Originally published in Honi Soit. Find the article here.
The trolley rattles as I push it down the corridor towards the operating theatre. Patients are eating their lunch at this time of the day. The hall smells like mashed potato and powdered chicken soup. I smile at the man who’s always sitting on a bench at the end of the corridor, but he stares back at the floor. We’re told to greet anyone who comes within five metres of us. You never know why someone finds them self in a hospital.
I pass through two sets of locked doors to get to the loading bay of the operating theatre. The corridor and its uncomfortable food smells are replaced by cold plastic floors and the sour odour of medical sanitation. There’s a yellow line on the floor which I’m forbidden to cross, marking the perimeters of the sterile zone. Beyond the line, nurses robed in ice-blue garments, masks, and caps hurry in and out of rooms. I can only see their eyes, gazing at me as I unload the trolley. Some of them ignore me all together.
I reverse the trolley out through the double doors back into the corridor, careful not to let them slam on my way out. It’s warm, and now the air smells of rosemary. I’m glad that it does.
It was a mistake, trying to bring three wheelie-bins at once. I’m struggling, grasping two handles in one hand, and one in the other. There’s no hand free to cover my eyes from the sun, and my legs are cooking in the black trousers I had to buy from Target for this job. Silver-haired couples leaving their cars scowl at me as I struggle across the bitumen towards the garbage compressor, bins rumbling as I go. I don’t like to make noise. I’m only working here a few weeks.
As I go to lift the first bag from the bin and into the chute, I hear the soft sound of thin plastic splitting. Glass bottles make a gentle thud as they land on a bed of used tissues at the bottom of the bin. Fuck—the bag has broken. I gag as the smell of rotting fruit erupts from the bag. The rip grows as I try to salvage the remnants, and something wet touches my hand. Fuck this. There’s no going back now; I squat and, grasping the bottom of the green plastic vessel, lift it over the side of the compressor. Glass smashes, banana skins slop, and plastic crackles as the contents pour into the chute. I hit the button and watch the machine eat it all up.
I hope no one saw that. I think the silver-haired couples did.
The lunch room
A shiver runs down my arms as I push the cart along the aisle. The air-conditioning is always running at full bore in the supply shed, and the place smells like plastic packaging and cardboard. I move slowly up and down the shelves, collecting the supplies listed on the sheet. Unit 3 wants two boxes of Clindamycin. I unlock the drug cupboard and scan: left to right, top to bottom. I’ve done this one a million times, but I can never remember where it is. From the other end of the shed comes a grunt that resembles the word “lunch.” The Clindamycin will have to wait.
Taking my sandwich from the fridge, I seat myself in the corner of the tiny, damp office. The chair I sit in every day has a big stain on the upholstery. It was occupied by a stack of papers before my arrival. My co-workers make their way in, cold Tupperware containers in hand, ready to be invigorated by the microwave. The small room is overwhelmed by the aroma of leftover curry and rice. Another one enters with a bag of hot chips.
I don’t talk much. One of the guys is watching a dash-cam compilation, and I nod along as they talk about cars. We stay seated right up until the last second of 12:29. The phone rings and the manager answers.
He puts down the phone and looks at me. “You gave Unit 2 the wrong fluid bags.”
I feel like I am neatly posited in a white envelope, having been laid in these crisp, coarse sheets. They make me feel a coolness, but I’m still warm. I turn my weak neck to rest the side of my head on the pillow, and close my eyes. My body is too nauseated to breathe deeply, and I’m quietly puffing through my nose. The morning light, the soft bed, and the comfort of my mother at my side distracts me from my sickness, and I drift into light sleep.
The girl at the front desk recognised me when I came in. I passed the cleaner on the way up to the ward, who gave me a vague smile when he noticed my familiar face. It’s only been a couple of months. The nurses are all very nice to me now.
I eat my lunch sitting up in bed. Steam rises as I lift the cover from the plate. It’s lasagne with roast vegetables. There’s tea and biscuits on the tray, and a cup of chicken soup.
