Station Stories

everyday stories

Are Possums symbolic?

A Brushtail possum engaging in its favorite activity

The day after the very contested Australia/Invasion Day I see my local possum climbing out of the bin holding a piece of vegemite toast in his mouth.  It all seems vaguely symbolic though I’m not sure what of.  Is this a You Beaut Aussie battler possum celebrating our great country’s favorite snack?  Or is it symbolic of the degradation of our native fauna by invader culture?

Both at the same time maybe

Or maybe just symbolic of the opportunistic nature of hungry possums.

Pug Boy

A young man is sitting on the station wearing a mask – a paper mask showing the face of a cheerful pug dog with its tongue hanging out. I’d already noticed him waiting through two trains and now he’s put on this mask. Definitely time to ask.
“Are you O.K.?”
He pulls up the mask.
“Yes I’m fine,” he replies cheerfully.
In the face of such cheeriness, I feel a need to explain my officious behavior.
“Sorry, it’s just that when you work at a station you need to look out for people’s um… mental health,”
“Sure. I don’t blame you for asking,” he replies, smiling and putting his mask back.
So that’s that. He seems sane enough.  But he’s wearing a pug mask. On an ordinary weekday.
The mystery is solved -sort of – when the next train came in and a young woman gets off and greets him.
She doesn’t acknowledge the mask, but she seems pleased to see him.

Signs of change.

 

Good to be reminded. Words of comfort graffitied on the Upfield Bike Path just after the first Melbourne lock down.

 

Uniformed school kids on the station today.

Just a bunch of slouching, spotty adolescents. Unprepossessing really.

But also –

School kids on a zoo excursion!!!

Such joy!

Just like the good old innocent pre -Covid days.

It’s been so long.

Could it really be over?

 

Back at work

The staff at Richmond cheer strutting their stuff to “Funky Town” during Covid-19

 

Although I work in an “essential service,” I decided to use up some of my holidays at the beginning of lockdown because I knew there’d be nothing to do. The Zoo is closed, there are no tourists and we are 88% down on customers.  But I went back to work this week.  And there are still customers.

An infectious diseases specialist was working on his laptop in the waiting room while waiting for a train and told me that the hospitals were all ready for a second wave of infections with a ward full of prepared beds and plenty of spare ventilators in ICU. “ Keep washing your hands” he said. “And don’t touch your face.” We were interrupted then by another less respectable looking man who told us that the Covid-19 tracing app was compulsory, Big Brother was upon us and that we wouldn’t be able to use hospitals or get into Bunnings unless we had the app on our phones.  He waved his fist and kept crying “Resist! Resist!” until the train fortuitously rolled in and took him away.

One of the Zoo volunteers dropped by to have a walk around the outside of the zoo.  It’s closed tight and she said she was missing the animals terribly.  According to the on-line Zoo keeper chat the animals, especially the monkeys and apes are also missing the entertainment of the visitors.

Those of my regulars who are still working were happy to see me.  Probably my return is a sign of normality.  I missed my Burmese hospital cleaners who apparently are now driving to work because it’s safer from infection, but my Vaccine makers from Sequirus labs were there in force.  They hard at it making more flu vaccines.  The uptake has been tremendous this year and the government has asked for an extra million and a half vaccines for our southern winter, which must be made before they can get their start on the regular flu vaccines they always make for the northern winter.  If you are run down from having the flu it increases you chance of catching Covid-19.  They don’t have any news on a Covid-19 vaccine.

Although the station was very quiet, the Park itself was like a high street.  It was one of those golden autumn afternoons when there is just a tinge of chill in the air and a constant stream of people went past on foot or on bicycle, including the many happy golfers.  Their club house was opened last week.  One of my regulars stopped and told me how happy he was, all was back.  He’d had to make do with a putting machine in his living room for the past 6 weeks and as he lived alone it had been very lonely.

I suspect this is also true of the man with out of control hair who is still using the train to carry all the timber for his new shed bunker/ and still likes to stop and tell me ALL the details of everything.

The person I most wished to speak to did not stop and talk.  Why is a man in high vis, walking through my railway station with a such a huge hole torn in the back of his work pants that I can see half of his blue star spangled boxer shorts underneath?  Alas I will never know.

 

 

 

The Picture Gallery

One late night meal break about six months ago, a bored Protective Services Officer drew a picture on a piece of paper towel and stuck it on the wall.
Since then many of P.S.O’s who staff Zoo Station on a rotating roster, have added little cartoons/sketches to the wall signing them with their departmental numbers. Such a pleasure to open up and see what popped up last night. Some are quite talented, some seem to be tracings of pop culture figures but if you can’t draw… – well my favourite is one labeled Mick the Stick which is just a line. My least favourite is of a certain American President. Does he have to be everywhere?!! (an no I shall not put him in here.)

 

 

Naked men and the military industrial complex

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.

Flinders Street Station Wins Cake Prize

 

Here’s my beloved central station resplendent in icing and with a tram circling it on a rotating disc – winner of Batter, Bake, Build – Melbourne University’s Architectural baking competition.

Click through here to learn more about the competition and see the other entries.

https://architectureau.com/articles/sweet-success-winners-crowned-in-architectural-bake-off/#

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/melbourne-architectural-baking-competition

On casual racism

 

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?

The Magpie Dilemma

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.

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/offtrack/thbe-magpies-among-us/6777832

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.

So that is my Magpie Dilemma.

On Delicate Matters of Etiquette

Finest Jamestown Butt Bucket

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.