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.

Campbell Arcade Art Show

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

Heroines Petticoats @ Dirty Dozen

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.

Hot Velvet Night in Queenscliff

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.

The Blues Train Homepage

A young man’s dream

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.

Train Conductors Hat from Walmart

The kindness of strangers

Sign found in Coburg Station waiting room.

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.
“You sure?”
“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

A Day at the Races

It’s Race Week and I spend the days at Flemington Racecourse station cooking sausages for all the staff there.  And there are many there, station staff, security men, racing club hosts, drivers, signalers and maintenance guys, who sometimes have nothing to do all day but tighten the screws on the BBQ and hold themselves in readiness in case a train breaks down or a protester purposely parks on the railway tracks and throws away the car keys the way they did last year.  Racing is Australia’s third biggest industry, the Melbourne Spring Carnival its biggest race week and consequently it’s also Metro’s biggest week.  A screw up on a race day can seriously dent your credibility as Connex discovered to its cost one year when a train fried itself to the overhead wires and thousands of people had to walk home.

I was bought up by ex-Methodists and consequently I knew little of Race Week until I came to work for the railways.  My parents looked askance at drinking and gambling and saw no need for the ostentatious spending of money on fabulous bags, shoes, clothes, make-up, hair and race tickets.

A day at the races II by Giancarlo Impiglia

But though I’d never spend that amount of money on self-adornment, I really appreciate that others do it.  All those lovely people on the morning train in hats and dresses and suits. They look so important even though they’re probably not.  The really important people are probably driven.

I have to admit that I also kind of appreciate the aftermath in a shamefully smug ex-Methodist way.

This Derby Day, I’d cooked 400 pieces of meat and I stank of sausage grease.  No need to moisturize that night. I took the train back to the Junction with people laughing, staggering and shouting.

On the platform two young men in beautiful suits and ties were doing the drunken waltz – The less drunk one trying to hold up a more drunk companion who is heading for the ground.  Round and round and down and down they went until finally gravity won and the more drunk man had a little lie down on the platform while his mate went off to find – who knows what?

As I plodded up to the station office, I passed another beautifully dress couple in their 40’s doing a similar waltz, he holding up her.  She was barefoot and hatless.  The air was loud with people yelling “Here I’m over here,” “There are no Taxis, call an Uber” and some of them just yelling.  God knows what it was like at Flinders Street and Southern Cross stations where most of the race-goers change trains.

“Someone’s passed out on Platform 4” I told the Station Officer who sighed, and called up the para-medic.  Out the back the other para-medic (two are rostered at the Junction every race day.  Also three extra cleaners) was out there taking care of a young woman throwing up in a bag.

I stayed in the warm office helping the Station officer deal with the stream of lost hats, wallets, bags and shoes and deal with drunks complaining about trains and asking for cabs and trying not to get too close to anyone so that they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by my eau de sausage.

By the time my train home came, the spare paramedic was down on platform 4 wheel chair at the ready, helping the young man haul his mate to his feet and watching tensely as they staggered round and round the platform until a train came in and took them safely away.

 

The Bee Man

The Australian native teddy-bear bee photographed by Erica Siegel. From https://www.aussiebee.com.au

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been fascinated by an older man who potters past the station in the late afternoons, wearing a floppy khaki hate and carrying a fine mesh butterfly net.

Recently I managed to speak to him and discovered that he was (1) French and (2) an expert on Australian Native bees.  Apparently Royal Park has 90 (yes 90!!, I queried this figure at the time) different species of native bee and now the flowers were coming out he was hoping to find some of them active.

He’d been disappointed so far though.  The ground was too cold still and the bees weren’t interested in the wattle trees that are bursting goldenly into bloom on all sides.  Which makes sense because wattle trees are wind pollinated (and wildly hayfever causing as many of us know to our cost) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2018/oct/29/bees-of-australia-up-close-with-native-species-in-pictures?ut

 

A bustle in the hedgerow

Acacia dealbata
“with the introduction of a figure for idealistic purposes”
Wattle Nymph 1921

On the last beautiful Monday morning I became aware of something odd going on in the garden outside my station.  There seemed to be lots of people wandering about dressed in sheets???. So I pottered down to investigate and discovered some lovely young ladies wearing draperies lurking round in the trees.

“We’re Wattle Nymphs” they told me and kindly posed for a picture.  The whole thing had a very 1920’s vibe which was confirmed when another young woman showed up with a camera and told me they were making a film based on a series of photos from 1921 called Wattle Nymphs. http://www.anbg.gov.au/campbell.wattle/

Filming finished the modern Wattle Nymphs floated away across the railways line still in their draperies and drove off in a four wheel drive.  Not so 1920’s there.

Modern Wattle Nymphs

 

I meet a Celebrity

While standing on the barriers at the Junction with a work mate, an elderly gentleman in a scruffy suit and tie comes up and asks me my name.

“Hello Sister Jane, I’m His Royal Highness Emperor Ross and Master Commander of the Universe, ”  he says shaking my hand.

“Well done and thank you, you are now shielded, sister.”

He turns to my work mate and shakes his hand. ” And you brother, what is your name?  You are exuding the probity, responsibility and moderation appropriate to a man in your situation.  Well done, brother.”

He proceeds regally out onto the street and goes through a similar process with the officials outside. Probably it’s politically incorrect to giggle at those who reality is different to yours, but he is such a charming old guy and he leaves us with a smile on our faces.

 

A Station Master’s Reminiscence

It’s the Station Master’s last day.  He’s been with the railways since age 16.  I remember going to school by train. We school girls used to flirt with and giggle over such spotty young station officers. (Though I was on the other side of the city so I never giggled over him) The SM is full of stories of the old days. When he started they used to pay people in cash (I remember cash pay packets too because I too am ancient.)  All the little stations were manned in those days and the station master was given a pistol when he went to deliver everyone’s pay.  (There was a famous payroll robbery at Fairfield station during this period)  They had a shooting range under Flinders Street Station where they practiced. (shades of Hot Fuzz?)  “As a young bloke I used to help my SM deliver those pays,” says our retiring SM. “To be honest I was more worried about him with a gun than any robbers.  He was a terrible alcoholic.”