The Last Goodbye

Now is the time to reveal and point out the last goodbye. We are almost at the opposite place on Earth from Mala in Macedonia and it has been two years since we left Macedonia, surely this is the last good bye. But no, it's not as easy to say goodbye for the last time and therefore forever as one might imagine. For many months after our arrival to Australia when I lay down to sleep, my eyes welled up with tears and my brain would split in two. The right side of my brain would show me visions of green meadows with crystal clear water running through them, with white sheep grazing and happily bleating, strawberry fields with ripe strawberries sunbaking in the warm sun, watermelons ready for picking and birds tweeting away. The left side of my brain would show me the grey concrete hell of Richmond, dotted with smelly factories, its streets greasy with oil from broken down cars and then I questioned myself "Why did we come here?" The answer my friend is simple. It was because we had no choice. Greece didn't want us, and Richmond along with Fitzroy and Collingwood was all we could afford. We stayed in 41 Kent St, Richmond for three years before shifting to a larger house, unfortunately still in Richmond (Dad was fond of Richmond, had made friends there and of course he couldn't afford to move to a better suburb). There we consoled ourselves by visiting relatives, friends and other migrants including Greeks who lived nearby (because we could speak Greek as well as Macedonian; we liked Greeks, it's the political system that we didn't like). We were stoic and resilient; we also developed a sense of humour to deal with the local population who wouldn't look at us in the eye when at rare occasions our paths would cross and then they would spurt out the words "bloody wogs" under their breath. It was a far cry from the greetings I remember in our village: a greeting of "(Dobro ootro" (good morning) would be answered with: "Dae bog dobro" (may god give you goodness).

Strangely we didn't encounter too many local Aussies during the day. We saw a lot of them around 6 o'clock in the afternoon when the pubs closed their doors and inebriated men would spill out and try to walk to their homes on rubber legs; they would wobble and twist their way home taking up the footpath and the road, the women on the other hand would peek between the curtains of their house windows to have a look at us, the foreigners.

I amused myself by observing one regular pub patron who walked home every Thursday (pay day) past our house on his way to his home from the pub. I have mentioned several times that I enjoy observing, observing anything especially this particular man. He too had rubber legs like most of the 6 o'clock pub refugees, but this man carried a carton of a dozen full-size bottles of beer on his left shoulder every Thursday. I the observer, concentrated on the carton of beer bottles, he held it firmly with his left hand, and his right hand was free for balancing as he tried to climb from the road on to the footpath with his rubber legs that were bending at a dozen places, his right hand operated like a boat rudder to help him to keep the beer carton horizontal; he had to take the carton home intact at all cost. He must have worked as a circus clown during the day. I lined up with my eyes the top of the beer carton with the tops of the verandas of the nearby houses and I can attest that the carton of beer bottles did not deviate from the horizontal plane by more than a single degree. If there was an Olympic event for balancing a carton of beer bottles and stepping on the footpath whilst drunk, that man would have won a gold medal.

A funnier event was described to me by my cousin Tanas. He told me that his mum and dad, Fania and Vasil, were walking along Coppin St, Richmond a little after the 6 o'clock swill when Fania saw a drunk man for the first time coming from a nearby pub (Richmond had pubs at every corner then) wobbling and stumbling from one side of the road to the other side of the road and heading towards them. Fania thought that the man was sick or in trouble and told Vasil that they should try to help him; quick witted Vasil told her "Don't worry, he works for the Richmond city council and he is now measuring the road."

I am afraid there is no last good bye, because there isn't a lot of Macedonia left back in North West Greece to say good bye to. The Macedonia that is there has been eroded by the passing of time, there are few embers left there which the Greek government is still trying to extinguish. I have taken my Macedonia (the 5km x 7km x 1,000m volume and the 8 year time frame) and brought it to Melbourne with me. Now with the passing of time about 60 years later, in my comfortable home with electricity, running hot and cold water and two internal toilets that don't smell I can open my mind and revisit those green fields again, listen to the sheep bleating, smell the ripe fruit and I can even hear my friend's voices at the blink of an eye.

Every Macedonian migrant has brought his piece of Macedonia with them to Australia; I have seen it during visits to Macedonian homes in Melbourne whether they are in Reservoir, Preston, Lalor, Epping or even Doncaster. As you walk in to the lounge room of a Macedonian's home you will see a print of Alexander the Great on the wall, or a map of Macedonia (drawn before 1912), if you go into the kitchen you will surely see a jazve (small coffee pot for brewing Turkish style coffee), you might see pleated garlic heads hanging near the range-hood. Venture out into the back yard and you can see red peppers strung on a string like a necklace drying in the afternoon sun and if it's not winter you will see the ubiquitous bashcha (vegie garden) where those hanging peppers came from, together with tomatoes. If the tomatoes are red and the peppers are big enough you will go home with a shopping bag full of fresh tomatoes and peppers.

If your visit was just before lunchtime or dinner time you will be invited to a meal. There you will be offered rakia, then you will be treated to cora (pastry), roasted peppers and so on and finally you will taste the Turkish style coffee with a lockoom (Turkish delight). You not only visited Macedonia, but you went back in time; in the 1950s. There is no goodbye!

Me and that pretty girl from Bouf, Preston.

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