A tsunami of memory
14 Sept 2010
As private investigation work goes, there was nothing glamorous about the job. I’d been waiting a little way down the road when the subject left his shop. I slipped out of the car and followed him up Glebe Point Road. He didn’t see me and I hung well back to ensure it stayed that way. No sense in letting the subject set eyes on you unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.
Of course, I was wearing nothing memorable. If he did happen to notice me, I’d drop out of sight and put on a hard hat and a lurid safety vest I was carrying in my backpack and become a different possum altogether.
On a beautiful spring morning Glebe has an infectious nostalgia. The memories didn’t just come flooding back, as the cliché goes, they swept me up the road like a tsunami, past the spot where the old timber yard used to be, and grey bush rabbits hung out, up past St John’s Church and the Different Drummer, where there was once a hole-in-the-wall wine bar full of little old alcoholics, and Galluzzo’s fruit market, which has been there longer than anyone can remember.
The subject crossed the road, walked into the Dr Foley Rest Park, and sat down on a seat. I strolled past, on the other side of the lawn, and disappeared behind the little old brick shed they call the ‘wireless house’. And then the strangest thing happened. I heard the fruity, very BBC, voice of the narrator of ‘The Golden Boomerang’ an old time radio serial for kids and I was transported more than half a century back, to the years when I first knew Glebe.
Intrigued, I peered inside the wireless house and there was an ancient valve radio on a little table. There was also an electronic box thingy on the floor that was, no doubt, pumping out the old audio. And I remembered, as a young possum, hanging around in the Rest Park and listening to serials on the wireless house radio.
Mum brought me to Sydney in 1951 after dad was killed in a greyhound training ‘accident’ at the Nelligan racetrack. She got a small flat in an old terrace house in Glebe. Back then, I imagined that every park in the world must have a wireless house, but they say it was unique.
In every direction I looked, there was a memory or ten. Across Pyrmont Bridge Road, I had had my first office with my long-lost, very crooked, business partner, Bruce Possum, when we stumbled into the private investigations game back in the late 60s. Downstairs, there’d been a milk bar, but it was now a trendy Indian eatery. The seedy old Ancient Briton hotel , across the road, had become the upmarket AB. Around the corner, the Laundromat, where Bruce used to pick up girls, was still the laundromat, but the cake shop, where famously, if you asked for a sultana slice, they gave you raison d’etre, had morphed into something else.
It’s been nine years since the events of 11 September 2001 and the US invasion of Afghanistan, nine years since I last encountered Bruce Possum.
Bruce was on the run from Laurie Connell’s enforcers when he slipped out of Australia in 1988. He left me his 9mm Browning automatic in an old tin box, carefully wrapped in a tie-dyed teeshirt he bought in 1970 at the Surry Hills Arts Factory. It was there with his ‘It’s Time’ badge from the ’72 election, ticket stubs from Hair, and a snapshot of himself with Bob Dylan at the disastrous Showground concert of April ’78. His last communication was taped to the lid: “So long partner. Have gone to Afghanistan. Sorry. Will make it up to you. Keep the gat”.
I saw him – or thought I did – in Kabul, in October 2001, but I can’t be absolutely sure, because he was wearing a black burqa.
That was after I’d slipped into Afghanistan on the last aid convoy out of Tajikistan, just before the invasion. I’d gone to The Great Crusade against Osama bin Laden as an accredited war correspondent for The Chaser, which was, in those far-off days, a newspaper, but while I was in Kabul the callow teenage editors withdrew my credentials and abandoned me. It was probably the most treacherous betrayal of a working journalist in a war zone since Jan Wenner stranded Hunter S. Thompson in Saigon in April ’75 and I ended up being arrested by British soldiers, threatened with Guantanamo Bay and bundled onto a plane to Pakistan.
Yes, I thought, the years are passing quicker than Keneally Government ministers. The war in Afghanistan has lasted three years longer than World War II and we’re no nearer a resolution. President Obama now says bin Laden is “deep underground”. Is he trying to tell us what the cynics have been saying all along – that the man has been something like two metres underground all along?
• Download Rumours of Bruce, the story of Nick’s search for his long-lost business partner.