Melbourne is a city of wanderers and lost souls all heading in the same direction. Most people come here looking for something more. It is the only place I’ve really been immersed in where individuality means more than conforming. I suppose that’s why I’ve struggled everywhere else. I am from the Gold Coast. Where, the more you step into the likeness of those around you the more you’re applauded - as if the zeitgeist of the city possesses the same self-obsession of it’s inhabitants to only approve of a person or thing exactly in the image of you.
A question though, do you know how much more fun you have when you’ve accepted who you are entirely and can finally just be? It didn’t just happen overnight - it’s been a slow burn wake that’s forged itself into my character. Melbourne, as it is and the people that live in this fair city, have had the most profound influence on me, and it was freedom like I have never known.
Dilemma. I can’t draw. It’s a talent I yearn to have and watch others whom possess it with green eyed envy and astonishment. I’m also not much with a camera. Any photographic success has correlated entirely with the beauty or the intrigue of the subject. I do not contribute any such triumph with any sort of skill I could perhaps possess it just simply isn’t there. Further, despite healthy doses of study and consumption I am not much with my words either. Yet. Certainly, it’s the best I’ve got and this portrait of words serves me more than it ever could anyone else. I can define finally the private thoughts that earmark these moments and people, that sit like cognitive bookmarks I’ve decisively placed into my mind forever, not for fear of losing the memory but rather what the memory means to me.
I’m certain I am writing about my Melbourne because I want to savour every memory it has given me. I will strive to preserve the gifts and lessons of the city, in words or pictures or however I can. It’s when I have the urge to write about something that I know I truly care. That I deeply want to understand the subject and it’s relevance to me. Melbourne confronted my prejudice about so many cultures and exposed me to the merits of them all - through food, art, music and parties. This city taught me how to have fun and to leave myself imposed solitary confinement and finally experience and accept the world around me.
I leave this city a better person, a more accepting person, a more compassionate person from the lives that have played out in the distance of my life. Sometimes it gets so hot the ground melts, and you can’t walk outside for too long as the heat from the sidewalk will burn up through your shoes. Other times, you need thermal layering to stand the icy, gusting gale that blows right through you, chilling you to the bone. No matter Melbournes moody, menstrual tension lined weather front its heart beats with a fervour you wish for yourself. There is a moment your when heart finally steps into rhythm with this grand city. It’s so true and intimate, as unmistakable as the feeling the first time you tell someone you love them.
A constant tip-of-the-hat to the bildungsroman of Brunswick that was the establishment of the Italian communities, are the buildings marked with ‘Si, Parla Italiano’, mostly pharmacies and churches. There is a rich presence of religion that is sprawled across Brunswick, landmarked by the numerous churches lining the streets and mosques and places of prayer the further west you travel. My favorite is St Joseph’s. I don’t know who is doing the board writing though it should be noted they are raw talent. Raw bloody talent delivering some true wisdom thick and fast to the passerby’s and idle minded stare bears on the 55 tram. There’s also the old church on the corner of Victoria and Melville. Opposite another staple of Brunswick life: Con’s Deli.
There is nothing deli about Con’s. They also claim to have the best burgers in town. They don’t. But, they’re pretty bloody good and if Sophie asks you what salt you want you say ‘Chicken’ and rest assured her tenacious seasoning will give you dry mouth for 24-48 hours. To say Con has a fetish for signage is a euphemism at best and a mere three minutes in that busy little shop finds your mind skirmished with every piece of Officeworks generic shop signage, each with a catch cry or pun to further entice the customer. I think that was the logic anyway. But truly, it’s good food that tastes like an Australian childhood and you can’t help but develop a neighbourly bond with Con and Sophie. We often discussed generational issues: the new blood in Brunswick and the ever-changing face of the little suburb they’d spent all their years apart of.
I listened to their stories and realised quite soon on that it is their world we are moving into. We now decide what remains important to carry on, and what to discard as dated. That is why there is such a ageist debate between the generations. We negotiate away their innovations they came to see as necessary and replace them with things they can’t see a necessity for. We should always ask the other why? Not out if condescension but out of genuine curiosity to understand a logic other than your own. We forget that it all meant something once. Don’t you want your contributions to still mean something in such time? The very act of understanding provides the progression needed for us to truly pay attention to the world around us. That indeed, it was not created for us, but by us and what role we can subsequently play in that. I cant help but find motivation on creating things I do not want my children or the younger generations to discard. We have a duty to the puzzling gift of life to give back. We have a duty to not become a slave to our ego; motivated entirely by your own returns and thus become entirely self focussed. Sophie’s distinct voice cut through my thoughts like a hot knife through butter, “Your foods’ ready, darl. You want a bag?” she asked. With that, off I went.
