Monday, January 30, 2012

drawing a line in the sand

A few years ago, something horrific happened in Melbourne. It was something disgusting; the sort of thing that can and unfortunately does happen everywhere around the world. Just once would be too often, but it has happened more than just once.
It’s the sort of thing that has happened before, and happened since and will no doubt happen again: An angry parent, cheesed off over a child custody issue, deliberately killing a child to punish the other parent.

The particular case I’m talking about here is the case of Darcey Freeman. A bubbly four year old girl, she was driven by her father up on to the Westgate Bridge at peak hour, taken from the car where she had been sitting with her brothers, and thrown over the side of the Bridge.

Now, Darcey’smum is suing Vic Roads because they ignored repeated advice to install safety barriers.
There is some pain that can’t be measured. I couldn’t begin to understand what it is like for any parent to lose a child, let alone lose a child to such a callous act. But this attempt to sue the Government, like many similar claims, points to a much wider, more troublesome pattern in Australia.

Let’s be fair, there is compensation – along with counselling and support services – available for Victims of Crime. The maximum in Victoria is $100,000.
This is a pretty paltry, almost token payment in many cases. No amount will be enough to bring Darcey back, or to console Darcey’s mum. In many instances it won’t even cover ongoing expenses that result from crime. But it’s a good, and reasonable system.

Darcey’s father broke the law. He has been punished for breaking the law and with a bit of luck he will rot in jail for 32 years. It’s an unusually good sentencing result we don’t always see. Many of us have doubts about the sentencing system, but that is a completely separate issue from civil suits of the sort Darcey’s mum is now pursuing.

Claims for compensation under common [as opposed to statute] law are expensive to launch, and place claimants at great financial risk if they fail. While the amount of damages is decided by juries in the United States, in Australia the amount is determined by the court. Civil claims in Australia rarely make anyone rich, even when the amount awarded is greater than what people are likely to get from something like a Victim of Crime compensation act.


The key word in civil cases is “reasonable”.

Could a reasonable person have foreseen that someone was at risk if, for example, Vic Roads did not provide safety barriers?

What would a reasonable person expect is a reasonable amount of care for a person or organisation to take? Is it reasonable to expect that a bridge should have safety barriers to prevent suicides or murderers from harming themselves? If so, then every bridge – and every building of any great height – should have safety barriers as a matter of course.

This common law idea of a duty of care has been included in a lot of statute law. The WorkCover acts in each state, for example, allow the law to enforce a reasonable amount of care, saving victims from the expense and uncertainty of having to go to court themselves for compensation. Hopefully, the risk of being sued or fined does prevent a lot of accidents in the workplace.

The question of what is reasonable is a sticky one.

Recently, the Premier of Victoria Ted Baillieu mentioned that there is a fine of $6,000for leaving a wading pool – 30 cm or more deep – unfenced. What is the fine for putting water in a bathtub that’s not fenced? What about the walkways and roadways around lakes, or across dams? What about a day at the beach? Where should we draw the line in the sand – legally speaking?
Are more children hurt by rogue dogs each year than drown in wading pools? If not by strange dogs, by family pets?

When the giant gum in our backyard lost yet another large limb during the drought, we looked at the 150 foot high trunk leaning over the shed next door. We actually like these neighbours. A reasonable person might see there was some risk to these people if we didn't act. The tree was literally rotten to the core.
Is it reasonable that the law required us to get a permit to chop down a tree? Is it reasonable to leave the danger there until we could get a permit? Is it reasonable that we should have to pay for a permit? [It cost $800 to remove the thing anyway]. 

When a neighbour heard the chainsaws and came charging up the street to ask if we had chopped a tree down, was I immoral to say "No, it fell"?

I’m glad there are now barriers on the Westgate Bridge, don’t get me wrong.
My heart goes out to all the mums and dads of all the Darceys.
Nothing can prevent bad people from harming others, and certainly not from harming vulnerable children. If an adult wants to harm a child, or if a teen or adult wants to commit suicide, they will find a way.

The problem, in every case, is not that accidents happen or that people are sometimes evil, but that people are mostly just human. It only takes seconds for a young child to get into trouble.
At what point do we stop passing laws and ask people to start being more careful? To start taking responsibility for themselves instead of asking governments to wrap themselves or their children in cottonwool?

