Note: Adam Aitken invited me to join an eight day long poetry marathon, organized (I think) by Laura Hinton #PeetMeNotLeave. Since I don’t write poems I decided, instead, to take a photograph each day and then write a caption for each of them.
#1 Gymea Lily
A Gymea lily flowering inside the branches of a frangi pani tree, which has the tiny buds of its new leaves visible on the tips of those strange, otherwise bald stems. This is beside the entrance to a small park on Illawarra Road, one which hardly anyone visits; though I did see a glum man with two large glum dogs, one black, one white, sitting there the other day. The park has been built over some waste land next to one of the many canals that run through Marrickville, which used to be a swamp called Gumbramorra. I was surprised to see a Gymea lily here; they usually grow in light bush, at the margins or under a sparse canopy of eucalypts or paper barks. When we were visiting Big Sue up at One Mile a few weeks ago we saw hundreds of them flowering in the bush around the caravan park where she and we were staying. You can eat them, the stems and the roots. I wonder if in fact they did grow here in Gumbramorra when it was still a swamp. If so, I think they would probably have been found on slightly higher ground, along one of the low ridges―like the one we live on―that run between the gullies where now the concrete drains go. Whoever made the park planted it with natives―there’s a banksia tree behind and on the other side of the entrance, a carpet of pig face with its pulpy leaves and purple, daisy like flowers. Pig face is often thought of as a weed and usually grows in the dunes behind beaches. You can eat it too.
#2 Cursed be he . . .
When I walked around to the Bourke Street Bakery early this morning to buy a loaf of their seedy sourdough I was thinking about Shakespeare’s epitaph―’cursed be he who moves my bones’―because I’d just finished reading a biography of John Milton in which it is related how, a hundred years after he died, when the church in Cripplegate in whose graveyard he was buried was being renovated (by a brewer), his corpse was dug up and the parts exhibited by drunken Christians for coin and even (perhaps) his teeth were sold―as his daughters are reputed to have sold his books to the Dunghill women. Who knows. Anyway, as I was leaving the bakery I saw a triple line of glass bricks, low down, set into the side wall of the building opposite and went over to photograph them. Just as I finished the woman who had been ahead of me in the bakery crossed the road and went up the front steps to the building with her cup of takeaway coffee. She was about forty, slender, dressed all in black and wore a slightly mocking smile, a la Emma Peel, on her lips. RIP Diana Rigg. I hadn’t paid much attention to that building before. It belongs to an outfit called Patient Handling™ and they supply devices for lifting, mobility and daily living aids, among other things. The Bourke Street Bakery started in 2004 in the street of that name in Surry Hills but can now be found at eleven locations across Sydney, including this one, which is actually in Mitchell Street. As I walked back home with my loaf of fresh bread, I was thinking about the way street names proliferate across the city and indeed across the land. How many Bourke Streets are there, and how many Mitchells? Hundreds, certainly. Richard Bourke was Anglo-Irish, a cousin of Edmund Burke, in whose home he spent his vacations while young. He became an officer in the Grenadier Guards and took part in the siege and storming of Montevideo in 1807 as well as in the Peninsular War. He had his jaw nearly blown off in Holland. As a colonial official he was in Malta and in South Africa before becoming Governor of New South Wales in 1831. A Whig and an emancipist, he attempted to reform the system of government, the judiciary, the education department; which didn’t prevent him, in 1835, issuing through the Colonial Office a proclamation implementing the doctrine of terra nullius, under which no Indigenous Australian could sell or assign land, nor any individual acquire it, other than through distribution by the Crown. As for Thomas Mitchell, he was an irascible Scotsman, another army officer who, like Bourke, served in the Peninsular War. Mitchell was Surveyor General of NSW from 1828 until his death in 1855. He made four expeditions inland, ‘opening up the country for settlement’. Like Bourke, too, he was liberal in his orientation; but a hard man nevertheless. There were massacres. He was the last person in Australia, in 1851, to challenge anyone to a duel, after a man called Donaldson criticised excessive spending in his department. Both men shot wide. The only Les Murray poem I can reliably quote from is his sonnet ‘The Mitchells’ which somehow tries to claim for the clan an ubiquity which might well be attested by the prevalence of streets named after them. It concludes: ‘Nearly everything / they say is ritual. Sometimes the scene is an avenue.’ None of this has anything to do with the milky depths and dark reflections in the glass bricks at Patient Handling™; or does it?
