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Retracing the tracks

  • 26 May 2022
Election day. Mid-afternoon. 21 May 2022. I make my way to Canning Street, Carlton North. Stop by my childhood home, a single-fronted terrace, the neighbourhood of my youth. In the 1950s election day was a happy day in that rented house, conveniently close to the factories of Brunswick, and the Victoria Market where my father was a stallholder.  My parents loved the three-block walk to the polling booths, located in Lee Street, our local primary school. They were elated at having the right to vote. From where they came, this right had been brutally taken from them.

I retrace the tracks from the house to the booths. I see a man, moving slowly, and steadily, walking crook in hand. We stop and talk. He is 91-years old. That’s a magnificent walking stick, I say. It is a cromach, he replies. He had acquired it in Scotland. The handle is made of antlers, and the stick of highland ash. It was once used by shepherds to scale highland pastures, and for rounding up sheep, he tells me. And he sings in Scottish brogue: ‘As step I wi’ my cromach to the isles.’

The antlers are shed every year, he says. Shepherds could also use the handle to rest their guns on if poachers came in search of cheap spoils. He props the stick on the pavement and demonstrates how it is done. His grandparents had migrated from Scotland back in the nineteenth century, and he retains an attachment to the old country. We stand and talk on a glorious autumn day. I could listen to him for hours, but it’s time for him to be on his way.

'Democracy is fragile, my parents would say. It may be flawed, but it's far better than what we once had. It provided them with a sense of inclusion, belonging. And of safety. And it offered them a proud walk, to and from that little cubicle, in which they could, without fear, cast their precious vote.'

I continue along Canning Street, by the median strip, lined with bare poplars and palm trees. Walk past terraced cottages, called after places of the old home — Southwick. Harrow. Meadow Vale. Rosedale. Rosewell. The names are engraved on the pediments. Picnickers are out in Curtain Square. Others are seated beneath the avenue of Moreton Bay figs, on benches where my father loved to while away the hours in the years of