Saturday, January 28, 2012


By 7 am when the shift starts, the temperature outside the canning shed has already hit 28 degrees. Inside, it’s even hotter as the women make their way in to stand all day, scaling and filleting fish.
Before the sun has a chance to heat the corrugated iron roof, warm air already oozes from one end of the shed, where the fish are cooked. Steam belches through the floor at the other end, where filled and sealed cans are cooked at temperatures over 100 degrees Centigrade.

Sweat runs down the inside of rubber aprons, pools in the toes of rubber boots and fills the fingers of rubber gloves.

One morning the women sense, at first, rather than see, something unusual is afoot. A dark, weird creature lopes into view, breathing through a snorkel and looking through fogged-up goggles; lifting its legs high in an ungainly effort to walk in flippers.
On the mezzanine floors above, there is a stir as overseers and managers pass their greedy little eyes over what is happening below. One rushes to a walkie-talkie, barking at a floor-walker to deal with the distraction.

“You cannot work in that outfit, Nora,” Mary, the Green-Hat from hell leaps into action. “It’s against Health Department Regulations!”
Nora about-faces with her flippers, a sign on her back reading WET SUIT FOR HIRE.

Elsie Tanner is there for her fourth season. She strives, as much as possible, to live a self-sufficient lifestyle at Skink Corner, some 40 kilometres inland.
After three years of court battles, the Council finally forced her to install a septic tank on her farm. Including legal costs, it’s the most expensive septic tank in the country, and Elsie’s never used it. “I’ve got a hundred deserving trees; it would be a waste of good waste,” she has said a hundred times.

“Sure is hot today,” Nora says when she comes back sweating in her regular rubbers and takes up her place next to Elsie.
“Wadda you do when you gotta go on a day like today, Else? I think I’d just do it inside and fling it out the window, meself.”

As a rule Elsie keeps to herself. She’s not here to socialise. Now that she’s paid for her septic tank, she’s saving up to buy a new cow. Her old cow, Moosli, broke its neck one night when it fell into a giant hole – a hole big enough for a septic tank.

Elsie is often the butt of cannery jokes but is neither vulnerable nor the victim of bullying; no one could hold such extreme views of the world if they cared what others think. If the women stir her mercilessly it might be, in part, because they admire her conviction. Besides, she never takes out her earplugs and can’t hear a thing.

Nora never takes off her pink plastic shower cap. She wouldn’t be caught dead in one of the caps the factory provides; she likes pink. Someone once asked her “Why pink?” She replied “Because surveys show more women prefer pink rest rooms than any other colour.”
The pink shower cap hides Nora’s ear-rings which, according to health regulations, must not be worn in the shed, as they might fall into the fillets of fish. Of course, it’s also against regulations to wear her shower cap everywhere, but Nora doesn’t care – she is as convinced as Elsie that most bureaucrats are up themselves.

The bandaids first aiders provide are blue. Blue bandaids are easier to spot if they fall into product. Nora religiously buries a clean blue bandaid in the food every Thursday afternoon, just after she gets her pay-slip.
“It’s quite stupid, really,” she reckons, “usin’ a blue bandaid after you’ve already cut your finger off. By the time you fill out all the forms, your finger’s already on its way to the supermarket. It’s too late then, isn’t it?”
And okay, someone’s gonna open their can of fish and think they got sausages and vegies by mistake, but a blue bandaid still ain’t gonna help.”

When the lunch siren sounds, the women spend five minutes taking off and hosing wetgear, five queuing for the loo, and five queuing for hot water to make tea or coffee. It will take five more minutes to put their gear back on at the end of the break.

For die-hard smokers, this leaves five minutes for food and five for one fag. If time management is an art, Nora is Picassa. She’s the only one who squeezes two fags into her lunch break – three if she smokes instead of talking while she eats.

The tiny lunch room is airless, so most sit outside under a giant oak for lunch.
Nora stuffs a whole quarter of a sandwich into her mouth, crusts and all, and poses a question.
“Families are everything, ripe? I mean, if you card turn to your own pamply for help, who cad ya turd to?”
“Friends?” someone suggests. “My friends are my family, not the other way around”.
“You can’t rely on friends,” reckons Nora, swallowing. “If you ask anyone for help that’ll kill a friendship, that will”. She sucks on her fag, then sucks at her teeth to dislodge some tomato seeds. “But a bit like family; a bit like bein’ married, really. Oh stuff it, I guess yer on yer own when push comes to shove.”

