Spinning wheels , sweat soaked bodies , yelps of pain . I am at the gym . Early morning disciples of fitness , we stagger blindly towards the garishly lit beacon , on the suburban side street . A torturous procession of exercises awaits us . Grinding , relentless , painful , and methodical . We push our reluctant body through weaves , turns , runs , squats, and stretches . Its painful , its boring , its becomes instinctive . Our bodies baulk , stop , evade and refuse to co-operate always taking the easy way out like a naughty child . We persist , pushing , pulling , pummelling and following our exercises by route .
Early morning starts , car refusing to start , its dark , lonely , solitary , and daunting on the empty morning streets . We cajole our lacklustre frames , into some semblance of fitness . The grungy , down at heel exercise mecca in gritty inner city St Kilda , becomes the backdrop to our trials , tests , and triumphs . The desk jockeys become our early morning friends , the pumping music a mask to our ineptitude . Why do we persist ? Its an inane reaction to ageing , an antidote to poor health , and a promise of nirvana that lies waiting at the end of all our toil , that encourages us and binds us to the path of semi acceptable fitness .
Corrosive sulphur smell masks raggedy peeling paint of a cerulean blue shade . Dim , dark spaces , tunnelling back into cavernous curving arches . Two iridescent orbs shimmering against black , inky , fetid air . Sea stench , chemical car exhaust , rotting vegetation , ancient dust , ground up insect carcasses , and embedded paint textures . Where am I ? Incarcerated in the St Kilda Vaults . Rust , dust and sea must , I am in a subterranean vault , below bitumen , juxtaposed between the upper and lower esplanades , of St Kilda . A boarded up retail space , sacrificed f0r the sweeping expansion of the bitumen tentacles of a spinning roadway .
A vicious volley of words , slammed doors and hurled insults . It became obvious that the time to leave was imminent . Fleeing the family home with a clutch of possessions and a heart full of resentment , a lonely drive from inner urban madness , to semi rural tranquility , my oldest child has left home .
Illness had decimated the family home . Daily tasks presented monumental difficulties , happy faces were replaced with ones of foreboding , and personal space eaten up . A mother’s love , and sibling affection not enough to hold a young man to the family unit .
A kaleidoscope of emotions rage through my body as he arrives to pack up the remains of a life , shared with his family of 24 years . Collective memories of a firstborn , tinkling laughter , and the early shared adventures of a nervous parent and inspiring child . Latterly , charting the child’s progression from boy , through gawky adolescence , to manhood. Harbouring a furtive pride in the genetic transference of same eye colour and wiry hair , of the compassionate and caring nature of the man he has become .
He has left . A sense of desolation engulfs me in a sea of sadness , and unshed tears . I brace myself and know I must go forward , grateful for the life I have created and nurtured , ever mindful of the lifelong journey of parenthood , the deep passion it evokes , and the unrepentant task it employs .
Sydney unleashed its tawdry charms for a stolen weekend .
Its slightly down at heel scruffiness captivated me . The nonchalant beauty of it’s spectacular harbour . Seediness of Kings Cross , coiled energy of downtown , decaying splendour of the inner city , griminess of Darlinghurst and spectre of abandoned monorail . Dishevelled Surry Hills sheltering beneath the spindly branches of nude plane trees revealed its markets , cafes ,tri level houses , and dogleg lanes , sprinkled with pocket handkerchief parks . Brashness of Kings Cross overlaid with a faded , old worlde charm of ravaged gentility. Gritty Redfern spewing ghetto , burnt out terraces and sheltering the homeless , disadvantaged and desperate . Glittering Mosman , the jewel in the harbours crown , reveals ordered streets , manicured footpaths and sprawling federation mansions . The cacophony of disparate noises tells the tired traveller they are in Chinatown , gateway to the newness of a swashbuckling , Darling Harbour . Far below the subterranean city , the surge and retreat of the restless harbour waters fuses Sydney’ s life force plying the steamy air with compressed energy .