When I go to shower, there’s no shampoo or conditioner in the bathroom. I ask my mum to get some from the nurses.“I doubt they’d have conditioner,” she says.
“They do,” I reply, “I know which shelf it’s on.”
It was stupid of me to say I would have to go away.
And to say it to you.
Because there is no more or less here than where you are.
The past is no more, no less.
It is only further.
I often wonder if something in your chest went cold.
But you needed only to look into my eyes.
‘You'd find it there”, you said.
As if you knew there was something in me worthy of it.
Farewell to time
In the feeble golden city we walked the silent streets.
We were quiet
But I know by the way you look at the ground and grin that you are ready to speak.
I stare at my feet.
The green grass beneath flickers under a sun shadow sheath.
It covers your face. I catch glimpses brief
Of you on your side, ground to your cheek.
Looking to the foliage deep from where the sky seeps,
I can’t see you looking at me.
Like we’re restlessly asleep we move our arms, legs, feet,
Sit up, fall down meek
As you tell me of your week.
Moving in a circle, ever closer to each
Until in the centre we meet
And the side of my head can reach
The bottom of your neck.
I can feel you breathe.
Amongst yours my fingers weave and fall apart again.
They rest on your knee.
Then we stop moving.
We don’t have to speak.
You’re face down with your hands under your cheek
And my cheek beneath your soft smelling hair like wheat
That spreads from my eye to my teeth.
And I wonder if this is bliss,
Or just peace.
The church bells don’t sound like they did before.
All that can be heard is stiff metal clanging.
There is no echo or ringing.
Maybe the walls have grown over their pores, or the stone no longer wants to listen.
Or perhaps it is the bells, their insides rounded down and covered in soft scars.
Maybe someone has stolen the clapper and replaced it with a small spoon.
The throbbing bronze orb is nowhere to be seen.
My angel voice won't fill the space, when once I only had to whisper.
When I try to raise the holy ghost with semitones, the chant falls dead.
It is like I am singing my requiem in a plain of long grass, where there are no walls to sing it back to me.
I had not sung until today, and I had forgotten some of the words.
But today I sung in the plain. It is nicer.
There, the last note does not linger in the vaults.
The clapper was later found nestled in the grass, not far from where I was standing.
It had turned to glass. Someday soon I will put it back in the bell.
...I’ve stared into deep black waters at night,
seeing and remembering everything that once was,
everything that felt beautiful and exhilarating and unique to this world,
moments which looking back upon brings momentary nostalgia, warm,
filled with muted pain and soft sighs which will never be heard.
I stay above the waters edge.
I go home to my bed, tired and wide awake,
and dream of you.
Published in Honi Soit (find it here).
Bundaberg is the place I grew up.
It’s a small city—regional Queensland. People like to think anywhere outside of Brisbane is a one-street ice epidemic. But Bundaberg is a nice place.
The city is surrounded by cane fields on all sides. When crushing season comes, a sweet, yet sulphurous steam from the mill pours into the afternoon air. When they burn the fields, delicate strands of ash rain over the whole town. They turn to dust in your hands if you try to catch them.
The sun shines almost every day. Going outside is a game of finding shade, or else having your mother remark how burnt you are at the dinner table that evening.
I come from two old families. My mother’s father’s parents settled there in the 20s and opened a cafe. They were Greek. My dad’s family were school teachers and cattle auctioneers. They’re Irish and English, and they’ve been there since the early days.
Our house is over a hundred years old, in the Queenslander style. It’s made of timber—cooling in the summer—and has a long verandah. It’s always full of sun and air. When I was a baby my mum painted the house light blue, with yellow walls inside. There are gardens all around, and a backyard that any child would dream of. You could always find shade there.
One of my first memories is of a winter morning in that house, when I walked with my grandmother over the wooden hallway floor into our kitchen. She was living with us at the time. The sight of her hand holding mine frightened me: there were blood spots, and thick violet veins protruding from her delicate skin.
