Mordialloc. 1963. Jamie is like me, the youngest of three brothers. Both of us four years old. Lives across the road. Not far from the racecourse. Calls me Rubbish Bin a few times. He thinks the rhyme is funny. I don’t mind. We kick a plastic footy up and down the street. My family soon moves to Geelong. The racecourse is long gone.
Geelong West. 1964. Andrew lives around the corner. We both live in the shadow of the Cement Works. You can rub the cement dust off the petals of the roses in my front garden in Autumn Street. Andrew’s house is gloomy but he is funny and lively. I never venture past his dark front yard. My family soon moves back to Melbourne. The Cement Works closed down a while back. Was recently demolished.
Mentone. 1967 Billy and I go to St Patrick’s Primary School. Play footy at lunchtime. He calls me Macca. He takes me fishing early one Saturday morning. Not my thing, but he and his Mum look after me. One hot lunchtime Billy and I watch ants crawling across the red bricks of the school hall. The bell rings and we never saw those ants again. My family soon moves back to Geelong. Dad’s work is taking us back and forth.
Geelong West, 1971. Greg lives down the road, opposite the park with the see-saw. He teases me and stirs me but I keep cycling back to his place, even after he flips me off the see-saw. He lives with his younger sister and his Mum. I’d never met a widow. Colin is a ten minute bike ride away. He fixes lawn mowers and bikes, anything. His hands are always greasy. We call him Grub. He doesn’t mind. Peter‘s dad moves from a farm to a factory to support six kids. Gavin’s a fitness fanatic, and sometimes plays table tennis with me. Robbo’s a wild card, one of twelve children. We all go to St Joseph’s College. My family doesn’t move.
Bell Park High, 1976. I change schools after too many arguments with the St Joseph’s headmaster. Vasil and I meet in Year 12 English Literature classes. On weekends we talk about books and music and football, upstairs at his neat as a pin two-storey brick home. I don’t speak his parents’ language, but they welcome me.
University, 1980. Kevin reads a poem in class about how he has never, and will never, understand football. Visiting his home one night Kevin cuts his finger while cooking, so he teaches me how to make vegetarian lasagne.
Sharehouse in Melbourne, 1981. Julie has a spare room in her share house. She’s grown up in Geelong, so we have a few things in common. Quite a few. She likes vegetarian lasagne.
Geelong, 1988. Julie and I marry. Greg’s the best man. Kevin reads a poem. Peter and Vasil and Robbo and Gavin are there too, but Grub’s flown the coop, trying to make a living in Queensland.
Williamstown. Early 1990s. Pat publishes my freelance stories about being a home-dad. He lives in the same suburb. We visit each other now and then. Twenty years older, he is part mentor/part kindred spirit.
An office building. 2005. Walter works on the tenth floor. I’m on the third. We ride home regularly, changing gears and checking traffic while chatting about work colleagues and fishing, and the health of Walter’s wife. We play table-tennis, intense games in my crowded garage.
Geelong and Melbourne, 21st century. High school mate Gavin, the fitness fanatic, dies of a heart attack, alone in his gym. Robbo, once so robust, needs a walking stick and all sorts of medication. Peter recovers from prostate cancer. Walter’s wife dies of breast cancer. Pat is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Is moved into an aged care home on the other side of the city. I visit him too little. We try to talk but the words are hard to come by.
A fishing club. 2010 onwards. I have no interest in fishing but Walter’s fishing club has a good table tennis-table, and plenty of space. Amongst the fishing trophies and the honour board and the photos of big catches, Walter and I have fierce, fun contests on hot summer days. We are alive with exertion, with perspiration, with friendship.
Williamstown. 1985 onwards. Greg, who once flipped me off a see-saw in Geelong, visits with bunches of home grown vegies. Good for the lasagne. I reciprocate from time to time. For thirty-five years we’ve lived just a few streets apart, so I still ride to his house. Just as I did back in 1971, nearly fifty years ago.
(Apologies to the many other friends I couldn’t fit into the story. Bill, Brendan, Greg R, Jan, Stephen, Smokie, Richard, Gina, Clare, Les, Lucia, Loraine, Luke, John D, John B, Daff, Rodger, Chris B, Chris P…. )