Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Freo Days, Part II

When I found the motivation to drag myself away from the couch on the verandah, it was usually to go to a gig. Ahhh, Freo gigs - how I miss you. 

I'd hop on the pushy and roll in the last light over the old traffic bridge. The golden sun sank into the ocean, leaving the black outline of the stacks of containers and mechanical dinosaurs at the port, and the train rattling by with a handful of straggling commuters on board, and the swirling Swan River below me all continuing their business in the darkening evening. 

Mojo's was the venue most nights. Bright on the outside, gloomy and dark on the inside, I leaned against a wall to watch the band. Barefooted Charlie Parr with his big grey beard and tangled grey hair played his frantic hillbilly tunes to a baying crowd. I saw local reggae dub maestros The Sunshine Brothers quite a few times, including one of the last nights before I left town. They joked with each other in between songs as though nobody was listening. 

Down opposite the abandoned Woolstores, with all the graffiti and where the kids skate all weekend, is Clancy's Fish Pub. Full of friendly vagrants and colourful eccentrics, you can't feel out of place there. Free gigs on Friday nights and a variety of tasty beers to drink and seafood to soak it up with. The T Shirts they sell say We put the beer of God  in you, and it could be true. 

Summer Sunday afternoons found me on the shady lawns of the Freo Art Centre. Free gig from two til four. People lay on picnic rugs sharing bowls of nuts and cold beer from the esky, gurgling toddlers escaped the half hearted grasp of dad to run around and dance up the front, the acoustic tunes floated up and around and into the trees and people smiled at each other. In my memory it was pretty much paradise. 

There were so many more venues - world music upstairs at Kulcha, where you can step outside to lurk on the balcony and watch the drunks stumble round on the main street below, indie tunes in the cramped Norfolk Basement, Gomez rocking at the Fly By Night Club, comfy retro lounges to sprawl in at the Little Creatures Loft (continuing the local knack for a catchy phrase with their slogan Open Up A Little), the Blues and Roots Festival in the park - oh the music flows richly in Freo. 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Freo Days, Part I

For three years I had a house in Fremantle. When I say ‘had’, I mean I rented it of course.

It was smallish and oldish and each of the rooms was painted a different bright colour – yellow, red, blue, purple, green. The wooden floorboards creaked in places and the ceiling fans ticked a little as they spun.

I first came to 49 Forrest Street on a summer afternoon in response to a housemate wanted advertisement. I propped my pushbike against the tree out the front and knocked on the door to meet Alena, whose friend had left at short notice. After a few days she let me know I could move in, I was the least strange of her applicants. Must have been some real weirdos turn up.  

My favourite thing about the house was the verandah. It was wide and shady and had a decrepit lounge on it.  The fabric of this lounge was torn and faded and the frame wobbled and groaned when anybody sat down.You got to know the comfortable spots to sit, away from the poky bits or saggy spots.That lounge and I spent some time together over the years. In the hot dusty afternoons, in the late evening light, in windy squalls, in winter rains I sat on the verandah and read and watched and thought.

I liked the feeling of being outside, yet sort of inside. I had shelter from the biting West Australian sun, but felt the cool benefits of the daily Freo Doctor (the sea breeze that calls every summer afternoon to make people feel better).  As a storm arrived from the coast I would get splashed by the rebound of fat raindrops from the railings. The trees alongside the footy field bent sideways in the howling southwesterlies. 

I could hear the music from my stereo inside, yet I was part of the world outside. I could smile or say hello to people walking past; the lady with purple hair walking her sausage dog, the families with young kids on scooters, the teenagers delivering advertising brochures who had to pass by our stickered mailbox. Or I could choose not to engage with anyone at all and just read.  

I don’t know how many books I must have read sitting out there. Stories from around the world, stories from across the centuries, characters come to life in my mind in colour and adventure and anguish and happiness and confusion, living their lives as best they knew how, bringing a zest and new perspective into my little old Freo life.

When Alena moved out for a new beginning in Albany she took all her furniture but left the lounge on the verandah. It was decaying further, exposed as it was sometimes to rain and sun, and it wasn't a specifically outdoor lounge. I didn’t mind though, I still ate dinner there often enough, had some serious kinds of conversation there, I liked to sit there and await guests for a warm greeting, and I was there early that Thursday morning when I got the phone call about Foz’s passing.  