I left Brunswick for while, for North Fitzroy, and I never once replicated the experience I had at Con’s. Though, I did value the heavy handed nature of the lady at the chicken shop, seasoning the chips I savoured every hangover. Good work, lady. North Fitzroy surely had its merits. Coming back to Brunswick whipped the same frenzy in me that I get only when I get to go home and sleep in a bed my mother made up for me. I was heading home. Though, as I moved further from my past I became closer to my memories.
There’s the bench that earmarks the beginning of something. We sat and shared a joint. I noted the minutes falling through my hands like grains of sand through my fingers. I selfishly thought these minutes were as infinite as the grains of sand; that they were as infinite as the possibilities that surrounded our eager minds and restless ambitions.
I’d soon find out though the world spins and unfolds and just when we aren’t looking, switches our mundane life into an episodic crisis. Sometimes, in a matter of heartbeats. In that very moment, the sadness that enters my heart when I think about my parents aging envelopes my body, apples lodged in my throat and cloudy stinging eyes. I became painfully aware that mortality had become a reality rather than a concept. It’s an isolating moment. As if you’re completely detached from the minutes that are passing you by. Your only company is a aural static of the TV humming in the background and the white noise of the world living through this crisis gently creeps through the front door. The struggle to muster the strength and wherewithal that is now required of you becomes ever relevant; everything else shifts in priority and until this is over, this is your life. To this day I couldn’t tell you if this was the right decision or not, but I’ll stand by it.
My great sorrow for others affected much more greatly than my minimal interaction ever could have allowed, the months of 2013 unfolded amongst a myriad of lessons. The kind of clarity that unfolds on long tram tram rides to and from work, where your mind finally produces the perfectly cut vignette to satisfy or justify your interpretation of the past.
I have learned the patience to accept that any respite from this sometimes wicked world was respite all the same. Regardless of my tyrannical dictation, which was mostly internalised anyway. In the style of a true grand narrative, I swiftly learned it is the smallest things that reveal the biggest parts to a person. Our hearts do get the better of us sometimes, they’re never too far from restoration if we find ourselves realising the truth of a person. Sooner or later, the mask will slip. And there they are; nothing but words that conflict with behaviour. Which hurts. And sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes, people just live in a world with values and concepts you can’t align yourself with. Do them a favour and don’t associate yourself with their ways. Do yourself a favour and don’t be restricted and burdened by something thats just not for you. Have the respect for their way of life to walk away and let them be as, we hope, they will you. I have wanted so badly to unburden myself with the indulgent concept that people should behave to some sort of code I developed for myself. It only revealed my own lack of faith in my own beliefs. I compromised them for fits of anguish and despair; weariness brought about by an internal catastrophic collapse. I learned that often your discomfort with others serves as a mirror to your own flailing gospels. So, as much as enduring the shortcomings of others I have endured my own shortcomings much the same. Much like our heartbreaks, our moments of clarity must float like buoys amid a sea of memories. There is little we can do but continue on. A healing heart is nurtured with much more ease than a heart tortured but what it can not let go.
I always think back to the last day of innocent hope of 2013. That day, as I left that bench, the sun burned through the dense summer air of Brunswick and I rode home to a song was playing on my iPod; not knowing it was to visit me in the same context in a different world, many months later. The best I have to offer are the cues of La Vie, L’amour:
"La vie, la vie ça chante dans l’amour.
L’amour, l’amour ça crie dans la vie.
La vie, la vie nous donne tout l’amour.
L’amour, l’amour nous prend toute la vie.
La vie, la vie ça meurt pour l’amour.
L’amour, l’amour ça vit pour la vie.
C’est l’amour et c’est la vie…”
Or, in ‘translation’ upon my insistence to understand it as best I could:
"life, life sings in love
love, love, screams in life
life, life gives us all of love
love, love, takes our whole life
life, life, it dies for love
love, love lives for life
it’s love and it’s life…”
These words echo within me to this very day.