Nora ducks inside for a minute, coming back with a cup of tea. “You know what I dreamt last night?”
No one knows yet, but everyone except Elsie is all ears.

“I dreamt I saw Doug in this really old outback motel we once stayed in. It’s all hot and muggy outside, with mossies hovering near my ears while I spy on him through the louvre windows. It’s quite bright inside the room, cos there’s a full moon. He’s on this bed, see, and I know he’s fast asleep cos he’s snoring. And don’t ask me how but I know it’s a single bed.”

She waits a beat, knowing someone will ask what he was doing there.
Someone asks.
“Well I couldn’t see if he was alone, cos there’s this little clothesline strung across the room, blockin' me view. It's got all these freshly laundered condoms hung up to dry, pegged out like socks.
They were all different colours, too; red, blue, yellow, purple, green, pink.”
“Some of the condoms were all out of shape, and some were bigger than others. That made me wonder; all them different sizes. Maybe he wasn’t alone in that room.”

But isn’t it funny how practical you are when yer dreaming?” Nora takes up the thread again. “I remember thinking Jeez he’s stupid, they’re not gonna dry properly like that, they’re all pegged up by the neck insteada the bottom!”

Mavis, feeding the last of her peanuts to a magpie, imagines Nora in that room with her Doug. Maybe Nora wears her pink shower cap to bed. Doug might snore, but Nora probably talks in her sleep. She could certainly talk under water. Maybe she smokes in her sleep as well.

Nora suddenly asks “What would make anyone have such a stupid bloody dream?”
“It’s that condom machine!” June slaps Nora on the arm, then leans back in her chair. She laughs, embarrassed, behind her hand.

The cannery management has recently installed a condom machine in the women’s toilets. Rainbow Condoms, the dispenser says. Try one of every colour – six exciting colours in all.
“What I wanna know” Nora asked when she first saw it, “is do you find six blokes for one night, one bloke for six nights, or is there some bloke around here who can use them all one after the other?”

Lunch break nearly over, the women pass through the heavy, plastic strips at the packing shed door. Nora calls out to Mary, the Green-Hat from hell, “Can you get me a cuppla bandaids, love? Cut myself real bad gettin Doug’s breakfast. Dunno what happened to the one I put on this morning.”

Nora pulls her shower cap down as she steps back up to the work bench. “Think the elastic in this thing’s startin’ to go. Might look for a new one on the weekend. Wonder if I can find a rainbow one; one with six colours on it?”

Friday, January 27, 2012

championing a cause

One of the best articles I've read in yonks about gay marriage appears in - of all places - The Herald Sun.
In the by-line it says Martina Navratilova is a former world number 1. She's still a number 1 in my books.

Monday, January 23, 2012

good grief

A panel investigating ways to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples [A&TIP] in the Constitution has released its long awaited report, complete with recommendations of what to change, and the strategy most likely to help a referendum on the changes succeed.*

I have written in two previous posts** about the 1999 referendum proposing a preamble to acknowledge Indigenous Australia in the constitution. Quite simply the wording of the preamble was an insult, and in the absence of any practical steps to help those Indigenous Australians who need help, a token gesture likely, in the long run, to do more harm than good.

Constitutional changes are worded specifically for a reason, yet once again the movers and shakers say/imply that if Australians do not pass this referendum, Indigenous Australians should take it to mean we don’t care a toss about them or the truth.

In my lifetime, the most common objection to a bill of rights has been that these things are hard to frame in a way that they cannot be misinterpreted, and the last thing we need is a high court – presumably stacked by the "other" major party – making smart-arse interpretations of a binding document.

But let’s be sillier and sillier: The next referendum will be looking at changes to the constitution proper, not just at a non-binding preamble acknowledging our shaky beginnings. So much for the danger of high court challenges. As I've said before: Everyone is equal before the law - if they can afford it.