When I decided to leave Freo earlier this year, I gradually emptied the house of its contents. Most of the things I’d scavenged from kerbside pickups, so was happy to return to the kerb and let the circle of life continue. Some I sold for cheap on gumtree. Off went the barbecue, the stereo, the bed and mattress. But nobody came for the lounge. Nobody knew its value like I did so it sat there until the day before moving when there was nothing else for it - we wrangled into the back of a ute and tied it down as though it might have known the hole in the ground where it was headed and tried to escape. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A Storm

I’d say everyone in Perth would remember where they were during the thunderstorm of March 22, 2010.

It was the most demonic in living memory.

The brutal weather marched into the city from the north, pelting the suburbs with giant hail stones, dumping around sixty millimetres of rain in half an hour, and ripping through the streets with winds that could have stripped paint from cars. The suddenness and violence of the storm, the drumbeat eruptions of thunder and the sight of the natural world in a mania had the inhabitants of the isolated city cowering.

I know that I remember, and I have a feeling the Ntumba-Mata family in Thornleigh will remember. They had only been in Australia for a couple of weeks and were in their Government-supplied temporary accommodation watching the dark arrive at four in the afternoon. After spending a dozen years in a refugee camp in Kenya you’d think it would be hard to shock the Congolese family with anything. But the deep purple cloud advancing on the skyline and the eerie dull glow of the afternoon light had them transfixed at the window. Something biblical was afoot and they knew it.

The diabolical rain and the wind and the hail descended upon their street, and the family were tense and anxious. Jojo, the four year old, whimpered. Obed ,ten, stared out silently at the scene and Annie said “Stevie, what this? No good, no good.”

The power went out and the safety we felt from being secure inside was eroded. The rain was heaving down with such force that it felt as though the roof may collapse, and then it looked like it did. From around the window and door frames, water came into the house. First it seeped down the wall, but in seconds it was gushing uninhibited like a waterfall following its natural course. It poured downwards and pooled, spreading wider and wider across the bare living room floor. Annie called out to Obed and he ran out of the room, returning in a second with a small towel – just a bathmat really. With this flimsy cloth he tried to stem the tide.
I tried asking Annie about more towels or a mop, but the language barrier and the shock that both she and I were feeling, made communication difficult. She had a dismayed, defeated air to her. She had dragged her family from the seat of misery and desperation in Africa, leaving her dead husband behind, to begin a life of light and hope in Australia. She was here with her teenage kids, her young boy Obed and grandson Jojo, they all relied on her. She thought she had turned a corner. But what was this, this violence sent from the devil himself to crush her and sweep her family away once more?

Without power there was nothing to eat. The only food in the cupboard was the maize flour and relish which needed to be cooked in boiling water. Jojo was crying and the house was in darkness, there was water everywhere.

The two older kids still weren’t home so I took Obed with me and went in search of some food.  The worst of the storm had passed but the streets were underwater, many impassable. Cars with windscreens smashed and panels dimpled by hail were ploughing through puddles of uncertain depth, others turning around where they could. Trees were fallen, power lines lay tangled and roofs were smashed. I found a way through to the shops but there was no power anywhere, nothing was open.

I felt shaken and couldn’t think straight. I could feel the chaos in the air, people driving on the wrong side of the road, some wandering out of their houses to stare at the damage. Without much of a plan, but knowing I wasn’t much help there, I dropped Obed back and drove down the Leach Highway towards home. I hoped that Guelor, Annie’s nineteen year old son would come home soon and take charge. He’d at least be able to communicate with her, which I couldn’t. I had only recently signed up as a volunteer to help the Ntumba-Matas learn English, and settle in to their new life in Australia. I wasn’t equipped to deal with this, and well I guess I freaked out and needed some space to think.

As I got near Fremantle the shops were lit up again, and when I got home I found the power on. I had a quick cup of tea, gathered my wits and grabbed a mop and bucket, some candles and drove the thirty minutes back down the Leach Highway. With these supplies and an armful of greasy fast food I arrived at the Thornleigh home to find that Guelor had arrived and had brought some reassurance. The storm had passed and they’d be alright, of course they would.

On a happier day with Jojo and Obed