Amongst the haunts that are Brunswick by nature as much as longstanding citizenship, the lives of Brunswick inhabitants plays out. It seems like there is a bar or cafe on every other corner in Brunswick. For me, my ghost sits at the picnic tables in the outdoor area of The Union; it sits in the single window seat of John Gorilla; the planter table of Lolo and Wren; the communal table at Wide Open Road; stands in the nut section at La Manna; strums the guitars at Volaris; is being measured up for jeans at Du Jour; vandalising the bathroom at The Retreat with dedications of love in the hope she might see it; afternoon sessions at the Penny Black, that bled into slurred words of wisdom over dinner at Tiba’s and kicking a soccer ball against the wall on a Saturday afternoon at Clifton Park.
The people of Brunswick exist all amongst this. At it’s cognitive leisure, my brain categorizes and analyses and I can’t help but perpetuate my own stereotypes. There’s the Yupple. The Yuppy Couple. They’ve just bought their first place together with a little help from Mum and Dad and have been together for four years and despite all the fights and red flags, just love each other too much and would die without each other. But it’s ok, they cultivated a self indulgent materialism that now means the mark of a successful relationship is based on the amount of things they have. And aren’t they successful? And of course there are always the friendly baristas/waitstaff/bartenders whose existence legitimise my theory that Melbourne life always brings 1) a hospitality professional crush or 2) a public transport crush. They are always so nice and you swear you didn’t order that or that they ‘for sure’ gave you a discount. These are the only times you’ll tip.
There’s the blue collar families who have inherited the house from Mum and Dad and slave away to give a life to their kids in an unforgiving and fast paced economy; were anything to happen to Dad the children and wife would struggle given the deplorable gender pay gap that would be imposed upon the woman. But they don’t, and we most certainly don’t, want to talk about that. Even under the simplicity of a nuclear, blue collar Aussie family simmers a misinformed, conservative streak shaped by a media with it’s own agenda and subsequently bears witness to such atrocities as Tony Abbott being elected to power. Brunswick, not to be limited by such a families strict definition of family, is considered home to a large LGBTQ community. Which of course means you’ll no doubt be placed next to an intense lesbian couple who have a toy dog any time you’re out for a meal, and you know they’ll break up in six months. I’m not being judgemental. That is far more autobiographical than it is observational.
Then there’s the artist/photographer/art history major/writer/whatever. You can’t see their work because ‘it’s not finished yet’. In most cases, barely started. For a generation that hates labels we all too quickly assign a professional one to ourselves without the body of work to back it up. Often finding themselves out of work, holding out for an offer worthy of them. A subconscious rouse to avoid the hard work and dedication that comes with developing as a creator. You know these people. The kind that thinks themselves a blossoming chef for slow cooking some meat and roasting some vegetables; all too quick to impart their secret recipe of 10 or more seasonings and edgy herbs like rosemary and such. Representative of their defining nature: their sense of self importance overrides any sense of self awareness denying themselves any chance of evolving as a human or artist because despite their empty testaments about wanting to learn; cannot comprehend the hard work of doing so and therefore, never will learn. These people soon fade off into lives that allows this existence, maintaining a solid mindset that the world was against them and their ambitions. When all that’s really left are spoken intentions and what could have been. These people usually pair off interculturally: finding one in the same, coming together in a melodramatic chaos (which, is indeed just how it will end), being together (see: dependant) until the dependance on someone so unreliable wears thin, and they mourn for every moment missed in between now and the life that was sold to them with words, not actions.
There of course is the others. Everyone else. The cacophony of individuals that exist in Brunswick. They don’t just live - they exist. It’s more of these souls than anyone else, and it makes Brunswick what it is. In learning to treasure the municipality and inhabitants of Brunswick, I have learned these are just people and places. People and places. Both are things we can lose all too quickly, our head in our hands questioning why we have nothing when we placed everything in what is now gone. But a person who can find comfort in their own sense of who they are is never not at home. Brunswick was where I learned what home was and I haven’t looked outside of myself for this comfort since.