There is soooo much wrong with these recommendations that I scarcely know where to begin. But, obsessed as I am with issues of race, I’ll start somewhere anyway, and I shall start with the dreaded …

Section 51

In the beginning was the word, and the word was superior. At the close of the 19th century, Britain was reluctant to pass a bill approving an Australian constitution referring directly to a White Australia Policy. [Well, they did have an Empire to run.]

Section 51 of the new, approved constitution originally said [in 1901]:

The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:-
The people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.

This section was not really about Aboriginals, but about solving other “problems” related to keeping Australia white.

The words “any race” could naturally include Chinese, (Asian) Indians, indentured labourers from the South Sea Islands, “Ghans” or Malays (though not New Zealand’s Maori who, because of the Treaty of Waitangi, were British citizens).

In 1901 the new federal government agenda included – amongst other things – repatriation of indentured labourers who had been lured to Australia from the Pacific Islands.

One of the 1967 referendum questions asked voters if they wanted to alter the wording of this Section 51, to remove the phrase banning “special” laws for Aboriginals.

As a result of the yes vote in 1967, we now have S 51 [xxvi] which says
The people of any race, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws:
Honestly not much of an improvement, as it simply elevated Indigenous Australians to the status of all the other inferior races.

But to be fair, in 1967 most Australians believed that by deleting the reference to Aboriginals, the federal government was finally ready to step in and take over Aboriginal Affairs from the states. Sadly, the federal government had already had power over Aboriginal Affairs in the Northern Territory since 1912 and hadn’t done a great deal for Aboriginals there, so there was no reason to expect any improvement.

The new improved section 51

It has now been recommended that we ditch the 1967 bit, inserting in its place a touchy feely 51A which talks about Recognising first occupants, and Respecting continuing cultures and languages etc and – Acknowledging that we’ve done bugger all to help in any practical way to date –  parliament should now – for their advancement be able to
make laws …with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

At least the panel recognises we are talking about many peopleS, which is more than half our hard-nosed journalists have done.

So far so good; we’ve rearranged the furniture [I don’t dare refer to sinking ships just now] and achieved a glow of smug self-congratulation.

Because we’ve “Acknowledged” the need for advancement of A&TIP, the old legal interpretation catch – the intention is in the words – is covered. We can’t make special laws for A&TIP if they are not linked to advancement.

But just to be on the safe side there’s to be a new section 116A which outlaws discrimination
on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic or national origin
unless for
overcoming disadvantage, ameliorating the effects of past discrimination, or protecting the cultures, languages or heritage of any group.

This might be meaningless pap, or it might be useful. But I could imagine a certain disaffected little corporal identifying strongly with wording like this some time around 1920.

Where does it say we have the right to over-ride a group’s culture if one or more of those cultural practices are undesirable? [Female genital mutilation would probably be too extreme an example…]

One really nice thing about being able to make laws for Aboriginal advancement is that we can still stop “their” dole payments if they don’t send their kids to school. This is important, because otherwise they will use these enormous sums of money to buy grog and drugs*** or to travel across the country to attend to ceremonies or perhaps even spend up to ten months of the year going to funerals or even spend 3 or 4 months of the year trapped by closed [soggy] roads.

Please bear with me, I’m almost done bitching!

Notwithstanding the total indifference of major parties to the possibility of using a bilingual approach to the education of Indigenous Australians, we might soon have a section 127A which says Australia’s official language is English and A&TIP languages are part of our national heritage.
Perhaps the National Trust might get involved?

Fixing the woopsie

Section 25 has got to go. It was there to help calculate how many politicians we should put up with, and this had to take into account whether the people of any particular race were barred from voting in state elections.

I lied – one more bitch to go:

This bit – which I just love – goes to the heart of my problem with the implication that if I vote NO it’s because I don’t care:

“In the interests of simplicity, there should be a single referendum question in relation to the package of proposals…”

Seriously, when will these people drop their delusion that everything can – or worse yet – should be controlled by legislation? No, it is NOT necessary to say yes in order to protect existing legislation such as that relating to land rights, because if we already have legislation on land rights then it must have been possible.

Put forward the preamble proposed before John Howard got his hands on it, and I’ll vote yes. In the meantime, Andrew Bolt is going to have a field day.

subsequent post explaining why I voted no in 1999

***from whom? 

Friday, January 13, 2012

nosey government

Teresa Gambaro, an MP from Brisbane, is in hot water after suggesting employers should provide cultural awareness training for new Australians wanting to fit into the workforce.

