The Outdoor Coffee Bar of Australian Dreams

Posted on Jan 9, 2012

Henry Lawson stirs his latte with a distasteful grimace and looks across to see Caroline Chisholm is smirking again.

‘This place used to be a pub, you know,’ he says sullenly.

‘I think you mentioned that already,’ she replies.

‘Did I?’ He lifts the cup to his mouth, takes the miserliest of sips, then sets it down again.
‘Good, isn’t it,’ says Caroline Chisholm.

‘Bloody marvelous,’ he says flatly. He turns his head and looks into the busy lunchtime crowds streaming along Collins Street. He looks at the dark suits and briefcases and mobile phones pressed to people’s heads, and says, ‘Drifting past, drifting past, to the beat of weary feet, while I sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street.’ Then he suddenly smiles and holds up one hand, as if signaling a tram. Caroline Chisholm follows his gaze and sees Ned Kelly stomping down the street there. He sees Henry and pushes he way through the crowd.

‘Fuckin’ hell,’ he says grumpily as he sits down and slams his heavy metal helmet onto the table top with a loud clang. ‘Another prick dobbed me in to the bloody terrorist hotline. This is getting beyond a joke.’

‘How many’s that now? About six times?’ Caroline asks him.

‘Seven! I was just out in the back yard doing a bit of target practice, and the coppers are suddenly all over the place. Leaping over the fence and kicking in me door. Bastards!’
‘Were you wearing your helmet?’ she asks.

‘Nah – you can’t see for shit trying to shoot with it on. But the coppers reckon I look like an Islamic jihadist because of the long beard.’
‘What’s that?’ asks Lawson, cupping a hand to his ear.

‘They think I look like a terrorist,’ Ned says loudly.

Caroline Chisholm tries, unsuccessfully, to hide a smile. ‘Well, I have thought that myself.’
‘Piss off!’ Ned mumbles.
‘They let you go?’ asks Henry.

‘I had to shoot my way out of it. Again!’

‘You seem to be getting better at it,’ says Caroline Chisholm.

Ned sighs. ‘And I did my back in jumping over a fence. It hurts like buggery!’
‘Ah, the trials of old age,’ she says, as if her and Henry Lawson had also done their backs in that morning jumping over fences to escape the police too.
‘And now I gotta find a new place to live,’ Ned says. ‘Somewhere not so bloody far out in the suburbs. Somewhere where nobody cares if I’m taking target practice at old bottles in the back yard.’

‘Saint Kilda,’ says Henry Lawson.

‘Maybe,’ says Ned. Then he asks, ‘Where’s Burke and Wills? Weren’t they meant to be here today?’

‘Lost again I suppose,’ says Caroline Chisholm.

‘Bloody typical,’ says Ned. ‘He got lost in the Burke Street Mall last time, would you believe it?’

‘What’s that?’ asks Lawson.
‘Burke is lost again,’ says Caroline Chisholm leaning close to him and putting one hand on his arm.

Ned sighs and looks around at the busy crowd. It’s all dark suits and short skirts and long coats pushing past them. The trees along the street have begun losing their leaves already, he sees. Not that anyone trudging up and down seem to notice. He looks up at the clouds. They are thick and grey up there in that thin patch of sky between the high rise buildings.
‘So what’ll you have?’ asks Caroline Chisholm. ‘Cappuccino? Tall black? A latte?’
‘I can recommend the latte,’ says Henry. ‘In fact you can have mine.’

‘Why don’t we meet in pubs any more?’ asks Ned.

‘None left,’ says Henry Lawson. ‘Only wine bars and bistros, and we’ve been banned from most of those on account of bloody Lasseter passing fake money.’
Ned rolls his eyes. ‘Where is that little prick? Haven’t seen him for a while.’
‘Said he’d found a secret place where money was sitting around to be made,’ says Caroline Chisholm.
‘He’d be back in Sydney then,’ says Ned.

‘What’s that?’ asks Lawson.
‘Lasseter would be in Sydney,’ says Ned.

‘Lasseter?’ says Lawson. ‘No. He’s in Sydney I reckon.’

