The city that never grew up

A curious word echoes through the marbled foyer of a city hotel.
‘Trinaldee!’ The call comes from a middle-aged man
wearing a hand-knitted jumper, standing before the Hugo Boss
suits and immaculately groomed reception staff. ‘Trinaldee!’
The cinematic Tinkerbell of this generation is
Paul Cox, a Dutch-born filmmaker who came to Australia in 1963
to escape the oppressive atmosphere of Dutch provincialism.
From the mid 1970s, Cox began making whimsical films about people
on the outside of society. By the 1980s, they had developed
into an enduring picture of bayside Melbourne, where aging adults
strive to protect themselves against the world of experience.
Malcolm is remarkable for its decision to leave the innocence
of its main character quite uncomplicated by moral questions.
He is granted the same kind of license to act beyond the law
as Peter Pan. Indeed, like Peter Pan he is capable of flight,
albeit with the assistance of gadgets rather than fairy dust.
But as with everything, efficiency triumphs and Melbourne
shivers again with the cool winds of economic change. I turned
up at the Railway Hotel hoping to revive a few embers of sentiment
from their retrenchment. How would the gatekeepers look back
over their working lives?
One diesel-powered voice booms out to his mates: ‘See
up in there, the toffs!’ And then he berates them directly,
‘One good thing—they’ll be able to pull this
down …’ Like an ancient rusty sword, he brandishes
class rivalry, ‘… then you’ll never know what
it’s like to be in a real football ground. You’ll
know that all you did was take space from the real supporters.’
As he is scolding the sponsors, the club president starts addressing
the crowd. Eddie McGuire is a double-breasted game-show host
who provides the people’s face for the Australian Republican
The man ordained by Nadia Tass as a ‘real Malcolm’,
Norm Cross, still works here. As well as being a walking encyclopaedia
of trams, Norm embodies the comic spirit of the workshop. One
of his roles as a fitter was to service the tram bells. He recalls
one of his impromptu concerts: ‘I was playing a tune one
day and the boss put his head out of the window and said, “That’s
a lovely tune Norm, do you know how to play Tom Dooley?”
I said “I can’t do it,” and he said “Well
I’m sick of that bloody tune so shut up!”’
It is the kind of place where men can occasionally be boys.
Tramjatra reflected Melbourne in a spirit of spontaneous devotion
totally at odds with its current direction as an international
city. Via a marvellous cultural detour, it connects the lost
world of working class camaraderie with the traditional village
life of Bengal. In Calcutta lies Melbourne’s Prester John,
and the hope that one day its soul might return.

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