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Inner urban conservation and development - An independent panel report on a proposal for Smith Street, Collingwood, under Melbourne 2030. Edited by Miles Lewis, August 2004. Order your copy

At one end

9 Jun 2005

A story about Smith Street by Tony McMahon.

At one end, there’s Macca’s and a shonky 7-11, at the other, the Robbie Burns, the king of all eateries, beloved by both dentists and dole-bludgers, like myself. In between, there’s people beating each other up outside Safeway and developers trying to tear down Turkish grocery stores owned by the uncle of a kid that goes to school with my daughter. But the bloke at the 7-11 once sold me a lukewarm pie at 4 am. It saved my life that pie. I didn’t have enough for sauce, but he gave it to me anyway, and he did it with love. And my fiancé proposed to me outside Macca’s. Life’s like that in Smith Street.

I once met a hooker outside the Post Office who bummed cigarettes off me and told me her tale of woe. Not being St Kilda or the Cross, she didn’t even bother propositioning me, and wandered off in the opposite, sad direction, looking for her next gig. I felt like chasing after her and giving her a cup of tea, but I didn’t. Smith Street, that night, had made me too melancholy. It will do that to you sometimes.

Then there’s the tourists. Friday and Saturday night visitors from Glen Waverly and Mentone, pissing in our alleyways and whooping it up outside my bedroom window above a Smith Street shop. I don’t mind them really. Let them have their fun, I say. That’s what the volume button on CD players is for. As long as they nick off back to where they came from, like locusts. The next morning, Smith Street is quiet, like a school kid after a dressing down, and us real Fitzroy people have breakfast at Gypsies, or Gluttony, or Soul Kitchen. We marvel at the empty street, the calm after the storm, with our bellies full of soup, weird vegetables, and the world’s best coffee. Smith Street looks after its own.

I’m a writer. At least that’s what I tell people at parties. It sounds so much more interesting than pizza delivery guy, or barman. I want to write the Great Australian Novel, looking out from my desk over Japanese restaurants, digital photocopying joints, and Halal take aways. In Smith Street, you feel like anything’s possible.

It rains sometimes, in Smith Street, just like it’s raining in my soul right now when I think about the twelve story apartment blocks they want to build over Video Busters, the place where I first rented lesbian vampire movies and Gone With the Wind in a special, two tape box that looked like a small coffin. Surely there’s a law against bulldozing the shop where you first rented Gone With the Wind? If there isn’t, there should be, especially in Smith Street.

When it rains, you can often traverse from A Bar Called Barry all the way to Office Works without getting a drop on you. You need to cross over at KFC, briefly, before crossing back again at Friends of the Earth, but it can be done. There are enough shop awnings to keep you dry; you just need to think about them. And it’s a bit like that with this whole Banco development, Smith Street towers thing. The bastards can be beaten, but we need to put some thought into how we are going to do it. Smith Street needs our help now.

Every place has a horrible story to tell. Easy Street has the murders, Gertrude Street that double fatality a few years back. I met my ex-wife in Smith Street, but still I live here in relative peace and happiness. You can’t hold things like that against Smith Street.

No one rents tapes any more from Video Busters. Every one wants shiny new DVDs. Rows and rows of unwanted VHS lines the back wall of the cavernous, pink shop, like war memorials that kids don’t pay attention to. Sometimes I see that old copy of Gone With the Wind in the Guinea Pig coffin and I feel the need to go over and hold it one more time. My daughter asks me what these strange square plastic things are. I tell her not to worry about them, they’re just the remains of a dream I had once in Smith Street.

So now I rent Japanese horror DVDs from Video Busters and think it may be my last time, but I love the optimistic possibility that I’ll still be renting movies here well into my dotage. Even though my heart skips a beat when my daughter tells me she walked to my place in the dark, I still feel like we’re both safe. Even when I think that there is nothing new in Smith Street, something pops up and reminds me that, despite its transgressions, I still love it like a wayward brother.

Posted by Author smithstreet

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