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Barriers to grace

We plant rocks in our street now. It’s a longish street and quite elegant in its own understated Canberra way. Not too many of John Hewson’s ‘renters’ apparently, for most people seem to take a reasonable amount of care with their yards, front and back. It’s a quiet street, most of the kids seems to have grown up and moved on, and we live and work, for the most part without too much knowledge of what the others in the street are up to. But we look at the gardens and enjoy them and thank those who work to make our part of the place relaxing and so pleasant.

One man in particular, long retired, on a corner block, has the most beautiful lawn—bowling-green perfection. He seems modestly proud of it, in that understated Canberra way. Early summer mornings will see him,  dressing-gowned usually, with a mug of tea, just looking. At the beauty of the lawn or the sun on the hills, who can tell? A cheery wave and shy greeting is all we ever get from him. Winter mornings you can hear him at his piano, early again, starting his day gently and graciously.

For us, though, the early morning walks around this street are no longer merely an opportunity to review and preview our own lives and to salute those of our kind who are out and about. They have become, sadly, an audit of the damage. Some person (why do I automatically think male and young?) has the habit of driving onto our lawns and gardens, spinning the wheels a bit for maximum damage and revelling, no doubt, in the deep tracks left.

Why does this distress me so? It is the sheer bloody-mindedness of it, I suppose, the unfairness. If you or I derive some pleasure in an orderly and mannered garden, in neat and careful work, why should someone want so needlessly to spoil it? Where’s the fun? Is the lawn-hating hoot reacting to being yanked out of bed too early on Saturday mornings past to mow the family plot? Or is he, in his own mind, a rebel against the modest aspirations of the ‘petty bourgeoisie’?

This has been going on month after month, for at least a year now, so it is not a whim or some drunken error of judgment. It is crafted and planned and, indeed, there is considerable driving skill in some of the areas this idiot reaches. I doubt that I could drive in and out of my own front lawn, in the dark at some speed, as our neighbour has done.

And he must be a neighbour to torment us so constantly. The police cannot help in a matter like this. What, sit all night in a patrol car hoping that this will be one of the nights of his random strikes? So we plant rocks on the edges of our front lawns—not allowed, of course, fences in Canberra.

And when I saw those images of Glenn McGrath sorting out the West Indian batsmen in that final, sad Test, why did my mind immediately turn to the terror of the turf in suburban Canberra? West Indian batsmen have always been remarkable to me for the effortless grace of their game. A loon yelling in rage, unable to take the wicket, is the antithesis of such grace. The anger, the gracelessness, the violence reminds us that this boorishness is such an offensive part of the way we live in Australia.

The lawns will survive and prosper, I hope. The mornings will remain a time for gentle neighbourliness. And the rocks will remind us too that we have to work a bit to preserve the gentle pleasures in this too violent, silly world.                                                                                                 

Michael McKernan is a broadcaster and author, most recently of This War Never Ends: The Pain of Separation and Return, University of Queensland Press, 2001.



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