David Foster, Chapter One from ‘Man of Letters: Dog Rock 3’
‘So who were your nominees, Des?’
‘All the obvious choices. Neil Finn, Dot Org, Dud Leahey, Nick Cave, Kamahl.’
‘Fair enough. No argument there and you say it was when you saw the face of a youthful Ross Commoner on that stamp on the letter for lot B that you lost control of your cycle?’
‘I’m asking the questions, Des.’
Friday, February the fourth, 2011, three ten p.m. and I am interviewing a postal delivery contractor in the go-ahead hamlet of Dog Rock, taking mental notes at his home address, an untended affair, an unwelcoming abode where you make your way to the back door gingerly, through very long grass. You’d want a machete for the front path, a jungle of Pittosporum, our dreaded warm temperate rainforest invader. I was obliged to break the chain on the vehicle gate to gain access. Only has a landline, no voicemail, won’t answer the phone. Owns a Dandie Dinmont terrier, name of Toby, wouldn’t leave me alone and I hate Dandie Dinmonts.
‘Never before dropped a Honda ninety. See, it came as a shock.’
‘Oh bullshit. We’ve all dropped Honda nineties. I’ll bet you’ve had that day you’d call a dead-set drop-a-thon, Des. From my experience, dropping a bike may be categorized as follows: one, you’re down before you knew it in a drop and drag, two; you take a wrong line and watch, mesmerized, as the bike proceeds to do its own thing. I’d say this was a case of the latter, mind you, as contractor, it’s your motorcycle, so you do with it as you see fit. Drive it through a rhinotek reindeer into a culvert by all means. You are entitled, as you are aware, to have two motorcycles, one for superfluity and both to be repaired at your own expense. Always carry a spare tube, would be my advice. I must say, though, this entire business is a bitter pill for management. Ross Commoner, indeed. “Utter betrayal of democracy” is the phrase I recall from my briefing. It burns still in my ears. And to think, that of 2917 postcodes representing 2561 retail outlets of Australia Post, part of every day, in rural and remote regions of the myriad that deliver, on average, 21 million items of mail across Australia daily, the signal honour of choosing Australian Legends of Popular Song fell to your postcode and you have stuffed it. You realize that? You have cactused it, Des, in citing a nonentity who never even left Dog Rock. We’ll be calling in the experts next time. This is the end of democracy, as far as we’re concerned.’
‘But I had nothing to do with it! I couldn’t tell you how Ross Commoner got to be on that stamp.’
‘So you say. But we are here to ascertain the truth.’
‘I suppose they blame me. Always blame the bloody postman, low man on the totem pole!’
‘Come come. We are not jumping to conclusions, Des, though we bear in mind you were one of only two people involved in the selection process and you can’t even tell me the other one’s name.’
‘I’d know it if I heard it. It’s that girl picks up the outgoing mail from the PO in the white Toyota van. Got a red contractor sticker with Australia Post logo on the bonnet. Only ever see her face behind the steering wheel when I’m coming down Railway Parade at or about four thirty. She never nods or raises a finger even though I’m riding a postal bike. That’s what it’s come to, mate, strangers in the late afternoon. I shall be glad when I’m out of it. How long have I to go now? Two years? I’ve only spoken to her the once and she never replied.’
‘Did you know the Australia Post logo, which is red to signify life, was designed in 1975 when Telecom was hived off, to signify a lunette postal horn opposite a red segment and circular to signify the global reach of Australia Post? No, I can see you didn’t. Well, you could be out of it before you realize, Des. It is to your discredit you would not take an honour like this more seriously. I’m asking myself as I’m driving down here, what would Gus Nossal be thinking of this? And what would Roy Higgins be thinking? And it’s more than just Ross Commoner, mate. Items of mail have been reported missing from your beat, most recently, a gift voucher for Bunnings Warehouse where lowest prices are just the beginning. Would you mind if I took a quick look at your tool shed?’
‘I have no time for tools. Can’t get any work done about the place, no time to mow the bloody lawn. It was at the Mail Centre last winter, contractor meeting, I first heard of these Australian Legends. Didn’t think we had any, aside from Ned Kelly. Thought the Queen of England was our Australian Legend. I never look at stamps. I have no time to raise my eyes to the right. No time to read a postcard. There was no forewarning and they slow you down, these meetings. Just as you’re trying to get a good start, they call a meeting on you.’
