They began demolishing the Wellington St Bus Station yesterday. I might be the only person sad about this, and in my case, it’s all for sentimental reasons. I’ve spent a lot of time at that bus station since I moved to Perth as an eighteen year old in 1999. It has been an ugly, dingy thing of concrete and tin all that time.
For the first time in ages, I caught a bus into the city a few Saturdays ago, forgot to get off at my stop, and ended up at the station. I didn’t even realise it was its final day, but it was an appropriate co-incidence. The kiosk I worked at for four years was shut up. The place was deserted. I walked through, and tried to breathe it all in for a last time.
The station was opened in 1973, a year which has seemed pivotal to me. The year the fur hit Western Australia in my novel, the year my favourite poet W.H. Auden died, the year my ex-girlfriend was born, the year Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy died in the Amazing Spider-Man.
I worked in that little kiosk within the station every Saturday (except the week of Christmas) from 1999 to 2003. History will not remember it. It was a nondescript place, inexplicably named “R&J Gourmet Deli”, even though the owner’s name was Anne, and it sold nothing more gourmet than a ham and salad roll alongside every standard variety of cool drink and chocolate bar.
The photo above is taken from the counter. I’m glad I wrote on the back. ‘Sat 18/6/01 This morning at work it just started pouring. It was delicious, all that wet.’ That would have been a few weeks after my Ian Pop’s funeral, the first time I’d lost anyone.
I went through the gamut of emotions, cooped up in the kiosk all day each Saturday. It helped pit me against the world, working as everyone else seemed to be at leisure. I felt, in turn, depression and fascination with the world I observed.
It was the characters I remember most strongly. Victor was an elderly Burmese man, who wore an old suit and would come to buy a cup of tea each day. He was usually on his way to sit in a park or the cathedral and meditate on the teachings of Buddha and Jesus. He would take my hand and offer me his blessing, often repeating his favourite saying – ‘Better a day spent in virtue and meditation than a lifetime in vice.’ On my shelf I still have a little book he gave me one day of the sayings of Buddha.
There was another guy, I can’t remember his name, who was a relentlessly optimistic small time crook. He loved to show off to me, but in a rather unassuming way. He was a short guy, with a lot of swagger, a lot of friendliness, and an American baseball jacket. One day he declared he had a new girlfriend; she was fifteen, he proudly told me. The next week he said they were trying to get pregnant. I asked him if that was a good idea.
And then there was Gerry, the self-declared ‘world’s happiest bus driver’. He’d been a car dealer, lost the lot in the recession in the nineties, and blamed Keating, who he hated daily. But his therapist had helped him recover, and now he went around loudly driving buses, being very deliberately happy.
I would listen to Radio National and write poems on pie bags. I would breathe in the fumes, and get over two break-ups in those four years. I’d eat too much chocolate, and go from being a skinny kid to overweight. I knew exactly what I wanted in those years, everything was so very clear.