Three days of planes and airports got me from India to Melbourne just in time for my mother's funeral at Fawkner Cemetary where we had to drive thru all the segregated sections for Catholics, Protestants and Jews with nothing for pagans except the gorgeous gum trees themselves. There weren't even any flowers for my mother's coffin as my brother said they were a rip off, tho it was her money he was spending. Thank nogod I made the effort to show up to lead the proceedings as there was only my nephew, niece and sister-in-law present, (and my best friend, Geraldine, from my teenage days who has been with me thru all life's trials), my brother didn't bother to come, having terrible grudges against Mom that she didn't really deserve, he bitterly complains she never really cared for us as a mother should.
A sweet man greeted us, the funeral director, he was the perfect fit as he was not overly somber or obsequious and handled our "Adam's Family" approach with friendly aplomb, as if he'd seen it all before. Each of us gave a personal eulogy, the grand-kids telling how kind and brave she was, and we played our favourite music to send her on her way. I didn't expect to cry as I also had my reservations about the old dear, she was bigoted, mean and cranky towards the end, but when I stood up to make my farewell speech, I couldn't speak for the lump in my throat and the tears that blinded me.
"It's hard to say goodbye to your mother... she is the portal and the path in this awesome world... we had good times and bad but thru all the pain I knew she loved us... she cared... I can only tell you a story from my childhood to prove it. When we were kids, I was about 12 years old, my brother got in trouble with the police for shoplifting and in response we ran away from home and slept in cardboard boxes in the city. We stayed out the whole night, but fed up with fatigue and hunger we returned home in the morning, about 7am. As I came into the living room I found her sitting up in an armchair, her head in her hand, freaked out of her brains from worrying about us, she'd been sitting up all night. So I know she cared. I only hope she's at peace now, in the Void, and let's face it, there's only the Void after death... and that she'll be happy as interstellar dust again. Goodbye mom."
I asked them to play Otis Redding's "Chained and Bound" as her coffin descended to the flames, his soulful shrieking, "I'm chained to her love... she won't have to worry no more...", a truly heart-rending dirge to match my soul's pain, and as the white coffin disappeared I saw flashes of her throughout my childhood, sitting at the kitchen table, in front of the '50s/'60s TV, at the family barbeques dancing the Twist. I cried great gulps of tears, the ritual was quite cathartic for me and any acrimony still sticking in my craw dissolved. Oh nogod, we only have one mother in this life and it hurts to let go of her, no matter what the regrets.
As I stumbled out the door Bill, the funeral director, quietly approached me, (he looked very straight but was actually tolerant, understanding and cool, confessing he was a singer/songwriter but too old for it now), he presented me with a potted Rosemary Plant saying it could be a memorial for her and I accepted it gratefully. Outside amongst the Eucalypts a light rain fell as if the world was crying with me, (a cliche I know but that's how I read it.) Then as twilight grew a wild storm erupted from out of nowhere, lightning like white-hot dragons, thunder like crashing Beethoven, and a deluge of rain that had them swimming up Flinders Street, it blew me away that the Universe/Nature should meet my mood like psychedelic.
We all split to Loman's Pub in East Brunswick for the wake, me and Geraldine relishing Bailley's Irish Cream as a delicious soother of woes, and we all told stories about Gwen, the woman. The next night my niece and I went to Coburg Drive-in Theatre and saw "The Wolfman", the '40s/'50s Lon Chaney look made me think of my childhood favourite shlock-horror orgasm "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman" and how they wrestled each other to death in an ice-cave below a ruined castle. It seemed the mirror-image of the domestic brawls between my mother and father in the Housing Commission flat of the same era. Fuck! The purgatory she went thru for many years just to look after her kids, not only the beat-ups and the boring-arse non-social life, but that she had to continue fucking my father long after she stopped loving him, what a drag!
I had to ring my brother, I was still hoping for a reconciliation, and I gushed about the cool appropriateness of the funeral service and how sad it was he'd missed it. He grunted in sour pique and then whined on and on about some new clothes he'd sent to mom's nursing home and now they'd gone missing, it was a huge scandal. I mentioned that her diamond rings had also gone missing but he kept harping on about the fucking David Jones clothes, his overly-officious wife had bought them, with my mother's money, and she was urging him earnestly to find closure on her grand project of dressing Gwen nicely as she slowly died.
I tried to cut him off, my mobile's balance was ticking to it's end. He went into serious lawyer mode reeling off the facts of the Will, (a control freak, he'd gotten power of attorney), in reality he lives in the backwoods of Tasmania making handcrafted furniture, he's uneducated, socialises with no one, is cut off from the real world but he thinks he knows, he's the responsible, upright one, the successful businessman and I'm a deadbeat gypsy artist bum. "What good did it do you to dedicate your life to art? Where's the money?" He doesn't understand, it wasn't about money, it was about living ART, this old argument is like a Z-grade pulp movie plot.