Languid , gorgeous and slatternly she teases her dowdy younger sister , the sedate Melbourne , who cannot compete with her effortless beauty , easy grace and fecund charms .
Rumpled Ruschutters Bay , bawdy Bondi , bucolic Glebe , and bustling Paddington are an affront to classy Camberwell , hectic Hawthorn, timeless Toorak and brash Balaclava. The Coathanger , Sails , and nostalgic Ferry trade , captivate and titillate . A lone Anzac warrior stands , a silent sentry , at the entrance of the flyover to the West , encircled by primeval Gymea Lillies , that most majestic of indigenous botanica .
Open House is on the last weekend of July in Melbourne . A day for public and private buildings of significance and interest , to throw their doors open to all .
A visit to the Mission to Seafarers , Australian Tapestry Workshop , and Malthouse theatre , whetted my appetite in 2012 .
Marvelling , I steeped into the portico of the squat , iconic Mission building in Flinders St . It was a building I had passed on a daily basis in transit to my city job . Its closeted chapel revealed intricate stained glass windows depicting sea misadventures , and well polished wooden pews warmed by the bums of many seamen . In the silent sancturary of the Norla Dome , home to changing art exhibitions of marine themed works , I felt the history of the building .
The bustling Australian Tapestry workshop , housed in a unique 19th century white filigreed building , was a plethora of colour and action . Massive , striking , woven canvases were draped across enormous frames , as the weavers diligently performed their timeless craft . All manner of stories were being told in thread , from afl footy matches , to delicate indigenous themes .
Malthouse , the stark modern theatre buit on an industrial site of a working brewery , is home to Melbourne’s avant garde theatre . Rehearsal rooms , costumes , sets and theatre spaces were explored with some dexterity by the zealous guide . Forced to forgo a visit to the police horse stable as the queue snaked around the corner and down the street , I remembered it had also been a daily backdrop to my working life .
In 2013 , I want to visit the grotesque edgewater towers in St Kilda , Melbourne’ s first high rise dwelling built in 1959 . The quirky , Cairo , art deco bachelor apartments in fitzroy, and the majestic , distressed ballroom , atop flinders st railway station . Conversely , I have been fortunate enough to enter , via the stagedoor , the Palais de Danse theatre in St Kilda . I too have danced on the rollingstage , crept up into the roof space and peered out from the juliet balconies.
How successful is Open House Melbourne ? I regularly attend the gallery space at the Mission to Seafarers , have attended a woodcut printing workshop at the tapestry workshop , and enjoyed several performances at the Malthouse Theatre . Fingers crossed that I win the ballot , and get the chance to peek inside the compelling , ruined splendour of the Railway Ballroom , this year .
Tex wore black . I wore black , in sync with the Melbourne nightscape . Ruth, shimmered towards me in a sea of red . Her alabastar skin encased in an opulent red velvet cape , arms neck and fingers festooned with oversized rubies , luxuriant brown locks garlanded
with red ribbons. Tex crooned and titilated . He sang , danced and played guitar and seamlessly reeled out the Johnny Cash song catalogue chanelling the man and his music effotlessly . The back up band could have been Johnny’ s own and the pretend June Carter Cash , adorned in glorious gowns , lifted her voice to the heavens , to match June’s own . The ancient Athenaeum theatre was packed , and gave a rousing reception . Old classics were revived with singalong and hand clapping . Gems buried from youth were unearthed . ” Ring of Fire ” , bought the house down . Stumbling out into the freezing Melbourne night , I knew I had witnessed something unique . An aussie impersonating Johhny so well it could have been the original , in the surrounds of the gracious old girl theatre , the Athenaeum , letting her hair down .
Betty was my mum . Dimunitive in stature but feisty in nature she was born in 1926 in rural outer Melbourne . She grew with an older sister and enjoyed a bucolic lifestyle in the period between two wars , a forerunner to the Great Depression .It is a shared history of many older Australians .
