought I might feel safer staying there. Echuca is an Aboriginal word for ‘Meeting of the Waters’; It sits at the junction between the Goulburn, Campaspe and Murray rivers and was once a thriving port town. When I arrived in Echuca I parked the car near the Echuca-Moama Bridge and walked across, stopping halfway to look at the Murray flowing below, wide and brown. Moama was in NSW and Echuca was in Victoria – the river was the boundary. In my novel The Choke my protagonist, Justine, is intrigued by this flowing boundary, by the persistent nature of water, and the trees that continue to grow in it.

The next day as I drove along the Sandridge Trail that ran from the Barmah Hotel to the river I saw emus from my car, pecking the dirt at the side of the road, lifting their knees high. I felt far away from my own family, and immersed in the world of my book. Every detail in nature seemed to feed into my story. I drove into the campsite on the widest part of the Murray and looked at the trees. I got out of the car and put my hands against their trunks, the bark to my cheek. I have always found trees a great comfort. As I walked along the edge of the river I thought about the characters in my story. I wondered what kind of future Justine might have, I pictured her face, her pale freckles, her hair like straw, the way she tried to hide her bucked teeth with her half-closed smile. I looked across the water at the thick reeds and saw her pushing her way through, pursued by her brothers. I imagined the siblings bursting from the reeds, laughing and diving into the water.

It was beautiful there by the Murray, but I felt ghosts too. I didn’t know if they belonged to the lives of my characters, or to the mystery of the river itself. I heard unsettling whispers of something I couldn’t name. The twisted bulging gums were silent, but seemed to be speaking.

If you are very still you can hear trees speaking. I have never tried to find words for it before – I only know if I am really still, and look at the branches, I can feel the trees speaking. They don’t care for us and they do care at the same time. They are impartial but at the same time they seem to bear witness. These red gums became so important to my central character – Justine builds shelters from their branches. She hides there, feeling safe and protected. But she also imagines figures trapped inside the trunks, pressing at the bark from the inside. Sometimes she imagines she is the tree itself, or the river, or a cockatoo. At critical moments, when the stresses in her life are overwhelming, she can choose.

Just over a year into the novel’s development I was invited to speak alongside Rosalie Hamm at Echuca Library for the 2016 International Women’s Day. I was pleased to be invited, and to have an opportunity to stay close to the Murray again. On March 7, a few days before my visit to the library, I heard the news that a woman in her 20s drowned her youngest son in the Murray River, in Moama. He was five years old. The woman had tried to drown her oldest son first, but he had escaped, after being mauled by a frantic dog. It was then that the mother attacked her youngest son. The news distressed me – I didn’t know how to think about, or how to let it go. I kept thinking of the boys, their experience of those moments.

Justine lived in Moama for a while, before her mother left. She has a single memory.

I only lived in one other place. Moama, when Mum and Dad were together. Dad had a barbecue against the wall, close to the window. He was drinking from a can of beer and waiting for the barbecue to get hot enough for the sausages. Suddenly the glass of the window behind the barbecue shattered. I watched as a spider’s web of cracks spread from the centre. Mum screamed. I ran towards her, scared of the glass. She kept screaming. She didn’t stop. 
Dad said, ‘You fucken better.’ 
It wasn’t long after that she was gone.

When I arrived in Echuca, just a bridge away from Moama – on the afternoon of International Women’s Day there was no time to think about the crime – I was due to speak at the library. Rosalie spoke about her book, The Dressmaker, about the ways her country upbringing had made her strong and capable. She described the special relationship she shared with her childhood friend, Sue Maslin, who would go on to produce the film of The Dressmaker. Her talk was warm and engaging and positive. I spoke about how I came to write my novel The Eye of the Sheep, how like acting is writing, how joyful is the immersion into character either on stage, or on the pages of a book.

As we spoke I could see the paddleboats sailing down the Murray through the library windows, and the giant gums bearing their roots, waving their branches at me. But when the event was over I didn’t want to go to the river. I blocked my ears to the cockatoos that screeched and squawked. I turned from the river, sensing it held secrets I didn’t want to know.

Later, back in my hotel room in Echuca, I began to feel sad. I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened to the two boys – the brothers – only days before. I tried to contain my thoughts – what good would it do for me to try and re-live in my mind what had happened? It was as if the story in my book, my beautiful vulnerable protagonist was mixing with the story of the crime that had taken place, too horrible for words. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t calm my mind. I could hardly bear to think of the older boy who had lived, and what he would suffer. I worried about how he would make a life for himself, after losing his brother in this way. I knew he was in hospital in Melbourne. I ached for him, knowing it was not my business – or was it? I had no answers.

In my novel, The Eye of the Sheep, my protagonist, a young boy named Jimmy Flick, faces his own death in barrel of water. Jimmy’s foster brother, Liam, has his hand over Jimmy’s head, and is pushing him down.

I came up for air only to give him something to push against. Then I was under and I couldn’t feel the sides of the drum anymore; there was nothing to hold. Every part of me hurt, my chest, my eyes, my throat, my back, my ribs, my face and stomach, legs and arms were all bursting with the pressure of the water filling every space. 

