Memoir of a Neighbourhood
These texts are part of a developing series to be titled The Pomegranate Tree: Memoir of a Neighbourhood. Although begun during 2020/1, they are not a chronicle of that unsettling, distressing time. Rather they are reminiscences of the fifteen years during which I have come to know a neighbourhood at the south-western corner of the suburb of Inglewood in Perth/Boorloo.
Less appreciated than its fancy neighbour Mount Lawley and the until-a-year-or-two-ago much hyped Maylands, for much of its history Inglewood has been overlooked. On occasion, I have even found myself annoyed when inhabitants of other parts of Perth or – ‘that other city’ – Fremantle have failed to know its location! This started to change after the commercial vacancies on the Beaufort Street shopping strip (‘Inglewood Village’) fell during the lockdowns of 2020 and the first half of 2021, and the rents were then suddenly very cheap and opportunity beckoned.
Aside from those usual signs of gentrification, its new cafes, wine-bars and tattoo shop, it was the construction of a multi-storey Woolworths on the site of ‘the Great Bunnings Fire of Inglewood’ (the store burned down in a huge spectacle in 2018) that has marked a turning point for the atmosphere of the area. The neighbourhood, as I have started to record it, has started to fade into nostalgia. Now, after midnight, the calming green light of the supermarket’s large apple logo shines down on the corner of Beaufort Street and Eighth Avenue. There has even been a celebrity-sighting – the actress Isla Fisher at a certain pizzeria.
To those readers who wonder why these texts are written from the point-of-view of a character named Iain: Please understand that to think the best of this world the protagonist needed to be constantly open and optimistic…
On one of his morning walks Iain found himself staring at a mattress that had been left up against a tree. The rest of the discarded furniture was beside it in the skip. It was an unsurprising sight here in the Avenues, that part of Inglewood that he called his own, where no matter the time of the year locals could put out unwanted goods for passers-by. The Avenues themselves are an ideal: parallel streets of bungalows, each perfect behind a white picket fence, many with gardens of mature rosebushes that were planted in the first half of the Twentieth Century by their initial owners, much inspired by English gardens. Almost all the streets in this part of Inglewood are shaded by leafy trees, mostly jacarandas, just like this one that propped up the mattress. Even though he hadn’t yet paused in his walk, Iain noted the good condition of the mattress, almost disappointed that he already had a perfectly functional one at home. He wasn’t the only admirer of the discarded item. Just as Iain came out of the day-dream of his walk, slowing to a stop, he noticed that someone in an old white Beetle had quietly drawn up on the other side of the rusted skip. From behind the skip that man beckoned him. Then he climbed out of his car and approached Iain, saying more with his gestures than with words. The next thing Iain knew, they’d quickly, wordlessly, hoisted the mattress up onto the car’s roof. Then Iain was watching the man busy securing it with one very long length of rope which he looped several times over the mattress and in through the car windows. They hadn’t yet exchanged proper sentences, only those phrases that are sufficient to communicate direction, distance and action, the same kind of jargon that probably would have been used to direct the labourers who constructed the ancient pyramids of Egypt and the Americas. Certainly, those phrases were enough for Iain to hear by the man’s German accent that he was Austrian, and from Vienna. After firmly shaking Iain’s hand to thank him for his assistance, the burly, red-faced man confirmed his origins. Iain then asked him what an Austrian – a Viennese, moreover! – was doing here in the Avenues, in Inglewood, on the lonesome continent of Australia, and the man then took the opportunity to give a rapid account of his life and adventures. What Iain would recall of the man’s account was, roughly, this: He was a butcher who had a tremendous love of travel. That love had taken him from Vienna, across the Middle East and India, and then on to Australia. Immediately on arrival Perth he had decided to make it his home. That was now many years, many decades, ago. He’d travelled all that way in a white Mercedes which he still owned. And although he had also already been the length of Africa in that Mercedes, he intended, all going well, to next undertake an expedition through the whole of South America, starting in Mexico and ending in Tierra del Fuego. After watching that butcher formerly-of-Vienna slowly drive away, the man’s one arm holding the shuddering mattress against the roof of his battered white Beetle, Iain continued along on his usual morning walk, strolling meditatively down one of those very avenues where, every so often, a child’s swing has been suspended from a tree branch, something Iain always regarded as a sign of settled, familial happiness. On that day Iain was heartened, too, by this meeting in Inglewood, if only briefly, with someone who could easily have been the hero of a very old-fashioned adventure novel.
