Ian C. Smith

Uniforms Interview
(With thanks to SM Chianti)

The old-timer said, the Salvation Army band played here on Friday evenings opposite the Palace Hotel, known in earlier days as The Bloodhouse for its brawling patrons after the six o’clock swill when they lined up full glasses before last drinks were served at six p.m. by law. Those Salvos, a small group in uniform, the lasses wearing bonnets with chinstraps, brass, tambourines, sweet voices brave in belief, sang hymns of redemption in the face of drunken obscenity while I sought pleasure with the publican’s daughter in an upstairs room overlooking this same Burke Road tramline. Our lustful antics, and believing we are happy, are things that haven’t changed. Other familiar uniforms suggesting stories were seen in public then: nuns, nurses wearing capes, scouts, policemen on foot, soldiers in slouch hats, sailors, including merchant seamen, the blue grey of Air Force personnel. Now, everybody’s dress, though gaudy, seems anonymous, the mysterious niqab, which resembles nuns’ garb, one of few exceptions although xenophobes’ reactions to these back then would have been more widespread, even uglier than today’s. At night we sometimes climbed a narrow stair like a priest hole to the roof where we heard the paperboy cry, Late Extra, looked down on all the glittering lights, green trams whirring and rattling to Camberwell Junction, Silver Top taxis whisking people into their futures, that great pulse of what was to happen. We saw a satellite. People talked about these then. Up on the Roof became our song. Keenly argued sport filled the following afternoon, football, horse racing — yet more uniforms — after some of us worked overtime Saturday mornings. All sport on the same afternoon, except boxing at the House of Stoush on Friday nights which was also card night for older people. Can you imagine that? Everything is so much more diversified now but here is where the magical whispering of my heart returns to, these echoes of memory spread out like those dealt cards, a ruin of nostalgia. Have you written this down? It’ll soon be history.

Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in Amsterdam Quarterly, Antipodes, cordite, Poetry New Zealand, Poetry Salzburg Review, Southerly, and Two-Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.