Wednesday, December 30, 2009


On the way back from looking at a house that Lenin had once lived in, we saw a Dada house, or at least a house in which, according to a plaque, the spirit of Dada had been revived in 2002. Two young men smoking at a window upstairs for our camera. Downstairs, the skin of a black and white cat on a wall.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sweeter and sweeter

She explained that the substitute sugar in artificially sweetened drinks and lollies not only passed through the body intact, but also through the sewerage processors – which meant, as she said, that our water was getting sweeter and sweeter – all the water on the planet becoming sweeter and sweeter; an idea that not only turned our stomachs but depressed us all quite a lot.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Yesterday, on my way to the station – to a concert, as it happened, of Brazilian percussionists – a woman walked out from the hairdressers a few paces in front of me – from under a roller door that had been partly pulled down – it was nearly six, I remember, the hairdressers were closing. She stopped for a moment and put her hand to her throat. Her hair was wet, I noticed, and newly cut.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


We learned that fast wireless networking was invented by an Australian astronomer who was on the look out for mini black holes in space and that the astronomer never found those mini black holes.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


As I was crossing right over the top of the roundabout in the middle of the intersection, a woman with orange make-up approached to say, can I ask you something? At my awkward reply that, yes she could ask me, but I had to be somewhere quickly, she turned aside to speak to herself: nah, I’m not going to say something quickly. I’m not saying something quickly to you.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A similar storm

On Wednesday, the day of the dust storm, the woman in the café told us that, after waking to see the city had turned orange, she'd rung her sister to discuss how, fifty years earlier, they had watched red sand pile on the seats and tables outside their house during a similar storm in Palermo – a house which, I imagined, was attached to the back of a café, just as her own place here was attached to the back of a café.

She had her grandchild with her. The child was restless. The day was paler outside now – yellow, opaque – and the child was watching ten minutes of one show and then a few minutes of another on a large television screen at the back of the shop.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Two distinct advantages

I listened with interest as the large middle-aged man sitting at the very front of the bus began a conversation with the elderly man next to him.

This man began by asking his neighbour where he was planning to get off and then, leaning back against the window and turning to face him, the larger man declared that the best seats in the bus were at the front and at the very back of the bus. The seats at the front and the back of the bus were far less likely to be taken, he was saying. There wasn’t much between them, although the seats at the back of the bus had two distinct advantages: first, you usually had the whole seat to yourself and second, you didn’t have to give up your seat to frail or less mobile people.

Since I got out of the bus at the same stop that the elderly neighbour did, I had the chance to wonder whether the man’s unsteady but rapid strides in his impeccably clean pale blue jeans had been influenced in any way by the observations of the middle-aged man he had left behind.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Decked with plastic fruit

Abercrombie Street is decked with plastic fruit, I told them. You know how you see sports shoes with their laces tied together flung over electricity wires – whether as a way of bullying some kid (look at your shoes now – try getting them down), or marking a territory, a sculptural tag – pairs of plastic fruit tied to string hang over the road two minutes west from Redfern Station: plastic oranges, apples, grapes, bananas, kiwi fruit, lychee, mangoes, watermelons, guava…

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Yes, I agreed, I said: you don’t take photos of your Rwandan student standing under her umbrella decorated with fat white Renaissance-style cherubs. You might write about it, but not take photos.

Coming loose

It was the kind of thing I might come up with one day, I was thinking when he asked, in all seriousness, whether we realised how dangerous modern buildings had become, with whole sheets of glass coming loose and falling, narrowly missing pedestrians on the footpath below.

Monday, August 3, 2009

One winter's morning a traveller saw

In a deciduous tree in Newtown: soft toys (all sizes), not yet rained on.

In an evergreen in Stanmore: a red vinyl chair with rusted, chrome-plated legs.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The army protect

Notwithstanding the fact, as I heard, that she had survived the massacre in Tiananmen Square through the luck of a cousin – a farmer – being allowed to fetch her from Beijing – and that she had huddled for months at her aunt’s place, unable to talk or to work for the memories of the blood pooling black at the head of one of her classmates – she believed without question the government reports about Uighur aggression on the fifth of July. So many Chinese killed, she said. The army protect.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

He'd only just arrived

As it was Christmas not long after he’d arrived in the country, he told us, being a Catholic and, what’s more, a Catholic from China, he thought he might follow the suggestion of a friend and take his family along to one of the special Australian Christmas masses at the local church.

It was wonderful day. After mass they were invited into a hall and sat down to a huge, delicious lunch. There had been so much food he hadn’t been able to finish his serve.

