My Word: Views from My Pitch

30 July 2013 Mariann B

My Word: Views from My Pitch

Mariann B, Ed#421, December 2012

In very exciting news, our own Mariann B has been nominated for a fancy award at the 2013 International Street Paper Awards. Mariann’s, ‘My Word’ piece from Christmas 2012 is up for ‘Best Vendor Essay’ against pieces from vendors at affiliated street papers in Norway, Austria and the US. In ‘Views from My Pitch’ Mariann paints a revealing portrait of the Melbourne CBD at Christmas time and we think she’s in with a great chance. (For more about Mariann’s writing and career, scroll to the bottom of the piece.)


8.30pm: Outside Young & Jackson Hotel
The row of smiling policemen patrolling Swanston Street remind me of the cartoon character, Fred from The Flintstones. They look too good-natured to arrest some kid for nicking a shirt from Arthur Daley’s discount store. Across the road, Flinders Street Station squats reassuringly. Many other city landmarks appear jittery and impermanent in comparison. Swanston Street is menacing and benign in turn; it savages the vulnerable and throws love at the strong.
Pigeons with fluffed-out feathers circle each other. Cocky males whose spiky hair stands up strut around giggling females, offering nothing but self-assurance. Next to McDonald’s a girl reaches out to a young man and achieves an instant rapport, as only the very young can. An old man watches her with distaste, taking in her silver nose ring and arms disfigured by purple and green tattoos.
A makeshift surgery in the form of a caravan is parked next to St Paul’s Cathedral for homeless people who are intimidated by regular clinics. Someone’s arm reaches out and pulls an injured man up the steps; he leaves a pool of blood where he had been standing. Like many of the others, he is deaf to kind words, thinking the good doctor must be talking to someone else. He will be patched up but not healed. He has no money for medication, and the street can’t wait to maul him again.

7pm: corner of Elizabeth St and Flinders Lane
Wholesome cupcakes in a shop window topped with pastel pink, yellow and white butter cream transmit vanilla-scented messages to my empty stomach. The strip joint next door attracts wide-eyed country lads who emerge as fully fledged sleazeballs.
Flinders Street Station follows me with its red brick and yellow belly, visible at the end of Elizabeth Street. I will get no more customers tonight, just stragglers. Furtively reading from magazines they can’t afford at Mag Nation or soothing their disappointments with chocolate sauce at San Churro.

2pm: Bourke Street Mall
Last-minute panic before the shops close for Christmas. People scramble to buy a gift, any gift. To them, the quaint figures posing in the middle of the road are just things in the way. To me, they are mute street poets.
Take the group of cement-like stockmen in raincoats and slouch hats huddling close together. They appear to be united on a mission and I find myself rooting for them, warmed by their esprit de corps. Then reality hits. My emotions have been aroused merely by the way they are positioned. Magic!
And what is one to make of the bedraggled, sorry looking Santa apparently patched together from soggy, grey papier-mâché? He looks desolate about not having any gifts to spare.

5.15pm: Melbourne Central Station, Elizabeth St
Hundreds of brumbies with human faces gallop towards the Down escalator. They rush past me, lanyards swinging, wage slaves reclaiming their freedom until tomorrow morning. Some yank their lanyards over their heads and stuff the plastic IDs in their pockets. Unlike the “draft packs” in the novel Trainspotting, they are not resigned to their fate, but look either prickly or pugnacious.
The Argus building, on the other side of the road, is oblivious to the dreams splattered over its locked front door. Unlike its namesake in mythology, this Argus is virtually blind, for many of its eyes have been boarded up. My homeless buddies could sleep there, since the building is clearly empty. I conjure them bedding down for the night in neat rows, each using a stack of newspapers as a pillow, unaware of the printer’s ink that would rub off on their skin. They’d wake up with letters over their cheeks, as befitting residents living at the former home of one of Australia’s first newspapers.
Music, music everywhere. On my left, a trio of male singers. On my right, a Salvation Army band. ‘Love for Sale’ versus ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’. The saints are winning, judging by the ping of coins in their direction.

Around Midnight
The city breathes with multiple lungs; thousands of old air conditioners wheeze and splutter. Deserted office buildings exhale, pining for human company once again. Then one final, dreamy sigh as the city makes peace with the day just gone. I board the Nightrider bus and head towards home, wherever that is.


About Melbourne Big Issue vendor and writer Mariann B:

I used to be a journalist but my heart has always been in writing fiction. The nominated story is the result of being encouraged by Big Issue Editor Alan Attwood, whose writing classes I have attended.
Jobs in journalism were easier to get in 1970, when I first started. I walked into The Footscray Mail office with a handful of published articles I’d written freelance and was hired on the spot as a fourth-year cadet. I went on to do reporting, feature writing or subediting on a number of publications, including The Australian Women’s Weekly, New Idea and The Canberra Times. The most fascinating people I interviewed were novelist Christina Stead, ballerina Margot Fonteyn and mime artist Marcel Marceau.
Today’s young people have a much harder time than I did. We had no mobile phones or computers – it was a more relaxed and gentler era.
I think talent is a myth. Anyone can write or learn to write. Famous authors simply have more confidence and drive than most. Warning: persist long enough with writing and you become addicted!


Mariann B sells The Big Issue in Melbourne and also works for the Women’s Subscription Enterprise.