Peter & Ruth

Chapter x in an ongoing story

Bromley was a liar, not mean or vicious but unable to tell a story without embellishment or invention. He was Peter’s roommate at College the year I was there, and with me, one of only four or five high school boys in a sea of privileged grammarians – Melbourne Grammar, Geelong Grammar, Trinity Grammar – the Premier’s nephews, scions of department store families, boys whose fathers were surgeons or lawyers or bankers or graziers, rich boys from Hong Kong and Malaysia, the brother of the boy who roomed with Prince Charles. One boy whose grandfather was a famous general had a car with the number plate ‘1’. Another boy had an XK 140 Jaguar. I had a pushbike. Bromley had a trumpet.

The College had a number of residential blocks of varying ages around a big grassy quadrangle. Ours was relatively modern and we freshers had our rooms on the bottom floor; pairs of boys, from different schools, with a small bedroom each and a shared study. Peter and Bromley, studying respectively electrical engineering and medicine, didn’t get on, probably after one too many of Bromley’s stories, or maybe the trumpet, and so divided their study in two. Crossways. Bromley got the door and Peter the window.

Bromley came from a large provincial town in the Western District, and I remember after one term break, him telling a long story about hitching a lift back to Melbourne in a Kenworth truck pulling a low loader, tacitly acknowledged as a lie, but important in that it indicates that he knew even back then that a story about trucking would impress me. Of course, I failed first year Engineering and for most of the following year a truck driver is what I was.

My best friend, RT, had the study across from mine, and he, like most of the boys, stayed in College for a second year, while I had a room in a terrace house nearby in North Melbourne. Then in third year we got a house together, first in Carlton – which the Premier’s sister bought for her daughters – and when we (I) didn’t get on with them, in the city, behind the Windsor Hotel.

Bromley by then was living in an old terrace house in the same block as the Royal Women’s Hospital, so only a hundred yards or so from the university, and sharing with Rob, a boy I knew from Engineering. Visiting them one day in August I met their new housemate, dropped out from a suburban high school, and persuaded her to come and live with me, which she did for the next five years.

That year, the year after the Moratorium, I’d lost my licence and had gone back to uni to do first year Arts – Maths, Philosophy, History & Philosophy of Science, and Arabic – mixing mostly with the guys from SDS. I’ve discussed before that the SDS women, although sound in socialist theory and the anti-war movement, had their own agenda in Women’s Lib.

During the year I had been an office boy in an engineering firm, then after the exams I started factory work, stacking sheet metal as it was cut into shapes to make tin cans. The Young Bride was working in a city office and we got our first car, a Commer van – a sort of ‘Kombi’, but made in England, and nearly as rusty as the one pictured above.

I was getting summons from the Federal police, at my parents’ address luckily, in relation to my being a draft resister, and was in imminent danger of spending the next two years in jail. Our plan was that come christmas we would spend a couple of weeks driving up the east coast, ending up in Brisbane, and out of the way of the police. Initially Rob was going to come with us but somehow, and I hadn’t seen much of him in the intervening years, that turned into Peter and his girlfriend Ruth, a nurse.

You know my priorities. I put my books in boxes in rows down one side of the van and laid a mattress on top. I drove and the others rotated between the bed and the passenger seat. We had a top speed not much over 40mph so it was a leisurely trip. We’d stop at all the beaches and swim. Ninety Mile Beach we had almost to ourselves and spent a lovely afternoon skinnydipping. A couple of passersby had to look studiously at their toes.

I don’t remember now how we got through Sydney; just stuck to Highway One, through the city and out over the bridge, I guess. At Byron Bay YB left our purse behind, with all of $25, so Peter had to finance us the rest of the way and into a couple of rooms in an old divided up house in New Farm, a couple of suburbs upriver from Brisbane CBD; and next door to the Valley, Brisbane’s hotspot of vice.

Peter and Ruth got the bedroom and YB and I got the couch. One morning Ruth woke us laughing. She dragged Peter out into our area and made him demonstrate what had her and soon us in stitches. Peter could raise and lower his testicles independently and make them dance.

YB and I got work with Ashtons Circus, touring south west Queensland – that’s another story, Melanie – and then when YB got ill and the van was close to dying, we went back to New Farm and did other jobs; took over the house; Peter went back to uni while Ruth stayed on for a while; I got a journalism cadetship, working 4.00pm to midnight. YB and I would spend all day walking around the Valley, or mixing with the other tenants in our house – a truck driver mate of mine, and a mate of his who lived with a couple of prostitutes; another young guy who had the back half with his mother.

Eventually I got my truck licence back and we moved, first to another house whose address my father gave to the police, and then up north. After a year, and the end of conscription with the election of the Whitlam Labor governement, YB was missing her family and we moved back to Victoria.

