DoctorShoot - Soapy Moment from a Washing Basket
Notes on the gentle art of hanging for Ryan, Barlow, Chambers, the Husseins, and others….
- I am watching an unknown blond,
over the top of my diary -
I am watching the blond strangling the life out of
some distinctly working class jeans,
here in this ponderous dry-lino soap-valley public washhouse
-still using laundromats after 20 years –
haven’t come very far,
although I owned a washing machine or two along the way,
and now in my distant modern laundry I watch the branches of the great
moreton bay fig
dangerously near me… I am looking over the photographs
I cannot bear to see,
and my paper remnants with their embroidered holes made by
cockroaches and slaters through time’s hunger for dead wood
and taking me back – my old notes -
- The blond is creating sexual tension for me, secretly -
lacy underwear spilling through fingers and out of the basket;
those little deaths
those suggested unions of skin and fabric and skin and sweat and
shuddering unions stretching limbs and necks and craning and entwining and creating
the smell of secrecy for me as they are unfolded…
-what hairy blond arms –
I had noted next in my hungry textbook of days.
(and a sketched tattoo “Luke 15.7” with an eagle)
Hairy blond arms handling sheets into the machine they
remind me of
Cliffy Stewart who played on the wing under Barassi;
Cliffy the wingman moving across the gravel playground
like a footballer
and a poet;
Cliff the dancer who ran up against
the inevitable cliff-face of brutality-on-the-field;
about face Cliff.
My stuff has gone onto SPIN without warning
and the three machines start to shudder and whine
as though being lowered into a grave still alive.
I find that my next note reads:
-Bill White the reluctant conscript –
So this must be 1966.
The shadows of the giant fig rattle in the wind and the scraps of paper try
to move away…
but I read:
- 1966 and Harry Holt the disappearing PM has already
beaten off Artie Calwell (the last of the old unguarded guard),
and Holster-Holt has accepted the yankee manufactured
shotgun marriage to the big salary in Canberra; at the palace,
but I am living in a dingy single room in Brunswick, Melbourne;
one dingy window over a dismal sink
where a second-hand electric frypan perches in its grease,
threatening me with electrocution; -
sentenced to death by attempting to conjure up another
magnificent spread of curried mashed potato on
that was all I could cook;
I had no interest.
sitting on a soggy bed (ex-army folding job),
with a prickly greywool blanket
reading ‘the Monsters of the Moors’ in the half-light.
I had a fascination.
half of the light is obscured by the huge shadow of Pentridge gaol down the road.
-Ronald Ryan was here in Brunswick as a little kid.
now he’s back again –
-Working at the Melbourne Uni bookshop I sell books
to students for their education through the day
and try to flog them for myself in the evenings -
for the hunger and the fascination.
- I am a salesman and a thief -
-Valley of the Dolls
Crime and Punishment –
there I was trying to learn the Penguin lists off by heart
under Michael Cannon
and trying to figure out what’s happened to Ronald Ryan
under the death sentence
- The blond has left;
the basket of panties sits unguarded against
on the floor -
I am amused by the dangerous link between
soiled underwear and electric machinery;
I think I must prefer something more physically direct
strong blond arms or a rope
to twist the fluid out of something.
I used to spend a lot of my time back there in Brunswick,
when the light had gored itself away to almost nothing,
poring through photographic essays of women in
French underwear, with a candle flickering for the
crucial human weakspots
and flickering myself into the sheets.
It was all secret jotting at work;
in the tea breaks
and overhearing the exciting political secrets to myself
-bookshop people seem to know their politics –
that was another note, although, looking back, and around,
it may be that
it’s not all on the same side of the fence.
I was hopelessly in love with Juliet however,
I believed her feigned suicide;
that she was secretly in love with another compometry clerk
in the National Bank, and
this led me to decide that there was no point in joining
one political party or another
since trust had to be a basis for political fellowship
and that had been executed;
at least I believed that then.
In spite of that I joined in some of the great vigil which is to come,
and I’ll tell you about that in a moment.
- I am a protester -
First let me tell you about Juliet;
she used to wear French underwear;
the stuff that has lace around the thighs
and is slightly loose to allow the loving passage of garters,
and the fabric of which
absorbs yet smears depending upon the fluid it concedes contact with,
receives, pulses with and rejects, ultimately;
I used to live on curried mashed potato and
my love of Juliet’s sex;
of course that wasn’t all but it’s all I remember.
