Transcript: Someplace That I Used To Know
April 5, 2017
This is a transcript of the audio tour Someplace That I Used to Know, by Emma Gibson, presented as part of the You Are Here 2017
Starting at The Festival Hub, this audio walking tour will take you to various places across Civic. BYO headphones and audio device (smart phones will work best, or MP3 players if you load them up in advance).
This tour is made for meandering. Take it at your own pace, and if you can’t be here, you can simply listen, and imagine. We’ll be walking to Jolimont Bus Station, then returning to Alinga Street and continuing into Garema Place and City Walk, turning on Petrie Plaza and along East Row back through the bus interchange and down to Bunda Street, returning to Garema Place at the end.
If you are starting from the You Are Here Festival Hub in the former North Bar, make sure you grab some paper and a pen, because later I’ll invite you to write something down.
Our first location is the Jolimont Bus interchange. Take a right outside the former North bar, cross Northbourne Avenue at the traffic lights and then take a right. Let’s go for a walk.
[The sound of footsteps and traffic, disappearing beneath music.
Music: “Move Along” by Casual Projects.]
We are here at Jolimont Bus Station, at the point of departure. This is where the story ends. This is where the story begins. The site of farewell.
Look for bus bay number 5. See the red fire hose reel cabinet, mounted on a grey pillar. A phone booth with a love note scrawled in sharpie. See grey: the concrete driveway, speckled with discarded chewing gum, the wall of the building that backs on to this narrow strip, where buses park on the diagonal, a precarious reverse when pulling out, lumbering around right angles. Imagine a grey foggy day in July, 2014. Smell cigarettes and exhaust fumes, hear the throb of engines idling, the eager steel steeds waiting to charge across thresholds, feel the damp cold of drab winter, taste the coffee, the second of the day, a takeaway flat white in a cardboard cup brought from the café a block away, in an arcade that is now gone, making space for a new building and a strip called ‘No Name Lane’.
See that red fire cabinet. I remember you standing there next to it, wearing red leather gloves that match Nelly’s red tights. And as the bus pulls away, you’re whooping and hollering something along the lines of ‘you go girl, knock ‘em dead, yea.’ Nelly runs after the bus, waving goodbye dramatically – so dramatically that the bus driver stops, thinking he’s forgotten someone, and Nic films her, capturing the moment for posterity, but imperfectly. I snap a blurred picture of you through the bus window.
This is the moment of threshold crossing. I’m Frodo, or Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter. You’re Yoda or Dumbledore, the wise mentor, or maybe you’re Hagrid, always larger than life, driving like a maniac, collecting strays: cats, possums, dogs. And friends.
And when I return home, it is with a new perspective, and to a world changed.
I come back with the same two suitcases we wheeled to the bus terminal that grey day, but I’ve changed my wallet for the third time, each time, carefully tucking a note away.
Because before we left the café, while we are arguing over who gets to pay, you retrieve a pen from your handbag and a $100 note. It’s maybe only the third or fourth time I’ve seen the bright green currency and I know that even if I pay for brunch you have won because that money is for me and I try to tell you no, that’s it’s too much, but as usual your ears are deaf to the rebuff and you write a message for me on the money, as you have before: nestled in my wallet, two American greenbacks from previous trips, inscribed with your tradition of travel well-wishes.
Picture us there in that café. I reluctantly accept the gift, roll my eyes at your claim that you have nothing smaller, suggest you ask the barista for change.
Picture me, saying, threatening, promising: that I agree to take this only on the condition that I can give it back to you when I return.
And you say, only if you don’t need it. I swear I’ll never spend it, and you say ‘But hey, if you get desperate, it might help bring you back home’.
Maybe the note brought me home; I don’t know. I can’t remember what you wrote and over time, the traces of ink were absorbed into green plastic and the message you inscribed has worn away.
[The sound of a bus station announcement. A female voice saying “Sydney central station via International airport, your coach is now ready in Coach Bay number 6. Once again, that’s Murray’s Australia passengers travelling to Sydney Central station via”…]
Walk with me back the way we came, across Northbourne avenue to the city bus interchange; rejoice if you make it across the two carriageways in a single change of the lights, but if not, look left, to the North and notice the surprising expanse of sky, opening up where once trees stood in soldier pairs, the march of progress knocking them down to make way for the long-awaited light railway. Walk, and feel the ground beneath you, notice the breeze or the sun or the rain, observe the familiar as though you’ve never seen it before… as we continue walking towards Garema Place.
