John Clare Writings

Melbourne: Blues To Be There

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My eyesight began to improve almost immediately after a burst of anger. perhaps this anger had been suppressed during very likely the worst two years of my life. Now look here. I can see the individual leaves of that tree down near the water. I can distinguish nearby individual pine needles where the sun has touched them. They are like pale braided cords threaded through the deep green, and like pale gold short lengths of string They remind me of cedars in Japan. I am riding slowly through the park at Glebe Point. There is a cricket oval along the left path and this is often used for Australian Rules. Today the mighty bombers are playing possibly Collingwood. They wear the anarchist’s colours of red and black and this is the colour scheme of my helmet – bar a couple of white lines – and also my bike and while of course these are the colours of Essendon in Victoria they are, I have just learned, also Glebe’s colours now.

All of this is united in my mind in a notable coincidence. Essendon is where we lived in Melbourne when we migrated south. In time to see the last game played by the great Essendon full forward John Coleman – having recently seen Clive Churchill play, who was the Australian Rugby League captain and captain also of South Sydney, which was our team. That would have been in 1954.

I leave my bike leaning against the brick toilet block which has drawn me up this path to have a pee and walk over to the white picket fence of the oval and watch from close quarters the ground manoeuvres of the rucks and rovers if that’s what you call them (so long, so long ago). The ball is scooped up, punched on to another player who dodges an opponent and punches it on again to a player who kicks it into the middle of the field where there is a moderately spectacular high mark. The reaching arms of crucifixion or triumph are in themselves a kind of spectacle. Up this close I had watched Jack Clark – older brother of the runner Ron who lit the final torch of the 1956 Olympic flame- running and dodging and punching or kicking the ball on. You cannot throw the ball in this game, so it is propelled forward in a series of percussions, tiny and panoramic (in that sense like soccer) from foot and fist, all of which seemed a little ludicrous when I first saw it. The sun runs on toned legs and arms today and on the fabric of sleeveless jumpers.

The Clarks and I went to Essendon High, but they were older and I did not know them, though one Clark was the uncle of a friend, Ross Christie. Talismanic names unfurl in my head. Punt Road, Footscray, Fitzroy, Pascoe Vale, Exhibition Street, Windy Hill, Lonsdale Street, Swanston Street… Maribyrnong! Mornington, Dromana. We lived in Braemar Street, and McCracken Street ran down past the school, and just to blend with the Scottish theme, my best friend was a Scot, George Power, who lived in Glenroy to the north of Essendon. Glenroy! All this is true. Our very first phone number anywhere was FX1526. We rose in the world when we went down to Melbourne. The first Holden was an FX, the second the FJ. The company supplied my father – now a factory manager in South Melbourne, with an FJ utility. He became a man of Melbourne. Here in Sydney on a brilliant day, with vision – the prince of senses according to Nabokov – I am nostalgic for Melbourne, just as in Melbourne I was nostalgic for Sydney. It is in fact a freezing winter’s day, but there are lakes and reaches of blue sky and dazzling white clouds in stretching brush strokes and sculptural forms. In the last email I had from Allan Browne he told me that The Edge on this blog had given him a fuller sense of Sydney’s topography. He said he could see the new place where I now lived through my writing. In the end I was indeed writing for Allan. He was my ideal reader. He died before I could tell him that he was Melbourne for me. An opinion shared by many others. He also said “In AA we believe in a greater power and I am praying for your health and the restoration of your vision”.

About 30 musicians followed his silver hearse through Melbourne’s heart (without permission, but no one interfered). They played ‘Just a Closer Walk’ and of course ‘Didn’t He Ramble?’ According to Louis Armstrong they played ‘Flee As A Bird’ before ‘Didn’t He Ramble?’ at New Orleans Funerals. Few of the younger players would know the first tune. They all knew Allan and loved him..

So many people who will not die, in a sense, while I live. When I die will we all be dead?

Incidentally’Blues To Be There’was the name of a section of Duke Ellington’s Newport Suite in 1968. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn were great heroes for Allan and me.


P.S.  As I write this, Australian Rohan Dennis has won the first stage of Le Tour de France in Essendon colours!

1 Comment

  1. Marc – 27 July 2015

    Glad to hear you’re back on the bike!


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