#3 Two Blue Doors
Up at the end of our street there’s a sports field where they play rugby league and AFL, and in summer (I hope), cricket. A lot of people walk their dogs there too, because the gates stay open almost all of the time. I say gates: there are three, one from Sydenham Road, one from Centennial Road, and the one at the end of our street. The ground itself is a deep bowl in the earth and the first time we saw it, at night, last year, both of us gasped: not just at the grandeur of the basin, the grandeur of the sky above, which seemed both to echo and to amplify. In fact the park used to a brick pit, out of which clay was scooped, taken down to the works at St. Peters (now Sydney Park) and baked; then used to make houses much like this one in which we live. After the clay was exhausted this pit, and others like it, were just left as holes in the ground; which filled up with water and were used as swimming pools by local kids. But there were too many drownings, for instance when someone who could not swim or could not swim very well, fell in, and was unable to climb back up the slope of the slippery sides. After nine boys died Council was persuaded to buy and re-purpose this one. It was made into a park using the labour of unemployed men during the Depression and opened in September 1933 with a cricket match in which Don Bradman, representing North Sydney, played against a local Marrickville Eleven. Guess who won? The park was the velodrome where cycling events were held during the 1938 Empire Games and it was said that on one occasion during those Games, perhaps at the Opening or the Closing Ceremony, perhaps during a bike race, 40,000 people were in attendance. Since the velodrome was disestablished, it’s been the home of the legendary Blue Bags aka the Newtown Jets and it still is. The two other gates have names but our one does not. What it does have, however, is a pub at the other end of the street. The photograph of these two blue doors is taken from inside of the ground, looking out. There are eight of these doors, four on either side of the arch, all painted that startling blue colour. If you were to open them up you would find within a rusting turnstile, because this is the way in which in the old days paying customers came into the ground to watch a game. I’ve not seen them open yet and suspect they aren’t used anymore. I’ve photographed them several times before, but never with a nest of yellow daisies like that one growing at the foot of the door on the right.
#4 At Eternity’s Gate
These tiled steps lead up to the front door of a house in Victoria Road near Marrickville Metro. There’s usually a line of taxis parked opposite, as there were today, with the mostly Arabic speaking drivers talking and laughing with each other while they wait for someone to come out with their shopping and hire a ride home. No-one took any notice of me as I crossed over and lined up the shot but I felt conspicuous anyway, as I always do, because who am I to be taking photographs of other people’s houses? Isn’t that a bit dubious? No-one’s ever challenged me and yet I continue to feel like an interloper or perhaps even a voyeur. It’s the same when photographing people’s windows, which I also sometimes do. In fact that seems worse because while tiles only reflect back the light, when you’re photographing windows, you might actually also capture something of the inside of the house. Which is never my intention, but still. Yesterday when I was walking up Holmesdale Street I crossed the road intending to re-photograph a set of very beautiful stained glass windows for perhaps the third or fourth time. For some reason I haven’t been able to get a shot of them that I like enough to post, perhaps because the house faces east and I’ve only ever gone there in the afternoon, when the sun is setting, and the windows are effectively in shadow. Anyway, these particular windows have lace curtains behind them, making the image even more complex and therefore more desirable. It must be someone’s sitting room and I did once see the old couple who live there, memorably, not long after the lockdown began, sitting in the deep veranda of their house, with a woman I took to be their daughter in between. It was a desolate scene. An old woman, looking completely bewildered, on the right; an old man, head in hands, desperate, on the left; between them, a blonde woman in her fifties. What made it so startling was that the man’s pose mimicked that of the sitter in Van Gogh’s 1890 painting ‘Worn Out: At Eternity’s Gate’. Anyway, yesterday, as I crossed Holmesdale hoping to get the photograph, the two women I’ve described above came out the front door and down the path to the gate, looking not in the least bit desolate, cheerful rather. Of course I didn’t take the photo. Today, however, on Victoria Road, I did, remembering as I waiting for the shutter to click (I have the camera set on a five second delay) that the house next door to this one has the same tiles but only two steps; as does the next one down, with only one step. It’s difficult to find out much about the history of these tiles, which are ubiquitous in this part of town, giving these modest brick houses an air of luxury, as if even the most ordinary of dwellings may still repose in quiet, jewelled splendour.