That night I dreamed I saw what happened at the river, as if I, like the red gums, was a witness. In the morning, I wrote what I had dreamed.

The mother turned towards her youngest son. He was screaming for her. She jumped from the small fishing boat and waded towards him. The boy could see how angry his mother was, but when she came towards him he wanted her to come closer. She was his mother. She was pushing her way through the water, her hands scraping at it, as she tried to go faster. The mother was screaming the name of his older brother. But why when he was gone? The boy could still hear the dog barking. Was the dog chasing his older brother? 

His mother kept coming. He wanted her to stop screaming. He wanted her to tell him he was a good boy. The time before she had done that. The visit before this one. She had said good boy

The boy felt the hands pushing him down. Something broke open. Like wee coming. He was the wee coming, spreading into the river. He was spreading further and further, until he wasn’t the younger brother any more, and she wasn’t his mother and every part of him was water.

After breakfast I spoke to the woman at the reception in my hotel – the whole town was upset. Moama was so close. ‘The mother had only just come out of jail, there were warning signs but nobody wanted to know. The woman behind the desk spat the words. ‘Heads will roll.’

The trees stood in the Murray dirt, just a bridge away from the Meeting of the Waters, and watched the choice the mother made. Their branches moved slowly in the late summer sun, their silver leaves reflecting light. In my own book my young characters suffer – families fail, children are sacrificed. I despised the river then. Its lack of transparency. The way it seemed to collude with the mother. By not changing, by remaining neutral. I hated the ugly trees, their branches like talons, their bark peeling back like strips of skin. The sap that scribbled jagged faces into the trunks.

I wept as I drove back to Melbourne. The reason I wanted to write about the moments for the boy was because I want to give them space in the world. Moments nobody wants, nobody needs to have described, moments nobody can know. But I want to know them. As if by knowing I might ease something. It is the moments between life and death – that bridge I want to know. I want to know it for a child. Perhaps it is an easier bridge to cross than I imagine, perhaps it makes sense to somebody crossing it. I don’t know, I can only imagine.

I visited Echuca again after just after submitting my novel to my publishers for the last time. It was to be a two-day break for me. I looked in bookshops, watched Foxtel movies and swam in the 50-metre pool across the road from my hotel. Lap after freestyle lap. I walked to the main road, to the crystal shop and asked the fortune teller about my own son, if he was okay when he was so shy and that school was hard for him. I told her how much I worried for him, and about him. The fortune teller told me my son was fine. She shuffled the tarot, and lay out the cards. The woman told me that I was in the prison myself, and that I was looking the wrong way. She pointed to the card of a man crouching, halfway down a set of stairs. She said, ‘See, you are using the smallest candle to see the steps, but if you just turned your head, you would see nothing but the light.’


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.



For once, Suriyan’s not late when he gets on the bus at Northland Shopping Centre and off at the corner of the Town Hall, saying: ‘Thanks, chum! Thank you,’ and waving at the driver. With time to spare he decides to buy some vadai or pan rolls to share among those he’s meeting. He crosses the road when the light changes, leaning into the wind with long, purposeful strides, past the various shops – the moneylenders, massage centres, beauty salons and real estate agent’s offices – all seemingly empty but for their minders. Suriyan’s easily spotted. He’s a tall man with a tangle of white hair that floats above the passers-by, wearing a bright pink and blue scarf one might suspect he’s borrowed from his wife. A woman comes rushing towards him. ‘Suriyan,’ she says. ‘I need to make that call. Can I do it now?’

‘You need it right now?’

‘Yeah,’ she nods. ‘If you can.’

‘Okay.’ He pulls out a phone from his pocket and hands it over.

The woman dials a number and has a conversation in fast-flowing Chinese. As he stands waiting, Suriyan smiles and nods at people heading towards the Preston market with their bags and shopping trolleys. The woman finally hands back the phone and saying, ‘Thank you!’

‘Okay. No problem. Bye.’

He continues on his way, past the discount furniture store, the used car yard and as he nears the dental clinic, sees another familiar face. He raises his hand in greeting, stops to shake hands with a man with a ponytail and a keffiyeh scarf, and they speak for a few minutes about a recent fundraiser at the Town Hall.

‘Man, the only thing I would’ve liked is for our Welcome to Country to have been included,’ says Suriyan.

‘They didn’t?’

‘No, they didn’t! We have that extra paragraph – and they didn’t read it!’

‘It’s a shame,’ the man agrees.

They discuss how things can be improved further and what the next step needs to be. Suriyan finally breaks away, bidding goodbye, and moves along. He doesn’t glance at the large clothing store or the cake shop but enters the restaurant-cum-grocery with the sign: MKS Spices N’ Things.

He greets the shop owners and enquires after their health, their children, relatives, and their friends, all in fluent Tamil.


He purchases five pan rolls and twelve vadai, insisting he pay for the two additional vadai the owners slip into his bag. A man approaches from the side and taps Suriyan on the shoulder. ‘Hello!’ Suriyan says. ‘How are you?’

