a centre place

Detail Dr. Sun Yat Sen Monument, Chinatown, Melbourne. (image supplied)
Detail Dr. Sun Yat Sen Monument, Chinatown, Melbourne. (image supplied)

the birds chirp, in
the stones beneath my feet, the statue of Dr. Sun Yat Sen before me
air that dances in the stilled gaps of the city

over there, a woman perched on jagged blue stone
pen ready to fly, she looks to the fading bricks of a Victorian building
the signage of a Department store, hyper-size
portraits of pizza and orange juice and
pearl cha in jars ready to be sucked through thirsty hipster lips

over there, a man pulls his bag off a flatter stone and
behind me, an older man, in the garb of youth, rubber soled sneakers
and a cap to steady a laboured walk across this cobbled path

the chirping’s everywhere at once and
all I can see and
meanwhile history speaks, like I’ve arrived by some kind of pulpit

opium’s a vice, announces Cheong Cheok Hong, and watch out – the
Restriction Act’s on its plundering way
they hammer loud on Sundays, Deakin complains, and put white workers in peril

and Lowe Kong Meng:
this is your version of democracy?

the impending beat of chisels and
birds, gliding above it all

here must be the city’s centre place
a doldrum
between cafes rushed with beans, and
keyboards, pumped by superannuation and border protection, between
halls of power, and rails
that spread in all directions, to country, and never sea wards

is this where the world pivots? along
whiteness and multiculturalism, europe and the americas, history and forgetting

here, on Kulin grounds, a Chinese fulcrum for new time

a round shadow meets square stones at every angle
and a woman in spotty dress, thongs, glasses, steps through the middle
waits for the camera to find her

instead, it points at her friends
two men, upright, before Sun Yat Sen
his walking stick aimed down to earth and off to heaven

his gaze, unerringly cast on Nasi Goreng and juice jars
on Astro Boy, the hero at the tummy of my childhood

so where’s Lowe Kong Meng now?
the colonial hero of this star studded place

the stick directs me away from the Dr’s gaze, from these friends
to a cloudless blue sky

as if looking up might pry this city apart, might
split white wings on grey cobbled stones

or, I’ve seen this city’s axis
a centre unto
the middle

Nadia Rhook

Author: Nadia Rhook

Nadia Rhook is a Melbourne-based historian and writer of Anglo-Celtic background. She lectures colonial history at La Trobe University and has published in national and international journals including Postcolonial Studies and Peril Magazine. Nadia curated the 2016 City of Melbourne-La Trobe heritage exhibition 'Moving Tongues: language and migration in 1890s Melbourne' and runs walking tours about Melbourne’s migration history.

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