The Big Issue : Edition 467
THE BIG ISSUE 12 – 25 SEP 2014 13 When I left the town full of new builds and no opportunities for people inclined neither to plumbing nor the public service, Dad showed me how to change a washer and unclog a drain. There are no longer washers in all faucets. The last one I saw was back in 1991, in an awful house I shared with my friend, Francis, who now lives in a very tastefully renovated terrace. I remember it was there, in Sydney’s Newtown, that we watched the Keating spill together. Francis was and remains a True Believer, and neither of us knew at the time what to make of this well-dressed economist taking the reins of the nation. Now, we both think fondly of the Keating Years. The guy might have liberalised the economy to a dangerous pseudo- Thatcher standard, but at least he was smart. You don’t see a lot of that in Canberra these days. Francis and I worked in electronic media, so sometimes I was on the phone to Canberra to speak with politicians and press secretaries. And sometimes I was on the phone to Dad. And I remember being on the phone to Dad as I tried to change a washer. It was some time around Christmas 1991, when I was so young and the future so bright it hurt my eyes. It was around the time the smart-suited Keating ousted Hawke. It was on or around that day I saw a man, who must have felt a bit like me as a youth, become prime minister. I was about to manage Christmas alone like a grown-up. I had multigrips in my hand (I think that’s what they’re called) and was pretty sure I could fix almost everything. And anything I couldn’t fix would be tended to by people like Keating. Keating did a little good. I fixed the dripping tap. Christmas was a bit of a bust because someone (I say it was Francis; he says it was me) forgot to buy any grog. Obsolescence is inbuilt in taps these days; one buys a whole new unit instead of fixing the thing. So I never kept up that skill, but I remain foolhardy enough to unscrew a pipe. A day or so ago I unscrewed a pipe and unblocked the bathroom drain. I must tell my father. And I must remember my grandfather, who died quite young but not before he left Mullumbimby – an inland town he’d not had much time for – to live by the sea in a caravan he liked very much. He never felt at home. Much like me. Small towns are difficult for people who are a bit odd. Mullumbimby. Canberra. In these places we couldn’t even smell the ocean, and sniff the promise of a place, however greatly imagined, where our strange energies were tolerated. My grandfather died in a caravan without plumbing next to the ocean. I think that pleased him. I hope so. I thought of him as I fixed the drain. “Now, we both think fondly of the Keating Years. The guy might have liberalised the economy to a dangerous pseudo- Thatcher standard, but at least he was smart. ” RAZER: Pipe Dreams PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND NOT TO BRAG, but my grandfather, Robert Arthur, was Mullumbimby’s only plumber between World War II and the Vietnam War. He was fairly decent when it came to pipes and must have influenced his son, who also took up the trade. Dad used to spend a great deal of time with his hand down ghastly drains in the building sites of Canberra, where he earned our family’s living. Shit and clay and dead marsupials aside, he seemed to enjoy the puzzle of plumbing. “Its really just elaborate Lego,” he said. I looked as a child at my glossy red Lego bricks and decided I should take him at his word. I knew I would never work with my hands. And I never did. » Helen Razer (@helenrazer) is a writer, gardener and a contributor to this magazine over a very long period. For which we are grateful.