South Preston Raptures

Editorial by Chart Collective
The second week of summer has been and gone, and we asked Laura Jean Englert to document it for us.
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Today I decide to walk up Raglan Street a bit later than usual. Because I am stressed I am seeking out slightly more extreme situations to distract myself. So, despite the late hour and lack of people I walk into the Collier Street park and lie down defiantly in the middle. I stare up at the washed out stars, upstaged by the city. My dog is excited and breathes heavily. The charged situation comforts me, and I drink my beer. On the way home I am overcome with sadness after my daring achievement, wondering what is wrong with me that I feel like running away to a dark park.

At late afternoon I usually feel anxious. I’ve been told that my great grandmother used to stand at the kitchen window at about 5 pm every evening and smoke a cigarette, staring into space. Maybe it’s a primal feeling – dusk is a time to prepare for the onset of night and with it our predators. Once the night is here, we try and forget the sun ever existed and we light ourselves up artificially. Low tones tinged with colours that make us appear smoother, more even. We hope strangers will love us, love the human reality inside the well-lit body – pulsing walls of tissue and fat and bone, clenching together, raw and grotesque.

Today I walk to the Collier Street park with my dog Dusty and my boyfriend Warwick. It is about 1 pm, sunny, and everything is bright and lit up in a half-arsed kind of way, no shadows. I sit at the table and watch my boyfriend practice his chipping (a kind of golf swing). Every now and again he hits Dusty’s ball with the golf club.

Bark when you are scared, eat or beg for food when you are hungry. Stretch every single time you stand up. Sit in the sun when you can, then come inside to rest on the cold floor. Whine when you are lonely. Take up the whole bed. Have no guilt. Cling to your loved one, lying on top of them, licking their hand in devotion. When they try and leave, stand across the doorway, weave between their legs to stop them putting on socks. When they finally make it out the door, stare after it for hours then go to sleep. When they come home never question their journey, just wag and wag.

Today it is late afternoon and I walk to Collier Street with D. It’s a nice day. As I walk up the Raglan Street hill the Dandenong Ranges, about 50 kilometres away, loom into view. Whenever I glimpse the blurry, blue-tinged line that marks the very tops of its highest trees, I feel a pleasant, dull ache in my stomach and my heart flutters. It’s a romantic feeling that the darkened silhouette of distant hills has always aroused in me. A friend said it could be the simple physical relief of glimpsing elevation after unconsciously immersing myself for days on end in sea-level concrete and nature strips. To me it feels like what I am looking for is just beyond those hills, and if I should ever run to them I might find it.

The feeling from the sight of an oceanic horizon is different to a mountainous one. You can interact with the ocean as a whole, but when you climb a mountain you are interacting only with a path, a tree or a slope without ever actually embracing the mountain. The ocean’s wholeness and simplicity is erotic. Imagine lying on your back where the sand soaks the water, legs open, the gentle and constant lapping holding the force of an entire sea of water behind each tiny motion. It is one body and yet it has millions of expressions and interactions as part of that singular mass.

Today Dusty and I walk to Adams Reserve just behind Woolworths. Dusty doesn’t like this park as much because there is no water bowl and there is a wild old dog called Rex who is often in the park. Rex chases him and won’t give him space to have a rest when he needs to. Dusty has nipped him several times.

In Adams Reserve there is a bench on the highest point in the park where someone who is either mad or high usually sits. No one is there today so I decided to take the spot. On looking out from the bench I immediately sense the park’s equilibrium. I realise that whoever designed the park must have done it from this exact spot. From that bench every single tree in the park is visible to me, none blocking the other, the nearest ones at the path to the furthest ones near the playground, even the ones in the shady corners near the fence. I could count them.

Today As a treat Warwick and I decide to take Dusty to the Coburg nature area up near where creeks Edgars and Merri meet. Locals call that area Far North Coburg (FNC for short), mainly known for its cemetery and pool. There is also a driving range there that Warwick likes to practice at. While he practices, Dusty and I walk around to a section of Edgars Creek that has a natural pool surrounded by rocks, no long grass, safe-ish from snakes.

Summer is what I know. I know the stillness, the heat vibrating off the ground so thick it has a sound – a low hum, air rushing gently. Yellowed, dried grass, watching for snakes always. Wet from the pool, gazing up into a tree, breeze rushing through it. Breeze and tree were made for each other and whenever I hear them I sense elemental bliss. You can smell the gum oil on the air, a sedative perfume. Grass looks nice to sit on from far away, but when close you see the dried leaf litter, twigs everywhere, ants working. You sit and stretch out on it anyway, flicking your skin if you feel a tickle.

Today Dusty and I walk around to a different park, a strange park, a park where no-one ever goes – except us. It is on St Georges Road just south of Bell Street. It is heavily landscaped and joyless except for several things: a Lions Club-funded rotunda, complete with pompous parquetry siding; a dry dam, invaded by those fluffy stalks; a Moreton Bay fig tree and a large statue. The statue is dedicated to “The Lebanese Immigrant”, a lifelike bronze sculpture of a man in traditional dress. The caption says:

We pay homage to the thousands of Lebanese immigrants that have settled in Victoria and in particular our Darebin community. This is to honour their contribution, legacy, pioneering spirit and entrepreneurial achievements.

At school, around early December, the pretence of the seriousness of study would fall away. The teacher might finally agree with you when you tell them a certain maths problem is a waste of time. Then he or she might decide to take the class out under the gum trees and shout all the kids iceblocks from the canteen. And just sit there and enjoy the heat, enjoy each other’s company, enemies no more. The big kids were scared of going to high school, and all of a sudden you saw them as the little kids. The popular group might open up their ranks for a game of tip. The hierarchy breaks down as the long holidays approach, perhaps in preparation for other social orders – holiday camps, extended families, the kids in the street. We could all agree in early summer that the school rules, social and scholastic, didn’t really matter. At this time of year that sense of relief follows me still.

Today I walk around the backstreets of South Preston in evening time, taking photos of things I find amusing on my walks – maybe a strange choice of hedge shape, some blue Christmas lights flung over a rambling succulent. A grey cat next to a grey house, a giant toy dog sitting next to two barking dogs behind a fence. Or my favourite local tree, tall and noble, sitting on the roundabout at Raglan Street and Hotham Street. Dusty pulls at his lead, also my camera hand, making us both frustrated.

My only frustration, as I sit in this beautiful park, are the flies hovering at my ankles. But the existence of the flies brings my awareness to the otherwise perfection. If life was perfect I feel as though it would slip past unnoticed and I would float back into nothingness unbound. The world would feel small and unchallenging. When I move very slowly along the footpath, waiting for Dusty to smell and study, noticing cracks in the ground, dinner smells, awkward garden designs, lonely people, I realise I can spend my life in this small partition – south of Bell, north of Dundas, east of St Georges and west of Albert.

For companion images follow @southprestonraptures on Instagram


MORE FROM THE LONGER LIGHT SERIES:

The Longer Light Series explores the idea that our personal rituals – from the mundane to the grand – tether us to special places and particular times. It investigates how our rituals are contingent on the places where we perform them, on the rhythm of the seasons, on the weather of any given day, on what we see and smell around us.
The 12 distinct works of the series detail, document or respond to some sort of ritual (as each contributor interprets that word) enacted during a week of summer days and nights. The works will be published in weekly instalments so that, in concert, they plot the arc of an Australian summer.

The Longer Light Series is supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.