GO WEST


For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar’s gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go.
— Robert Penn Warren

I DRIVE WEST.  

Undulating tarmac stretches grey and unnerving into the yellow of suburbia. It always looks hot out here to me, even when it isn't.  I flick the indicator, glance over my shoulder, and glide onto the Ring Road, following the signs that will carry me towards Broadmeadows. The notebooks resting on the passenger seat slide as I curve around the road, gliding away from the city. I catch them with my hand before they fall to the floor, never removing my eyes from the road. I switch lanes, lazily flicking my eyes from mirror to mirror, one hand resting on the wheel and the other perched on my hip. I feel tougher than I look, in my mirrored aviator sunglasses that reflect the four open lanes of the ring road before me. White lines flicker. The ring road scythes around the city. The cables from the power stations hem me in, encircling me. A truck brakes suddenly and I snap to reality momentarily, before allowing myself to slide back into myself, slipping into that state of being one often has when driving; minimal concentration coupled with maximum mental disconnect. 

 Through the window I see the city skyline shimmering on the horizon. I am surprised by how far away it appears after  20 minutes of driving. Quite suddenly the feeling of having travelled a great distance comes over me, but the clock belies this. I have been in the car for less than an hour. When I look in the rear view mirror all I see is the reflection of the empty highway before me, stretching into infinity. No-one is driving west at 8.45 on a Tuesday morning. I am one of the few vehicles on the road. The traffic heads south: towards the metropolis of Melbourne. Away from the West. 

When uttered, the name Broadmeadows often evokes images of crime, violence, unemployment and struggle. I drive west to spend the day seated in the Magistrates Court; to sit quietly and record the stories of those passing through. To hear those seemingly unending tales of young men caught speeding, not wearing seat belts, driving while over the limit. Wild boys corralled by the law. Wolves turned to lambs, heads tilted in contrition, meekly looking up through ragged long fringes at the Magistrate looming, promises of good behaviour falling from uncouth mouths. A young mother alleged to have stolen children's clothing. She is pregnant with her second child. She enters a plea of guilty, her head bowed to her chest. Another woman screams and cries on the floor in the waiting room. No-one turns their gaze to her as the sounds of her howls bounce off the walls. The speakers call out an endless list of names and cases and people pass in an endless stream through the metal detectors at the entrance to the court. Young men in ill-fitting suits sit on the courtroom steps, hunched over their cigarettes, pushing their sunglasses further up their nose. 

Through the glass inside, I think I see their hands shaking. 


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