High Street

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The doorman at Wests was called Ray. It’s a moonscape up there, he said. The stuff they pull out of the ground, well, that’s the money that runs the State. Only about 2% ever comes back here. He meant to Newcastle. Ray was the son of a Painter and Docker, born on the wharves, apprenticed at 16, played rep footie (league) down at Richmond in the 1960s. I used to be a Liberal, he said, but now I’m a bloody Socialist. I told him about the radio documentary I heard, the death of Norman Brown, the Great Coal Lockout of 1929 and ’30 on the Hunter, Sydney cops with billy clubs alighting from black cars to break the heads of illegally gathered groups of men, women and children in the coal towns between here and Bylong; where the rorts continue. He already knew about it. Local knowledge. After Ella had finished her swimming class Maggie and I went up to the Coliseum to look at rings but the diamond on hers was garish and the one I liked, with a big black onyx in a silver setting, too small for my finger. Out the back there was a signed Sidney Nolan print, it was Mrs Fraser with her fringe of leaves morphing into a quadruped in a swamp before two antediluvian palms. Walls and walls of antique radios and telephones. As if we could call up the past and hear what it had to say. The train rolled through marshy fields where water birds gathered; black swans, shelducks, mallards, coots, purple swamp hens; these were the aquatic pastures where the Awakabal hunted. As memorialised, if that’s the word, by Joseph Lycett. We got off at High Street and walked along the main drag to the church hall where rehearsals for The Wizard of Oz were held. Ella will be, at different times, a Munchkin, a Citizen and a Winkie. In the café of the Regional Art Gallery I saw in a book a reproduction of the Venus of Brassempouy, who has always reminded me of my sweetheart (or vice versa); especially in profile, as she was, sitting under the heavy shelves looking through a photography collection as we waited for lunch to arrive. In the gallery we saw tiny bronze people holding congress inside a rhinoceros head, a man wheeling a piano in a barrow along a high ledge above the stairwell. Maitland was once the second largest town, after Sydney, in New South Wales, a river port built over a confluence of waters; there are stone churches everywhere, their massive weight of interdiction, squatting like toads beside the canals in which the streams and swamps have been sequestered. Here is the heart of the Maitland-Newcastle diocese whose hierarchy for years sheltered priests who could not keep their hands off children’s bodies; with the connivance of police, especially those who came out of the Catholic miasma of the Emerald Isle. Down a side street we found, side by side, a baroque and ornate Temple of Freemasonry and a severely functional School for Dominicans, the Black Friars who ran the Inquisition. The great flaming sun above the portico, pentangles on the gate we went through then down the path alongside the temple to find that the locked door had a knocker in the shape of a man playing the bagpipes; I heard a faint skirl dying against the grey winter sky through which, far in the distance, the Wicked Witch of the West rode on her crabbed stick across the devastated land. After we collected Ella from the church hall we had to scoot back down High Street to the station to catch the train to Hamilton. There was an odd couple sitting opposite on the rail car, a working class hero in cloth cap and John Lennon glasses, a stoned African who might have been sniffing glue from a paper bag: a red-eyed man. They were playing music and when a Bob Marley track came on, the African turned it up loud so the whole carriage could listen: Rise up this morning / Smile with the rising sun / Three little birds / Pitch by my door step / Singing sweet songs / Of melody pure and true / Saying this is my message to you-ou-ou. That was the song playing as we carried my mother’s body out of the church at the end of the funeral service in St Pauls in the year 2000. It’s a happy tune but I never hear it now without tearing up. Maggie and Ella, heads together, were sleeping. The train wheels sang along: Singing don’t worry / About a thing / Cos every little thing / Gonna be alright . . . I don’t believe it but I do.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “High Street

  1. me

    Thanks, Rae – & looking forward to your launch!

  2. Rae Desmond Jones

    As usual, so well written – drawing exciting images out of seemingly ordinary places.

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