[The sound of footsteps and traffic, fading into…
Music: “A Long Time Gone” by the Gadflies]
Location: City Bus Interchange
Walk with me, to the Civic Bus interchange. Notice, the numbered destinations of the foreheads of the bus fleet – notice which numbers are familiar to you, which route. Notice, how these displays never say ‘civic’ but city and reflect: Civic doesn’t exist in any official gazette. Though we like to joke that it’s because the town centre isn’t big enough, the name came from a hotel, long torn down.
Walk through the interchange, where the scent of Burmese curry is already fading away, towards Irish pub named for the prohibitionist politician from Canberra’s early glory days, King O’Malley, and on the way, look up for a glimpse of weathered corrugated iron, incongruous above the gym upstairs from McDonalds.
Listen: beyond the roar of buses and the chatter in the streets, the speakers playing Flight of the Bumblebee on repeat.
The intention is to keep people away but maybe today, instead of blocking it out, you should choose to dance to the music, pretend it is there to entertain. Imagine: a flash mob duet between you and me, although it will look like you’re performing solo to anyone who can see.
[Sound: of footsteps, buses, a baby crying, a person whistling a tune as a bus passes…
Music: Flight of the bumblebee fading in, footsteps continuing.]
Walk onwards, past the door to the Green Shed, and down those stairs there used to be a famed music store, Impact Records.
Location: Garema Place
And we come to Garema Court, a vacant space, advertising itself as a meeting place. Once, it was Sizzle Bento and I remember one day it took us 20 minutes to walk here from Gus’ café because you kept bumping into people on the way that you knew. The owner slipped us a free miso and green tea with a wink and we watched sushi do laps on the train.
And as we walk towards the carousel or the merry-go-round, which actually has a completely different name, reflect that this town is built on circles and I’m cycling round again, picking up life after a time away and struck by what has changed.
[sound, magpies calling]
I walk this mile in my old shoes, and I’ve got blisters from doing it again and again. I am raw, my skin not thick enough to protect me.
And I notice as I’ve been walking this mile, the smile lines radiating from the eyes of my friends, and the cracks in buildings, new paint and signs. The changed and the absent, like a tooth gone from a familiar smile.
[Sound of footsteps, and old fashioned tune fading in from the merry-go-round, people talking, magpies calling]
Location: City Walk
Walk with me now, along City Walk and turn right at the Merry Go Round – and have you ever noticed the old spray painted ticket booth before, or have you sat at one of these outdoor tables. walking up the slight slope towards London Circuit and bearing right again, reaching the corner of Petrie Plaza where Tosolini’s used to be, now called Social and co.
Location: Petrie Plaza to former Tosolini’s (Social and Co)
And Tosolini’s, we called it Tosser’s for short – and I remember one time the two of us met here and agreed to a deal to capture audio for the multicultural festival.
It must have been 2004, and in that following week I stalked the streets recording onto a heavy-duty machine – onto cassette. I walk now with different equipment and think how quickly things have changed. Back then, we still spliced reel to reel, viewed iPods with awe, and were only just learning digital editing tools. We weren’t Facebook friends, because Facebook didn’t exist then, so our social networking took place in the real world, in the physical space, over afternoon coffees and brunch every weekend.
Here we would watch the world go by, and still it does without us here to notice it, although paths have changed as destinations disappear.
Location: Corner of London Circuit and East Row
Let’s make our way back to the bus interchange. Past the strip of sleeping nightclubs, remember Southpac, remember Shooters – and the Phoenix. I can’t even keep up with the changes. Yesterday a sudden closure, and today, a notice in the window that the locks have been changed. Will it rise from the ashes yet again, before you hear this?
The shape of this town is changing as rough edges are knocked away but who is to say that these rough diamonds aren’t precious? That geometry should be neat and our streets should all be bleached pristine and homogenous, without the character because you can’t plan everything, even in a planned city and it’s in the rule breakers who paved the way for the nature of the city today. Or yesterday. We know this place in transient and the only certainty is change. But what we’ve got is memory.
Location: Bus interchange, passing Garema Place
Walk along the interchange again to Bunda Street, look to your left if you remember InBlue, still there but repurposed, absorbed into the office block. Look to your right where cinema used to be, curl your nostrils at the distinctive smell of bushfire smoke and imagine emerging from that cinema in 2003 in afternoon when the skies were black and red with fire. I can’t remember what the movie was, but it was long – a choice made to maximise cinema air con, little knowing that it wasn’t just hot outside: our town was burning.
Location: Corner of Mort Street and Bunda Street
Cross Bunda Street and turn right. We’re heading towards 2XX, or at least, where the radio station used to be, in the ground level of the old Griffin Centre on Bunda Street.