When he and his family got up to leave they joined a queue at the door, and at the end of it, people were handing out presents. One of them was dressed up as Father Christmas. His daughter was delighted. He took lots of photographs and video footage: his daughter with Father Christmas, his daughter in front of the tinsel covered tree on the porch, holding a box wrapped in green and silver foil. But the people giving the presents weren’t happy, he said. They gave his daughter presents – even his wife and himself a huge bundle of presents, but the people on the porch weren’t at all happy.

It was only an hour or so later, when he’d got home and caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror, that he realised that he hadn’t been dressed like anybody else at the Christmas lunch. He’d worn a new white suit, he said, because in China you always wore your best suit to church, but nobody else at the lunch in the hall had been dressed like that. It was only then that he realised that everyone else had been poor, as he called it.

Perhaps right at the beginning the people in the church or in the hall might have said something to him. They might have given him a hint or asked a few questions – he didn’t remember – but his English hadn’t been good in those early weeks then. He wouldn’t have understood. He’d only just arrived.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A lie very obviously

As the girl got into the train at Macdonaldtown station I heard her saying into her phone that the train had been really slow and in fact it had been sitting for a while between Macdonaldtown and Redfern – a lie very obviously, as the train had still yet to go to Redfern station – but so used are we to hearing such lies that none of us said anything. No one even looked up.

Someone is thinking of swine flu

So far I’ve seen three people wearing surgical masks: a young couple in Chinatown and an older man crossing that part near Newtown station where the blue wheelie bins, too full, are disgorging their contents onto the street.

He wasn't rich here

He told us that in China, when he worked for China Shipping, he worked from eight in the morning to midnight, and since the company owned the hospital next door, all the employees had free beds to sleep there. In the middle of the night – at four in the morning, say – he would have to wake himself out of his hospital bed to make a call to check on a ship which was just at that moment due to arrive in a foreign harbour. It was like being in jail, he said. He never saw the sun. He never wanted to work in an office again. At midnight the elevator doors would open and those elevators were full. Everyone worked late.

In Australia he was intending to buy a restaurant, but when we said that he would be working long hours in a restaurant – even working all day and long into the night – he just smiled as if he didn’t understand.

Someone said he would have been rich in China. He said: yes, in China, but he wasn’t rich here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The detail of the sandals

My friend told us all how she had been attacked by this woman in a supermarket car park. Because of the whiplash from the time, less than a fortnight before, when a car had rammed into the back of her – because she still had the whiplash, she said, she’d had to wind down the window of the car she’d borrowed from the garage, leaning out of the unfamiliar car as she backed into the space, and so that was how she heard the slam of the door – a slam so loud in itself that she pulled in her head and wound up the window. It was just as well that she did this, she said, as the woman would have gone for her, hitting her, scratching, but instead had only slapped at the glass, bent the mirrors in, wrenched the wipers back and forth on the windscreen, and all the time this woman had been swearing at her, screaming at her, for taking so long to park – taking your bloody time, you fucking cow. If she’d had a weapon she would have used it, my friend said, she was that much out of control.

When my friend pulled out her phone to call the police the woman had then left in high dudgeon, but my friend had been able to describe the woman to the police. She’d had the rego of the car and could name the make, but to her surprise and satisfaction she’d been better able to describe the woman. She had hated the sight of that woman and had never wanted to remember her, but she knew that she had been dressed in a crushed faded teal linen suit with a grey voile top that might have been a singlet, and that there had been spangles on the straps of her sandals.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pandemic II

A matter of days after she told her kids about the so called Swine Flu and explained what a pandemic was and could be, my colleague told me that she had noticed her kids had already found an online game called Pandemic II, which her kids were now playing instead of their usual preferences for Sims or Call of Duty.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Free at last to transform her life

When I asked him how business had been in the last several months, my physiotherapist said that, since the economic down turn, he had been seeing a predominance of two kinds of clients: the first the worker who knows she is in danger of losing her job, who puts hours and hours in at the office, working long into the night and into weekends at the computer so that she might not be fired, and the second, the one who has already been fired who, free at last to transform her life and so finally to become that fit, slim, healthy person she has always dreamed of being, begins to develop the sort of injuries that hitherto he has only seen in the professional athlete who, keen to win at all costs, trains too hard and for far too long.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Window of porn

All the time the teacher was talking to her as she sat at the computer in the class there was a video going of a full on sex scene close up, he told us afterwards in the canteen. You couldn’t see the faces, only the genitals, he said. The man was black and the woman white – or should he say the male bits of body were black and the woman bits white. Anyone would have been able to see it as the student was talking to the teacher, he said, only nobody else was looking for some reason. The teacher, who had pulled up a chair to sit alongside the student, kept talking to the student and the whole time behind the shoulder of this student, unbeknownst to either of them (or so it seemed), the genitals were going.