‘Get me latte then,’ Ned says and spits to the pavement. ‘Lotsa sugar though.’
Caroline Chisholm nods and holds up her hand for a waiter. A weary young girl steps up to their table. She’s wearing a large black apron that is gathered tightly about her like dark gift wrap. But at the back Ned can see her g-string sitting above her very low-slung slacks. She takes the order and then sees Ned staring at her. ‘And what’s that for?’ she asks, pointing at his metal helmet. ‘Your rubbish?’

Ned doesn’t even bother replying. When she’s gone he says, ‘They used to say, Who are you meant to be? Ned Kelly? Now they all have the same joke about the rubbish bin. Like I’ve never heard it before.’

‘You were staring at her bum,’ says Caroline Chisholm.

‘Course I was,’ says Ned. ‘She’s got that thong thing there at the back like an arrow pointing to it. Look at my bum, it says.’

‘Well she didn’t want you to,’ she says.

‘Then why does she stick it out to be looked at?’ Ned asks.

‘What’s that?’ asks Henry Lawson.

‘Her bum,’ says Ned loudly. ‘Did you look at her bum?’

‘Caroline says I’m not to,’ says Lawson.

And she nods.
‘But did you?’ asks Ned, and Henry Lawson winks at him.

Caroline Chisholm sighs heavily. The young girl returns after a moment with the coffee and puts it on the table. Ned, keeping his eyes high, says, ‘Here love,’ and he passes her a ten dollar note. But before she can take it, Lawson reaches across the table and snatches it from Ned’s hand. Then he gives the waitress some coins.

She glares at both men and asks, ‘So have you decided who is paying?’

‘It’s all sorted,’ says Henry.

Ned nods. Still keeping his eyes high. Almost. The waitress rolls her eyes at them and then turns and walks off.

‘Young girls these days,’ says Caroline Chisholm proudly. ‘They’re so self-assured.’
‘What was all that about?’ Ned asks Henry Lawson.

‘It was one of mine,’ he says.

‘Eh?’ asks Ned. ‘It was bloody not! It was one of mine!’

‘No, it was one of the old notes,’ says Caroline Chisholm. ‘It has Henry’s face on it. He’s very concerned that they’re not much in circulation any more.’
‘That’s bloody odd behaviour,’ says Ned.

‘She’s as bad when she sees an old fiver,’ says Henry.

‘No I’m not,’ says Caroline Chisholm.

‘Yes you are.’
‘You’re both bloody odd then,’ says Ned.

‘You wouldn’t understand it if you’d never been on money,’ says Caroline.
Ned shakes his head. ‘That’d be the day, Ned Kelly on money!’

‘What’s that?’ asks Henry Lawson, cupping his hand to his ear again.

Ned sighs and looks around. ‘Where’s Cookie?’ he asks. ‘And Batman and Smithy and Bradman and Melba. I haven’t seen them for ages.’

‘Bradman’s on some government board I think,’ says Caroline Chisholm. ‘I don’t know where the others are.’

‘At least that fat bastard Redmond Barry isn’t here,’ says Ned. ‘I’m gonna thump him on the nose one day.’ Then he calls, ‘Hey Henry, why don’t you write a poem about him? You could call it – Redmond Barry, you big fat prick. I mean, it’s got a good ring to it, hasn’t it, and lots of things rhyme with prick. Dick. Slick. Thick.’ He thinks for a moment. ‘Arse-lick.’
But Henry just shakes his head. ‘Nobody reads poetry any more,’ he says. ‘Unless they’re advertising jingles.’

‘You could do one of those rap poem things,’ says Ned. ‘Like they do on TV.’ And he says, ‘Redmond Barry, you big fat prick, your legs are skinny but your arse is thick. When I think of you it makes me sick!’
Henry smiles. ‘I never knew you wanted to write poetry so badly,’ he says.

Ned walks right into it. ‘Well, it’s a just something that has been running around in my head…’
‘Let me assure you that you do write badly,’ says Henry.

‘Piss off!’ says Ned.
‘You know what?’ says Caroline Chisholm. ‘You two have become a pair of grumpy old men.’
‘No we’re not,’ says Ned defensively. ‘We’re just not appreciated. Look about. Hundreds of people walking past us, and not one of them even recognizes us. You’d think at least one of them would stop and say, Hey, aren’t you Caroline Chisholm? But they don’t, do they. If you’re not in Who Weekly you’re nobody anymore.’

