Monday, March 26, 2007

Comparative distractions


People often ask me why I left Melbourne, and my answer is "It's personal". Like all of our life-defining relationships, the one we have with where we choose to live - and in what circumstances - is personal ... sometimes very personal.

I love Melbourne. I spent many years there. I made theatre there. I 'came out' (and occasionally wanted to go back in) there. I lost my virginity there. As a schoolboy, I was felt up on the train by a much older man there. My family still live there and so do most of my dearest friends. I made and lost money there. I started smoking there. I learned to drive there and had my first (and so far only) car crash there. I returned there from three years in Europe and I have buried friends there ... and I have swam, danced and sang there. Ultimately, the largest part of the person I am today was found and formed there.

I think it is for that reason that today, I find returning to Melbourne immensely challenging. Certainly, Melbourne is home to my precious friends with whom I can share silence. We sit in cafes and breathe through the pauses in our lives without justification and we laugh ... but Melbourne is also a place where the gutters, streetscapes, routines, sounds and smells all combine to become like a song I used to like ... or a movie I've seen too many times. I know how it ends. Traffic along Punt Road still crawls along at a deadline-threatening pace - and you still only end up in Clifton Hill. Fitzroy Street still ends before it's really begun - and the promise of neurotic little Acland Street is still so palpable. Whenever I re-visit Melbourne, even in my mind, it is Acland Street I need to see first. I was bashed and robbed there, yet it's as though all the difference I was expecting Sydney to make to my life is underwritten by the ease with which I can slip back into my easy Acland Street habits.

Some years ago, I wrote an article (for a little magazine) that drew on various comparisons between Melbourne and Sydney. "Melbourne always has something up her sleeve. Sydney doesn't wear sleeves," I opined. It strikes me, now, as altogether more complex than that. I have often found myself defending Melbourne and, equally as often, defending my choice to leave ... and admittedly, it is only recently that have started going back there to spend Christmas with my family and Saturnalia with my friends. Making the effort, as it were, as opposed to slagging off about the old girl - as though, through no fault of her own, she had outlived her usefulness and purpose. Today, as I sat waiting for my Qantas 747-400 to be pushed back for the race up the runway home, I realised that the reality is quite profoundly different. There is a part of me that will always be a Melbourne boy and there is a part of me that Sydney and I must share the responsibility for. As a complete individual though, I hold the memories and experiences of who I became after two years in London ... and what Paris taught me about myself. Each of these places become geographical points of reference - time and place are only ever two certainties in the equation we live to solve: where do I belong and what do I hope to achieve there.

I understand something today that I didn't understand yesterday. Where I am going - and how I am getting there - has nothing to do with which city has the harbour and the opera house and which city has the MCG and the best shops. It has nothing to do with the comparative amounts of sunshine, humidity or rainfall. Melbourne is a part of who I am. Sydney is a part of who I am. So is everywhere I have ever been ... and everywhere I am yet to go.

I love Melbourne.

Photo: Acland Street (courtesy travelvictoria.com.au)

2 comments:

Snidley Whiplash said...

I sense greatness in your writing, Geoffrey. Your prose style is silvery in its easiness upon the mind and your reflections are as gentle as they are compelling. Thank you, and please write more and more and more and.....

Anonymous said...

...and more and more and more ... JD