[This post was written on Sunday, and “the afternoon” to which it refers is last Saturday arvo. My poor image manipulation skills have delayed the launch of this one – it took me a few days to put together the maps which appear below. Cheerio! – Lucas]
In the afternoon, the Cake Lady came to visit, bearing natas fresh from Sweet Belem. I made us coffee and we sat in the kitchen chatting away. She’s staying at the Regent’s Court Hotel in the Cross, its a kind of artist-in-residence where the hotel puts you up in exchange for watering the plants in their beautiful rooftop garden. Not a bad exchange. The Cake Lady’s working on some new animated films, which generally channel her rich vault of memories growing up in North Queensland. Recently she’s been running art workshops with the kids who travel around with circuses. But the conversation meandered wildly and I forgot to interrogate her about that. Which is a pity, cos I reckon it’d be an interesting story.
The Cake Lady had suggested an assignment to be carried out in the ‘sham:
You and a friend/partner arrange to arrive in a foreign city on the same day. Take different forms of transport to get there. Do not make a place to meet. Try and find your friend/partner.
We adapted this project, since we were already both here. Instead of arriving separately, we decided to walk the southern border of the ‘sham, starting at opposite ends, and working our way towards each other in the middle. We made up two identical kits: camera (Cakey with a digital, me with my old SLR), a roll of electrical tape, a stanley knife, a brown paper bag.
It was a pleasure to step out in the warm afternoon with our hats. We agreed that if we did not bump into each other along the way, we’d simply rendezvous back at home. No mobile phones on this walk.
The southern border is perhaps the trickiest of all. In the south, the division between Petersham and Marrickville (and bits of Dulwich Hill) sometimes cuts between houses, and at odd points up narrow laneways. Often, you have to consult the map, and count the number of houses between a known cross street and the boundary line, to properly locate the edge (and thereby avoid overstepping it).
I began at the south-west (on Wardell) and Cakey at the south-east (corner of John and Addison).
Frazer Street is the southern border of the ‘sham. This is not marked on my map, but I confirmed it by counting 29 houses along Wardell Road between Morgan and Frazer. Thus I was able to slink along the footpath on Frazer, right on the edge of Marrickville, before popping back up into Jarvie Avenue. Jarvie’s a lovely little crookneck hideaway. Strangely, the boundary runs right up the lane, and seems to carve away the driveway of the house at the end of the street.
It’s a weird feeling, to stand there, with this big map unfurled, in the middle of a very quiet street, looking up, then down, then up again, and muttering to myself: “yes, that’s it, that’s definitely it!” – when there really seems to be no meaning to these land divisions at all.
A little into Jarvie, I took a shot of an array of soft toys hanging over a driveway. A few doors down, a man and his mother were working in the garden, tending the most cleancut manicured hedgework I’ve ever seen. They had limited space to work with, the hedges were like a miniature labyrinth. “What are you taking photos of?” the man asked me. “Oh, all those toys a few doors down” I replied.
He asked me if I was working for the council. I explained that I was trying to locate the exact border, and showed him the map with the funny little driveway nook at the end of Jarvie. We agreed that it was a weird demarcation. He introduced himself. His name is Neil. His mother is Maria. They said that everyone knew everyone on Jarvie. At the end of the year, they have a big party and all the households come out together onto the street. Maria came out from Portugal maybe thirty years ago. I asked her why she came. Oh, I don’t know, she said, maybe because my sister was already here.
When they first arrived in Petersham, the family, all five of them, were living in a single room in the house opposite. When the hedge place came up for sale, they grabbed it straight away, and moved eight metres across the street, where they’ve been ever since.
I asked Maria why there were so many Portuguese people in the ‘sham. She didn’t really know. There’s also a lot in – [another suburb, and damn if I’ve forgotten which one she said] – but Petersham is the main one. I complimented Maria on her amazing hedges. Ah, she said, they were better before, but I had the accident. She was hit by a car. “You should have seen her before,” said Neil “she was out here twenty four seven!”
Using Morgan Street as a launchpad, I investigated Bishop, Napier, and Miller Streets. All these streets run onto Frazer, like fingers off the hand of Morgan.