Morning noon and night it was
curried mashed potato.
I used to tear at her stocking tops
and bite her thighs in desperation
and reckless risks of a pregnancy that never happened;
(thankful, cruel, dimwitted, hungry – I must make a note of these words)
- I am a risk taker -
I make a note of these words:
-Ronald Ryan was a Catholic altar boy –
There is no coincidence, not there;
Such as being in Brunswick as a child and ending up back there, except perhaps
That father Brosnan was Catholic,
Ryan made his break from ‘the go’, same spot
where Kevin Joiner had been gunned down years before;
I wonder if Joiner was armed
And if his killer had a necksnapping end.
the state ripped Ryan from Brunswick and now
the state has brought him back.
the police called Ryan ‘the homing pigeon’
because he loves his family,
that’s how they caught him;
steel-bar irony perhaps more than
the co-incidence of blood.
Why has the pile of dirty underwear
been left on the floor in front of me?
I used to wash all of my clothes in the shower
behind a gritty fungus stained curtain of privacy
I think the prospect of all those Sharpies and Rockers
Knifing each other out at Elwood beach
made me want to keep my clothes washed;
what if I got mistaken for one and was picked up
with a bag of deals for the Uni bookshop on me;
I might end up somewhere awful;
go directly to ‘the go’ do not collect $200
do not get caught. Catch 22 I was learning
was the American psyche’s dirty washing, and Ronald Ryan,
was top hat landing on Mayfair, and General Dreedle owned the hotels.
-Ronald Reagan has just been named Governer of California –
another note, this one marked ‘humorous’ for some future joke.
I have a couple more marked coincidence
that I would like to read to you but
bear in mind that I have never been clear on the distinction
between wicked coincidence and
an irony (assuming there is a difference).
while I wait for the blond to come back and
start sorting the basket of underwear
I’ll list you a couple and call them ‘coincidence’:
1) Ron Barassi went from Melbourne to Carlton and took them from bottom to premiership (near bottom anyway).
Then he went to North Melbourne and did the same for them.
At last he went home to his precious Melbourne club and failed.
2) William White’s father attended his son’s conscientious objection
army trial (after William had been force-goose-marched to
the cliff-face by the army) wearing his returned serviceman decorations.
3) Ronald Ryan was sentenced to hang on 31 January 1967.
31 January is the date of celebration for St John of Bosco
who founded the Silesian Order which taught Ryan his schooling.
4) Harold Holt imported Air Vice Marshall Ky
(the American-made puppet dictator of South Vietnam)
for a propaganda tour.
While Ky was here the two were photographed in a navy craft
cruising the beach at Portsea, the very spot
from which Harry scuba-dived his disappearance from history.
The big blond and the woman who takes the role
in my imagination
of his lover,
and most probably the occupant of that underwear
from time to time,
come into the laundromat.
They commence an argument over the basket, ignoring me and
I am especially embarrassed because
my spinning cycle has ended and I have to get between them
to take my stuff to the dryer. I think about
the great vigil and how we celebrated
at the bookshop
the morning the reprieve came through at the eleventh hour,
nine hours before post time, rope time, neck tie for Ronald.
They step apart and let me through.
I was depressed by the news that Juliet meant,
when she said she never wanted to see me again,
that in fact
she couldn’t stand the gangly fleshless awkward and finally
sight of me.
my only compensations that morning had been
that I didn’t have a mirror in the flat
and that Peter Hudson was going to play for Hawthorn.
when I arrived at work there was champagne
laid out over the anti-hanging edition of Farrago. There
was so much excitement around, and so little work,
that I was able to pilfer ‘The Idiot’ and ‘The Trial’
without anyone, I thought, noticing.
there were sick jokes that Dorothy would marry Ronald again
since the man with whom she had subsequently united
had died of a heart attack.
hell broke out once more:
Hobart was being burned to the ground,
Holt was off fiddling in New Zeakland with Holyoake,
the South Africans had banned D’Olivera on the basis
of his skin colour and were giving our cricketers a thrashing to boot,
our young men were getting blasted to pieces in Phuc Tuoy,
the pieces of Grissom, White, and Chaffey were
disintegrating in space alongside the Apollo debris,
and the affidavits of Ryan’s new-evidence-witnesses were
what’s more I was freaked out by
eviction from my cupboard
and the finality of
Juliet’s rejection of me:
a lesbian lover and I knew conclusively
as I slunk home from my dissolving bookshop job
with another stolen title hidden in my coat
that I had caused myself to be stripped
of any power
in any direction.