Before Brunswick, there was a time when weekly Metro tickets were paper and $27.00. I was living in Footscray. Footscray was African food, Olympic Donuts, Vietnamese sandwiches and running through West Bulldogs’ training oval at 5:52am whilst the sprinklers soaked the grounds because I had to make the 5:58am train. Soaking wet, I’d slip through the doors of the train as they closed. Footscray was skateboarding to do the shopping, running amok in the Savers, skating top to bottom in the Footscray market car park and ice creams from the IGA. Sunday mornings were reserved for housemate hang out time. We’d walk through the heart of Footscray to Seddon for a hang-over breakfast at Seddon Deadly Sins. That place takes ‘concept’ to a new level. A real theatrical dining masterpiece, where seven is compromised for a Seddon pun and satanic iconage is emblazoned on the tables at which you sit. It’s the cafe representation of the woman who was once was told ‘purple was her colour’ and her wardrobe, furnishings and car detailing has since slowly morphed into a wave of purple. Magenta to violet but always, purple. It’s taking an idea and running with it, sprinting emphatically into the fiery, unforgiving pits of bad taste. So, there it was and there we were and it was all as it should have been. I always wanted to ask: are you open Seddon days a week?
My time in Footscray can really be quantified by a single anecdote about a table. A ping pong table. For my entire existence within the realms of a long-term, intense relationship I was always told what I couldn’t do. Essentially, parts of myself I should suppress to maintain the illusion of being at peace with each other. I went along with it. When I was told I couldn’t build a table, I just thought well I can’t do it. In most ponderings in the aftermath of this relationship, I discovered I most certainly could and should have built that damn table. Jesus was a carpenter, for fucks sake. Is there seriously not enough material on how to build this simple construction around that I could not get my head around it and create something? My actions were lathered with rage and the cogs turned fast on the reclaiming of my once ambitious self. A person only limited to what they believed in themselves they could do. Armed with supplies and a few innovations, I turned the loungeroom of my two bedroom apartment on Gordon Street into a workshop and and I built a fucking great table. That table went on to live in three separate homes, saw in a New Year, was used as a dining table, served many a round of beer pong and eventually shifted off to a home unknown. In Brunswick, hard trash is an opportunity. One that lasts 45 minutes on average.
Picking through ones own industrial sized emotional hard rubbish waste bin is never fun, especially in the dawning days of heartache. Trust me, a resourceful neighbour with a spot for a new bookcase is not interested in taking this lot off your hands. You feel empty and indifferent; without love and without hate. It was in the moments I truly felt I lived without love in my life that I was finally gifted the ability to see it all around me. Love, true love, is faith. I realised true love doesn’t discriminate based on the context: romantic, friendships, family.
You must trust the words of others and be humble enough to address your imperfections in the eyes of others. Make no mistakes, there are a lot. In my case and at this time they were certainly abundant. We must have faith in those we love to do the same. And we must be patient. It must be enough to know that just as it is now is not how it will remain, and have faith that the purity of your love will be the guidepost that brings them back to you. And you, you must wait. It is an immense battle. Often the battlefields simply look too bleak in the unedited rawness of reality. However, and I learned: with what we give we set a standard for what is to be reciprocated. Our compassion for each others paves the path for it to come back to you; and who knows who I’d be without the compassion, faith and love demonstrated to me. The ability to be compassionate brings out your ability to love and to understanding the failings and trials of being a human. At the core of any of that is the ability to be compassionate. This is especially helpful in the face of aggression or the deceptive guise of monsters living in plain sight. Yes, it was an important table to build. That was Footscray though. Lessons layered in micro situations and a hell of a lot of fun.
People first respond to my moving overseas with the question: are you scared? The short answer is of course, no. I know I could never be as scared as that little girl residing in Footscray, afraid of everyone and everything. It is anguish to live amongst such anxieties. Isolated, I realised: my fears and shortcomings are never related to where I am or who I am with. The exist entirely within me. Address that clusterfuck of confusion and lack of understanding around the superficialities of existence and then most likely, things will fall into place. Well, yes, but no. There’s some basic training in there. You have to survive in the meantime.
I know it now as just surviving somewhere new. I didn’t even know Flinders Street when I arrived in Melbourne. A testament to any humans ability to do more than they believe possible; to survive. We need to be put through survival training every now and then. Surprise ourselves with our ability to problem solve. Surprise ourselves with our initiative when we really need it. Surprise ourselves by making it through, broken but wiser. Now the time has come to depart these shores and my limited wisdom ensures me I have no reason to fear or another second to waste. That’s Act II. That is Berlin.
I rest assured. I know it now and I have known it for sometime and to quote a much wiser, fictional figure from that ever-famous film: I’ll always have Brunswick.
I’ll always have Brunswick, for broken and wiser.