Headlines with words like ‘stink’ or ‘armpit’ show that her comments were considered outrageous, because she implied newcomers don’t know how to wear deodorant or wait their turn in queues. Some journalists have also thrown the name “Pauline Hanson” about in their stories.

Many papers have dismissed her claims that her words were taken out of context, but few have bothered to provide the context so we can decide for ourselves. 

A bit of the context includes the following:
"You hear reports of people using public transport (without deodorant) and I think Australian residents are guilty of this too," she said. "I think we all need to be mindful of our fellow traveller. Sometimes these things are not talked about because people find them offensive but if people are having difficulty getting a job, for instance, it may relate to their appearance and these things need to be taken into account."

A large number of the public’s responses to her comments reflect just how polarised Australians have become about immigration, temporary workers, and cultural differences generally. One citizen says the outcry shows we need a referendum about whether we even want immigration. Another adopts the “Australians stink more than immigrants” stance, and so on.

This whole kerfuffle might seem a storm in a tea cup, but it would also be fair to say it’s indicative of a far deeper and more petty malaise; a malaise that results in part from a news media focused on sell-air-brity and shock horror headlines than the information that might help keep a democracy democratic.

Over the years I’ve heard plenty of complaints from immigrants that they were promised the earth by our embassies, but abandoned once they arrive. Many of the people who help immigrants settle in are volunteers. Their generosity is particularly important for non-westernised arrivals.
At some point, however, we seem heavily dependent on the notion that training or education is the answer to any and every problem.

Every day I stare, on a train, at a series of pictograms explaining what’s required of train travellers;
  • buy a ticket;
  • keep feet off seats;
  • don’t drink alcohol;
  • don’t use crude language; and
  • some others I can’t remember.

These seem to have little impact on those travellers who have no interest in social norms or who are born, and determined to remain, self-absorbed arseholes.

Some people, like a new chum I chatted with years ago, want to ‘fit in’. After 24 hours on a fishing boat doing nothing much but sitting around, this chap was surprised to see all the other fisherman having a shower before they retired for the night. Realising this must be the done thing, he made a point of doing the same even though the idea was completely foreign to him.
A Chinese Malay student once told me the thing which astonished her most when she first came here to study was that everyone stood patiently in a queue when they wanted to buy something.

There are plenty of things people do that I find personally irritating, in particular sniffing [or snorting and spitting]; wearing too much perfume; and standing in busy doorways to chat while people are trying to get through.
At some point, though, we need to accept that people are different because if we don’t we’ll simply become dictatorially petty people. At some point, we need to make our own contribution to encouraging positive change: For example, whenever I’ve had a job serving people, I’ve steadfastly refused to serve people who don’t wait their turn. When they ask why they are being ignored I tell them.
When people ring me and would rather be abusive than have a rational discussion, if they don’t calm down I’ll tell them because I’m not allowed to hang up I’m going to put the phone down and ignore them til I hear they’ve stopped.

Would I tell a dozen drunken youths not to vomit all over the floor of a train? No. Only an idiot argues with an idiot - and only a moron would argue with someone whose likely to punch their lights out.

At what point did we become incapable of negotiating some behavioural change without saying we need laws against bad behaviour, or that someone else should educate others to behave differently?

In part, the problem seems to stem from all the laws we have to protect people from arbitrary discrimination. I’m all for laws against blatant discrimination, but laws which don’t allow for grey areas simply force social problems underground.

Employers will always come up with some excuse for not hiring someone they don’t want to hire, and nobody hires anyone – skilled or otherwise - they don’t like or fear other workers won’t like.
But why can’t employers simply say what they want, or have enforceable dress or hygiene or behaviour codes that are clear to all their employees?
Why can’t a shop keeper or service provider refuse to serve someone who stinks so badly all the other customers will leave?

In context, what Gambaro said did not deserve the over-the-top reaction it got. In truth, she could have said it in a far more diplomatic and inclusive way. 
Immigrants should not be abandoned when they arrive; they should at least be given a chance to understand the legal and social issues that will help them get the most out of their lives here. On the other hand, we need to remember that no-one will remember all of the advice, and that some people will be more adaptable than others. 

