Sometimes I find myself wondering what it would be like, to live once again in a place where I used to live. I think that’s why the idea to stay in Albert Park for a few weeks came to me when I was booking a return Qantas ticket to the Land Down Under. Albert Park is a gentrified inner suburb of Melbourne nestled between Albert Park Lake and one of the Port Phillip Bay beaches. Wide streets, charming heritage buildings, leafy parks and gardens, and the Village shopping area with its collection of open-air cafes characterise Albert Park. Back when I was living in Melbourne, and before gentrification and upper-class affluence became the norm for Albert Park, I rented a flat in a two-storey Art Deco building a stone’s throw from the Village, which at that time was still the local shopping centre.
As soon as the Qantas e-ticket arrived in my inbox, I went house searching on Airbnb. A single-fronted, fashionable weatherboard Victorian house, a ten-minute walk from the Village and a dropkick from the flat I once called home was going to be my living in Albert Park house for a few weeks. After a couple of days catching the No 1 tram into town, shopping in the Village, walking Albert Park’s leafy streets, and slowly strolling Kerferd Road down to the palm tree-lined beachfront, I was back living in Albert Park; it was as if I’d never left thirty plus years ago.
It was a warm, late afternoon when I set off as I often did many years ago for a cold Melbourne Bitter at the Albert Park Hotel. I stopped on the footpath and stood in disbelief. The entrance to the public bar was now a door in a wall of construction hoarding with a constant procession of tradies entering and leaving the opening. I peeked through the opening and before me was a clear view of four storeys of emptiness. I stumbled back three steps and asked a workman wearing a yellow high visibility vest what was happening to The Albert; he pointed to a person wearing an orange vest.
Me: G’day mate, what are they doin to The Albert?
The only place I could find to buy beer was a chain store in the Village catering to the higher end of the wine, spirits and beer market. I stood looking through the glass door of the beer cooler at unfamiliar craft beers. The bottles had labels that sent my mind into a state of nervous confusion. There were ales, bitters, porters, wheat IPAs, stouts, and pilsners and flavours that included coffee, chocolate, banana bread, pumpkin, and passionfruit. And then I saw it tucked into the bottom shelf; longnecks of Melbourne Bitter.
I was beside myself with excitement because in front of me was my Holy Grail of beer. Whenever I was back in Australia in the last ten years, Melbourne Bitter was as scarce as rocking horse shit. I grabbed a few of the treasured longnecks and, on the way out, engaged the associate.
Me: How come yu selling Melbourne Bitter longnecks?
I left with the longnecks, each nestled inside their own paper bag, resting in a reusable plastic shopping bag. When I was on the footpath, I took a few steps backward, stood at the gutter, and scanned the shop fronts. Back when, the bottle shop was a hardware shop next door to A & G Meats, the butcher’s shop where I bought bangers at least once a week; not because they had great bangers but because I was eating soft non-chewable foods because of my teeth.
When I was growing up, dental hygiene wasn’t a big thing in my family. I went through childhood and adolescence, knowing my teeth would be coming out. Mum’s usual comment about a toothache was, ‘we can get them fixed, but if they start hurting again, then out they’ll come’. Mum told us visiting the dentist would be painless; he was a distant cousin and wouldn’t hurt anyone in the family. I don’t remember ever getting an anaesthetic. I always knew just before the hurting would start; the chains and pulleys driving the drill slowed down as our distant relative dentist relentlessly pushed it into your tooth; that’s when the hurt started. And he held the drill up close in front of you when he pulled it out of your mouth so the chains and pulleys would start up again. Whenever he started drilling a tooth, a strange smell started coming from your mouth. I left my distant cousin dentist’s double-fronted cream brick veneer building with tears in my eyes.
When I became old enough not to listen to mum, I never went to a dentist again. Fillings fell out, cavities appeared, and I loosened a front tooth when I fell off my yellow bike and smashed the front of my face on the footpath. Over the years, my tongue would discover a rough edge on a tooth, another filling starting to go, or a new hole beginning to happen. I never had toothaches; my teeth only hurt when I chewed on the decay and cavities, so I ate lots of soft foods.
I cooked my A & G Meats sausages the way Aussie cook sausages; in a frying pan over medium heat, letting the fat escape as they’re warming up, and then turning them in the hot fat until they were crisp on the outside and spongy and juicy inside. I’d throw in a few handfuls of cooked, soft fusilli and toss it around in the hot sausage fat. If I wasn’t eating pasta and sausages, I’d wrap a couple of the just-cooked bangers in thin slices of white bread, smother the lot with tomato sauce, and hope for a squirt of fat when I bit into what would then be a perfect sausage sandwich. Some days, I’d change it up and have a couple of sausage rolls from one of the local Milk Bars for lunch. Sausage rolls are similar to Little Smokies Pigs In A Blanket. They’re made by wrapping sausage mincemeat in a few sheets of puff pastry or thin pie crust if they’re mums homemade sausage rolls to form tubes that are baked until golden brown. You buy sausage rolls at any takeaway, milk bar, or bakery, and if you can’t wait until you get home, it’s ok eating them straight from the bag smothered in tomato sauce. Most Aussies would say that sausage rolls are the second cousin to the meat pie.
I turned and looked down the footpath on the other side of the wine, spirits and beer chain store come bottle shop, and my memories collided with the present; the chemist shop was still there. I stepped inside and looked around for the Kodak cameras and film. Back when, every chemist shop in Melbourne was a Kodak photographic dealer, and you went there to buy a camera and film. You took your film back to the chemist to have it developed and to get your photos printed. A week after dropping off your exposed film, your photos were ready for pick up; you’d stop on the footpath as soon as you left the shop and reach into the Kodak envelope with hands shaking for your twelve black and white photos. Most of the time, only about half of the twelve were in focus, well-framed, or correctly exposed.
I searched the chemist shop looking for anything Kodak, only to discover, a Myki card counter had replaced the cameras and film. Myki is a reloadable credit card-sized smart card ticketing system used for electronic payment of fares on most public transport services in Melbourne and regional Victoria. And the familiar smell of the chemist shop, the fragrance of ladies perfumes mixed with the scent of cough lollies and medicines, the perfume from bars of Lifebuoy, Pears and Palmolive soap, and the distinctive aroma of medicinal aldehydes and ketones were also missing. I looked around for the bars of soaps and sand they too had been replaced; by liquid soaps, you squeezed from a plastic container. I thought about it for a short time and decided that would have been a good thing to have when we were growing up. We all shared the bath and shower at home, and for everybody, it was one bar of soap to soap it all. When we showered, we all grabbed the same bar of soap to rub over the flannel and ourselves, and then we’d leave whatever on the wet, sudsy soap bar of soap. It’s probably best if that’s where I leave it.
As I strolled back to the single-fronted fashionable weatherboard Victorian house, I started musing about going to a chemist shop to buy a tram ticket and going to the local pub for Modern-South-East Asian food. I looked down and realised I was swinging the reusable plastic shopping bag with the three Melbourne Bitter longnecks. Back at the Airbnb, I sat in the sparse, remodelled, open-flow interior now devoid of any traces of the house’s Victorian-era heritage, and wondered if you’d go to a jewellery shop to buy butcher shop sausages made with meat, fat, fillers and salt, stuffed into intestine casings.