I’m getting ready for my shift in the backroom of the Junction, when the Station Master calls out, “You ladies might like to stay in there. There’s a guy walking around out there naked.”
Feeling sorry for the passengers outside who must face this spectacle without a place to hide, the other “lady” and I search round in the lost property locker for any old clothes. The only thing we can find is a lost MacDonald’s uniform. Possibly giving that to the kind of person who walks around naked at a railway station will get us into trouble. One would hate to offend a multinational corporation.
Its 22.30 one Sunday evening and we are once again chivying people off trains and onto buses so that men can work on the tracks. We tend to do a circuit of the quiet station calling out, “Replacement buses outside the station,” to everyone because no matter how many announcements they make over the PA, someone always misses them and gets angry about there being – “No announcements!”
My Indian workmate is going down the escalators ahead of me and coming up towards us on the opposite escalator are an ordinary-looking elderly couple in their 60’s – probably someone’s Nan and Pop.
“Replacement buses outside the station!” she calls helpfully to them as she goes past on the escalator.
And the man turns and says calmly to her retreating back –“Don’t yell at me, you black c**t!
I’m shocked, appalled and unfortunately speechless. I glare at them but they don’t meet my eye as they go past. They are as expressionless as if he’d said nothing – bored people on an escalator. Is saying such an awful thing just every day for them? Like shopping?
I should have said something. But perhaps she didn’t hear him and if I’d spoken out – called him the racist bastard he was – she would have known what he said. And no one needs to hear that. But if she did hear it and I said nothing, what will she think then? That I agree? That would be awful!
I say nothing to her and she doesn’t mention it. She doesn’t seem upset. Maybe she didn’t hear him. Or horrifying thought – she’s used to it. We do get a lot of abuse on these bus nights and it must be even worse if you stand out as different.
But I should have called this guy out as a racist bastard. Shoulda! Shoulda! I’m so furious when I think of it. Why did my words fail me at the time?
One of the matriarchs of the tribe of magpies who thrive around my stations, has broken her leg maybe even a hip or rib – a bad break which causes her to huddle on the ground with her wing all askew. But she’s survived 5 days and, more importantly, nights now. She sits like a duck among the grasses and the customers throw her bits of food. She can fly and perhaps she has found a safe place to huddle in a roof or tree at night.
Concerned zoo volunteers encouraged me to ring the zoo vets. You have to be a true animal lover to be a zoo vet- willing to come out a chase a wounded magpie round a golf course in your own time. They’ve come out twice with nets and boxes but she’s too smart and quick for them – still fit and vigorous despite the leg.
“Perhaps you could try and throw a coat or something over her and then wrap her up” suggests the vet. “Then ring us and we’ll come right out and get her. But be careful. They have a savage bite.”
As if I need warning. I’m scared of that huge beak. (so are most of the customers – sometimes feeding the magpies looks more like a mugging) And I’m scared of the rest of the tribe too. Australian magpies are sophisticated social creatures with long memories who regularly blind school children in territorial disputes.
I’d be willing to be more courageous if I was more certain of the cause. But the zoo vets say they will probably have to euthanize her if they catch her. And she’s still alive and full of beans and pecking at her fledglings when they try and move in on her food.
Do I work towards this death for her- she may be in a lot of pain – or shall I let nature take its course? She may get better. Although probably not. She may survive with one leg. Lots of birds do. Or she may die a horrible slow painful death or be eaten by an urban fox. I do wish she could sign one of those voluntary euthanasia forms.
Outside the station door I have an ice cream container full of sand for people to put cigarette butts in. It cuts down on the mess smokers make. Lately the butts have been disappearing and I’ve naively been assuming the cleaner is emptying them out. So I am terribly embarrassed to walk out of the station and discover a neatly dressed woman my age, crouched over the butt bucket collecting the butts. I cry “opps” as if I’ve interrupted someone doing something shameful, which to my mind I have. But of course that makes it worse because now she knows I’ve noticed. I feel I have created a difficult social situation.
But the lady isn’t ashamed. She’s about my age and looks like a librarian. Glasses and middle class teeth. Assertively she asks me whose bucket it is and if I could put more sand in so that the cigarettes don’t burn down so much. She even asks me if I will collect them in a little bag for her. This latter is bridge too far ever for a chronic people-pleaser like me. I say no I wouldn’t be comfortable with that. Then we have a little chat about holidays, because she is apparently saving for one. Hence the need to save on smoking.
I presume she will take the butts home and either smoke them or unwrap them and make roll ups out of the left over tobacco. Gah!
I’m startled that someone so middle class looking is collecting butts like this which makes me wonder about; (1) my own socio-economic pre-conceptions and (2) more interestingly what sort of life has brought this woman to doing something usually only the homeless do? Divorce, addiction, mental illness, plain bad luck? Homelessness? Its closer to us all than we think. Station life is full of interesting mysteries and wondering about them keeps me going during the quiet shifts.
Around mid-afternoon the cleaning and catering staff from the hospital come in. I avoid one older woman with badly dyed red hair and a long Australian face, because, as she plods up the ramp like an old horse, all she does is moan at the lateness of trains and how that terrible hill up to the station will be the end of her after a long shift. You cannot get a smile from her. She’s a glass completely empty kind of person.
The small group of Nepalese staff are more like a flock of noisy sparrows, no doubt bonded by their shared experiences of displacement, They’re puffed out by the hill but happy to chat and joke about late trains. Lately I’m delighted to see they have taken the Australian woman under their wing. They gather round her laughing, dragging and chivying her along, all puffing up the hill together to make the train. She smiles more these days.