‘Fine,’ says the man. He’s from Afghanistan, a recent arrival who had applied for a refugee protection visa with Suriyan’s help. Suriyan had also found a course at the Polytechnic on St George’s Road where he could study for a minimal fee, and use the gym at the Reservoir Leisure Centre free of charge while he awaited a decision. It was Suriyan who had introduced him to the food at MKS.

‘I want to ask you something, Suriyan,’ he said.

‘What is it?’ said Suriyan placing a gentle hand on the man’s shoulder. ‘Tell me.’

The man lowers his voice, looking around to make sure nobody’s eavesdropping. ‘I remember you said something one day. You said you know someone who found, uh, someone on the internet – something like that.’

‘You mean like a partner? A girlfriend?’

The man blushes and nods.

‘Yes, yes,’ says Suriyan slapping him lightly on the back and chuckling. ‘I think it’s a what-do-you-call? An App? For the mobile phone. I’ll find out and let you know.’

‘So, after he found her on the internet, where did they go? Where did they meet?’

‘Must have been one of these cafes, you know – like the one just here, inside the old fire station. Have you been there?’

‘I have gone past it.’

‘You can go there. Or you can take her to a restaurant. But that might be expensive. Let me think…I know! Take her to Lentil As Anything. Do you know that place?’


‘I’ll tell you. It’s right here on High Street – just a few blocks that way,’ he points north. ‘You see, how it works is – it’s a buffet. You go there and you serve yourself and eat. And then before you leave, you put in a donation, as much or as little as you want.’

‘Yeah, that’s good.’

‘Just remind me, okay? I’ll find out the name of that app.’

‘When do you want me to remind you?’

‘Ah, tomorrow? Tomorrow is good.’

‘What time?’

‘Anytime. Just send me a text message. Ah, machan – what’s the time?’ Suriyan looks at the clock on the wall. ‘Adey! I better get going. I’m late!’

He rushes out with his bag of food, past the various businesses and offices, all the way back, passing the town hall, turning right after the Commonwealth bank and into a street that takes him behind the council chambers. He enters the old courthouse on the corner and takes a creaky old lift up to the first floor. Inside a meeting room there’s a small crowd gathered. As Suriyan enters, making apologetic noises, someone pipes up: ‘Mister Chairman of the Darebin Ethnic Communities Council ­– you’re late!’


Westgate Bridge

His present to me that year was the West Gate Bridge. Just before Christmas on our first date, I’d asked where he lived, expecting one of the inner northern suburbs that usually made up my dating pool. “Sunshine”, was his answer. I must have looked bewildered. ‘Deep west’, was his explanation. When I asked a friend who worked there what it was like, her response was “It’s a bit…stabby.” I was not filled with confidence.

A fellow writer, Chris had a lexicon unlike any I’d heard before, uttered from a beautiful mouth. I was deeply smitten. And so I began regular train trips to this mysterious place, ‘The West’.

Leaving the city we crawled under freeways and alongside rust-flaked silos. The train snaked past dockyards whose shipping containers, emblazoned with ‘Hamburg’ or ‘Shanghai’, were stacked into the sky. The gantries rose up like huge animals looming over the water; at night they took my breath away with their luminescence and grandeur. My affinity with the west came quickly and surprised everyone, after twenty-five years of living in the cherry-tattoo-and-craft-beer enclave of Northcote. But the train journey had become a ritual I learned to cherish, for not only would it bring me to Chris, but also the West Gate Bridge.

Her curving lines and fluttering flags caught the eye just after Footscray station.

As a native Melburnian I’d travelled across her many times, but never before had I realised just how beautiful she was.

On each journey I found myself leaning forward in my train seat, waiting for that first glimpse. My newfound love of the area and the man who’d brought me there melded each time my eyes found her on the skyline, bringing a rush of warmth and familiarity.

It wasn’t always that way, however. Every time we drove across the West Gate Bridge as kids – every single time – my dad would start the story. “It happened in 1970, before you girls were born.” We’d clutch the arm rests, knowing what was coming. “The bridge started to tremble, and then it just came apart in the sky, right where we’re driving now!” An anxious child anyway, my knuckles were white for the entire length of the bridge. I didn’t realise at the time how frightened Dad was of driving across it himself; perhaps he hoped that sharing the fear would dilute it. He still dreads it, which explained his shudder when I told him where Chris and I were moving in together. Our cute little brick house in Spotswood gave a view of the bridge, which, coming from the east, he’d now have to drive over every time he visited his daughter.

Spotswood is dominated by the West Gate Bridge. I can hear the off-ramp trucks from my writing desk, and see the flags on the top from my living room window. There is great comfort in both. The industrial aspect of Spotswood brings all the senses to life; cacophonous smashing from the glassworks factory, motorcycles revving in the workshops, huge petrochemical vats labelled PULP and SPULP, and the stench of the pumping station down by Scienceworks. I walk around and feel utterly at home here among the rust and graffiti, finding new routes, and new memories.

But mostly, I head to the bridge.