On Napier, I bent over to inspect an odd looking guitar amplifier that had been dumped on the sidewalk. It was triangular in shape. When I straightened up, I noticed a big fella standing next to his gate, with a beer in his hand. He said hi and waved, and I wandered over to greet him. His name was Brett, and the place is a mens’ boarding house. With the big old fashioned camera hanging around my neck, I guess I looked like a photographer. Brett was pretty interested to hear about the things I was shooting. What, like houses and stuff?
I explained that I wasn’t really all that into photography, it was just something extra to do while I walk around. You know, maybe I shoot an interesting plant, a detail on a building, the place where the imaginary border lies. “You should go down to the park in the early morning, you’d get some good shots there!” he said. But when we looked at the map to see which park he was talking about, it was actually out of my territory. We stood there for a moment, examining the layout of the suburb, me holding one end of the big map, him the other, jabbing our fingers at landmarks we could mutually identify. The wind blew up suddenly. Brett said I’d better roll up the map or I’d lose it, and maybe I’d like to come inside and take a few shots.
Inside there was a concrete courtyard with a washing line. A man was sitting quietly on a plastic chair in the middle of the yard in the sun with a beer. “Yeah, take a photo of him!” Brett said. But the seated man wasn’t interested in having his photo taken, and quickly disappeared inside.
We sat in the yard for a little while, musing about photography and creativity. Brett had lots of questions. Like, “So, are you doing this for an assignment for uni?” and “but what if they gave you a really boring suburb to research?” I argued that anything was interesting if you only paid enough attention to it. I don’t think he had a problem with that. He’s been living in Petersham for eight years.
Brett said he’s started a course in video production at the community college – their project is to make instructional videos for African migrants on how to use public transport. But he’s not really very creative, he said. He’s more technical, anything technical he’s fine with.
I made a move to get on with my border walk. Two guys were standing in the yellow sunlight in a doorway. “Get a shot of them!” Brett said. But they weren’t interested either. I didn’t blame them – they didn’t know who I was, or what the photos would be used for. But Brett was really into having his shot taken. He posed at the gate, exactly as he was the moment I first saw him. Beer in hand. Snap.
Miller Lane is a curious one. The border runs right down the middle of the lane. To your left and right you are in Marrickville. Hanging over the fence was the remnant of an old pea crop. There was still the odd pod left unharvested, and so I gleaned one. There were two peas in the pod. I ate one, and put the other in my paper bag for the Cake Lady.
On Rose Lane, an enterprising resident had struck back against littering, with a hand made sign. I turned it over and took a photo: DON’T DUMP YOUR JUNK IN OUR LANE, texta-scrawled onto a rectangle of lino, hanging on the fence with string, with UDL cans strung up to it.
I reached John Street without encountering the Cake Lady. We must have missed each other while I was chatting with Brett. I was kinda glad, because I was having fun, and I wanted to keep going to the end. I spotted Charm’s orange Kombi. I had forgotten that she and Mon had a place on John St. The front door was open, and I hollered out down their dark corridor. They were home. Mon’s just given birth, exactly one week ago, to a beautiful baby boy. He hasn’t got a name yet, but it’s going to happen soon, she assured me. She also hoped that his umbilical stub (not sure of the technical term) was going to drop off soon. It’s supposed to take seven to ten days, and its getting a bit smelly.
Mon and Charm were a fount of leads: from a guy that lives a few doors down who believes that Petersham is the “best suburb in the world”, to the Michael Jackson double who runs the toy store, and of course, Steve at Borsellino Brothers. I know I have to talk to Steve soon. He’s essential. But I’m just building up to it.
The Cake Lady had beaten me home. We compared notes, and had a look at the great shots she’d taken with the digital (you’ll have to wait for mine until I get them processed). In some cases, Cakey had been a lot more rigorous than me. For instance, at the corner of John and Addison, she had worked out the exact point that the boundary ran through. At this spot, she affixed a red cross with her electrical tape, and took two photos: one of the house which was within Petersham, and one looking out across the border and into Marrickville beyond.
[Before signing off, I’d also like to point out that while we were fooling around the neighbourhood pondering the arbitrary divisions of suburbs, “Australia” has been introducing new laws so that even if refugees succeed in crossing shark-infested-waters to reach the mainland, they will now be sent offshore again to have their claims for asylum processed. Effectively it means the national borders are now kinda everywhere, and at the same time, nowhere…how odd. xL]