Friday, March 30, 2007

Highway Child

While you’re here, head on over to No Commercial Potential, a fine weblog which may even belong to a fellow Australian (g'day there), scroll down a bit, and download the Oxford Union Speech delivered by Gerald, er, Gerard, Hoffnung, an extraordinary piece of oration, timeless in both content and delivery, which I was only once previously exposed to, some twenty or so years ago.

There I was, back at the farm, where I had spent the weekend in order to get away from college food for a couple of days, killing time on Sunday afternoon before catching the bus back to Melbourne, when there came a knock at the front door. At Fish Creek, nobody ever knocked on the front door. There on the doorstep stood Doctor Jim, whom we have previously mentioned in these pages, and the now missing-presumed-reclusive Michael Clark. They had spent the weekend at or in the vicinity of Wilson’s Promontory, and had kindly detoured on their way home to see if they could give me a lift back to the city.

Of course they could! The bus trip from Leongatha to Melbourne was always a dispiriting affair. If you weren’t covered in cigarette smoke (not all nostalgia, you see, is rose-coloured), you found yourself sitting next to somebody who knew somebody who knew you, and who wanted to talk about their personal problems for two hours when all you wanted to do was absorb yourself in “Midnight’s Children”, or “The Name of the Rose”, or “The Dispossessed”. Then, when the bus pulled into Spencer Street Station, after dark on a Sunday evening, the city was a desolate wasteland. This may seem hard for today’s young city-apartment dwellers to understand, but as recently as the mid-1980s Melbourne’s central city was almost entirely devoid of people from 1pm Saturday, when the shops shut, until Monday morning. The only signs of humanity on a Sunday night were fellow travellers returning to Melbourne after a weekend with the folks in the country; the permanently drunk; the presumably up-to-no-good; the mentally infirm and/or homeless. This made waiting for one of the infrequent connecting trams all the more depressing, and often caused one to choose to walk the lonely mile to one’s University digs.

So, this once, I was spared from that ordeal. Instead, an entertaining drive back to Melbourne ensued, featuring Hoffnung’s very silly “lecture”. I don’t know how many times we listened to it in that 90-minute journey, but it was certainly enough that, on my reacquaintance with it however many years later, it feels like being reunited with a long-lost, and much missed, friend.