Up the other end of the garden at Thomas Street there was a brick shithouse that backed onto the laneway. Sometimes when you were in there you’d hear people passing just feet away from where you were sitting; once I put my eye to a hole in the brickwork only to find another eye looking right back at me. We both silently retreated. Next to the dunny was an old wooden gate with a catastrophic lean upon it and next to that a makeshift shed where two stray cats called No Nose and Other eked out their days. My predecessor, Lud, furnished the shed with a green corrugated fibre glass roof partially shielding a claw-foot bath full of the black sandy soil of those parts, wherein magnificent marijuana crops flourished. Easy to grow but hard to harvest, because the Aboriginal kids from the Block used to patrol the laneways in late summer sniffing out the precious resin. Any plants they detected they’d steal and sell to their older brothers for cash. Yaani, they called it, with a long drawl on the aaaaa; dreamweed. Eventually I gave up and moved my operations indoors, utilising a tiny triangular attic storeroom as a nursery, cutting a few sheets of corrugated iron out of the roof and substituting opaline semi-transparent fibre glass panels. While I was re-constructing the space I came across a small oval badge commemorating the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932; it had a raised relief of said structure upon it, had lost its pin to corrosion and was quite a find but I’ve since mislaid it. Our land lord and lady were George and Mimi, a European couple, and when we went out there to seal the deal they sat us down opposite them at a tiny narrow table in a shadowy room and served coffee and cake that we ate and drank with our knees almost touching. George was an art critic and Mimi a painter; he had founded an art movement, which he actively promoted in his writing, and she was the chief, perhaps the only, exponent of it. Abstract Impressionism or something like that. George was from Vienna, a comfortable bourgeois with a beard, a wool suit and a confidential manner; Mimi was a Serb, passionate, feral and strange; she hardly spoke. Every six months or so a typed letter would arrive from George notifying a rent rise to compensate for the loss of purchasing power of the Australian dollar. What about the purchasing power of my dollar I would always think; I never quite shook a servile feeling I had when I dealt with George, as if I was just a pawn in his game. Unfortunately the plants didn’t thrive in their hot little cupboard, they became infested with red spider mites, which suck the chlorophyll out of the cells of the leaves, turned lank and yellow and after a while I didn’t even know why I was growing them: sheer bloody-mindedness perhaps. When we got the phone on the Telecom guy gave up work at about 3.30 in the afternoon and produced some black hash and a pipe instead; he came back next day with a book of songs and a guitar. In those days they were still hoisting the golden cotton reel up the central tube of Centrepoint Tower, you could sit on the bowed front step and see it inching day by day higher and higher on the deep blue winter sky; sometimes I thought I wasn’t in the antipodes at all but in some part of Africa or Arabia that hadn’t yet been discovered; but that was probably just the black hash, called putty, that everyone said was opiated. We bought ours from a guy called Mark who was a Hare Krishna and a professional thief, he would put on a white coat and go into Grace Bros. with a trolley and just wheel out things like televisions then sell them. It might have been because of the opiated hash that I would sometimes, randomly, usually at dusk, see the ghosts of children in the shadows of the street like something half erased that persists as much out of contrariness as the obvious sadness. The gold chain I found on my birthday probably belonged to one of these. And my gypsy luck that only returned by degrees after I moved away from there.
pic of Myrtle Street Chippendale btwn 1909 & 1913 & Campbell Street Surry Hills June 11th 1901 are from the