Bondi Junction: A Quick Red Brick Tour, Part One

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Published by Matthew Davidson on Tue, 15/12/2020 - 9:19pm in

I'd long assumed that the flat that I lived in a quarter of a century ago had been demolished for high-rise or retail. I can't easily get there to verify that, so I recently checked to see if this was the case, using a certain Evil service through which one may View a Street.

Here it is:

Ours is on the first floor; the two windows on the right. Having removed that element of suspense, I will proceed to tackle the biographical and geographical significance of that flat in a roundabout way.

One thing that definitely doesn't exist any more is Oscar's Palace, just around the corner from that flat. This is where I think it used to be:

I am not sure about this, as most of the surrounding landmarks have also been demolished, but this is the only block of land in the general area wide enough to have accommodated it.

In the early nineties, in what was to become a recurring motif in our relationship, my then-girlfriend thought it a very good idea that I lived somewhere she didn't. The reasons for this were utterly mysterious to me at the time, although embarrassingly, humiliatingly, mortifyingly obvious since. So she found an advertisement for a room in a boarding house in Bondi Junction.

It was a mere eighty dollars a week, which is a steal for a pretentious unemployed youngster intent on writing a great novel, despite displaying no previous aptitude in this area, and not even having a particular fondness for long-form written fiction. And of course she would be visiting at every opportunity, as would anybody offered the prospect of a miserable time with a drunk, know-nothing, self-obsessed bore, with a once-pretty face rapidly growing flabby in proportion to the rest of his body, with the exception of the thinning hair.

So, having visited said establishment and verifying that I could in fact live there, according to some broad definition of "live", I went along with this plan, signing a six-month lease for a single room with bed, tap and basin in the corner, two-ring cooker on the sideboard, and bar fridge.

Oscars's Palace was obviously once a rather grand three-story house, sufficiently far out from the industrial squalor of Darlinghurst and Paddington to be genteel, but still close enough to the city for an easy commute. I'm no judge of such things, but I'd say it may well have been built before the electric tramline along Oxford Street.

At some point, the residence fell from grace and was divided into two semi-detatched houses, and then into the final indignity of being a boarding house for those working their way down to homelessness.

Every floorboard creaked beneath the loose folds of fraying carpet, and the stairwell reeked of cat urine. The cats themselves were mangy, rail-thin, and hissed at everyone, including each other. I presumed they belonged to the couple upstairs, who also spent most of the day engaged in loud mutual verbal abuse. (However that was the most violence I ever experienced there, which from the perspective of my current neighbourhood, seems quite idyllic.)

The shared bathroom on my landing had a lavatory, a basin, a shower head sticking out of the wall, and a drain in the middle of the floor. So if someone had just showered, you had to splash across the room to get to the lav. The real challenge was the gent residing at the far end of the landing, in the room nearest the bathroom. He was a man of regular habits, the first of which was to throw up all over the bathroom floor, before donning his off-white linen suit and fedora, to go off and do whatever he needed to do in order to perform the same feat the next morning. So if you didn't want to tiptoe though a minefield of diced carrot to have your morning shower, you had to be an early riser.

The other thing was to give your luggage a good brisk shake before closing it and setting off anywhere. Because ideally, you want the mice to leap out of your bag before you get to your destination, unless you have the bravado to smile broadly and cry "Ta-da!"

The place was riddled with mice. The feral cats clearly felt they had bigger fish to fry, as they seemed not at all interested in something so petty as mice. They had so much stuff to hiss at or piss on; one simply cannot be looking after everything!

Within a couple of months, I was going insane. I had no idea how to look after myself. I had quit my job with the intention of writing the work of genius that had been sitting inside me, desperate to be delivered, yet the typewriter sat idle. I realised that without a job I couldn't carry on bouncing from pub to pub with occasional stops for junk food, so my solution was to buy Kentucky Fried Chicken in bulk and eat it over the course of a few days to a week, washed down with ouzo and lemonade, of all things. I can't imagine how sweet, sparkling, southern fried, liquorice-scented chicken, never made it onto the bathroom floor along with the diced carrot. It appears I did have some measure of self-control, after all.

The old chap who set up office every day in the shed out back was heavy set, but took your four twenties each week in a genial, grandfatherly way before slipping them into his cashbox, locking it up, and issuing a stamped and signed receipt. I was afraid that, at the end of six months, when I told him I was moving out, that he might feel offended. He smiled, took my eighty dollars, and gave me a receipt.

I actually met Oscar, in a manner of speaking, shortly before moving out. I was on my way somewhere, locking the door behind me, and turned around to see a couple of unusually respectable people coming up the stairs, and only then noticed a dapper little old man at about eye level with my belly looking up at me, beaming and waving a silver-topped cane, crying "Ah! Velcome! Velcome!" He continued on to the next tenant, coming down the stairs, "Velcome! Velcome!"

Makes the regal "And what do you do?" seem positively garrulous.

I surmised that, as a young man disembarking at Circular Quay and seeing all the potential for urban decay that Sydney had to offer, he realised that he would need to pick up a smattering of English if he were ever to become a successful slumlord, and with a shrewd businessman's knack for economy, decided that "welcome" was sufficently convivial to pretty much cover it.

Now, you may well ask, how did I know his name was Oscar? I didn't at the time, but I did a couple of years later thanks to my friends Chris and Dave, and an establishment called Billy the Pig's…