I saw Bromley for the last time three or four years later, in Ballarat hospital where he was an intern. YB and I had split up, I was unhappy, had taken a bottle of pills. Bromley laughed when I told him, saying I should have known 50 Mogadon was never going to do it.

23 thoughts on “Peter & Ruth

  1. Haha, Lisa, I think Bill has alluded to that before, but maybe we’ll hear even more in the future.

    Bill has led such a colourful life. I’ve moved a bit, but nothing like Bill, and I’ve sort of stayed the course – except for the two detours to the USA – so my life is more the usual ups and downs rather than the dramas Bill shares.

    Anyhow, thanks Bill – I say now, talking to you, not about you – for another episode in your life. There’s a Garner-esque novel here I’d say.

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  2. I absolutely loved reading this. Now I want to know, were your book boxes all the same height, or did the mattress have to do the work of concealing books with oversized textbooks as well as agreeable-in-packing-boxes paperbacks and pocketbooks? The other part that made me smile, I shan’t repeat here, because just repeating the noun yet again will mess with your search engine techy stuff and bring all sorts of (other) undesirables here to your doorstep. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • I’m glad the other part made you smile, there had to be something to carry the story. My book boxes were nearly all banana boxes – waxed cardboard with a fitted top. The bed was quite comfortable as I remember. (And if you’re wondering, Peter and Ruth had a little tent).

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  3. I love that opening juxtaposition of “I had a pushbike. Bromley had a trumpet.” As if they go together (they don’t) and emphasizes your point about the lives of the boys in the beginning. I always wondered what the point of police running around trying to track down people who wouldn’t be drafted. Either you go to jail and society pays to have you sit there while you do not contribute back to the community, or they force you in and you potentially endanger the rest of the squad or unit or whatever they are called because you’re not a “fall in line” sort of person. I use “you” here to mean anyone who avoided the draft. I think I’ve mentioned to you before the wonderful classic (though not well known) No-No Boy by John Okada, which is about a Japanese-American who will not fight in WWII. Now that I think about it, Erica Jong’s novel Fear of Flying sounds quite a bit like your adventure. My college years were not so adventurous. I didn’t fail out of college, but I did, essentially, fail out of my first major (music performance).

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    • I hope you don’t regret dropping music performance, you don’t mention playing at all now. But then I don’t do anything with most of the subjects I studied.

      I’ve added No-No Boy to the back of my diary (It sits below Even Cowgirls – GTL, and Jitterbug Perfume – BIP).

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      • The hard thing about playing an instrument is no one is truly supportive. It’s so competitive, and you often can’t get ahead. For example, I was 18 and had started playing when I was 12. The first chair in the first violins of the orchestra (meaning the best player) was 28 and had started when he was 2. There is no catching up. Plus, when you’re in a community that doesn’t support each other and add on competitive attitudes, it’s all a kick in the face when your trade is not tangible. Imagine having a book published and you hold it in your hands, vs. playing a solo and now it’s done and gone.

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  4. I just loved reading this Bill, and I agree with Sue at Whispering Gums – couldn’t you make all this into a book, because your writing is gorgeous, and I’d buy a copy instantly.

    I was wondering about the paperback books too, so I’m glad you had a secure lid on those boxes. I hope we get some more of these narratives about your life, because they’re so fascinating. I remember my eldest brother just escaping the draft for Vietnam (terrifying), and I should put my other brother onto your site because he’s always rattled around Melbourne in a beaten up old Combi that he loves. That Jaguar would have been nice though.

    The name of that famous general didn’t start with M by any chance did it?

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    • Thank you Sue, If I write a book you’ll see it being written because this is the only place I write, well except for letters – I do enjoy correspondence.
      Even back then, when I could have bought a Riley or an MG for $300, that Jaguar was special.
      No, not M (in fact he was M’s Chief of Staff).

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  5. Really enjoyed reading this! You spent your teens and twenties in a much more exciting manner than I did. In fact my own parents were so concerned about what a goody-two-shoes I was that they kept trying to convince me to rebel against something, and asking seriously if I would regret being so straight-laced in my youth when I grew up. (I donโ€™t. But they were sweet to worry).

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    • Lou, I’m always surprised (and glad) that readers tolerate my excursions into memoir.
      Australia was very conservative coming out of the 1950s and I think I was right to rebel, but I made a lot of mistakes!
      I love that your parents were worried for you.

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  6. You know already that I love these stories about your past almost as much as I love the trucking road trips! You have a storytelling gift Bill and I am delighted every time you exercise it, and like all good storytellers, you leave us wanting more ๐Ÿ™‚

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