Hail Saint Mary!

This past weekend, my father visited from Canberra.

On Friday night we saw Equus at the New Theatre in Newtown. This was a thoroughly agreeable excursion. At about 7.15 we resolved to go, at about 7.25 we set off in the car; by 7.35 we had secured an excellent parking spot right in front of the theatre and our tickets. These were $28 each for D and me; $22 for my father. (When the young man at the box office asked if there were any concessions, I asked if he could just have a discount for being old and for having seen the first Sydney and New Theatre production of Reedy River, not to mention the first Sydney run (at the Old Tote) of Equus in about 1974. It turned out that the mere assertion of a seniors card did the trick.) There was a bar and you could take your drinks into the theatre after interval (or at the beginning of the show, for that matter). The performance was of a quite satisfactory standard and certainly an honest and better than that rendition of the work. It included male frontal nudity. D and I approve of MFN as a matter of principle – we see it as a question of equal rights. It’s nice to have your rights vindicated.

On Saturday night my father and I went to hear the SSO. It must be many years since my father went to an orchestral concert and he enjoyed it greatly, including (I had been concerned) the Rite of Spring in the second half. What particularly struck him, as one who has not attended such concerts, was the wide dynamic range and, I think, by extension and my own inference rather than direct statements by him, the presence and excitement of live performance. We dined afterwards, which was rather later than my father is accustomed to dine. He surprised himself by sleeping in until 10 am on Sunday.

That afternoon, I took my father to see an old friend: his colleague for many years with whom he lunched almost daily for that time. The trip up to Sydney had in part been planned with such a visit in mind.

At some point in the day I needed to go into town to check something at the mill. We avoided going in when enthusiasts for the canonisation might have been crowding the city streets and finally made a short run in after an early dinner.

Today I was able to get home in time (after a disappointing morning in court) to take my father to the airport for the afternoon flight back to Canberra. He mentioned that he had been round to the shops to buy a paper and joked that no doubt I would be eager to read the wrap-around supplement acclaiming the new saint.

All of which is a long way round to dipping my lid to Charles Waterstreet in the Sun Herald this Sunday. After some amusing enough jokes about the failure of the Cockatoo Island comedy festival this week, he takes the occasion of a comment attributed to Tim Fischer: “with Mary MacKillop, it was 1881 when she passed through [Albury] and the vicar threw her out of Albury and she had to stay in a shanty hotel before catching the train . . . Typical of the absolute bastardry that she was forced to face on too many occasions. ”

In 1881, my family ran that “shanty hotel”. My father, brothers and sister grew up there. My great grandmother worked her fingers to the bone to make MacKillop’s stay overnight as peaceful and as comfortable as another Mary’s and her common-law husband, Joseph, and non-biological child, Jesus, were in another shanty hotel with stable in Bethlehem some years earlier. Waterstreet’s Hotel should be a shrine like Lourdes and Fatima and not just described as a “shanty hotel”. Many pilgrims stayed there overnight, Tim, because there was no standard gauge and they changed trains while enjoying the hospitality of my forbearing family.

Yes, Waterstreet’s Hotel has been described as a bloodhouse, and boys at my school wouldn’t come home with me for a squash because the sawdust was six inches thick in the bar to mop up the blood, but it was home to us and MacKillop. Many patrons claimed to have seen her appearing on the walls in their beautifully appointed rooms, the Weeping Walls near Wagga, but after dad hosed them down the damp and the visions disappeared. During the late shift, when the lights were turned down to avoid police detection and the railway workers came to drink a well-earned pint or two, there was talk of a gathering of angels appearing above the red neon sign in running writing on the roof spelling out “Waterstreet’s Hotel, Drink More”. Bona fide travellers spoke of a sense of peacefulness and grace and uplift upon waking in the morning before eating Mrs Westie’s big bacon breakfast.

This “shanty hotel” was and is a sacred site, which should be returned to my family to be held in trust for travellers on their way through on the Hume Highway, or by rail. The family has kept all the tea towels from the hotel, which, because of the way they were folded and kept in the leaking back shed, appear to have a replica of Mary in repose or passed out.

Her sainthood was held up for many years because of her alleged love of the sacred sherry. It is claimed she was introduced to it in Albury. Be that as it may, I have a dream of a day when the Pope will speak from the Holy Wrought Iron Verandah of Waterstreet’s Hotel, when the sons of former publicans can sit down at the table of brotherhood with the daughters of Pharisees and cry out: “Free beer, free beer, free at last!”

I particularly like the bit about the tea towels and the segue into a Martin Luther King finale.

One Response to “Hail Saint Mary!”

  1. Meet the Music « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] the notorious fellatio scene proves too much for me (more likely, it would be insufficient in the MFN […]

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