About midday, when the rain stopped, I went for a walk. The puddle at the gate into Henson Park was so large it extended across the entire entrance; behind it was a sign standing on the grass; and next to that a thin bloke in shades and a blue shirt sitting on a plastic chair. He said I had to scan myself in using the camera on my phone to register with the QR code on the sign; but my phone wouldn’t do it. He didn’t seem too concerned. Not all of them work, he said. I’m only going for a walk, I said. There was a game of AFL on. Way down at the bottom of the bowl, the figures of the men playing looked tiny, like ten year old boys; while the sounds they made, amplified by the remarkable acoustics of the ground, seemed enormous. All the way from grunts and groans to shouts and oaths to high-pitched hysterical pleas or exhortations. I wondered, not for the first time, what the noise on a battlefield during hand to hand combat was like. The crowd too was vociferous even though there didn’t seem to be that many people there. When one of the teams scored, those watching from inside their cars honked their horns. I think they were university teams. There was a pavilion near the grandstand with the logo of the University of New South Wales upon it. Anyway the game finished while I was making my circumambulation and I saw the men of the two teams close up: big hairy guys, even though they were wearing tight little boy shorts and shirts. Some teenage girls came out of the grandstand, one of them doing spontaneous dance steps, which her friends admired. I’d already taken some photos of the sun and the mobile phone tower reflected in the puddle near the utilities block and felt relieved because I was pretty sure one or other of them would be okay to post. After all this is a challenge. Most of them were focused upon the reflection of the tower but one was focused upon the sun; and that’s the one I’ve chosen. Taking pictures of pools on the ground always reminds me of the painter William Robinson, whose ‘Creation Landscape’ series from the 1990s came about (at least partly) because of his habit of walking out at night after rain with a lantern and peering into puddles. This was, I think, when he was living on a farm near the Queensland border with New South Wales. Not so long ago someone said to me, with an unnecessary degree of belligerence, that my photos aren’t works of art, they’re just snaps. I didn’t reply, partly because I didn’t want to get into an argument but mainly because I agree with him. On the other hand someone else, a while longer ago, spent some time telling me I should get a decent camera because then my photos would look a lot better than they do. I resisted that suggestion too. I said this is a casual pleasure, something I enjoy doing, and I wouldn’t want to ruin it by starting to take myself too seriously. Ditto ditto to the art accusation.
#6 Peace Lane
Peace Lane runs from Broadleys Lane, just behind Marrickville Road, two blocks north to Sydenham Road. They are big blocks and the lane runs downhill for about two thirds of its length, until it reaches a drain, then flattens out to meet Sydenham Road (formerly called Swamp Road). The two adjoining streets are Illawarra Road, to the east, and Despointes Street, to the west. They are both residential streets and the sections the houses are built upon are long and narrow. Peace Lane is lined, on both sides, by the doors of garages; or by fences made of wood or brick or corrugated iron, enclosing back gardens; or by the entrances to home workshops. There was a young fellow the other day meticulously shaping a plank of wood using a saw at a bench and I stood and waited until he paused and saw me and took off his ear muffs and came over to see what I wanted. Do you make bookcases? I asked. He was polite and friendly. Yes, he said, I do. But I’m not taking orders at the moment. I’ve got two year’s work booked. Wow, I thought, two years, that’s a lot of bookings. I often walk down Peace Lane when I’m returning from the shops because it’s a rich source of images, whether of shadows sharply etched on black or blue or grey walls, the curious textures of home-concreted or home-bricked walls, the junk people reliably leave out there, day after day, the shapes of trees against the azure Sydney sky. There’s a family, or perhaps several families, of spotted doves which live there. Someone leaves a scatter of bread crumbs out on the pavement for them and there will sometimes be a dozen or so of them, including juveniles, pecking away. They are very shy and will whirr away into the air at the slightest provocation. There’s also a resident red wattle bird which, at this time of year, plunders the flowering bottle brush trees for their nectar. I often wonder why it’s called Peace Lane? Perhaps it has something to do with the end of some war or other, perhaps the Boer War, perhaps the First World War, which might have coincided with the laying out of these streets. Or something else entirely. Illawarra Road is called that because it was the highway south to the district where Wollongong is, in the old days usually just called The Illawarra. Despointes might have come from the Catholics, who built a Passionist church there, opposite the Police Station, in 1887. Or it could be named after the French admiral, the commander of the Oceanic Fleet, who annexed New Caledonia for France in 1853 and died on his ship during the siege of Petropavlovsk in the Crimean War. Of course I have my favourite walls along Peace Lane, like this one, which I’ve photographed again and again. But, really, how many times can you photograph a wall?