Past the huge vacant expanse of the Scienceworks car park and over busy Hyde Street, you can come to a rest just underneath this daunting feat of engineering. You’re on the verge of wetlands with families of swans, and the narrow strip of Stony Creek Park. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll stand with your eyes closed, head back, and listen to the bridge speak. You can hear the clank and clatter of huge trucks overhead. The noise is monstrous, making it impossible not to flinch. But I know that what I’m really flinching at happened before I was born, right on this exact spot.

They knew there was a problem. Still under construction, the western and eastern ends were found to be out of alignment by 114mm. Measures to correct this had caused “obvious overstress”, according to Jack Hindshaw, the engineer flown out from the U.K. to oversee the procedure. Alternatives were suggested but they couldn’t come to a decision. And so the workers kept climbing her frame.

On October 14, 1970, the bridge stirred. Her concrete swayed, briefly but noticeably. The men on top paused. One of them called out “She must be having growing pains!”, and a few laughed. One went home to tell his wife of his misgivings, but all turned up to work the next day.

Late that morning, Jack Hindshaw was on the phone to his boss, declaring his concerns. His last words were “Shall I get the bods off?” Moments later, at 11:50am, the bridge groaned. The tenth section on the western end began to buckle, shaking a shower of rust flakes loose.

Those who survived told of a ghastly pinging sound as metal rained down on the workers’ huts below.

The girders, burdened with a weight they couldn’t hold, began to turn blue from the pressure. And then the bridge gave way beneath their feet.

Over fifty men were on site. Some came down with the bridge, while others ran, quite literally for their lives. Fuel ignited in an explosion that was heard miles away. Houses nearby were covered in flying mud. The storm of dust, fire and mangled metal was catastrophic. A friend of mine was in primary school in nearby Yarraville that day and heard the tremendous noise. Another had been on school camp along the water’s edge, dozens of children watching in horror as bodies and chunks of steel tumbled into the water below.

The West Gate Bridge looms large in Melbourne’s skyline, but her collapse stays embedded in our psyche. It remains Australia’s worst industrial accident to this day, claiming the lives of 35 construction workers. Six mangled fragments of the bridge are in engineering campuses around Melbourne to remind students of the consequences of mistakes. Some survivors actually went back to work, picking up their tools and climbing her frame again. For those like my father who wince each time they drive across her, this last fact is almost unfathomable. Some people ‘touch wood!’ when they drive across her. Others go out of their way to avoid it. Almost everyone knows the story.

This is not the only shadow, however. Darcey Freeman was four years old when her father stopped his car on the West Gate Bridge in 2009, and threw his daughter to her death. If the collapse is one aspect of the bridge that Melburnians will never forget, then Darcey is the other. Barriers have now been installed along the length of the bridge to protect those who travel across, which has also led to a significant reduction in suicide attempts. These elements, deeply tragic though they are, have become part of the bridge’s complex history.

Engineering constructions of such grandeur and mystery can be daunting in their own right, even if you’re unaware of the history. The bridge is beautiful to me, but I do not view her without awe. Standing underneath, amidst the noise and rattle of her metal, the water slapping the bank and the city in the background, is an experience both sobering and exulting all in one.

I moved to Spotswood shortly after the anniversary of the collapse on October 15. Chris and I walked there with his 9-year-old son, wondering if it would be one of those wondrous occasions when we could watch an enormous cargo boat glide under her arches. We found bouquets laid against one of her girders, under the West Gate Memorial plaque engraved with the names of all the victims of the fall. The cards were heartrending; men still missed, still mourned, so many decades later. I placed trumpet lilies from our garden against the bridge, for the men, for Darcey, and for all who had lost their lives on the West Gate. With my head down I stood in silence, my hand on her concrete, steady and solid.

The West Gate is more than a symbol of Melbourne for me. Not only does she join the east and west of my beloved city, she’s also the link between my old and new life. I’ve travelled across her span as a fretful child praying for the beams to hold, in my twenties heading down the coast to a holiday house with friends, and on my way home from my first sold-out literary festival appearance. Cruising down her lanes with the sun on my arms, my man by my side and all of Melbourne spread out below us feels like the most beautiful of blessings.

It feels like flying.

It feels like home.



Hitchings, Bill, ‘West Gate’, Outback Press, 1979



No-one knows where Albion is, and being 7 km south of similarly-sounding St Albans doesn’t help matters (yes, I did just help you locate it). No, northsiders, when I say I live in Albion I’m not saying I live on Albion Road, Brunswick: been there, done that. Albion is essentially Sunshine, or rather, it would be Sunshine if the section of line between Sunshine and Albion stations didn’t bisect what seems like the natural spread of Sunshine like some kind of Berlin Wall of inconvenient railway. Something called ‘Sunshine West’ is to the south of Albion; something called ‘Sunshine North’ is to its north-east (but not directly north). In essence, Albion is a clique or a pocket, a hidden suburb hard to get in and out of. It’s like Park Orchards, or West Brunswick, in that regard. You need to know about it to know how to get to it, and to know about it, you need to know how to get to it.


