Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Letters from the past

Note: stuck in my house, I’ve been starting to go through old files. Trying to clean up my pictures directory, looking through old story ideas. During this process, I found this text file, named FORCASS.TXT.

It’s an email I send to a friend of mine, Cass Brain, who I haven’t seen in decades. It’s a very melancholy diatribe, but it definitely gets into my head. It’s an email from 1998, so here’s a slice of Damo from more than 20 years ago.

I may have deleted some of the completely irrelevant bits, to leave the reflection intact. Enjoy.

One last bit of background: I was living in Park Street in South Melbourne with Dave at the time. It was a glorious apartment with views of Crown Casino. So the walk along St Kilda road took me home via a lovely walk through the gardens.

Kings Way in 1998

So much to say. So many thoughts and feeling running through my mind. So many of them gone now that I am in the safe comfort of my home and not out on the streets, marveling at the city I now call home.

I drew this in 1991 or 1992 as part of a calendar.

When I left to go to Kyabram, the place that I have always thought of as the town I grew up in, Shereen and I commented on how good it would be to get out of the city. When we got to Kyabram, we pointed out the sun, and how much warmer and brighter it was in the country. We noticed the spaciousness, the (this is a totally inadequate word) quaintness of the houses, and I remembered what it was like growing up in a small town. I didn’t remember how I was tormented for having parents for teachers, for being “the fat kid”, for being useless at sport in a town where everyone played football in the winter and cricket in the summer.

I didn’t remember the derision or the loneliness. It was a day – beautiful and blue, warm and peaceful in a town where you could walk certain streets for hours without seeing a moving car – for remembering the good times. I remembered swimming in the town pool, playing water tag and scarecrow. I remembered going to the tuck shop at lunchtime for a dollars’ worth of lollies that would last you for the rest of the day.

I remembered my old houses. The treehouse out the back, our pet chickens, my dog, who was older than I was, up until she (but we called her a him) died. I did a jigsaw puzzle. I caught up with some old friends. Made some new ones. It was a 21st we were going to after all, and when you’re talking around a drum with a fire in it at 3am you tend to make new friends. Everyone’s willing to talk and to laugh at 3am in the morning at a 21st.

And when it was time to go home, I thought about what Jerry Seinfeld said about Melbourne being the anus of the world, and really found it hard to disagree.

When I got to Melbourne again, I wandered along Bourke Street up to the mall. It was evening, and I had a free ticket to go see a movie. I thought I might go and see The Night Flyer (the new King Flick). I ended up seeing The Opposite of Sex. A weird movie to say the least. Before that. I walked past Hungry Jack’s, when this tall thin guy with Einsteinian hair came charging past with his girlfriend. He had his hand cocked over something he had stowed in the hem? Lining? Top of his pants. My imagination running wild, I was thinking gun, and already was working out how to put it into a story idea. I watched the couple as they walked off, and he was smiling as if telling a funny joke and gesticulating wildly. That’s Melbourne for you. Never a shortage of weird people. I love to watch people in the city.

I walked to Hoyts and bought my ticket, then went to the bathroom. When I came out I figured I’d go and get something to eat. I walked out of the cinema into a police barrier. When I got to Hungry Jacks I asked the guy behind the counter what had happened (there were police everywhere). He said there’d been a stabbing and the police were asking everybody for info. Yay. I love this city. I went back to the cinema, but told a policewoman what I’d seen, just in case. It could have been a knife rather than a gun, and it was at the same time.

When I got out of the movie, I decided to walk home. Have you seen LA Story? Steve Martin, disillusioned with the shallowness of his city, is saved by it in the end. Incidentally, he finds true love as well.

I walked through the night streets of Melbourne and marvelled at my city. Remember how I told you that I was awed by the work of man over the work of nature? I love to walk. I love to go up to the mountains and
see scenery and smell fresh air. But I am always moved by what man, a selfish egotistical self-destructive race of beings, can create with the pure, passionate part that makes up humanity.

