I took Rigby for an early walk this morning. We’re at the bottom end of Toorak Road, nearer to St Kilda Road – Toorak Road West. It’s a very familiar part of town to me, as was soon made very clear.
We crossed Toorak Road and entered into Fawkner Park. As parks go Fawkner Park is great. Paths criss-cross in roughly a star pattern, lined mostly by big, sprawling, Moreton Bay Figs – my favourite tree in all the world. In between are squares, rectangles and triangles of lawn. Early morning there are dog walkers, like me, throwing a ball for their dog to fetch, but later they’ll be full of people enjoying their lunch, or squaring off for impromptu games of soccer or cricket. It’s a very democratic park.
For years I lived in South Yarra. I knew it so well. My first home in South Yarra was an extremely stylish apartment in Coolullah Avenue – I loved that place, it was so me, at that time of my life anyway. It was in an old 1930’s block vaguely art deco. That meant it had built quality as well as style – thick brick walls, high ceilings, decorative cornices, feature woodwork as well as lattice windows – and an open fireplace. I lived there when I fell in love for the first time.
Later I lived in a flat at 3/36 Kensington Road, South Yarra. I was living there when I fell in love for the second time. For awhile after that I moved out of the area, to Hawthorn East, then East St Kilda. I returned when I bought the apartment in Rockley Road where I lived for many years.
I was living there when I started work at Ampol. Ampol had its office in St Kilda road, the rear of it abutting Fawkner Park. Every day I would walk to and fro down Toorak Road, and then diagonally through Fawkner Park. It was routine, but was also a great way to begin the day. I enjoyed working there, had a couple of romances, and made some good friends with people now slipped out of my life.
All of this came back to me as I walked again through Fawkner Park 17 years after. Was it really that long? I was filled with something. Yes, there were memories and immense nostalgia, but also something else for which I don’t think there is word in English. It was like this time overlaid that time. The ghost of the H of that time was not present, but his tracks remained. This time was a palimpsest of that.
I returned the way I came, stopping at Toorak Road for the traffic. My eyes passed over a boutique apartment block, which I remembered as the Fawkner Park Hotel. I spent many summer evenings there sitting under the perspex roof celebrating with friends or trying to pick up strangers.
I walked down Millswyn Street to Domain Road. Across the road was the Botanical Gardens – my favourite, but instead of crossing I turned right and began walking up the hill. Here was the Botanical Hotel – the Bot – which I spent many years in. It’s transfigured at least once since then, but my most vivid memories of it was when it was a hedonistic pick-up joint back in the nineties, coke snorted in the men’s room while women with tonsured hair would flirt with you out front.
Then there were the cafes and restaurants busy with patrons sitting at their pavement tables enjoying their morning coffee, and perhaps a pastry to go with it. We sat for a moment, an older man coming over to give Rigby a pat and to share a joke with me. It was so lively and vivid, and I knew it, and the people, and felt more than mere nostalgia. I felt a yearning stronger than I can ever recall. I knew this world, this life, had walked this way, sat in that place, without care or concern, without consideration in fact. This was as normal as walking to work through Fawkner Park. Except none of it is normal anymore.
It did not discourage me. In a way I was encouraged. Though it’s not my present life I fit in. I did not look out of place, nor feel it.