The Age
It's Daffodil Day again

Peter Millard

Friday 18 August 2000


I am in Melbourne again, on a tram, after my latest check-up. I'm in remission. Now I'm enjoying the ride, taking in the city - able to concentrate on its sights.

A woman coughs politely, putting hands over her mouth. The passengers suck in the walls, communally thinking TB. She wipes her face with her hands, as though she's used to dry-washing it from another life.

Her man (a husband's age) sits unmoved and unmoving beside her; satisfied with life now. I am satisfied by the smells of coriander and Vietnamese mint in their baskets, filled at the market.

An adolescent pair, hands entwined, pinch and pick at each other's arms as they blend together in love. He picks and pinches a little harder than she does. Does he hurt her with his fumbling love? They talk in normal-level voices of quiet, personal things. Why do people do this on public transport? They discuss literature, Julius Caesar mostly. Schoolkids in love. Remember?

"Errol Street," the driver announces, and those waiting to get home are impatiently ejected from the crowded tram.

The winter's dark crushes in on the moving yellowish/greenish cabin, its passengers trapped. I now know who buys all those expensive, black woollen coats in the city department stores. The cold rushes in as the doors open, trapping the heady smell of daffodils from a flower vendor's stall at the tram stop. Their golden heads beam into the cabin. It's Daffodil Day.

An ambulance rushes past, its siren piercing the night, its lights echoing against the tram.

The driver interacts with Asian passengers, discusses the cold. You do, don't you? The weather always fills the conversational gaps with strangers. Not that the driver has to talk with the passengers. He's a nice guy. He's just like that. He likes to change people's lives, where he can. The end of his shift nears. He shares his life with a million western Melburnians entering and exiting No.57 tram.

I am scrunched in a corner next to a young miss who blocks me in, a bunch of aromatic daffodils springing from her cane basket.

Car lights now pass up-down, criss-cross, up-down.

Multicultural Melbourne sits side by side.

High-rise flats. Sardines, only stacked on top of each other, without the luxury of side-by-side living.

Factories sit in the near light. Yellowish globes targeting reasons for being. The shopping centre advertises moccasins, Asian foods, cash, flowers.

We pass a new development. Inner-city living reflects what modern life demands close to the core. Clean modern colors, on buildings that stand on the site of old Melbourne. Poor Melbourne. Working-class Melbourne.

Some African men stand for a woman with a pusher. Young mothers have guts to get on public transport with all that machinery. The child bellows in the cold, but settles in the tram.

We approach the roundabout at Flemington. The tram races now, like a Saturday horse let loose in the straight.

A secondary school. Where for years local kids have struggled against rookie teachers. The eternal struggle for socialisation.

"You've got shit for brains," the driver yells at a Mercedes making an illegal right-hand turn in front of his tram. His passengers smirk.

Showgrounds - turn into Ascot Vale. The shops still open stand out like lighthouses now.

Mothers with children, late home for tea. Do they still prepare it these days? Or is dad, unemployed, home stirring a pot?

Blue lights, red lights. Two ambulances (one a MICA) and a police car block the street. The officers are cutting a man down from the playground equipment. What kind of news did he receive that would make him taint this children's place?

I leave the tram, the end to my day. The body is pushed into the ambulance, the end to someone's life.

In the strip shopping centre I stop to buy a bunch of daffodils. I carry the flowers and my good news home to my friends.

Peter Millard was diagnosed with multiple myeloma two years ago and The Age published an account of how he found out he had cancer. He is in remission after a bone-marrow transplant. Today is Daffodil Day - buy a bunch.