Sunday, May 22, 2005


In mid 1962 we moved from West Footscray to Seddon. Not very far in distance; by car in those days it would have been maybe 5 minutes. These days 10 minutes. On foot probably half an hour unless you walk as fast as I do; I can do it in 20 minutes!

But it was far enough that not a single friend from my school survived the move. I lost contact with every one of them. A couple of years later I happened across one of them by accident at the Footscray Public Library but he didn't want to know. His loss methinks! :-) I can't, at this distance of time, even remember his name.

This was partly because I changed schools and partly because the friendships of nonage tend to be fragile if not nurtured past ones nonage. If you think about it, we're only friends at that age because of propinquity, not because we've found a kindred spirit. Break the links of propinquity and not much is left. Friendship in adulthood differs because we're not bound as completely by geography by then. Heino lives half a world away and yet he's still my best friend.

So I found new friends. We learned to smoke together and we learned to raise our thumbs at girls together. The bonds were a little closer.

One of my new friends was the son of Polish immigrants. Being the son of an immigrant was hardly unique at my school - indeed, I as a fifth generation Australian was the odd one out. In one sense I can even claim to be a hundred or two hundred generation Australian; one of my great grandparents was a full-blooded Australian Aborigine.

Peter (not the same Peter I've mentioned before) lived two streets away in a house that was rather grander than the one we lived in. Grandeur is, of course, relative. It was still a run down 80 year old house sadly in need of repair but it was twice the size of ours and had a much larger garden. You're reading the judgements of later years; back then it was simply a better house than ours and I was appropriately jealous. He had fruit trees to climb in; an outside shed whose roof was safe to walk on (ours was so badly rusted you risked life and limb if you climbed up), and his parents were generous with the apples.

I was always hungry. Whenever I visited his house, which was quite often, I'd ask his mother if I could have an apple. She never once refused me. Sometimes she'd treat us to a Polish treat whose name I never accurately knew; I'm remembering the name as 'squawkie' which is, I'm sure, an extremely bad english transliteration of the word they used. I have no idea what was in it; but it was delicious.

I didn't see Peter's father all that often. He was mostly at work during the hours I was at his house. But sometimes he'd ride his bike home before we left and we'd be appropriately polite. He'd be gently interested in our boyish pursuits. I remember, with embarassment, how little effort we made to understand him when he spoke.

His passion was gardening, which doubtless explains the fruit trees.

One early summer afternoon he was outside pruning a bush. We were outside planning mischief. And I, quite by accident, glanced up at my friends father as he reached up to prune a branch. I saw some numbers tattooed on his arm. If I'd known then what I know now I'd have kept my mouth shut and just let the glimpse pass unacknowledged. But I hadn't thought it through.

I can still remember the look of anguish that passed over his face. And I can still remember how shamefaced I felt when I realised what I'd done. You see, I had, by then, 1964 or thereabouts, read about the holocaust. I had, by then, read about tattoos and Europe. But I hadn't connected the dots and realised that someone old enough to be the parent of a friend of mine just might have been old enough to have been caught up in that disaster.

I took care after that to never glance too closely at my friends mothers arms.

In later years I ache at the thought of her generosity with apples.

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