Australia 2000 - 2003
Back in Melbourne after the 1999-2000 trip
Riding to work
My breakfast-free body slips out of the house and into a bright untroubled morning. I've decided to fast, to adopt the spirit of inner amends-making, but there's a gap. A gap that this clear sunny Melbourne morning mocks as I ride my bike workwards.
In my head, last nights news video of the Arab boy cowering in a Gaza corner, alive, terrified, then, suddenly, dead, struck by Israeli bullets, his father trying to protect him, shouting at them to stop, then himself succumbing to a sudden, horrifying sleep.
And then, the denials, the blame-passing, the resigned shrug. That's what happens. He shouldn't have been there, throwing stones. (Was he? Does it matter?) My mind is a world away as I cross Nicholson Street.
You fuckers. You better make bloody good use of this day, the Day of Atonement. I turn into the Canning Street bike path. Will you apologize to the mother, or do only Jews count? My head is clouded, swollen with the reports on the Internet I've been reading for this last week of blood. And more, no doubt, to come when I reach work.
I stare absentmindedly at the eaves of the renovated workers cottages as I ride by, their names betraying English country yearnings: Pansy, Heathmont, Mill Cottage. Then something hooks the corner of my eye - a Star of David, triangles entangled like lovers' limbs, sitting in relief atop a small cream cottage. I'm a little stunned at this confluence of paths .
Those people (my people?) - they migrated to Carlton, led poor quiet lives in its cottages, gave money for the homeland, then shipped out to the other side of town. Their cousins and brothers - the grandparents of the twenty year-olds aiming their M16s at the stone throwers?
Football match, 2000
We take our seats in the huge stadium, clouds shifting above us, the four huge light towers staring down, the tall buildings of Melbourne behind.
Around us are 22,000 people wrapped in team colours. At 2.00, sirens sounds and the two teams run out onto the ground to a massive roar and waving of flags: the Adelaide Crows and the North Melbourne Kangaroos, last year's grand finalists. A woman cries "Oh you filth, you bloody dickhead" as the game unfolds.
Two days ago I'd walked my bike towards the grounds of the MCG, unaware of the crowds spilling out from the Friday night game. Reaching the park surrounding the Gee, I saw the people streaming through the gates, cursed, and took a deep breath before launching into the throng. I weaved my way
through the masses of scarf-wearing people, up onto the pedestrian bridge now crammed with football-goers on the way home, resplendent in their Crows tshirts.
Seagulls hover in the dusk, floating above the hallowed ground. The final siren sounds, a last goal is kicked, the North Melbourne song blares out. The team of Joseph Gutnik, Lubavitcher businessman, has won.
David calls in the morning as I get ready for work. He sounds distant, distracted. He tells me he's leaving Israel for a few months. He's leaving next week.
Where are you going?
I dont know, America a little bit, Europe a little bit. I stay with my sister in America, we see. Here is too much problem, all the time problem, Im sick of it. Tamar and Michal, they come and live here in Bat Yam, so you can call here, call Bat Yam, and you can speak to them.
I ask him if there's any chance of him visiting Australia. I tell him he can extend his ticket.
Yes I know, a round, a round ticket.
I'll pay the difference - why don't you come here too?
OK, OK..maybe I come. We see.
(I feel a bit sick - will he disappear into the air? Will I again be left with just the photo, just the photo of the man on a beach, smiling?)
When are you going?
Wednesday, maybe Tuesday.
I'll try to phone you before you go.
OK, if you like...
(An oddly detached feeling, numb and disbelieving)
(add Dr Rosenzweig..he is here now, he said you write to him, you want to stay in his apartment)
The next week is busy. I try to phone when I can, but there is always no answer.
It's May now. I've kept trying, but no answer. I've emailed Michal; no response yet. Possibilities have formed, cloud-like, in my head.
This is the kind of man my father is: all these possibilities are believable, some more than others, but all are believable:
- He has cleared out for the reasons he stated; a spontaneous clearing out. I think of him leaving Munich and the apartment. I think of him leaving the spectre of conflict, responsibility. And Freuke is dead.
- He is escaping the tax people. I think of his court worries during my stay, him pacing, taking calls, seeing his lawyer, telling me not to worry and grinning, telling me he is getting nerves.
- He is in jail. They have put him in jail, the tax people.
- He is doing something for the Mossad
Today I read that the Israelis have ambushed and killed 5 Palestinian policemen. Two days ago two Israeli boys had their heads bashed in with rocks in a cave.
