Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Retracing the tracks

3 Comments

 

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 his retirement. 

I cut through the lane where the bogey man once lived. We would glimpse him through a crack in the fence, a grizzled old gent, sitting in the backyard, surrounded by a tribe of cats. He struck fear in our prejudiced minds.

The lane opens out onto Lee Street. The primary looks far smaller than in my childhood imagination, but the queues to the booths snake through the yard, as they did many decades ago. The how to vote cards are being handed out. Once they were made of cardboard. I would collect them, regardless of the party, and take them home. Spent hours, building cities, pyramids, and fragile homes.

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. They never took it for granted.

 

 

 


 

Arnold Zable is a writer, novelist, storyteller and human rights advocate. His books include Jewels and Ashes, Café Scheherazade, Scraps of Heaven, Sea of Many Returns, The Fig Tree, Violin Lessons, and The Fighter. His most recent book, The Watermill, was published in March 2020.

Main image: Canning Street cottages en route to booths on election day. (Arnold Zable / Photo supplied) 

Topic tags: Arnold Zable, Election day, Carlton, Democracy, Vote, AusPol, AusVotes2022

 

 

submit a comment

Existing comments

What a lovely walk down Memory Lane, Arnold. Thank you. But things still continue for both you and our democracy there, which is excellent.


Edward Fido | 30 May 2022  

I loved this piece, Arnold. How right your parents were!


Gillian | 01 June 2022  

A few years ago I was standing in a long queue outside the polling booth -fresh sunny day, pleasant atmosphere -when a couple of people near me began a friendly grouch about being forced to vote, the queue so long, afraid to miss the beginning of the match, or some such. I almost chimed in my agreement. Then a quiet fellow put in his two pennorthworth.


Joan Seymour | 05 June 2022  

He said that in his home country he’d been ‘allowed’ to not vote. He was afraid to vote because he was afraid of being shot. He liked standing here in the sun. He liked to vote, and he was safe to do it. Everyone was deprived of speech except the original speaker, who put his hand briefly on the man’s shoulder and said “Thanks. mate, you’re right”. Sometimes I’m happy to be here. Thank you, Arnold, for uncovering this memory as you shared yours. (Sorry for the two-part contribution -arthritic fingerslip)!


Joan Seymour | 05 June 2022  

Similar Articles

Unsent letter

  • Jamie Dawe
  • 02 June 2022

It was wrong to expect her to wade through the river of sadness of family obligations / Right person, wrong timing and I turned away / I have sought to explain myself by searching / 15 years later it is seemly to vanquish the letter / Guaranteed, she found someone somewhere better.

READ MORE

Longing for the multiverse

  • Cherie Gilmour
  • 02 June 2022

At a time when a second baby meant my own choices were fading into the background, I thought a lot about Nora and her life-jumping. What if I’d had kids later? What if I’d finished that degree? What if I’d taken that job? What if, what if, what if… The multiverse casts a web of different lives, all endlessly diverging like branches from a tree. 

READ MORE