These events helped shape my mum’s early life , as did a bout of peritonitis when she was 14 , that required a 6 month stint in hospital , and precluded her further education . Betty went to work at 15 in the British Australian Tobacco company , Swanston st , Melbourne . First sweeping the floors for discarded tobacco skeins , later graduatiing to the sorting bench . Lifelong friendships were forged and happy events shared , particularly when VP day was announced . Dancing in the streets and all out revellery was enjoyed as a young spirited nation could put the grim spectre of war behind them .
Mum married , moved , lost a baby , and subsequently raised my brother and I in Colac , a country town in the Western District of Victoria . She was an astute baker , sewer and gardener and seamlessly re -adapted to rural life . Independence presented itself in the form of her tiny Morris Minor and a driving licence . She was soon seen careering around country roads , only travelling marginally faster than the pedestrians , with us , and the corgi “Taffy ” firmly ensconced in the back .
A move to Melbourne saw Betty take on the joint running of a pub. The first in gritty industrial Port Melbourne circa 1969 . A subsequent move to a South Melbourne pub , where she remained for 30 years followed . Betty nursed her partner through cancer and retired to the home she had made for herself . Some uneventful years followed . Mum travelled , gardened , entertained and viewed the world at a more leisurely pace .
Warning bells began to ring when phone calls became discordant , words jumbled and sentences incomplete . Heating was unable to be turned on or off and letters were attempted to be posted at flinders st railway station.Taps were left on and keys were lost . Falls in the street , and further falls late at night alone in an empty house , indicators to Betty’s world slowly unravelling .Inoxerably Betty ‘s progress towards a nursing home was charted .
Comfortable , modern , great views and caring staff replaced her much loved home . She mourned for and lamented with flickering anxiety her home . It was mirrored in her plaintive cry of ” I just want to go home ” . Betty survived for 4 years in the new regimented environment , daily submitting her will to greater indignites and submerging her independence . The slurred speech , unkempt appearance , wild hair , and muddy eyes , signified her gradual descent into madness . Her final act of rebellion , I believe administered by what remained of her addled brain was to stop eating . Betty peacefully slipped into oblivion on the 27 september . There is not a day goes by that I don’t miss her and rue her passing . Dementia is a cruel , remorseless disease .
School holidays and I’m running on empty , food wise that is . A quick trip to the local food dispensary is required . Hmm , I only want a few things why not do self serve , it’ll be quicker , I think . Balancing my overloaded basket of goodies requires the juggling skills of a Circus OZ acrobat . The ability to slot them into the minuscule space provided in the self serve checkout requires even more dexterity . I deftly negotiate scanning the barcodes and continue packing the item snugly into the plastic supermarket issue bags .
Quite a manoeuvre above the cacophony of non soothing music , binging sounds and moronic intotonations of the Self Serve robot . I move a bulging bag from the tiny packing area . Apocalyptic lights start flashing , and the robot goes into loud accusatory mode , as I am told not to remove a bag . The self serve screen shuts down and refuses to continue until I press the appropriate button . Hard to do whilst balancing the 12 pack of dunny roll on top of the raisin loaf , which is balanced on top of the plain flour , which is balanced on top of … etc etc . Feeling like a recalcitrant schoolgirl caught shoplifting I reluctantly continue . Having stowed the many purchases in 3 supermarket bags , alright I forgot the recycle bags , I stagger away from the checkout having paid a sum of money equal to the deposit on a small flat . Disaster quickly ensues as with a sickening thud the groceries tumble out of the inferior bags , burst and ricochet across the supermarket floor. The tiny efficient supermarket worker darts form her post with a dire admonishment ” you must not pack too much stuff in the bags “. Again I feel great inadequacy as I furtively retrieve my items .
Escaping into the crisp , early morning air I feel only a sense of crushing relief . I am shell shocked but alive to tell the tale . the tale . Ah consumerism , at its finest !