‘Well why don’t you get yourself in Who Weekly then?’ asks Caroline Chisholm.
‘Cause I look too much like a bloody terrorist,’ says Ned.

‘You could have a make over,’ she says. ‘Trim the beard. Buy nice clothes. Have some elocution. Start going to the theater.’

‘Piss off,’ he says again. But she can resist baiting him just a little more. ‘You could try and get on Big Brother.’

‘What’s that?’ asks Lawson.
‘Big-bloody-Brother,’ says Ned, over-loudly, and the people at the other tables turn and look at them. One or two stare at Ned’s beard and his metal helmet.
‘Haven’t you ever seen a terrorist’s rubbish bin?’ asks Ned, staring them down. ‘It’s my rubbish bin laden. Satisfied?’

‘Behave yourself,’ says Caroline, ‘or you’ll get us thrown out.’

Ned sighs and looks into his latte.

‘It’s rubbish alright,’ says Henry. ‘It’s as bad as your poetry.’

Ned looks at them both a moment and then turns to the young couple at the next table. ‘Excuse me,’ he says, putting on his best charm. ‘But you look like a couple who know their money.’

‘Well actually,’ says the young man with spiky gelled hair. ‘Yes, I work in stocks and bonds, and my fiancé, Felicity, is in corporate real estate.’
‘Excellent,’ says Ned. ‘In that case, can I ask you, do you by any chance recognise my two companions here?’

The young man and woman stare at them blankly. ‘Should we?’ he asks.

‘It’s Henry bloody Lawson and Caroline bloody Chisholm,’ Ned says. But there is no sign of recognition on the young couple’s faces.

‘Oh, yes?’ the man says.
‘That’s the problem with this country today,’ says Ned, turning his back on the young pair. ‘They world belongs to the young, but they don’t value it, and sell it off, and don’t even know who we are any more. We’re all fading away and nobody cares.’

‘Dickheads!’ he snaps, looking back at the young pair. The young man scowls, but Ned ignores him. ‘It’s the problem with this whole country,’ he says. ‘People like that. They don’t have a clue about anything important. Too busy drinking bloody coffees and talking about fashion and celebrities and real estate and how to steal a pensioner’s life savings.’
He’s getting louder and louder. ‘They spend more on hair products than others spend on food!’
Caroline is shaking her head, but Ned won’t be calmed. ‘They all need a good kick up the arse with a big hob-nailed boot,’ he says, ‘And do you know what? I’m just the one to do it! I’m going to kick all their arses until they stand up for what’s important, starting with this pair here!’
‘They just have different values these days,’ says Caroline Chisholm. ‘If you don’t see that, it’s verification that you’ve become a grumpy old man.’
‘They’re bereft of bloody values,’ says Ned and thumps the table so that his helmet jumps. ‘They’re pack of big, ugly, fat-necked, wombat headed, magpie-legged, sons of bailiffs!’

‘Excuse me,’ says a tall man in black with an apron, who is suddenly standing over their table, regarding Ned’s thick beard and wild eyebrows cautiously. ‘You’re causing a disturbance and I think you’d better leave.’
Caroline Chisholm sighs and takes Henry’s arm. ‘Here we go again,’ she says. But Ned says, ‘Make me!’ And he folds his arms and refuses to stand. But then two more large young men are suddenly behind him, lifting him clean out of his chair. He tries to struggle but they lead him away from the café with ease. The first man brings his helmet and holds it out to him.

‘Do you know who I am?’ Ned shouts in anger.

‘Couldn’t give a rat’s,’ says the young man. ‘You could be Ned Kelly for all I care. But you’re disturbing the other customers and you’ve gotta leave.’
And Ned smiles. Absolutely beams. He’s suddenly so pleased that he lets the waiters cast him into the gutter. ‘Did you hear that?’ he says to Henry Lawson, with the glee of one observing a sudden ray of sunshine cutting through the Melbourne gloom. ‘Did you hear that?’

‘Sorry?’ says Lawson, cupping a hand to his ear. ‘Hear what?’


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