Albion and Sunshine: the history of trying to bolt a concept onto a place

It’s foolish, historically and possibly in other ways, to regard the railway line as inconvenient to Albion or central Sunshine. The form and nature of both places owe everything to the railway, and they indisputably grew from it. H. V. Mackay established a branch of his Ballarat-based Harvester Works to this very place over a century ago because it was a useful rail-centric distribution point on otherwise cheap and commercially underexploited land: the whole of Chicago essentially began the same way. By the mid-1920s, Sunshine Harvester was the largest manufacturing concern in Melbourne (121405.8 sq m of factory, and 194249.3 sq m of related buildings), and Mackay marked the region with his vision.


We can go to Chicago again to get the measure of this vision, and specifically to the town of Pullman, now a suburb in the south of that city. Thirty years before Mackay bought, and began to expand, the Braybrook Implement Works, George Pullman established his ignoble experiment. It was a town wherein his manufacturing employees would live and build his railway carriages – at a time when, of course, to be building railway carriages was slightly better than the ubiquitous license to print money, a kind of alchemy really. Pullman’s town, held up as a worker’s utopia, went pear-shaped when a slight downturn in demand for the product caused layoffs, but the company’s rent-taking left hand did not acknowledge what its job-denying right hand was doing. Pullman was, apparently, distraught and affronted by the ingratitude of his workers.


Mackay’s play was not dissimilar to Pullman’s, though he sold land around Sunshine, and the land’s value was at least part due to the industry in the region – and the railway line, which was of course also the reason for industry’s presence. Business aside, Mackay’s claim to fame was (is) that he worked on improving the design of some farming equipment and created a business which, by his death, had become a monolith. I mentioned Mackay’s vision above primarily to catch you and draw you in with promise of one of those marvelous genius stories people still often seem captivated by (qv Steve Jobs) but there’s nothing to suggest he had any vision at all, unless it was the kind typified by Uncle Scrooge when he gets dollar signs for eyeballs.


Yet, the promise of a vision captivates, and there is an extraordinary tendency amongst those who should know better to clamp Sunshine/Albion to a social movement to which it was in many ways antithetical. It is slightly bizarre, as an urban planning historian, to see the extent to which those with a little knowledge will elasticize reality to claim Sunshine as a ‘garden city’; honestly, it’s not a garden city’s arsehole. Nor is it, in truth, a garden suburb, though it does have a garden – the H. V. Mackay Memorial Garden – a name honouring a man who sought to deny his workers reasonable wages by successfully overturning Higgins’ Harvester Judgement. Mackay won the battle of the Harvester judgment, but lost the war: Australia, provoked by Mackay and Harvester, established a basic wage.

Mackay’s garden is a memorial to a man who might well have said, can’t feed your family? Sorry, but please feel free to smell a flower.

For the record, and for the benefit of you the reader: the garden city concept was not, as it is so often typified, the design of concentrically-roaded urban environments with nature strips and a big park. The garden city was a socialist ideal, to create entirely new cities of 40 000 people, drawn from weary, tired, corrupt older cities, alongside industrial and other concerns to employ them, in places where no city had previously existed. Garden cities were going to kill extant cities. Garden cities were not adjunct suburbs on the edge of town propping up demonized major conurbations such as London – as Sunshine was to Melbourne. Garden cities were intended to recalibrate the very notion of land ownership (everyone always paid rent, to go to upkeep and improvement but never profit: there was to be no private land) and defeat the problems of urban sprawl (once a city reached its population maximum, a new city would be legislated nearby). The intricacies of the original idea need not be discussed here further, but the main point holds: Sunshine/Albion is no more a garden city as any other chunk of any city established in the 19th century. Mackay does not appear to have made pronouncements on ideas to locate workers close to his factory. That said, obviously – a la Pullman and another industrialist, William Lever of Liverpool, the instigator of Port Sunlight and the company now known as Unilever – it was useful in a time of growing self-realisation of the worker. Keep your employees somewhat beholden to you and consistently reminded of the pecking order. Other manufacturers consolidated Mackay’s lead and moved to the region: Wunderlich’s, Crittall’s, Spalding’s, Drayton’s pottery, the Australian Reinforced Concrete company. The stark yet majestic Darling’s flour mills, rebuilt after a fire ninety years ago, are at the end of my street, the world’s biggest bollards, keeping me from easily accessing the station every morning. Soon, they will be remade as artists’ studios. Of course they will (and of course I like artists, though I feel for the pigeons).


Albion: how perfidious?


I can’t help alluding to the phrase ‘perfidious Albion’, because it’s hilarious, but an entirely inappropriate non-sequitur here. Whatever the original purpose of applying a hoary old alternative name for England to a small suburb of 4000 people in Melbourne, you’d have to assume the name seemed appropriate partly because of Sunshine’s reputation as a kind of a ‘Birmingham’ – that is, the workers of Sunshine worked in large-scale manufacturing and, in doing so, mimicked their working class brethren at the centre of Empire. Therefore ‘Albion’, an Ancient Greek word either denoting the British Isles or anywhere outside the known Greek world (hence, Albania). Canada narrowly escaped being called New Albion, and so did Sydney Harbour. To add to the peculiarity – in a suburb named after England – many of its streets are named for major cities and towns in Australia: Perth Avenue and Brisbane, Sydney, Albury and Adelaide Streets all proudly run north-south; a Dubbo Street forms part of the road ringing Selwyn Park in its south. The streets named for smaller towns might reflect hedge-betting, in the very early 20th century, about where the nation’s capital was going to be located.