I can remember the feeling of lying on her lap. She was tender and loving, in a way that has always made me want to cry when I think or speak of her. She died shortly after that cool morning in the hallway.
Every Sunday in the summer, my mum would take my two brothers and me to the beach. We’d pull up in the carpark and run across the burning bitumen to the flour-like sand. My auntie Pauline would already be sitting in her fold-out chair. “Jesus, where’ve you been?” she’d ask me as I threw my towel down next to her. She always phoned in advance to see what time we’d get there. Auntie Pauline was my godmother, and she made me laugh. Her hair was tinted black as the night, and she wore thick gold bangles on both wrists.
My grandad’s chair would be next to hers, empty. He would be off strolling up and down the beach, talking to all the regulars. You’d spot him with his walking stick, slowly making his way back. It was as if you could see his deep tan getting darker as he walked. He came to the beach every day. It was where he belonged. My mother says that the ocean is in our blood, from him.
We would migrate between the water and the warm sand, where we’d eat and chat. I loved hearing my grandad talking to his two daughters. “Did you hear old Mrs Briggs died?” someone would say. “Yeah, saw it in the paper. Shame, she was a lovely woman.”
When the sun got too strong, we would go home.
After his heart attack, grandad wouldn’t come to the beach anymore. I think he lost a part of himself because of it. He died when I was in Year 12.
Now that I live in Sydney, sometimes it hurts my mother to think that I don’t miss home. But everywhere I go, I look for it; in the shade of a tree, on cool mornings, when submerged in the ocean and in the words I speak and hear. It is the feeling of being loved.
I have his hands
I used to gaze at them, deep and strong
Broadening at the knuckles.
Thick fingers extend like trunks.
Bronze of pigment.
Mine, soft and transparent,
Their bones are his.
The last time I saw them
Gold faded to green
I made sure of it.
It is not enough to know that we are gazing at the same night stars.
Each day that I cannot search your eyes our distance grows more austere.
I see what before I did not.
The way the lights on the hills shimmer.
The way this city has become my own.
The ducts prepare tears
for an ache thought forgotten.
They stay behind eyes.
Something I wrote stopped me.
I couldn't think or write any more.
'It was the way I felt when we were together,
and then when we weren't.'
skin shimmers, as light make its way through the stirring foliage.
my world is green, gold and soft blue.
under my arms, around my waist the thin air meanders, sensual and transient.
my frantic mind is subdued.
a longing soul surrenders.
Every city needs its narratives. They remind us that our experiences are shared ones. Towards the beginning of The Preatures' set at the Enmore Theatre last Saturday, the third show of their national tour launching the new album Girlhood, front woman Izzi Manfredi told the audience, "a lot of people have been saying that this record's about me being a woman in the recording industry. That's just fucking false. I wrote it about growing up here in Sydney, being a girl." It was clear that she was glad to be home.
The Preatures are the quintessential Sydney band: hard to define like the city's character, a fascinating mix of subcultures, styles and stories, always drawing from the past, yet inextricably modern. Girlhood is an undoubtedly sentimental album, largely based on Manfredi's formative adolescent years. Each song creates an image in which we can all place ourselves: walking home at 4 am under a star-filled Australian sky, trying to figure our shit out in high school, smoking in the dark alone, getting your heart broken, feeling invincible. There is an element of melancholy too, perhaps the band reflecting on the way our lives have become less spontaneous in the hyper-technical, over-regulated modern world (Manfredi is also a known supporter of the Keep Sydney Open movement). Nonetheless, at one of the city's most iconic venues The Preatures paid homage the stories we've all shared in this place in an exhilarating homecoming, and their fans were glad to have them back.
The night opened with supporting acts Hair Die and Polish Club, both fellow Sydney bands. An-up and-coming post punk group, Hair Die definitely seem to have their shit together. Consisting of red-haired brothers Cal, Monty, Sam and lead vocalist Alys Hale, their stage presence is as enticing as their no-bullshit approach to music. Check out their first single here. Polish Club describe themselves as "the sweatiest rock band in Sydney" and the audience could attest to it. The duo of David Novak and John-Henry Pajak juiced their 45 minute set and had the crowd in the palm of their hand, asking the minors in the building to cover their ears for the track Don't Fuck Me Over.