Instead of proposing solutions full of words like “must”, “should” or “educate”, we “should” keep a sense of proportion, allow people to speak a little more freely, and all take some responsibility for demanding the behaviours we prefer. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

'fessing up

By the time I was nine, our little family was ready for its ninth move – after some arguments between mother and a couple of power points, our little home in Moonee Ponds was checked by an electrician. Soon after that, The Housing Commission issued an order that the house be rewired. The landlord, presumably, was unhappy or broke or both. Once again, we packed our belongings, this time for a move to Flemington.

Flemington and its small, adjacent suburbs are respectable addresses today, and parts of Flemington always had been pretty posh.

The famous Flemington Post Office
Naturally, there were also parts that weren't so posh:

Of course this home is worth a fortune today,
but I'm sure you can see a difference between this home
and the home above

In the early 1960s parts of Flemington were vastly different from the way they are today – the Newmarket part was not just a world of racehorses, but a world of working horses, cows and sheep.

Before traffic became the challenge it is today, and the value of land shot through the roof, this little area was littered with urban house blocks occupied by small stables accommodating between two and four horses. There were also several farriers in the area, and a huge stock feed store in Newmarket St.

View Larger Map
Near the top of this little map is Illawarra Road, which was to be our address for the next two years.
At the bottom left of this map [where the number 35 appears] a roundabout marks an entrance to the Flemington Racecourse, home of the Melbourne Cup.

Somewhere in the centre and along the bottom, the map has a blue “tram” symbol, marking the corner of Racecourse and Smithfield Roads. These two roads formed two of the boundaries of what was once the Newmarket Saleyards.

The Newmarket Saleyards in Flemington provided a central stockmarket for sheep, cattle and who knows what else from 1858 til they closed in 1987. At one time, during World War II, this market was the largest sheep and cattle market in the world.

A few of the buildings have been preserved for posterity, but most of the ten hectares the stockyards once occupied have been developed with new housing.
Off the map and further along Smithfield Road was an even larger area – 23 hectares – occupied by Melbourne’s Abattoirs. This area, too, has been converted into a new housing estate.

For those who don’t know Melbourne, Racecourse Rd is rather close to the city centre, and a major traffic artery. Trams, cars and trucks travelling along Racecourse Road once competed for room with mobs of cattle and sheep that were being herded by dinky-di drovers and working dogs.
When we first moved to Flemington, the surface of Racecourse Road was pitted with huge potholes, sometimes awash with dung.

On market days, two men drove up and down this road in a little, motorised, three wheeled van, gathering up dazed or confused stray sheep and ferrying them to the stockyards in an effort to keep the road reasonably clear.

One of the reasons this crazy situation had developed is that a branch line of the railway passenger service looped around behind the site of our new home in Illawarra Road. Moving stock from these holding pens to the sale yards proper was – you guessed it – a job for drovers and working dogs.
When the market closed, this branch line had no further use; Crown Street and Newmarket Street were extended, and the rail yards area behind Illawarra Road was also converted for new housing.
But before all this modernisation took place, these holding pens were a great source of fun for my brothers and me.

One really fun trick was to climb up onto our back fence and wait til a mop of sheep or cattle were passing nearby and, just at the right moment, start kicking at the corrugated iron fence furiously. The idea was simply to scatter the herd and enjoy watching as dogs and drovers tried to round them up again, but occasionally a bull would go berserk and charge the fence. It took two hands and two feet to hang on, but what a ride!

Some days the pens over our back fence were empty and all was quiet. Up onto the fence, from there to the shed roof, then onto and down the power pole on the other side of our iron curtain we had room to run! It was also a great place to practice imitating the drovers’ voices as they swore at us. [There were even one or two words I understood!]

As a traffic-free thoroughfare it was the ideal spot for tippity runs* – naturally the first time the ball was delivered the batsman hit it straight into the muck in one of the holding pens. 

In the winter this muck in the bottom of the pens was green, stinky and viscous.
Poo fights were not that frequent, but even on days when we were really well behaved, somehow Mother knew where we had been.
“Have you been over the back fence again?” she would ask threateningly.
“No, Mum,” we tried to sound convincing, hoping the muck all over our clothes and limbs looked like normal kid-dirt.