It was strange that this student could get porn when so many sites had been blocked at the college, he then said. If he wanted to go on YouTube he couldn’t. Even his hotmail was blocked on some days, and once or twice Google. In the end the teacher had got up and walked away without saying a thing and the student had then turned to the screen and closed the window of porn before opening up Word to make a start on the acquisitions report, he had to assume, that they’d been told they had to finish by the end of the week.

Ant on the moon

She told me that she had always wanted to write to someone in Australia. Even when she was only ten years old and of course still in Russia she had been entranced by the image of Australia on the map, by this large, pink country all by itself at the bottom of the world with water all around it (and for this she made scooping motions with her hands). Europe was many coloured, but Australia was pink. All the children in the class had been invited to write to a child in another country and her teacher had asked her who she would like to write to, but when she had said a child in Australia the teacher had laughed. She might as well have asked to write to an ant on the moon – or so I thought she said as she swayed on her heels in her long pink dress.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Offered free to all

It was carefully planned, she told me. The local church that had members handing out flyers at the nearby stations knew that the only way that the flyers would not get dumped within two minutes of being received was by including two sudoku puzzles next to the message that said ‘God’s forgiveness is offered free to all’: one to do on the journey to work and one for the journey back later on.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Not long after he would have got out of school

I wondered whether it was because he was one of those large, soft-faced kids with blond hair, glasses and a voice still a child’s that when I overheard him say, ‘so he followed them, he led them away’, I knew without a doubt that the boy was retelling the story of a film, a game or a book, and not his observations about the Bank of Queensland robbery that had occurred only metres from where he was now walking but on the previous day, not long after he would have got out of school.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

As a cat lover

As a cat lover, he told me that he was most distressed to see the cat in such danger at the top of the stairs – a large ginger cat in a cage at the bottom of a trolley that a hobo had pushed to the top of the stairs at Central station – the large ginger cat strangely quiet, as if content, and unaware, as it seemed, of any danger.

The hobo, of course, didn’t look as if he was the kind of man you would expect to have such a cat and such a cage (one of those small plastic cages, as he said, that you take your cat to the vet in when it needs a few shots). The hobo was so roughly dressed, my friend said, that he looked as if he had just spent the night in the park next to the station, covered only by the oily and foul smelling rags he was wearing, and yet he had the cat in a cage in a metal shopping trolley and was looking, for all the world, as if he was intending to push the trolley down the stairs, all the way down the stairs to the station or to the tunnel that opens out onto the other side of the city. God knows what he was thinking of, what was going through his head.

The cat can’t have belonged to the hobo, he then told me. No hobo looking the way this one did would have a cat of this sort – a large, content and obviously well fed cat in the kind of small plastic cage that anyone else might take to the vet. The hobo must have stolen the cat, he said – either stolen the cat or a trolley which just happened to contain a cat. He himself should have stopped to check whether the cat belonged to the hobo; for god’s sake he should have stopped to ask what the hobo was intending to do with the cat in the trolley at the top of the stairs. But when you are in a hurry to get to work via the tunnel that takes you to the other side of the city without crossing several streets and waiting at lights, you often find yourself continuing to walk on at such times, all the time thinking you will turn back and ask the questions you know you should be asking, all the time thinking these thoughts as you continue to walk.

Young mormons in the making

Some weeks ago, in the grounds of my workplace, I passed by a group of teenaged boys all dressed identically in grey pants, white shirts and ties, and it was only afterwards, when I realised that they must have come from the private boys school a few blocks away, I wondered that my first thought had been that they were mormons. Young mormons in the making, I had thought.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Very like a black man

Some weeks ago, before the fires, rains and shark attacks that dominated our news for days on end – while in a car pulling up at the lights on Enmore Road – I saw a black man getting out of a van. He was obviously a black man, I remember thinking, and yet there was something not black about him as well. I was stuck at the lights part of the way down the hill and so, without anything else to think about then, I tried to work out what it was that was not black about the man whose skin was not brown or olive but obviously black.

I remember thinking that his calves weren’t quite black – he was wearing shorts – by which I meant that his calves were the calves of a white man whose skin just happened to be black. The man was wearing a cap, I remember, so I couldn’t see his hair. His face was black, as were his neck and his arms and his hands. Then I remember thinking that there was something not right about the black on his hands – that the black I could see at the edges of his palms was not so much black as a very dark blue or green. It was if the backs of his hands were not black in the way that you might expect a black man’s hands to be black but were only a bluish green approximation of that black.

