Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Walking to Work: Community and Contact

Academic journal article Cultural Studies Review

Walking to Work: Community and Contact

Article excerpt

To write is to touch, share, appear: writing is therefore an expression of community.1


For a long time I have been thinking about moving house. I never really intended to stay this long where I am, settled. A place of comfortable familiarity-I had always felt that while I lived here I didn't really belong and perhaps moving somewhere else would alleviate that feeling, though it is a familiar feeling-the feeling of not belonging, in Australia. White, middle-aged, middle-class comfort, so comfortable it gradually becomes unsettling. I began reading about community and contact to investigate the white (dis)comfort and (un)settled nature of place-'community: a gift to be renewed and communicated'.2 At the same time I longed for an engagement with the everyday, to write community through the pedestrians and inhabitants of the streets on my walk to work. Along the lane, onto the main road, past the school, the hospital, the park, the long high stonewall of the art school, the law courts, the square, the pub, the station. My steps, like a puzzle on the city in a rhythm that guided me through the traffic of community and contact, history and memory. A repetitive movement daily re-enacted, a walk frequently interrupted; like traffic signs on the street making me stop and change direction or sometimes waving me through.

I came to the city having been born in a mining town, (Wangkathaa country), on the edge of the red sand of the Great Victoria Desert. I moved nomadic through fifteen different places before I settled here, in Kings Cross, Sydney, not far from Rushcutter's Bay Park, the site of one of the many conflicts of colonial arrival in 1788 (29 May 1788).3 Settled here but like Alphonso Lingis's intruder, the intruder who interrupts the existing order, now unsettling community through writing.4 The intruder holds an antagonistic presence, which is useful in thinking about community and contact. How the intruder is recognised and who does the recognising determines the critical moment when the intruder transforms into being of community.


I slam shut the blue front door, almost trip on the chewed doormat, descend the narrow steps, skipping the last one, then push the gate forward to make it easy to open. The lock slides smoothly and I prevent Stella, our pet rabbit, from escaping by nudging her gently with the heel of my foot. I pass through quickly and return the latch, which makes a clean, satisfying click. I enter the street.

I greet the cigar-smoking pimp who lives next door. He is up early taking his daughter to school. He moved next door about five or six years ago from the downstairs of the terrace opposite, closer to the corner store just along the lane; dumping a skip load of unwanted junk and rubbish onto the street in the process. It took five council guys half a day to clean it up. This is a crowded street, people, cats, dogs; it is a community that easily reflects the streets described by Richard Sennett where 'deviance is the freedom made possible in the crowded city of lightly engaged people'.5 It is a community of lightly engaged people enacting fragments of lightly engaged contact.


On sunny days he is sprawled over the banana lounge he has covered with a wellworn dirty-green towel, wearing faded red underpants and sunglasses. He holds his hand with the thick chain bracelet on his crutch. In the other hand is a book and his large cheap cigar rests on the edge of the bubble glass table nearby. Our front door looks over where he sits and when I open it the smoke from his cigar rushes at me and his semi-naked body boldly exposed, brazenly pumped forward, proudly displays a sagging, grey-haired chest. He is balding with scraggy tufts of hair, combed over and around his head. Outside the gate on the street he always wears a hat, usually a beret, sometimes a fedora. In the backyard he is seldom fully clothed, some part of him, some fragment, exposed. …

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