Contemporary Historical Fiction

The thing about this city is, it is home; home to many people, including immigrants; who, having left their shores for a life in the lucky country, worked hard to make a place for themselves and their families; and their families, in turn, never looked back.  In the sixties, when we came, life was tough, the immigrants were tougher, the children learned to be, and laughed and cried together or apart, which strengthened them, and their resolve, to push forward regardless of opposition. Ah, it was the sixties though, and, well, I remember them, even though on reflection, as a child, my troubles were few.

I marvelled even then at the cultures we embraced; much later, the intake and variety of immigrants widened horizons which we took in our stride. It was a part of the city we love; the city that embraced tree-lined streets, beautiful parks and seaside escapes from Port Melbourne, where we departed from a sea voyage into an unknown world, down streets where the smell of the seaside filled our nostrils. Yet underneath was the hard work of those who wanted to succeed.

Take Spiros, for instance, a cabinet maker to trade. He left Greece on his own, leaving his wife Rita and two children behind. Once he had found a place to live and was able to earn enough to keep them, his family, complete with his parents, came to Australia. Or Guido from Naples, a factory worker during the day, a musician at night and most weekends. What was the difference between the two men? Guido and his wife Rosa did everything together; Rita saw the wisdom in waiting. Rosa packed the children off to an Italian neighbour and became a tea lady in an office to help make ends meet. Remember those days when the office had tea, ladies? No running off to the canteen or kitchenette to heat your lunch or put milk on your cornflakes, hoping your boss would turn a blind eye to your lack of preparation in the morning before clocking on? Yes, the Rosa’s and Rita’s of the world never appeared to be stressed, always had time to ask you how life was and give you some homely advice; partly in English mostly in their native tongue, if needed, but you knew they would quite happily dry your tears, make you a meal, and light a candle for you when they went to Mass if you needed prayer.

Then there was Jock straight “oot” from Glasgow, who took any job he could get so as the ‘bairns’ and Lizzy could be comfortable. He met up with Tom, also known as Tam. Together they worked in the gardens, factories, or offices and their wives cleaned houses saving money for the deposit for their homes. Other Brits followed suit or had trades but could not work on them, because their credentials were not recognised; until the seventies and eighties altered that. They took anything and climbed the ladder because Australia was a land of opportunity, and Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney welcomed immigrants to their shores. Melbourne was surrounded by beauty, laced with history, paid for with hard work.  Country towns sported smaller versions of the same, the Australians were hard-working, kind-hearted, mates for life, which cannot be forgotten.   

Yet in the sixties, the new Aussies met people like Joan and Bob; couples who, where they could, adopted the new accents into their family, helped them out and became Aunty and Uncle to all the children making sure that at Christmas no one missed out on “tucker” or a gift. That was when hard yakka was the norm; you helped each other shared a beer or a whiskey, and the kids went to school, getting used to different educational styles and cultures. There was no racism at that level; there were black or teary eyes, but this was life in Melbourne. Teachers who comforted the victim or told the bully off, earned the respect of those whose little minds could be shaped by their skills.  The expression “Poor Me” never entered the vocabulary; therefore, although simple, life went on. This was the city I grew up in, and my parents, the Jock’s and Lizzy’s of the world, embraced tough love.   In Scotland, Jock (Or Tam, or Ian) was as good as his master, never better than his master; but ‘Masters’ (or bosses) were respectful because the Jock’s earned rather than demanded respect.

Aussie kids, as the adverts on the television would say, the “Weetbix kids” grew beside the immigrant children. There were two options there too, either you made friends, or you were sworn, enemies. You would hear jeering or see ‘box on’ fights; kids were learning independence, to be strong niggled by consciences; that inner voice that would nudge them if they were wrong. In the background were the Wong’s; at that stage, well respected. They owned the Chinese restaurants, the only takeaway meals available; their ancestors were there from the gold rush days in Castlemaine, Ballarat or Bendigo. They worked hard, and their smiles of welcome were noticed. I went to school with ‘Jill’, whose father seemed to forget her packed lunch but came up to the school with enough dim sims to feed the class, as though making certain that nobody went hungry. Ah, the sixties! I was young then and naive!

The days of autumn parades, or Anzac Day where those who went to war fighting for Australia were honoured. Those tree-lined streets embraced the ex-servicemen, for they were the lucky ones they came back home. No parades in summer;  the heat of which necessitated visits to the beach to cool off, for air conditioners were not readily available and fans were noisy things.

Melbourne, a bustling city; of trams trains and aeroplanes, the occasional horse-driven coaches, postmen on bicycles who were friendly to the kids. All surrounded by the architecture that was so Melbourne, its struggles, wealth and purpose. Tiny miners cottages, some brick most were weatherboard that sell these days for a small fortune, while the city sprawls out. Where once there were paddocks and gum trees, there are now modern homes. In fact, Melbourne is now enormous and expensive but sadly, much has altered. It still manages to be home, for she embraces her children and the children love Mother Melbourne dearly.

Amid modern technology, is the rat race. The so-called equality of the eighties that the disabled worker, the woman who stayed home tied to the kitchen sink and the man who was normally pushed aside in favour of loud noisy ‘all words but no action leaders’, were employed irrespective of their past. It never really altered the minds of those who thought themselves greater than everyone else, it just made them accountable; thus the courage of yesteryear began to fail.  New age requirements rock her roots but Melbourne is still home; she is still beautiful even in her old age.

Today, though it is still home, Melbourne is depicted as a place of control; of people fighting back for freedom. This is largely due to the media’s modern twist which I call hype and fizz, it is well known that the world is seen through the camera lens and the voice of those who deviate when reporting the news and speculate on the future.

Alas, this is not just Melbourne it is worldwide. With technology and the easy life, people, in general, are exposed to fragility of a different kind. Communication now being via the Internet and freedom of speech is taken for granted or abused it is sad to watch all the things that made me strong are disappearing; the price of freedom and ease.

Upon reflection, the world pandemic has brought us back to some extent to what we were. What is important now, is an acceptance of the enforced change. We have had to re-learn how to communicate, via screens, sporting events, church services, children’s playgrounds monitored for health reasons. While this is sad it is the opportunity to recall and regroup. No more TV or restaurant dinners, through fatigue, but old-fashioned stews, hygiene is a priority, and concern for those less fortunate emerges, as it should.

The thing about this city is that it has not changed so much that it is unrecognisable.; unlike the war-torn embers of other nations. It is still beautiful and to some extent, Australia despite its cracks, is still a lucky country and I love it. Most particularly, I love Melbourne with all my Scots-born being; for the thing about this city of Melbourne is: it is my home.

March 17, 2021 21:59

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