And then, as the man ran across the road with his not black companion, in front of one of the cars ahead of me (which was only just starting to move) – running to the doorway of the pub on the corner in what looked, inexplicably, to be a white man’s run – it occurred to me that the whole of this black man was only a bluish green approximation of a black man; that what I had just seen running across the road was in fact a white man who had somehow become black in a bluish green way; that here was a man who, very likely, had spent hours and hours in a tattoo parlour getting his probably pale, pinkish, even freckly skin inked as black as the tattooist could do it.

I want to be black, I could imagine him saying at the parlour – so black that anyone looking at me thinks that I am a black man, or very like a black man.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I note, she told me, during the days that have followed how often I have mentioned the bushfires in Victoria and the terrible toll of lives that is increasing all the time – either bringing up the subject myself or responding when someone else does – and when a conversation occurs where neither of us mentions the bushfires I think all the time as I talk that both of us are enacting a deadly betrayal and that if only one of us would bring up the subject that must be talked about, one less person might be found to have died and one less house been burnt to a grey square of ash.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Then he smiled

She told me that next to her on the station a woman was reading a book, and as she looked over at the book the woman was reading and saw the single sentence in its entirety, ‘Then he smiled’, she thought over all the times she had been with other people, and particularly men, and realised that she had never been able to isolate this moment, this ‘Then he smiled’ from the continuity of everything they had ever said to her and everything she had said to them; from the continuity of where they were and what they were doing when they were with each other; from a street with its broken paving squares, for example, or a particular stretch that a young guy had made when he placed his hands at the back of his head as he spoke; from that information he told her as he stood there with his elbows sticking out – information, or just a set of words, which seemed to harry at the white of the evening sky as she drove herself home.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Guerilla stitch up

It’s twenty-nine degrees Celsius and someone tagging themselves as GUERRILLA STITCH UP has knitted, overnight, a twenty colour banded woollen sleeve for the round-a-bout sign pole on the corner. Tomorrow it’s scheduled to reach thirty-six.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Spawn camper

Yesterday I learned from my son that, in the online version of Call of Duty 2, where players from all over the world simultaneously join game re-enactments of World War II battles – electing either to be one of the Allies or a German – dying in battle but always being reborn, or ‘spawned’ – there are always some players who set themselves in easy shooting range of one of a number of spawn sites where the players are reborn and, as often as other players are spawned in that place, the player now known as a ‘spawn camper’ kills them on the spot before they can move.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The handstand

My father has been unable to find any trace in the records of St Paul’s College of one Eddie Flowers who, at the end of 1946, or so he recalls, caused a commotion by climbing onto the steepest roof of the college and then, after scaling the tallest and most rickety of its nineteenth century chimneys, performed a handstand between the chimney pots.

The fact that Eddie, as my father remembers, had been sent from England to Australia during the last year of the war was in itself suggestive of privilege, he says – a fact which could only point to the likelihood that this Eddie Flowers was the son of Tommy Flowers, the man who designed the Colossus computer and who therefore, according to my father, single-handedly saved the Allies from an inevitable and inglorious defeat.

Only the son of such a war hero, sent out to Australia for his safety but always conscious of the greatness of his father’s deeds – deeds which he could never be allowed to forget – would have had any need to show off on a chimney in this way, my father says. My father – himself once an expert on computers – is still hoping to find another witness to the handstand and, from this, some confirmation that his conjecture is right.


She told me that, at Mackerel Beach, the best way to catch a silver bream was to use barbeque leftovers. If you used the standard bait – and particularly in the evenings – you were more likely to catch a wobbegong.

My own name

Yesterday, at Dick Smiths’, while I waited for the cashier to print out the credit receipts for my mobile phone and before I paid, I saw a docket on the bench between us where, as far as I could tell – because it was upside down – my own name had been signed, although it wasn’t my signature.

I would like to have swivelled the docket around to see if it really was my own name there at the bottom of the docket. I was even tempted to ask the cashier whether he could read me what the docket said, or whether higher on the docket there was a name printed out. I would try to make a joke of it, I thought as I stood there. There must be many of me walking around.

It was hard enough living with my own name – a name as clamorous as Dick Smith itself, I was thinking – but I almost felt sorry for this other woman who, unbeknownst to her, was being trailed, not only by a dieting company, but myself as well.