#7 The Ikea Song List
Every time I ask someone to build me some bookshelves, or if they know someone who could build me some bookshelves, they say: why don’t you go to Ikea? So today I went to Ikea. Much good it did me.
This was the playlist of my visit this morning, after which I came home and ordered what I wanted online:
In the underground carpark, crossing the road towards the underground entrance:
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2 (1987).
When they took down the barriers and let the zombie horde surge through into the strange labyrinth of virtual rooms:
Do You Really Want to Hurt Me – Culture Club (1982).
In the Home Office area:
Borderline (Feel like I’m going to lose my mind) – Madonna (1983).
In the Workplace section:
(Everybody’s got a) Hungry Heart – Bruce Springsteen (1980).
At the Check Out:
She Has To Be Loved – Jenny Morris (1989).
There was also this cute mock-up of a tiled fireplace in a simulacrum of a waiting room, I think it was, with a real person waiting.
#8 Self Portrait in a Cool Room Wall
This is the back wall of the cool room behind the bottle shop in the Henson Park Hotel, just over the road from here. I’d gone in to buy a can of Elsie The Milk Stout and noticed how the light of the setting sun struck the wall and made the tiles, too, light up. The floor in there is tiled as well. I sometimes wonder if this was always the bottle shop or if it’s been re-purposed in some way; probably the latter. They sell a variety of craft beers and an interesting selection of expensive wines; ones you don’t see in many other places. The hotel is owned by the Reilly Group, who bought what was described as ‘a rundown beer barn’ in 2013 and fixed it up. They also own the White Cockatoo Hotel in Railway Street, Petersham and the Sydney Park Hotel in King Street, Newtown: three pubs, said by a Reilly Group person, to be ‘our golden triangle’. That didn’t stop thirty-one of their employees taking the group to court for under-payment of wages a couple of years ago. The judgement, in February 2019, awarded the employees or, in most cases, former employees, over a hundred grand in lost or withheld payments. When I first moved in here someone said that, in the 1970s, you could buy any drug you liked over there. Someone else, in the same conversation, said, yeah, that’s true, but it was also true of any pub in Marrickville in those days. This one was built in 1935 by Tooth & Co. over the site of the old Town Hall Hotel, which was demolished to make way for it. The Town Hall, originally the Marrick, had stood on the corner of Chapel Street and Illawarra Road since the early 1860s. The original Marrickville Town Hall, now also demolished, was itself in built in Illawarra Road (I’m not sure where) in 1878, and that was why the name was changed from the Marrick. The intersection of Chapel Street and Illawarra Road was at the heart of the Marrickville Estate, subdivided 1855. A market garden grew over the road from the original building but I’m not sure exactly where that was either. Possibly right where this house and its neighbours stand. There’s quite a few old buildings extant around here, for instance the delicatessen opposite the pub on Chapel Street, now someone’s dwelling, the café opposite us, which used to be a fruit and vegetable shop, the old Orange Hall down the road a bit, now a car mechanic’s garage, the Greek Community Centre opposite that. In fact this was the business district until the tramways and then the railway were built and Marrickville Road became the new CBD. The Henson Park Hotel (‘an interesting blend of Inter war Functionalist and Inter war Art Deco styles’) is contemporary with the sports ground at the other end of our street and has for many years been the place where people go before and after a game on the weekend. They still do. Elsie The Milk Stout is made locally, by the Batch Brewing Co. in Sydenham Road and I thought it was pretty good. It’s nearly time for a drink again but today I’ll be having a Cooper’s Best Extra Stout, which in my opinion is superior to all of the other stouts I’ve tried this winter, with the possible exception of Philter’s Caribbean Stout, also made locally, but I seem to have drunk the Henson dry of that; though I think they may still have it on tap.
This is me after completing the eight day poetry marathon without writing or posting any poetry and without tagging anyone else either. I’m retiring now from the business of writing captions and perhaps also from the compulsion to post photographs . . . for a while, anyway.
16 – 24 September 2020