The main act made their way onto the stage to thunderous applause and launched into the night with I Know A Girl, their infectious girl-power anthem from 2016 celebrating the women in Manfredi's life. It was the perfect introduction to the new material from Girlhood, interspersed with favourites from their 2014 debut Blue Planet Eyes. The stage was bathed in blue light for the rock ballad Magick, a bittersweet breakup track that wooed the crowd with its droning synth and guitar chords beneath Manfredi's provocative vocals. The title track Girlhood was electrifying, as the singer looked over the audience with her signature death stare-cum-grin, singing "whatever makes me a modern girl, well nothing makes me a modern girl."
A highlight of the night was Yanada, the song which Manfredi co-wrote with Sydney Darug woman Jacinta Tobin, the chorus of which is sung in the indigenous Dharug language, (Yanada means moon in Dharug). The singer paused to tell the crowd the story of its inception, of how she felt the need to pay respect to the people of the land on which she has lived and experienced her own sense of belonging to. She spoke of the importance of recognising and learning indigenous culture and language, a narrative of Sydney, and more broadly Australia, that can often be overlooked. Along with its profound significance, Yanada was a hit.
Cherry Ripe was another more mellow moment, a ballad in which Manfredi speaks to her younger self, a confused teenager in a tumultuous search for identity, not knowing her full potential. We'd all been there.
She told us Night Machine was the last song. We knew it wasn't. Following deafening applause Izzi returned to the stage alone, sitting at a keyboard beneath a single white light for Your Fan, a simple and immensely likeable tune reflecting on her journey, from being a fan of music to being a musician. She reminisces on the days of fantasizing over her idols, camping out for tickets, reading TV Magazine, the days before social media and phones, when things were more genuine. The atmosphere was palpable. It was magical.
But it was too sombre of a note to end on. The band returned to the stage and launched into their best known hit, Is This How You Feel?, a song you can't help but move to. Streaming out onto Enmore Road, the crowds were buzzing and rowdy. It was 11:30 but it felt like the night was young. The Preatures' might be lamenting the loss of old-world charm or our decreasingly spontaneous experiences.
But they're bringing it back for us.
and the places they've taken me.
hot wednesday night
march, ten fifty
station empty, filled
by the air of the city
cigarettes and concrete
carbon dioxide, cooking meat
history dying beautfully,
from circular quay station
A dollar eighteen
all with eyes to a screen
with an opal
am free as a wave
that wears at the ancient headland
that the queen to us once gave
these tunnels are the portals
between class, lives and times
equal in our silence we ride
all heading somewhere
to each other, unknown
yet this small space we share
for 13 minutes, like a home
we listen in on each other's conversations
rent, problematic children
and romantic depreciations
we never dare ask of the other's world
we sit, we gaze, but never unfurl
the ball of fermenting tales of the days events
or the anguish inside, which we so yearn to vent
but once did i see
this film of inner city alienation
fractured by an infectious joy
on the night of gay celebrations
an elated young woman, immune to train rider muteness
burst into song, and then a thing of beauty
blossomed as the carriage of commuters
lay down their pride
and joined her in a chorus
but there are times when some talk
when deeply unwanted
those who are cold,
to humanity absconded
with new found strength from the oblivious tunnel
their tongue as a fist
the weak they pummel
for the the clothes that they wear or the race of their mother
for their ancestral faith, for being an other
those of good heart speak up and defend
a recording to sunrise a bystander will send
On we ride
under cool white lights
under streets silent
subdued by the night
an announcing voice calls
a familiar name
you pull yourself up
you step off the train
you are yourself again
in your world of your own
lips are unsealed,
you stand, you are home
the anonymous journey,
the people you saw,
the lives you witnessed,
the stories you bore
are lost to the tunnel,
the black of the night
consumed by the city
and turned into light