Written by (作者): Peter L. Abram
Photos by (图片来源): Steamboattoday.com
I’m standing at the exact spot where I died, twenty years ago. Those paramedics who revived me would be middle-aged men now, as I am. When I roamed these streets, it was a decadent quarter of Melbourne’s Inner-West,?and I can see it hasn’t changed much. They say you should never go back, but what my newspaper wants they get.
Overdoses were commonplace at the end of the last century. The authorities did regain control of these streets, if only for a time. Now, a sudden surge in drug-related violence is all over the news and I’m looking for a place called The Exchange. I lock my car and begin to walk, passing the marketplace where I used to shop. It reeks of rotten vegetables and sweaty hagglers. The town square teems with quirky characters, who could be bit part players in a Cohen Brothers production. The fat shouting man. The weedy beggar. A tramp lumbers over and asks me for a?cigarette. Even he has a cinematic charisma of sorts. Occasionally, film productions do come to this part of Melbourne, but they’re few and far between. Gentrification that transformed other Australian suburbs, never really took hold either. I see no wealthy bohemians discussing antiques and sipping on soy free caffe lattes.
The buildings are run-down. Melbourne’s real-estate market became reasonably buoyant for a time, and this area attracted some white-collar investment. However, if the middle-classes have arrived here, I can’t see them. Their absence is something I feel intensely, when I decide to grab a drink. Cocktail bars and up-market venues are?not visible, even though they’re currently in vogue everywhere else. I have to choose between a Karaoke bar and a dusty pub, but that’s not for me. Perhaps I’ll get something to eat. Now things begin to look up. Across the way, I see a swathe of Asian eateries and I choose an outside table. The Korean dish is adequate and I begin to scribble on a pad. A busker sets up in front of me. His guitar is out of tune and I pick up my notes, pay the bill and leave. It occurs to me how nice it would be to see a proper band, but music and the arts suffer from the same local malaise as the culinary industry. There is very little here for a sophisticated audience to enjoy.
Occasionally, surges of creativity have enriched the Inner-West and some trends were of cultural significance. At one time, a massive underground music scene flourished and the gigs laid much of the groundwork for the current crop of National stadium music events. The success stories never got the recognition they deserved, but perhaps the locals like it this way. As I wander amidst the bargain hunters, I notice the absence of that great contemporary human trait. Self-importance. Being the underdog is central to the resident DNA. From the Mediterranean to the Sudan, wave after wave of immigrants have begun their new world journey within the bounds of postcode three thousand and eleven. It has all fostered a mind-set of tolerance, arguably un-matched by any other community in the state. The Mall reminds me of Tolstoy’s Town Square. Any writer could spend their days drawing inspiration from these well-worn faces.
I pass through a laneway thronging with Africans, who all carry themselves with a kind of resilient dignity. They’ve made this thoroughfare their own, but I’m invited to try a slice of cuisine that doesn’t look like it would be offered in the trendier parts of town. The African star is on the rise but this is still a predominantly Asian suburb. Everywhere you look, busy Vietnamese families scurry about their self-owned businesses, carving out a stake in the Australian dream. The Inner-West may be a suburb awash with graffiti and the stench of un-emptied litterbins, but the aura?of New Australian determination in the face of adversity, is constant and tangible.
Now I’m facing The Exchange, and my focus is back on the story my editor wants. Underworld business is diversifying and people are dying. In the nineties, the heroin epidemic reached epidemic proportions. Scores of?under-aged dealers openly traded caps of high-grade narcotics, whilst ambulances screamed from one overdose to the next. Hundreds of lives were lost before a battalion of police, on foot and horseback, moved in to reclaim the streets. The heroin drought that followed shook up the entire scene, as the dark captains of industry filled the void with a new crop of deadly, locally manufactured pharmaceuticals. Methamphetamine has replaced the threat of a hasty heroin death with a fast track to insanity. The medical establishment is trying a new approach. The Exchange gave up on Natural Healing and now trades in hypodermic syringes. I open the front door and brace myself. The place is full. It’s like I’m in a halfway house for the unsound of mind. ‘John’ is a forty-two year-old veteran of this world. Looking closer to sixty, with his greasy grey hair and shabby clothes, he agrees to an interview. John continues to haunt the streets of the Inner-West as he has done for over twenty years. I ask him to characterize the scene before the advent of the methamphetamine epidemic and he sums it up with one word. Camaraderie.
“We used to call each other brother. I liked it here. As long as you got your dollars together, you could always score and you felt safe. We would talk to each other. Now, these young meth heads spend most of their time talking?to themselves.”
I can see evidence of this analysis as I examine the patients, with their trembling limbs and pain expressions. It’s as if lunacy has ingrained itself into the systems and processes of this new generation of drug addicts. A couple of?John’s friends join us. They’re happy to talk. Their lives are a rollercoaster of staying awake for days on meth, followed by the frustrating search for sleep in the form of a cap of heroin. They know the journey will end up one of?two ways. It’s a toss-up between wasting away on the ice tornado or managing the self-perpetuating slavery of smack.
“All the old-school junkies just disappeared,” says John. His head sinks. “My mates. Sooner or later they all went.’ Grief has chiseled away at his facial features. Every line on his head is reflective of a man too schooled in?the ways of loss. Finally, he looks up. “When you stopped seeing somebody, you knew they’d probably been arrested, overdosed, or maybe they’d hit the road to escape debt collectors. These days, young people don’t?really disappear, but their souls do. They’re too crazy to worry about debts. Most of them just walk in circles holding heated arguments with these like imaginary type friends.”
Peter Abram is a British/Australian ex-serviceman, former performing poet and award winning promoter who has organized music shows the world over and has made multiple appearances on Western media. Now a resident?of Ningbo, he is working on his second novel, Night of the Infidel. Peter is Director of English Language Studies at Ningbo City College and holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Management.
Peter Abram是英国/澳大利亚退役军人，也曾是一位诗人。他组织过世界各地的音乐会，多次在西方媒体上露面，并获得奖项。现居宁波，他正在写他的第二部小说《异教徒的夜晚》。Peter 拥有教育管理硕士学位，是宁波城市学院英语语言研究主任。