At this Flemington address we dealt with grubbiness in the same way we always had; clothes started in the copper and, when transferred to laundry tubs, were given a final wash and rinse by hand. We all had our own assignments. If I never have to wash a trough full of dirty socks by hand again, it will be too soon.
There was no gas geyser over the bath in this house; the fact that the copper was both indoors and gas heated seemed a small consolation when water had to be transferred by the bucketful to the bathtub.

Enrolment at a Catholic School along with fasting, compulsory church attendance, scapulars, prayers and other reminders of God’s all-seeing eye had no impact at that age; bashing a fence to annoy animals and workers did not prompt questions of right or wrong.
God occupied a separate compartment in my mind, and it was a long time before I realised there was even supposed to be a connection between the spiritual and the mundane.
I must confess - we were naughty children.

In this street there were two stables, each big enough to accommodate about three horses. Apprentice jockeys slept in the tack rooms at night, and in the middle of the day had too much time on their hands. It was easy for them to impress local kids by bringing horses into the yard and making them “pigroot”*. 

Few of the stables in these streets were as grand as the Crown Street Stables
Most consisted simply of wooden horse boxes surrounded by corrugated iron fencing

My oldest brother - who has always lived in the space between the lines of books rather than in his body – somehow found himself one day watching one of these “shows”. He and some other lads were balanced precariously on the side of a float when a horse kicked out, hitting the side of the float and dislodging my brother.

He was taken to the Royal Children’s Hospital to have his broken arm reset. When my mother came home later that afternoon, he told her woefully that although they weren’t clean when he got to the hospital, he had put clean underpants on that morning.
So much for telling kids they must always wear clean underwear in case they have an accident.

For many years my mother’s sole source of income had been, and continued to be, from a number of cleaning jobs.
For relaxation she often took us to the trots [harness racing] time trials at the Showgrounds – entrance was free and the prize when a family member managed to ‘pick a winner’ - the right to feel smug for at least twenty minutes – was also free.

A pacer moves its front and rear legs on one side in the same
direction with each step [e.g. here both right legs are moving backwards]

Another [and for me far more loathsome] form of entertainment was fishing. I never have been and doubt I ever will be an early morning chirpy. We were dragged out of bed before the sun came up, and taken down to Station Pier in St Kilda.
The whole business was made more boring by my mother’s insistence that we remain quiet to avoid disturbing the fish. I saw this story for the load of old bootmakers* it was: After all, “new” Australians of Mediterranean extraction were always there, their tinnies* banging against the pylons beneath us as they harvested mussels.

A few years on, we moved from Illawarra Road to Edinburgh St – one whole street away. This time we were right next door to some stables. We might have lived in a sewered suburb, but living directly next door to stables taught me that there is more than one use for phenyl. Phew.

It was in these stables that one of my mother’s friends kept a pacer. The mare was a dead loss when it came to racing, but her owner was devoted to her.
My mother had grown up as a horsey person of sorts, but this mare was unusually crabby and unapproachable . For some reason, though, the horse had taken a shine to me.
As a short-stop, I thought it was hilarious to stand under the horse on my tip-toes and push at her belly with my head. [Yes, someone 11 years old can be that short].
Occasionally Ron would harness the mare to a sulky and ride down to the Showgrounds, where she could stretch her legs. Sitting on the [unpadded] side of the sulky when I was invited along, I became quite familiar with many of the pot-holes in Racecourse Rd.

At the Railway end of Edinburgh street was a long, rabbit warren of buildings, about three stories high and constructed almost entirely of timber. Of its original purpose I’ve no idea, but by this stage small areas had been leased to light industry, while some parts of it were deserted. 
[So many places to play, so little time away from school.]
In one part of the building, I watched fascinated one afternoon as a lone worker fed flat sheets of metal into a press and converted them to corrugated iron*.