It’s the tax office now, a grey tall building, and in the lower floor, tiki printing hoardings where Tongue and Groove used to be, transforming into a new venue.
See the tall polished metal sculptures? Notice your distorted reflection.
Location: Bunda Street, just past Muralla Lane
Look at the fire door, straight ahead of you… I can’t remember where the door used to be, but imagine a Wednesday afternoon, 15 years ago and I’m sitting inside behind the reception desk to the left, shy and green, scared of the world, I’m just a kid. And I’ve just arrived in Canberra and don’t know my way, when you burst in like a whirlwind, sending another volunteer scurrying away in your wake. You appraise me: You’re new. I don’t remember recruiting you. And you immediately appoint yourself my personal tour guide through life.
Location: Crossing Bunda Street to Gus’ Cafe
Let’s cross the road, and resist the urge to walk where there used to be a zebra crossing – now it’s a shared zone with no white lines for you to follow. You can colour outside them. And walk to the wooden gazebo, already becoming derelict by these months of neglect.
Since I’ve started this walk, the locked gates have been taken away. See the real estate slogan splashed on the window – watch this space! – right next to Gus’ old sign that says: Outdoor Cafes Here to stay.
Pause here, and imagine the gazebo full and the tables stretching to Essen and now think of this walkway on a day when all the cafes are closed
And how lonely it makes you feel. This place, really, is where this story begins…
It’s amazing how long a coffee can stretch, over hours over conversation and half a pack of cigarettes. We would talk marathons; you would hold court, because in the small world we thought we ruled; we had a kingdom, we had a place. Here I drank more coffee over a week than I ate square meals, when my student wage stretched only to rice and peas and corn.
Instead I fed on ideas. But often we talked about nothing. The banal, the mundane –those everyday conversations that are always the same. It didn’t matter what we talked about. Only that we talked, our words tripping over the top of one another.
We could hold conversations talking at the same time, barely pausing for breath – or to allow another interject. We said: ‘this is not interrupting, this is communicating’. The conversations would digress in so many tangential trajectories I’d always forget where we started.
Yet somehow through a maze of words you’d find your way back the beginning. As I do now.
It’s amazing how long a coffee can last. I am still sipping it now, hearing your voice, like deep smoky whisky that warms the heart going down. Still here in the past, drinking your words.
Walk with me now, into the heart of Garema Place and take a while to wander, ponder, note what has changed.
Location: Garema Place
There’s a rhythm in to this town and I walk around in loops and echoes, navigate easily these trails of familiarity and I don’t even think where I am going, following instinct. And I don’t know if you can trace, a change in my pace when I am walking in another place.
[Sound of footsteps on paved ground fades away and is replaced by sound of walking through snow, and the sound of wind. The audio quality changes, the voice slightly distorted]
And I’m really far away now. I am almost the furthest point you can get from Canberra, looking up at the sky and the Northern Lights carving a line and all of the stars, with my feet in snow in the frozen ground, so far from the life we used to know. And the lights are really… bright green and just beautiful and serene and… and you wouldn’t guess Sylv, they are curving the shape of an S. And I know I can’t ever capture them but I am trying to transcribe those memories of that time. I’ve spend so long away and so far away that it’s only when I’m home, when I’m back, that I see your absence, and here I can pretend that you are still there… And I’m coming home soon.
[Footstep fade out]
[Music fades in: “The Answers” by Fire on the Hill.]
Now it’s time for you to reflect on your own landmarks and how your life has been shaped by this place. Your footsteps are part of this story.
But what happens to our memories when the places that contained them are gone and the people in them have moved on?
I’d like to invite you to write a memory or two down, and add it to our memory vault at the Festival Hub.
This is the end of our walk together. I’ll leave you with some music to keep you company as you reflect.
[Music ends. The sound of magpies at lunchtime in Garema Place]
Someplace that I used to know is presented as part of the You Are Here festival 2017. Written, recorded and produced by Emma Gibson. You Are Here festival producer Morgan Little. Music is Move Along by Casual Projects, Long Time Gone by the Gadflies, The Answers by Fire on the Hill, recorded live at Macgregor Hall and if you want to listen and linger longer, here’s the Dan Banks Band, Castles in the Sand. Thank you: Ben, Chanel, Indra, Julie, Nic, Rafe, Zoe.
This is for you Sylvie. “You go girl.” I owe you a hundred bucks. And more. Thank you.
[Music: “Castles in the Sand” by the Dan Banks Band]