As mentioned, the railway line is a wall between Sunshine, where the Harvester Works once thrived, and suburbs. The Mackay family caused to be built a row of rather impressive – if the burnt-out shell of the last remaining is any indication – homes for Mackay offspring, along the western side of the line. One of these houses was demolished in the 1970s, and 20 or so townhouses were built on the site ten years later. At present, I rent one.


We talk of inhabiting a character or an idea. Inhabiting a house is also revealing of oneself and, well, the house. To return once again to the notion of the ‘vision’, I can’t help but wonder what the initial concept was herein. All these two-storey townhouses are, as far as I can tell, identical in layout, orientation being the only real variance. They each comprise a large bedroom, directly above a living room: both the same size. A much smaller kitchen/dining area is below a bathroom and a tiny bedroom, not big enough for a double bed, and therefore, a child’s room if it’s a bedroom at all. On moving in here, I discovered two things left behind: a large plastic frog in the tiny courtyard and a framed picture of a teddy bear wearing a hat with corks in the smaller bedroom. (Oh, and a lot of black hair in the top bathroom drawer – it’s all still there, I’m never looking in there again, though I relish the prospect of the real estate agent objecting to its presence when I move out. It’s on the condition report).


All the houses look out onto car parking spaces and two sides of each are almost completely glass; as I write this, on a particularly warm pre-summer’s day, I have been pushed further into the westernmost recess of the building to escape a hothouse effect.


I have written extensively elsewhere of my disdain and concern over the Australian habit for designating ‘bogans’ amongst working class people or ‘others’. I don’t see much of this in Albion, however; probably because of the number of million dollar properties currently being turned around in the region. It’s naturally bittersweet for locals, but few I’ve encountered seem to be rusted-on Albionites. In my middle-class mind – you can’t really take the boy out of Hawthorn – I patch together sad, stereotyped backstories for the lone men I encounter in the streets as they drive waywardly, ignoring corner stop signs. These are people who at least on one level – perhaps a few – aren’t sufficiently engaged with 2017 to care if they live or die. I have no insight into them, aside from that they are shitty drivers, but I can’t doubt that there is a coterie of holdouts in Albion (and umpteen other suburbs which, until recently, seemed destined never to hit the trendies’ radar) terminally despondent about the unaffordability of their area. Logic, of course, tells us that even homeowners who have found their property unexpectedly leap in value in a decade, however much they might marvel, are subject to new stressors: rates, local change, feelings of guilt and/or pressure from grown children who never had the luck to buy for almost nothing a house which is now worth more money than the whole family has ever seen.


Visually, it’s hotch laden upon potch. The upmarket Mackay family boulevard aside, the original suburb was built up with blocky standalone weatherboards or California bungalows with large back yards; in some instances, a few smaller homes are crammed onto what was clearly once envisaged as large family blocks. Some of these pre-1950s (the era before Mackay’s heirs sold to Massey Ferguson) homes have given way to beige or orange apartment blocks. Streets are wide and difficult to orientate oneself in.


Albion would be a whole different ballgame, in any case, if it had a genuine centre. All it has is Selwyn Park, named for one of Mackay’s children who died in infancy. The park is a not unpleasant recreation space bordering Koonung Creek. It also has a group of seven shops, named (long before the bridge) Westgate, and a centerpiece of a small housing estate dating from the late 1950s in the area’s far west, outside the original street plan. With a bold iron ‘W’ bolted to its central shop and its decidedly car-oriented focus (‘parking for 5000 cars daily’ declared advertising in the Age for 19 November, 1955: my rough calculations, based on 15 car spaces and eight hours in the day, indicate each car would stop for one and three quarter minutes… but let’s not quibble with utopia) the shopping strip retains a modernist sheen, albeit still with two empty shops, including a very recently vacated pizza outlet.


Who was it who said when the pizza take away goes, the neighbourhood’s heart breaks in two?

Nobody, of course, or perhaps Leonard Cohen, but more likely I think the pizza joint was like one of those tragic figures who dies just as rescue’s trumpets sound on the hilltop. Next door to its corpse is Sadie Black, the new café in the area and still a matter of pride, delight and fascination for locals, if the Facebook group for Albion and Sunshine is anything to go by. Perhaps the best indicator of Sadie Black’s success is the complaints about it that immediately welled up in social media: I took this to demonstrate embrace of stakeholdership amongst the locals (the complaints were also almost all ridiculous, about other customers’ behavior or entirely reasonable practices like payment on order – a rational and efficient way to do business; it was like complaining to your mother that your brother hit you). Sadie Black’s proprietors are pioneers, but everybody agreed it was only a matter of time; Albion was begging for it.