It was an era when neighbours knew neighbours, so the streets around our house had a community feel to them. Our neighbours were so into sharing that, on Sunday mornings, we could listen to broadcasts of Newsbeat without turning our own wireless on at all. In the 60s Newsbeat was Reality Radio at its best.
Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, the presenter somehow showed up at every fire engine or ambulance callout in the greater Urban area – or at least created the illusion that he was. He was always on the spot, painting word pictures and recording the atmosphere and horror of each tragedy as it unfolded, just so we could hear about it on Sunday mornings.

oh, this is dreadful; just dreadful. I can see where the little pink Consul has left the road, gone over the footpath and then hit a lightpole. 
I don’t know who was driving the car, but they might have been drunk. But, oh, it’s a mess. There’s broken glass everywhere. 
The car has such a huge dent in the passenger side that it looks like it must have been wrapped completely around the lightpole before the lightpole fell over from the impact of the crash.
The ambulance workers are trying desperately to resuscitate someone on the side of the road. We don’t know yet who it is, but I can see a pair of ladies’ high heels poking out from underneath a blanket. They’re good shoes, perhaps she was just coming home after dancing the night away.
If I just move a little closer I might be able to … OH! Oh dear, this is awful...
And there are people out here in their pyjamas, shaking their heads, they must have rushed out to see what all the noise was.
Excuse me, this is Newsbeat, did you see what happened here?
So, did you come rushing out of your home because you heard a loud bang? Was there a sound of squealing brakes?
“Nah. Came outside cos a lightpole smashed frew me roof.”
You must have had a terrible shock!
“Nah, I knew not to touch the wires.”
Was anyone in your family hurt?
“Nah, but the lightpole knocked down me TV antenna, and the antenna hit old Mrs Smiff from next door on the head when she came out to see what the loud bang was.”
Oh… oh, do you have any idea yet of the harm done by your antenna crashing?
“It prob’ly doesn’t matter, mate, I never could get channel 9 on the tele anyway.”

[Personally, I don’t understand how anyone could find such ghoulishness entertaining.]

A country cousin of mine had been a sickly child, and often had long stays at the Children’s Hospital. On these occasions her mother stayed with us, as the hospital was only a short tram ride away. Aunty always squished in with me in my tiny bed. At some point in the night she always shook me awake and told me to stop snoring. Before I could count to 3 she always rolled onto her back and started snoring herself, keeping me awake for the rest of the night.

Coming from a quiet place to the city, Aunty was nervous and jumpy at the slightest background noise – especially stock trains shunting into the yards over our back fence. If she wasn’t complaining about snoring, she was shaking me awake to ask “What’s that?”, though by the time I was awake, whatever noise she’d heard had usually long ceased.

One New Year’s Eve, shortly after midnight, we were both awoken by an almighty explosion. The whole family was awoken. Through the window we saw what looked like walls of flame next door, and all rushed out into the street frightened the stables had caught fire and the horses were trapped. But the flames were just a reflection of what was happening down the other end of the street.
About 300 yards away, clearly visible at the end of our street, was the sight of the three story rabbit warren of wooden buildings ablaze.
People in New Years Eve finery stood side by side with residents in pyjamas, nighties and dressing gowns to watch the spectacle; the cheapest and most impressive New Years Eve fireworks display I’ve ever seen. [The Arts Centre Spire Fire looked like a mere spark in comparison.]

I don’t remember hearing about this on Newsbeat.

The burnt-out buildings were replaced by a massive overpass* leading stock directly over Racecourse Road to the saleyards proper. The overpass, in turn, was pulled down when the stockyards closed, and the land was redeveloped.

Tippity runs; a form of backyard cricket wherein if the ball and bat connect in any way, the batsman must run. I can't tell you more than that because my brothers kept changing the rules. If you don't know anything about cricket there is only one thing you really need to know - it is the sports freak's version of Waiting for Godot.  

Making horses pigroot or buck and kick out wildly was a sadistic business which involved pinching a nerve in the horse's back. Amazing to think someone invested megabucks in buying, stabling and training a horse, yet 15 year old apprentices were treating them in such a 'cavalier' manner.

A load of old bootmakers i.e. a load of cobblers. BS.

Tinnies, in this context, means aluminium dinghies.

Corrugated iron is not an Australian invention, but it is almost the Vegemite of building materials.

The mass production of Prefabricated housing in Australia began with corrugated iron during the gold rush era.

During the great depression, kerosene tins became the poor man's "corro";

The overpass
Some web-sites claim this overpass was constructed in the early 1970s, but this date doesn’t gel with my memories of where I lived and when. I know this bridge was built before we moved yet again: I could go to the State Library and trawl through old papers free of charge to see if I’m right, but of course I won’t. Just saying, that’s all.