OMG. I’ve just written a parable about the virtues of immigration. All taken from life, I assure you.
The Campbell Arcade, the strange but beautiful little pink tiled throat that links the Desgraves Street entrance to Flinders Street Station, is likely to be modified to make way from the Metro Tunnel though its not clear how much. Will it remain a refuge for arty types when it is turned into a tunnel linking to the new town hall station or will it be freshened and modernized out of existence?
Till then the Vitrines will continue displaying art. I really enjoyed Heroines in Petticoats, one of the best displays I’ve seen for a while.
Check it out.
Here is a review by Melbourne Art Critic Mark Holsworth
A dozen surreal installations tell a history of Australian women. “Heroines in Petticoats” by Kelly Sullivan, Kirsti Lenthall (Empire of Stuff), Gigi Gordes and Liz Sonntag (Tinky) is an engaging and accessible exhibition that has a coherent and relevant theme.
The height and depth of the dozen vitrines in the pink tiled Campbell Arcade, the Degraves Street underpass to Flinders Street Station has been used to great effect. Too often the Dirty Dozen has been occupied by art students who have alienated the general public, forgetting or ignoring that this space is very public at Melbourne’s central metropolitan railway station. There were several people paying close attention to it when I saw it around midday on Thursday.
The vitrines create a timeline of the lives of Australian women from the colonial era to the present. The heroines of this timeline are not specific women, heroines to represent an era but women in a general non-specific way. This absence of specificity meant that the artists tended to represent white suburban women.
As well as, the timeline there were specific causes associated with specific eras from the anti-conscription movement of the 1910s to the domestic murder rate of today. There was no mention of the temperance movement, as it was a women powered movement, but it is not longer seen as righteous.
Although each of the cases is labelled as the work of specific artists there is a coherent look to the whole exhibition. There are differences Kelly Sullivan’s collage, Kirsti Lenthall’s ceramic decals on plates and impressively on quartz rocks, or Gigi Gordes’s disembodied body parts; hands typing, the eyes on the glasses, mouth on the mug, mouth on the phone (I don’t know why the objects are covered in crochet) and, a few cabinets later, the hands on a glass of wine.
It was Tinky’s work that drew my attention to the exhibition as I know Gigi and Tinky’s art from the street. However, Tinky’s puns were the weakest elements of the exhibition. Written on paper and the little titles didn’t match the style of the rest. Unfortunately her puns give meaning to her tableaus and without them they would just be some odd HO scale model train figures.
About Mark Holsworth
Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne.
A four carriage train with a blues singer/band in every carriage? How great is that! And it was too. We arrived at 6.30 and were served a delicious meal of salads and slow cooked meats on the quaint little Queenscliff railways station. After a day of 36 degrees, it was fabulous to enjoy the cool sea breeze and watch the sun going down over a golden inlet covered with flocks of swans and pelicans. As darkness fell we boarded the train and set off towards Drysdale. At every stop we changed carriages so that by nights end we’d all seen four gigs. And very excellent gigs they were too. Dancing was not easy in a moving carriage but it was impossible not to tap your feet and claps your hands. We warmed up with International Blues Challengers, Rhythm X Revival, got really revved up by Japanese blues man, George Kamikawa, (Kampai!) chilled to the orginal songs of Wayne Jury and got dancing again to Tiana Martel’s powerful voice. The blues, the train and the hot velvet night – maybe we really were in the Mississippi Delta.
You can’t buy drinks on the train but you can get them (and an ice bucket to carry them around in) at the station. And an ice cream at Drysdale. Now that’s living!
Many thanks to Hugo Armstrong of the Blues Train for the complementary tickets.
A young man in a yellow high-vis vest gets off the 4.04 and hovers by the front door peering down the platform. I look at him enquiringly and he nods back at me in a friendly way. But he stays where he is, hovering. Just as I’m starting to wonder what his deal is, the platform clears. He turns, puts his fingers in his mouth, lets out a piercing whistle and jumps back in the train.
Apparently our suburban train service has acquired an unofficial conductor who’s whistling at every stop.
I ask my workmates if they’ve seen him and they’ve all had some brush with him.
“The train driver can’t see through him,” says one. “So I told him to get lost!”
Secretly, I hope to see him again.
The middle aged man with the beard and the big coat clearly wanted to chat, but I was at the exciting part of my book and had been looking forward to using the train journey to read it. So I replied politely and then disengaged, firmly gluing my gaze to the page
Further down the line, the man got lucky. I was so enthralled with the conversation I stopped reading.
A young bloke with a skateboard got in and the man started a conversation about his neck chains which moved rapidly onto talking about homelessness.
“I lost my f… house, my daughter, my wife two months ago.”
“How are you finding it?”
“F… freezing last night. Terrible.”
“Yeah I know what it’s like. I was homeless for 12 months after my f… step dad kicked me out. Almost died of f… hypothermia a coupla times.”
“Yeah! F… hard to find somewhere dry.”
“Did you know where you can get a free feed every weekend?”
They slipped into talking of ways and means.
Then coming into the junction, the young bloke said,
“I found a place and I’ve been there almost a year. We got two spare couches in the living room. Here, why don’t you take my address and phone number, just come round tonight and we’ll put you up.”
The middle aged man was touched and I, eavesdropping, got a lovely warm feeling in my chest.
“Yeah, yeah! Just show up tonight. I know what it’s like.
“That’s pretty f… great of you.”
My heart was lifted by this conversation yet at the same time I was fearful. What if someone was hurt? What if someone was assaulted or taken advantage of? I was brought up to distrust the kindness of strangers which is sad. But also wise.
But homelessness cuts down your choices