Speaker by Various Artists

Waking up to realise you've been asleep (on the tram)

by Che Tibby

You know how you one day have a word explained to you, then all of a sudden hear it everywhere? It's almost as if a word like 'schnurgle' was invented in some vast conspiracy, because from that second you learn it, that little bugger will be sneaking into ads, TV spots with informed experts, stranger's conversations in line at the movies, and especially, between pissed-off office drones on the Tram.

'Schnurgle', I'm informed, is that smell you can only get from peoples armpits on public transport.

Now, luckily, I'm six-four so this has never really been an issue for me. Which would in all likelihood make me the schnurgler, and not the schnurglee. Nonetheless, I have many times seen that grimace of shock that overtakes some poor punter when they buy their tram ticket and turn around to find themselves face to damp pore with that rather inviting groove between my pectorals and deltoids while I hold onto a rail.

The most usual way to spare people from displaying their 'schnurgle mask' is to fight your way to a seat and keep the arms down (granny, bugger off with your imaginary 'arthritis'), or grasp uprights a low as possible (no madam, I wasn't groping your ass). Alternatively you can put your arms around the waist or shoulder of the person next to you for support, but my past attempts to turn public transport into a vast conga-party have always failed. Surprisingly.

After several years of trying different anti-stench unguents, sprays, sticks, therapies, diets and razors I simply gave up. Now I spare the public by either working from home or walking to where I have to go. I would drive, but that mint Falcon XD out there becoming less mint by the day costs a goddamn fortune to run. And that would be thanks to a particularly famous no-doubt-schnurgler out there named, appropriately, Bush. On stinking hot days, such as the 44.1 degrees here in Melbourne in the summer of '03, I'll still take the public transport and just schnurgle like I have to, which is an tragedy.

Actually I lie. On that 44.1 degree day I went to the only pub in the neighbourhood with air-conditioning.

The great thing about Melbourne is the inner-city retreats. I'm maybe half-hours walk from downtown, which is just about enough to sober you up a bit on the way home, and twenty from Melbourne University. And walking is no hassle because the nearest real slopes are an hours drive from here.

I was talking with the housemate last night and we were comparing pubs in the area. North Carlton is starting to gentrify a wee bit, but there's still pubs with great sounds nearby. The Empress has music almost every night. Then, for the swanky there's the Fitzroy star (which is kind of in North Fitzroy), for the normal there's the Tramways. The Great Northern does famous cheesy Chicken Parmies, the Brandon does the most insane bingo nite, and the Kent is for wankers and 'jogger-pushers' (those three wheel pram thingies). The Parkview is just plain dodgy, but open really late, the Lomonde is actually in Brunswick but does the most amazing music on Sunday afternoons. I saw a band do Spanish-polka fusion there. Weird in the most amazing way. The Pinnacle is apparently pretty good, but I haven't been there, and the list goes on and on.
Meanwhile, in food there's at least two great pizza places (and some crap ones), there's a decent burger place, maybe a dozen restaurants, some of them very nice, cheapish Asian food of a couple of varieties (none of which compares to Richmond Vietnamese), most all of the pubs do at least passable meals, and of course, kebabs.

It's hard to say exactly why there's so much variety here. You could put it down to there being more money around, but I lived in Richmond and that's hardly Beverly Hills. I also lived in Camberwell, a very wealthy 'burb, and there were restaurants, but not half the types. Maybe you can put it down to the three million people in an area roughly the size of Auckland, but Carlton is hardly more crowded than Grey Lynn or Ponsonby, and maybe the same distance from the city centre.

What it does remind me of is Wellington. Back when I lived in Te Aro valley people used to wander down out of the hills and to Bar Bodega or to Cuba Street because it was so accessible. The first thing I noticed when I moved to Auckland in '95 was that I had to have a car. Not only was everything miles from anywhere, the public transport was a bunchofass. Sure Wellington was dusty, windswept and grey in that particularly Wellington way, but the city itself has a 'compressed' and community feel of everyone living near each other.

The other thing is the costs. Auckland is expensive. There's three kiwis here in a smallish place where we pay a total of $250 a week in rent. Now, when I was working at a local restaurant pearl-diving to fund the edumacation I was pulling up to $600 a week. Long hours mind you, the Sunday shift was up to 15 hours with no breaks but for a 1 hour split, and no overtime but free food. That freed up a lot of money to spend keeping local students and artists employed pulling beers for me when I needed to escape the heat.

To be honest, I have to put the sheer variety down to immigrants coming here and becoming self-employed. Let's face it, if all you come to Australia with is a different diet then that better be your competitive edge in the labour market. Firstly you aren't taking jobs you're making them, and secondly you cop grief from 'the man'.

There's a lot of Italian and Greek food in this neighbourhood, but there's also a place called Zum Zum. If you've never tried North African food, like grilled halomi cheese on a pear and rocket salad, or lamb zatar sausages, find a Moroccan place today. There's more to North Africa than hashish and women in veils. There's also a completely vegetarian place over in North Fitzroy called the Moroccan Soup Bar. Soooooo many types of chickpea. So many.

What I'm really waiting for though is some Somali or Ethiopian food. There's a heap of refugees living near here, you see the women walking around all the time in these incredibly coloured, um, robes? Anyhow, I'm guessing that these sheilas are sitting on some fantastic stuff they only cook for their husbands, and the sooner they start barbequing goat or whatever the hell they do the better. A mate is Kenyan, and for a going-away party last year a bunch of us chipped in, bought and barbequed an entire bleater. If you've never eaten goat, go find one, marinate it with a recipe off the net, and cook it to medium rare in chops, kebabs and rissoles.

My question is how can you not want immigrants when they bring new experiences like that to your town? Sure, they'll freak you out when you first meet them, but hearing an African kid say, 'gidday' a purely Aussie accent is hilarious. The other great thing about Australia, or New Zealand for that matter, is the way that the presence of immigrants is never the basis for conflict with all the words connotations of violence. Instead, immigrants are all about ructions, in that familial-spat type meaning. And, commuters always give them the schnurgle mask, and I slip under the radar....