Add to Sadie Black a hairdresser; a Laundromat; a Polish delicatessen and a milkbar-cum-bottleo, and you have bare needs addressed at the strip no-one any longer calls Westgate, though only the café really provides a civic centre (the Polish delicatessen Mitko, which is stupendous, is clearly dependent on a much wider catchment area than just Albion). A scant few other milk-bar-styled buildings in the surrounding streets surely saw the writing on the wall decades ago when the old Harvester works area became a shopping centre d’énormité.


On the brink


As much as one might like to think gentrification was a trackable phenomenon, it also has to be said that it’s still as much of a state of mind as anything else. Albion is half-way there, perhaps, although as long as those Coburgistan dorks think of that skinny, nerve-wracking, 40kph road through Brunswick when they hear the name ‘Albion’, rather than an actual place, Albion feels like it’s safe from the full bourgeois makeover.


Social media remains an unreliable indicator, at least in microcosm. The Facebook group is rife with good cheer: even if it’s musing on local problems: discussion about crashes and sirens in the area (‘Did anyone else just hear…?’) or good news of a pobblebonk in a backyard; or the extraordinary bulletin that a house in Adelaide Street sold for just under a million dollars. But perhaps the most unusual story of the moment in Albion is that of the rail link to the airport.


The Albion-Jacana line – a goods rail line between two places which have otherwise failed to prick Melbournites’ interest – is set to be, at least in large part, remade as Melbourne’s connection to Tullamarine. The federal government has put money into a feasibility study; the state government is making encouraging noises about such a scheme. It’s easy to make such plans (easy, but it still costs $30 million to figure out whether it’s worth doing). If it does transpire though – in fact, even if it merely concentrates interest on this part of the west – we are going to see a whole different Albion emerge. It won’t be a complete do-over like Green Park was to Zetland in Sydney, but it will mean development of Albion as an entrepôt, a stopover, a desirable ‘fifteen minutes to the airport’ locale for people with money dripping out of their pockets and onto their dreams.


This will kill Albion, it won’t make it stronger. But old Albion has been dying for decades anyway, and nothing was ever going to stop that happening. From its ashes will spring a multitude of varieties of largely unaffordable (even to those who can afford it – if you know what I mean) housing. At least I’ll be able to say, in my dotage, that I saw the last days of old Albion, and they had a little merit.

Wye River

From just up here on the olive lip of mountain mileage that pooling mouth below, half salt but also hill-fresh, could seem a lagoon.

On its low point surmounting asphalt and the roll of waves sits the verandaed pub, plain focus of holiday shorescape.

During the great forest fires  decades of my sap ago, bluegum branches crackled and roared: houses flared wide, too.

Behind the bay of my Then, buried under musk and rot, there lie quaint remains of an old woodcutters’ railway,

hardly more productive now than a tangled indentation. This aromatic forest can just about swallow anything

but holidays and December will flaunt over all that.

Kids will arrive at our sea-green seaside, garrulous as galahs.

No dark fin offshore today by the grace of Santa, hot though in his white whiskers and familiar laugh.

Yes, these are our youngsters” holy days, each treetop noisy as galahs and small clouds taking it just easy. Boards or even sandcastles

provide their own diversions all sweet summer long or is it all of life? The river weaves under that wooden bridge as it were for ever.

Saint Kilda

Living in St Kilda is like living in permanent holiday mode, where your real, alternate world can’t touch you with its grubby, stress-saturated hands. I can’t tell you the exact date that I moved in, not even the vague sense of the month or season, yet it’s become a familiar ritual as I make my way down maddening Punt Road to breathe a sigh of relief once I hit the palm trees – as if I’m on a runway, touching down.

While it’s always felt other-worldly, my attachment to St Kilda has strengthened as I’ve grown, as if we’re entwined in an indecipherable way. During my early twenties St Kilda was not a real place to me; just a place to party, with its warm body odour and cool breathing beach air. Like a dream. My younger self had joined the influx of summer goers, trouping to St Kilda, slightly overdressed in a way that feels unfamiliar and inconceivable to me now. Although I don’t entirely trust my memories, strangely foggy and sketchy things, I can see myself adrift in this unfamiliar world of romancing strobe lights and late night pizza, dazed by where I’d found myself but mostly by who I felt I should be.

As a local now I observe with curiosity the stream of visitors from the outer suburbs, former versions of myself, so keen to fit in to a place that truthfully has no expectations.

I’ve learnt not to bother competing, because there is always someone else just as trendy or eccentric or as lost as you. But back then I had brought with me my constraints, those things which dictated what I did, felt and shared with the world.

I’d become subtly attuned to the suffocating, familiar eastern suburbs of Melbourne where I had felt permanently branded as incompatible during my childhood and youth. My difference had always spoken before I ever could. And I could only assume that my oddity was at fault, it had to be, for everyone else around me seemed to be replicas of what I was not. It had been an exhausting plight; constantly trying to hide myself in the hope that whatever was within me would be ignored too. Or making myself wooden and empty, refusing to share any kind of vulnerability with other people because it already felt like my whole life was an unspoken vulnerability that I couldn’t control. It worked, until I soon felt that sharing nothing equated to having nothing of value to share. We’re so easily shaped by our environments, and yet we leave such little thought to their presence.

