Last rites

Recognition, reciprocity and the 86 Tram

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  • Published 20220428
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-71-9
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

I COLLECT MY father on a hot Friday morning from a funeral home in Preston. He’s waiting for me in a shopping bag, housed in a polystyrene crematorium urn – a temporary arrangement until a meeting can be held with my sisters, one older and one younger. Together, we will decide the ultimate fate of his ashes, as our father left no instructions. My personal wish is to scatter his remains in the Birrarung (Yarra) River, above Dights Falls. I want to watch the ashes slip beneath the white-capped rapids below the falls. It would be a poetic end for a man with little time for poetry. My sisters are yet to express their own wishes, except they are in agreement that although our father spent much of his life on the streets of Aboriginal Fitzroy, he no longer has a place among the ageing renovators of past decades or today’s bearded hipsters furiously recolonising the colony.

I decided to take my father home on the 86 Tram. The route traverses the northern suburbs of Melbourne, dissects Fitzroy and Collingwood along Smith Street, and travels onward to the city centre. The 86 has a reputation for producing anarchic theatre. The poor and the not-so-poor mix on the tram, leaving the genuinely well off to the comfort of their air-conditioned SUVs, a seeming necessity negotiating the narrow streets of the inner city. While on the tram one morning with my granddaughter, Isabel, we were greeted by a woman caressing a two-metre snake. She insisted on explaining to Isabel and me, without prompting, ‘none of this is fucking illegal’.

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