-I have had my head in the dryer –
that is another note
explaining to my future self just why
that woman with her basket of wet underwear
is giving me such a strange look.
I put some more money in the dryer
to finish the sheets and pyjamas.
She puts her stuff into the dryer next to me
I can smell her skin in the dry powdery dust and
through the hungry dampness of wet fabric
we watch it begin to tumble and mix
I sat outside the Carlton cemetery reading the paper
on the hot morning of 3 February 1967
when Ryan got his neck snapped by the rope;
it was like a hot summer day back in Bendigo
when he was on one side of the fence
studying for his matriculation
which he got
and I was on the other side
studying for my matriculation
which I got,
though we were years apart in getting them.
He loved his sisters
I loved mine.
I know who arrested Ronald Ryan:
Inspector Ray Kelly;
like one Irishman arrests another for the murder of
George Henry Hodgson (an Englishman?)
I wrote a letter to Juliet about
the chance that Ryan would hang in spite of three sworn statements
and one unsworn statement,
which may have merited some attention.
- I am a person who likes letters -
The letter I wrote was about the rush to judgement
but I did not send it so great was my own guilt.
instead I sent a letter to Michael Cannon concerning
Sydney and the rum trade in heroin;
still singing the same song…
and confessed to stealing books from his shop and
congratulated him on his excellent historical works…
if only I could understand if it means anything
that hanging warrants are signed, it seems, on Thursdays
which is the same day on which Picasso used to sign
I’m sure it means nothing.
My fetish for lacy underwear survived but I gave up
I gave up Brunswick and Carlton but I still love Melbourne
because I go there every now and then if I have a chance
like the pigeon that I am,
always hoping for a glimpse of Juliet’s thigh in a dream,
or the sound of the gallows finally burning down,
or maybe another Jonny Famechon
or a Peter Hudson…
I don’t know if Michael Cannon ever got my letter,
Or if the blond and his lover are going to split up
over the washing, because
my basket is full of warm dry clothes and cotton sheets
like a Bendigo summer day in your face and
the smell of the free wattle and the dry clay earth
as it rushes promises at you.
I leave the laundromat and scurry to the car
with my dogs
and search my memory for Ronald Ryan’s words
which he penned to his mother
after learning of his destiny as determined by
the State Executive Council:
- I was able to accept it with equanimity
my concern was for its effects on you –
- thus spake Zarathustra, secretly
and Ronald Ryan privately -
-I am cooking dinner tonight –
another note to myself from some years later and
the Irish in me ensures there will be potatoes
somewhere in the menu.
- by the time I have eaten –
the later note continues
- Barlow and Chambers will have been hung in a foreign land
down the spout for drugs -
The car won’t start in the rain and so that gives me time
the Penguin Book of Australian Short Stories
for laundromat reading in case I’m stuck
(with nobody interesting to watch)
The first story still niggles me’
with its essay on the Australian colonial hanging psyche.
I wonder whose graves they would spit on…. Barlow and Chambers,
perhaps Barlow and Chambers knew too much
or else just a couple of convicts getting it
in the neck.
- through the rain on the car windows I secretly watch
the blond and the lover
load their washing into their small asian car –
my final notes from that day describe
their final act…
- her white legs with little hairs that
seemed to stand erect against the static charge of the laundromat,
her long fingers twirling the end of a plait into the
curl of her melting collarbone,
his thick tattooed arms that touch her briefly…. -
and they were suddenly gone with their scents and
their rustling hands of arousal and their innocently offered exchange
for my diary…..
and they’re gone
- like Cliffy Stewart; just a constructed memory
without right or wrong,
but most certainly a reality to someone else,
with right and wrong imposed –
I crumple the notes back into the
elegant scented envelope from my old amnesty cellmate,
with the photographs of Hussein and his brother;
head and body separated like washing spilled on a
I hear the laughter of my children behind me
reflecting life out of the misty rain
like wet leaves on the great fig tree
they do not need to see this letter and its crumbling
I light my fire and determine not to reply this time.