I finally squeezed in a few words telling how I'd spent all my money getting from India to Melbourne in time for the funeral, and I'd heard the old girl had left some cash in the safe of the nursing home, and could he give me a hundred bucks to get me back to Sydney as I was stranded. All I got was a gruff "No!" Gee, what a great guy, a measly $100 can't be found. My dad would turn in his grave, generous to everyone, always help you out of a spot, the very man my brother says he admires and emulates, but he's grown prematurely old, into an uptight Scrooge, and spent the money on himself, for his own fares to Melbourne to wrap up Gwen's affairs, and didn't even bother to stay around for the funeral. (He has "strined" on about her defects for years, she's a gambler, boozer, spendthrift and cold-blooded slut, especially when she left dad for a slob called Jack she'd met at the shoe factory.) I took his frozen grunt with good grace, I didn't need another fight with my brother in these dolorous days, "Oh well, I've been broke a thousand times before, I'll find a way out of here, like I always do. We'll talk again, my phone credit's gone, goodbye."
Hmmm, he dumped me by the side of the road. I put out my thumb and got a ride back to Sydney anyway, in reality my sister in law, his first wife, paid for it. My brother never did get over his resentment towards my mom's new husband, Jack, a blob who looked like Jabba the Hutt's afterbirth. All my father's jealous accusations of her promiscuity with blokes at the shoe factory came true, she went on to live with the creep for the next thirty years, hating his guts for the last fifteen of them, for her it was like swapping Frankenstein for the Mummy, all he ever did was sit on the couch watching footy on the TV while she waited on him hand and foot.
Towards the end she confessed her loathing for the male species, a childhood of beatings from her father during the Great Depression, the cruel restrictions of my father and the boorishness of her last partner, for women of her era there were no refuges, social security or sympathy. Fat Jack, she told me, was a dirty pig, wiping his shitty fingers on the toilet wall, going thru her purse for money to gamble away, flirting down at the Rosebud Pub with a mob of blue-rinsed 70 year old dotties who hung on his every word as if he were the gallant Casanova of Geriatric-ville. Mum and Fat Jack had two dogs which they doted upon, the one big as a horse his, the little yapping/biting one hers, she was always getting it to stand on two legs and beg for scraps to which she'd enthuse, "Oh you sweet little thing, isn't he gorgeous!"
The day she decided to leave mug-head Jack, unable to stand his cretinous ways for another minute, we had to wait till he went down the pub so she could sneak away without any big drama. We put her little dog in the laundry so it wouldn't snap at out ankles while we heaved her many boxes of junk to the new house around the corner. When it came time to fetch the dog, much to my brother's shock he found it swinging limply from the window, blood flowing gruesomely. In it's hysteria it had entangled itself in the window-blinds cord and, twisting about furiously, it had strangled itself with the cord cutting deep into it's throat, leaving a pool of blood to swamp the laundry floor.
Talk about a run of bad luck, my mother never ran out of it. We couldn't tell her the actual circumstances, it was too bloody awful, we kept her out of the laundry and told her the poor thing had had a heart attack with all the excitement, we buried it in the backyard and quickly moved her to the new house, wondering all along if old Jack had somehow gotten wind of the great escape and had strung up her dog in revenge, but no, he was too dumb and fat for such an effort.
And her precious diamond rings that she'd hung onto thru thick and thin as her only assets and possible savior for her old age, thought more of than the well-being of her kids and grand-kids, even when lost in dementia and abandoned at the local hospital her last cognitive thoughts centered on their whereabouts, all she wanted and cared about was that the diamond rings should be on her fingers and next to her heart. Well the fucking things got lifted by some pathetic piece of shit in the nursing home, a cruel comment on the stupidity of the world's and her venality. A curse upon those diamonds, may they do the thief no good!
At one point I stood upon Princess bridge and checked out the city of Melbourne, place of my birth but not having lived there for forty years, and I flashed how beautiful the city had become, the illuminated towers, Gothic spires, the landscaped Yarra River, the ferris wheel near the MCG, the neon-spike of the Art Centre, all of it like an idyllic fairy-town, Melbourne could now compete with the grandeur of Sydney's Harbour precinct. We went across the road to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in the Botanic Gardens and I got blown away hearing Tchaikovski's Piano Concerto No.1 played by an 18year old genius, music to live and die by. As I sat on the lawns my mind was called back fifty years to a ballet performed there, "Don Quixote" with Robert Helpman and Rudolph Nureyev dancing the principle parts. Oh, what a feast for a little fag boy, two of the most accomplished poof artists in the world and I saw them in their heyday.
Two days after my mom's funeral we went to a concert at Federation Square for National Apology Day for Indigenous Australians. It was a cosmic welcome back to Auz for me as Fed Square stands upon a sacred site by the Yarra River for yours queer truly, below used to be Melbourne's premier beat for lost homosexuals of the '50s and '60s, Princess Bridge Railway Station toilets, where I met my first lovers as a teenager, and found my Way, now long ago and long forgotten. I was honoured to hear Archie Roach sing with his wife, Ruby Hunter, I'd never seen them perform together and they were the best Auz had to offer in music, as far as I'm concerned. When Archie talked of sadness towards the dear departed and sang "They Took the Children way" I cried and cried a gutfull of tears for my mother, for I had much howling locked up inside me still trying to flow out, and it was a huge relief for me, death is so final.
And only a few days later precious Ruby Hunter herself died of a heart attack, I'd seen her last performance, after a big rush all the way from the Himalayas, as if it was all meant to be, and we were all connected, the Universe, my family, Indigenous Australia, everything fragile, transient, glorious, heartrendingly sad and beautiful for being thus.