Monday 5 May 2008

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An Alternative Life

© John Sawyer – May 2008

Eddy Miller owns a three bedroom brick veneer house in Doncaster. It’s surrounded by grass and trees on quite a large block close to the bus interchange near the Eastern Freeway exit. One night about 10 years ago he packed a few clothes in his rucksack, grabbed his guitar and caught a bus to the city. He hasn’t been back since. This was the second most important thing to happen to Eddy Miller.

Let’s roll forward to last Tuesday.

Eddy is sitting in the annex of his caravan in the backyard of a house in Richmond. The caravan has no wheels and is propped off the ground by two stacks of house bricks. There is no power and the only light comes from a sputtering kerosene pressure lamp and the afterglow from barbeque embers.

A latticework trellis with an evergreen vine gives some privacy, both to the house owners and Eddy. It is no barrier to the dogs or people who pass freely from one zone to another. It is merely designed to corral the chaos of grapevines, carnations, olive trees, tomatoes, roses and geraniums of the inner suburban kitchen garden from the chaos that surrounds the van: A broken shopping trolley, an old pram with one wheel missing, a couple of rusty bicycles kept as spare parts and a collection of Venetian blinds recovered from a demolition site for some long forgotten purpose.

Eddy is sharing some snags and a couple of beers with his sons. He’s wearing three layers of clothes and is wrapped in a blanket. His sons are in their business suits but have removed their ties. They also have blankets wrapped around them against the cold.

“You love this don’t you Dad?”

“Yes I do Ken. I’m now happier than I could ever have hoped. I was completely bored with my other life, 10 hours of drudgery a day writing proposals for improbable software accounting packages. All interspersed with lonely silences in front of the TV with your mother. When you two finished uni, I had no reason to stay. Your mother might say otherwise but we’re both better off. She’s still got her suburban dream and I’m writing and performing my songs.”

Ken is an up and coming barrister. His older brother Matt is a merchant banker who packages up Private Public Partnership deals with various state governments. “I reckon it’s very good of Trevor to let you stay here rent free, Dad.”

“Trev and I go way back. He’s big time now, but he hasn’t forgotten that I gave him his first job as a trainee programmer. I also suspect it helps his image as a trendy inner suburban leftie if he can talk about the 52 year old busker who lives in his backyard. He also likes to bring his guitar out here and jam some old songs with me a couple of times a week.”

Ken finally gets down to the issue that brought them here: “Look Dad, Matt and I love you and we’re worried about you and your busking. Outside the clubs in King Street is not really safe with the drunks and the fights. Can’t you move somewhere a bit safer? What about during the day at Vic Market. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are pretty busy, you should do alright there.”

“I’m touched that you both worry about me but I’m fine where I am. It’s really quite safe. No one’s interested in fighting me and the drunks get quite nostalgic when I play the old songs. They pay pretty well and sometimes sing along. I love playing there and I’ll keep doing it as long as I can.”

True to his word, Eddie Miller set up in his regular spot outside “The House” nightclub again on Saturday night. He came by tram with his guitar across his shoulder and the stool, mini amp and motorbike battery strapped to an old fruitier’s hand trolley. If things went well, he’d catch the night-rider bus back to Richmond at 4am.

Things did go well. At first. There was the usual noisy pushing, vomiting and bloody noses but the patrons had been generous and he had a wad of notes in is belt and the coin box on his trolley was almost full.

Graham was a journalism student at RMIT. He was also a bouncer on weekends. He brought Eddy a hot coffee at 2:15. “Here you go Eddy. It’s been a pretty easy night so far. How are you doing?”

“I’m going pretty good Graham. I might even go home early tonight, the 3 o’clock bus maybe.”

At 2:38 am things went sideways. A no hoper, would be gangster from Broadie decided that his girlfriend was being unfaithful and started to bash her mercilessly on the steps of “The House”. Graham was experienced enough to avoid force and started to reason with the thug. He had no hope against the blind rage of testosterone, alcohol and ice. By 2:41, Graham had been shot in the chest, the girlfriend had been shot in the thigh and Eddy Miller, who’d gone to the assistance of Graham and the girlfriend, was dying from a bullet wound to his lower abdomen.

This was the most important thing that ever happened to Eddy Miller. It was also the last.


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