Arts Centre in 1998

I gave three dollars to a guy who was asking for money. He commented on my dream catcher necklace and wished me a good night’s dreaming. I stood and looked up at the Arts Centre – the first time I’ve seen it from below at night for a while. There wasn’t a tram in sight, so I decided to walk home. It was a brisk night.

Nippy but not uncomfortably cold. I walked across the bridge of the Yarra and stared at it’s muddy waters. Then I turned and looked at the Yarra on the other side of the road. The lights of Flinders Street and Southbank reflected off the water and the polluted river was transformed into a thing of beauty. The Arts Centre, a towering spire of cold hard metal glowed with the blue light and flashing bulbs that turn it into a sculpture of light. As I continued to walk, I heard the sound of the tram. I looked over at it as it pulled to a stop, the familiar green and yellow creature that is such an integral part of the city. This one had a sign across the top: NOTHING GETS YOU GOING IN THE MORNING LIKE VEGEMITE.

I could have caught it then, but decided that I would walk the rest of the way. I just can’t believe how much the city changes at night. I walked past the memorial to “Weary” Dunlop. Then I went back, walked up the stairs and read the inscription on the plaque. I stared at the statue for awhile. I think I had a huge astounded grin on my face. I had never looked twice at that statue until tonight. I went onto the flower clock. A clever use of nature in a clearly man-made architecture. I walked past the statue of our first governor-general. The flowers below it, just recently planted, read “Red Roses for Cystic Fibrosis”. I looked at the statues of athletes in the botanic gardens. I marveled at the way the lights lit up the fountain that sprayed water in structured hoops to make a beautiful pattern. I was nearing home. And then I saw, lit up by huge spotlights so that is always seen, night and day: The Shrine of Remembrance.

Do you know, I haven’t been there since 1990, when our year level came up from Kyabram to do the sightseeing thing? Like everything else, it was transformed in the night. I went to see it. My heart was filling with awe and respect. I walked up the stairs and stared quietly at the Eternal Flame for a while. I walked up the next flight and came face to face with the ancient gods. Pressed into the stone before me, a frieze of deities. Not God, and
Mary, Jesus or the Saints. These were the ancients. Humans in the sky. Understandable, with faults of their own. These were the deities that guarded the memory of our soldiers. I walked around the side – should I
say this? – tears in my eyes at the beauty of the sculptures before me. The lions pulling the carriages. Flanking the message of the Shrine. Can I remember it now? Did it have that much of an impact?

Shrine in the afternoon – 1998 – Photo by me on a film camera.

“All men know this. That this is sacred ground. This shrine…”

No. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was a powerful message embossed into the stone, and the shadows cast by the light on the engraved stone was a stunning sight to behold.

The flying foxes, fruit bats, whatever, screeched and fought in the trees around me, another part of Melbourne, especially the gardens. Imagine that, in the midst of a city, teeming with life and spewing death into the sky, that there are these beautiful gardens, stretching for what seems like an eternity. A hideaway from the city, but still a part of it. Definitely. I walked down the stairs and across the neatly kept, soft green grass. Down to the fountain on the corner at the Domain interchange. Flanked by a turtle spewing water into the center and sea horses or fish or maybe ducks and topped with Pan and his water-flowing pipes. I love turtles, and the mythology of turtles. I walked home along Park street, slowly coming back into reality in the knowledge that Dave and his girlfriend would be waiting and this epiphany of Melbourne that I had just experienced I could not pass on to them, sitting in front of the tv.

I thought about my city for a while. We have two brothels and a nightclub on our street, another nightclub around the corner. The Crown Casino, the most decadent structure in the city within walking distance. And as I stare now out the window over the lights of the buildings and vehicles, watching other Melbournians go about their nightly business totally unaware of the soul staring out over them, I have only one thing to say:

F*** you Jerry Seinfeld. I love this city.

Well, two things. Melbourne’s so much better when you’re sharing it.

Afterward: the thing I miss most about being locked in are the evenings where I just jump on a train and head into the city. This hasn’t helped my out-of-home-sickness in the slightest.

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