Whenever Iain would think about voting, about going up to the Freemason’s Hall on the corner of Carrington Street and Ninth Avenue, what is literally, if illogically, the southern-most border of Inglewood, he would recall simultaneously both the hall’s picture of Queen Elizabeth the Second, our reigning monarch, and that woman he thought must undoubtedly be the most famous person in Inglewood. That he always thought of the two of them together, and that recalling them was also to him synonymous with being compelled to vote, was inevitable but not ironic – they were both, at least to him, evocations of freedom. To Iain, the most famous person in Inglewood was a female TV newsreader of an Indigenous background. Iain had seen her at least once in the hall casting her vote with all the anonymous others, and yet he felt he must have seen her there many more times over the years Inglewood had been his home. The newsreader had always seemed young to him, almost eternally so. Although this may be an only partially reliable memory, in Iain’s mind’s eye he could clearly see that newsreader with her short dark hair and a serious face who – again, this is an impression – was always there accompanied by her partner, a similarly serious, intent woman. That made sense, as Iain believed it was essential to be serious and intent when going to vote for a future political representative. He wondered why, whenever he recalled seeing the newsreader at the Masonic Hall, he also always thought of our Queen, Queen Elizabeth, our Queen of the British Isles and other remnant dominions. He assumed it must be a consequence of that feeling, that almost sacramental presence, her portrait gives to all government buildings, no matter where in the Commonwealth, to all those rooms, events and ceremonies over which she, albeit only by inanimately watching on, is said to preside. Although the Queen is nowadays only superficially invoked at official ceremonies in Australia, Iain, on one of his morning walks around his own part of Inglewood, spontaneously decided or, more accurately, vowed to always privately, silently, pay homage to that young woman, that TV newsreader, the most famous person in Inglewood, whenever in the future he would hear others mention the British monarch. Let our newsreader, our Narelda – someone very contemporary – be our Queen!
The Other Butcher
The second-most famous person in Inglewood is always seen wearing a pork-pie hat, black T-shirt and black business pants. In a way, Iain did think of him as the king of Inglewood because he always appeared at important events like the weekly Inglewood Night Markets, at those occasional, but important, pubic meetings with the Shire, and at the Saturday morning farmers’ market which takes place in the small courtyard behind his landmark butcher-shop. He seemed to be at every notable event in the neighbourhood. Strangely, Iain had never himself seen the king at his shop, Mondos, or, to use its proper name, MONDO DI CARNE. The shop has its own ersatz street-sign on the opposite side of Beaufort Street, such is its importance in Inglewood. Iain should have known the king’s name as he must’ve been told it over the years, and he certainly could have easily looked it up, either on the Internet or, even more easily, whenever he passed the shop because for as long as he could remember there had been a poster outside advertising the master-butcher’s autobiography, The Flesh in my Life. Iain had thought more than once that he should be duty-bound to read it, being himself a promoter of the world of Inglewood. But, no, Iain preferred to retain some mystery here, some distance from its author, since he well knew that the best form of homage is, inevitably, respectful aloofness. Nevertheless, Iain regarded that butcher as the king of Inglewood and as its presiding spirit, so whenever he was passing Mondos he was contented enough to merely imagine that mysterious man under his pork-pie hat in his black T-shirt and pants, happy to envision him there inside, behind the counter, literally behind the scenes, or hidden somewhere amidst the fog of the walk-in freezer and its ice-white carcasses. The butcher was in this godly elusiveness much, much more than what was suggested by his appellation as the second-most famous person in Inglewood.
Whether he was heading along Eighth Avenue on his way from Maylands train station or was just about to descend into the dappled darkness of the Avenues on one of his midnight walks, whenever Iain was on the crest of the ridge at Carrington Street, facing the flat suburbs extending out far to the north, he felt as if he were in a glider, just about to become airborne. There he would feel as if he were about to have his fate cast to the wind. So whenever he was on the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Carrington Street, he would remember that occasion when in the early hours of the morning he’d returned from an extended sojourn overseas and had, as they say, fallen into conversation with his taxi-driver. Iain knew from the man’s accent that he originated, like one of Iain’s close Australian friends, from the ancient empire of Persia. In the exchange Iain hadn’t mentioned that he found it notable that the man’s compatriots never called themselves Iranians, only ever Persians. The taxi-driver, pleasantly surprised that Iain knew something of his country, began speaking warmly of his childhood there whilst driving them effortlessly from the science-fiction landscape around Perth International airport, out onto the Tokin Highway, along a deserted Guildford Road, then through what was for Iain the terra incognito of Maylands. But it was what happened next, when they’d reached that ridge where Eighth Avenue crosses Carrington Street, that crest and its view so beloved to Iain, that Iain would forever remember. It was there and then that the Persian taxi-driver, one of the world’s great many displaced people who depend on that industry for their first job in their adopted land, began to recite a few lines of the Persian poet Saa’di, verses that, as he explained, are to be found on a prominent wall of the United Nations Building in New York City. The words and their inscription in that distant empire seemed then to Iain more than a source of pride to that bearded man – the Sufi poem was a confirmation of his mother-tongue and of that great poetic language of Farsi. With his thoughts still lingering on that insight, Iain suddenly noticed that they’d already descended the slope and were close to where Eighth Avenue meets Beaufort Street, nearly past the corner of Lawry Lane and his almost hidden home. As the taxi-driver slowed in the darkness, preparing to make the turn, Iain’d had a powerful feeling, if only momentarily and, surely, mistakenly, that Inglewood was equally his home and his world. Iain had thought: With conversations like this, with sufficient imagination, I may never need to travel again.
The author would like to thank the City of Stirling Community Creative Fund for supporting the initial stages of the project as part of its Economic Stimulus and Community Recovery Package; and he acknowledges that the area about which he has written is part of the lands of Wadjak Noongar People.