I think it may be something that all St Kilda locals have in common; people who have found a new fit for themselves and found solace in a community that feels similarly. Outsiders may assume the variability and inconsistency of St Kilda represents a communal emptiness, but perhaps they have never had to experience being visible and voiceless, all at the same time – and how all you want is a place that is yours to just simply be.

For there is strength in the community’s refusal to be any one thing. St Kilda is surely the place, kindly kept, for those who have never quite fit in. For nothing conforms here, not even in its design. A short walk of Fitzroy Street will bring you from Broadsheet-inspired restaurants and brunching stations to an alternate world of artificially lit pizza and kebab shops. In the damaged end, empty and boarded up shop fronts leer at you like broken teeth, accusatory of neglect. I always find myself momentarily jarred until I return to the safety of my bubbled world; preoccupations of finding milk, irritatingly forgotten from my mental grocery list…just further proof of my inadequacies in managing the adult role. The mere act of shopping becomes one of zig- zagging people and guilt as you refuse to give money to those stationed out the front of the local 7-11, while deep down knowing that it would merely require sacrificing one less latte the next day.

But that is the beauty of St Kilda living – a place where everyone is constantly vying for space.

For me, while my inherited visibility of brown skin and frizzy box braids will never be avoidable, for some reason it has never felt problematic the way it has elsewhere. I hardly ever feel started at, or noticed, or uncomfortable. The bar of difference has been raised so high to encompass everyone that I find myself inconsequential, safe to build a life with my girlfriend that feels unobserved and free as we use the suburb as our own personal backyard. My pocket of the world becomes one of shifting illusions; always amazed at how pools of beach water reflect the clouds in the sky, so that it feels like I am walking among them…how the windsurfers float in the sky like suspended performers, or the way the bay is sometimes moody and sometimes charming depending on the choppiness of the water.

I’m thankful for the freedom it provides me, as if I can hang up my burdens temporarily, feeling connected to the rest of the world without an armour that often feels safe and heavy all at the same time. I don’t really know what makes it a uniquely accepting place, although its history in European immigration, the red-light district and being a LGBTIQ hub has perhaps leant to it securing a certain pocket of safety – or at least as much as is possible in this world. I wonder if its humility is grown from the assumption that everyone is a stranger in this foggy, grungy, tourist town. For there is not one type of local, I’m sure of it.

It doesn’t feel absurd to see two women dancing within the safety of a traffic island, in the middle of the road, as I did one Friday night on my way home from work. Despite their faces being indecipherable in that clunky, mixed shaped way that your sight toys with you from afar, there’s no doubt that they must be locals. As much as the dudes serving brews at the local bar, seemingly far away from their usual Brunswick or Collingwood hipster counterparts. I’ve become accustomed to hearing the jingle of the Hare Krishnas in my apartment block and have had several near-misses to avoid collision on the footpaths with the running bodies that have known far more discipline than mine. Sunday mornings I encounter parents brunching, designer sunglasses hiding watchful monitoring of children in the nearby playground. The brigade of yummy mummys in their manicured activewear seem worlds apart from the pockets of down-to-earth pubs full of tradies and hippies. Or backpackers, given away by their boisterous accents or their reverence for the local Irish pub.

And yet despite the sweeping waves of gentrification and immersive wealth in St Kilda, there remains a visible narrative of those who do not fit this image. The man with the twisted beard seen talking to himself, given a wide berth on the tram. The dark and dank pubs that almost purposefully contrast the warm and inviting nature of the beach, somehow managing to maintain a permanent cigarette tang. Those people washing car windscreens at the traffic lights, sometimes having animated and charming chats with the drivers. That dingy local pub and bottle-o, that absurdly overinflates the cost of its wine.

Or the once notorious Gatwick hotel, a combative subject depending on who you talk to – a hotel that recently closed its doors after being sold to The Block reality television show, of all things. Prior to its closing, it had been blamed for the lack of street trading in St Kilda and declared a burden to emergency services due to the high levels of overdose and assault calls. But for others it had been painted as a haven, with the former owners pressing its importance in giving people a roof over their heads and a place that they could be themselves. It seems that both realities about the Gatwick can live simultaneously, although it’s easy to predict which one is likely to be silenced.

I like that any voice seemingly has a chance though – perhaps it is what gives me the confidence to feel that I have a right to just be. St Kilda is packed with real people who all want their own peace and space, who support me to be more sensitive to their world because they, in part, are more so of mine. Maybe all these locals from different worlds beam, like me, at St Kilda sunsets like it is the first bloody time they have ever seen one. Behaviour that I egocentrically assume only I do. Perhaps they also are momentarily aggrieved by the onslaught of visitors in summer with their fake tans and pretentious behaviour, causing concern that this will lend to the stereotype of St Kilda being superficial. Until like me, they smile to themselves knowing St Kilda keeps its real self for those that know it.