Life in Australia is the same - it's getting colder, the dollar's down, but that's about it.
Where are you?
2001 in Melbourne
Sunday afternoon, September 8 2001.
Sunny. Sitting outside on Sydney Road with Sylvie and Rod who have the memorabilia shop. Young guy from next door's fabric shop leans against rolls of his products displayed on the footpath. He's introduced as Mo.
They're chatting about food.
Dunno, says Sylvie, I might get a sandwich today. Some meat and some salad.
You eat pork? Mo asks.
Yes, it depends. I like ham. You don't, do you?
No. It's dirty, I will never eat.
I like it, says Rod.
But me not.
That's because you're Muslim, says Sylvie. Is your wife Muslim too?
No, she is Christian.
And your son?
He is Muslim - of course. He goes to Muslim school. I am the father - she do what I say.
Mo looks across the road.
Muslim, it is clean religion. Is very good. Live good with all, all the people. And is clean also. You go, you know, to toilet, only Muslim, he wash himself with the water every time he go. Every time.
We watch people pass.
He turns to Sylvie: you know, I worry for you. Why don't you open shop earlier? You get more business.
We like to sleep Mo, some days we couldn't be bothered.
It's no good. You should wake earlier so you can open more. I care about you. Me, I am open all day, seven days. It's better, you do more business.
An Indian woman stops, examines some fabric and walks into Mo's shop.
I see you soon.
Sylvie turns to me. Geez, there's something for you.
Wednesday, 12th September.
You know the story. We all have the "I was ------ when it happened" story. the newspapers have been full of them.
I was in the shower when Barb left a terse, quiet message to call her at work.
I called her back - she told me that two planes had been flown into the World Trade Centre in New York. 50,000 people worked in those buildings, she said.
I logged on to the New York Times and read the story, disbelieving. Then I cycled to work. The Sport and Rec department was in another world. It's not usually inclined towards politics, but today every classroom has CNN blaring from a TV set, dozens of transfixed students staring at the screen. It was like that all day - not a lot of work got done.
Thursday, 13th September
On the way to work, I see that the sign for the Middle East Herald, opposite the Coburg Railway Station, has a few dots of silver paint on it. That afternoon, coming back the other way, I see a slogan sprayed on an electricity box next to the station in the same silver paint:
NUKE ALL ARABS
A day or two later it will be doctored with white paint. Now it will read:
(relate this to Church of the Holy Creator stickers)
Friday, 14th September
We drop into Foxy's birthday dinner at the Afghan Gallery restaurant -a deliberate choice of venue. It's late, about 10.45pm. I turn slowly into a side street to park the car. A couple of guys are standing next to an alleyway, talking loudly and pissing. One of the guys looks to my left and shouts viciously:
WHATCHA YA LOOKIN' AT, YA ASIAN CUNT?
I look up and meet the eyes of the looker, both of us shocked.
8 March 2002
At Melbourne University - go to library for my Masters research.
Lock up my bike - a Crumpler-style bag sits there on the steps. Nobody cares. Thank god for Australia.
In the uni bookshops Jewish studies section. There's a book about the Rabin assassination on the shelves...looks interesting.
A few days later, I find the book in a second-hand shop in Healesville.
23 April 2002
Going out of car park in car. Arafat is taking cash - see, he is concerned with the small details, not the big picture. I try to find Jordanian money (30 Dinars) can't find immediately, he's impatient, gruff, dark. I'm scared for my safety.
Somehow I'm living there. It's not a car park now but a concrete home. I look out the window as I put dishes back in the cupboard. There are Israeli snipers everywhere on the roofs. I back away. I'm under siege.
(They are arguing about where to put the wall)
I meet up with my father in his house. Small little house (terrace?), wide Adelaide-style street. Hallway to left, rooms off to right. Hes lost his spark, seems defeated, listless. The vibe between us is weird. The house is worn, poky.
We go the front walled garden. A guy comes in through the front gate, speaks Hebrew to David. I notice then he wears camo and carries a large portable bazooka/cannon. Soon I go out into the street, into the car. From the car window I see hundreds of military arms - missiles, rocket launchers etc - lined up against the wall from outside Davids house and into the distance. A marketplace. A bazaar. They have big price signs on them, garish and flouro like a used car yard.
Melbourne, Elizabeth Street. Stop at the lights, on my bike. I see a businessman in a suit and a skullcap walking down La Trobe Street. I think yarmulke, cant remember the Hebrew word. I cant remember? Is it all going? What is it? Oh yeah, its a kipa. I do remember. The light turns green.