‘Yet often very necessary, Des, these meetings, as I’m sure you would concur. You have ruined this experiment in devolution, you and your friend in the white van.’
‘She’s no friend of mine. I have no friends, aside from little Toby. Toby! Toby! Stop that what you’re doing. I wanted nothing to do with these Legends of Popular Song. I saw it as unpaid overtime. Wore a white suit and a red tie, the man who chaired the meeting. Never seen him before or since. Suppose he come from Melbourne or that’s what it said on his card. We just wanted to get back to work, we didn’t need to be wasting time with him. Then he draws this lotto ball from his pocket, see, and he holds it aloft and he’s looking at me. And now he’s smiling and winking. Oh, they slow you down, these meetings. One of these masseurs, too, couldn’t keep his hands off other people’s shoulders. Stead of sitting at the head of table, as was proper, he kept roaming among us, massaging our shoulders. He didn’t like the feel of mine, I can tell you, he found a deal of tension there. Who are you anyway, by the way? Why should I be talking to you? How dare you break the chain on my gate with a pair of bolt cutters? I’ll have you for trespass. I’m in discomfort. I need a couple more Nurofen Plus then I’d like a kip, if you wouldn’t mind. I’m euchred. They’ve been screwing me for years without the margarine and you can replace the chain on that gate.’
‘It’s only the one link. No big deal. If I were you I’d put something in my stomach other than white wine if I wanted more Nurofen Plus. How many’s that you’ve had?’ ‘None of your bloody business! Many as I could get into me. I’ll make meself a sandwich. Would you like one?’
‘Food here not good enough?’
‘Didn’t say that. Not hungry.’
Item: what should I memorize of this encounter? I’ll forget the codeine abuse. I’ll recall he was sent home, ASAP, from hospital, and his broken collarbone is causing discomfort, yet how many times has Stewie O’Grady broken his collarbone now? Eight? Nine? You don’t hear Stewie complain. Still leads his team as domestique supreme. Oh I’m a wake up to malingerers. I need to be, in my game.
So I showed Des my Authority to Convey Mail. I then produced an authority identifying me as an operative of CSG, the Corporate Security Group of Australia Post, authorized to conduct random audits on delivery contractors and sub-contractors, but I find I have left my certificate of graduation from Madras Medical School back home in the CBD. Damn!
‘This doesn’t look like you,’ he says, scrutinising my authority. ‘Where’s your comb-over?’
‘That sort of talk gets you nowhere. Have you no courtesy and you a postman? You will find me at all times courteous and I would never argue, on a proven principle the confrontation may lead to an assault. You must teach yourself to say, ‘Just like me, this person is striving to fulfil his/her ends.’ I see you’ve signed off on your Self-Paced Contractor Induction Training Participant Guide. Prior to which, you were in full-time employ here as the Dog Rock postman. By the way, I don’t think that’s the right sling they’ve put on your arm there, Des. Tch tch, they way they do things in these backblocks. You want a proper St John sling on a fractured collarbone. I’ve seen your scans. You’ve a slight fracture. Here, when I take this arm sling off, I want you to bend your elbow and raise your left forearm across your chest like so, with your fingers pointing at your right shoulder like so, which may hurt a bit depending on your blood level of ibuprofen but I can reuse the bandage, which appears to be relatively clean, wrapping it round your left arm with the upper end over your right shoulder, which will stop the arm pulling on the collarbone. Have you perchance a safety pin? I shall need one. Let me just go rummaging through all the drawers and cupboards in your house. Think of it as a random audit. Oh I hope I don’t find any undelivered mail or perhaps a cheque book or two or a mastercard or a Bunnings Warehouse gift voucher. ’
‘You’re not touching me. Take your hands off my shoulders!’
‘I am a doctor nominated by corporation, Des. I represent Injurynet. I am here, among other matters, to ascertain whether or not you are fit to return to work Monday and I tell you what, it’s looking good. I am a legally authorized medico, mate, outside city limits. I multi-task in serving, with pride, the largest continually operating organization in Australia. Now for reason of public perception, I don’t want you riding a Honda ninety round this town with your arm in a sling though I’ve no doubt it could be done as the Honda ninety is clutchless and that’s your left shoulder you’ve taken out. I am redeploying you to light duties. I have no doubt you are fit to sort mail and push a mail buggy with your right arm, effecting any necessary braking on the buggy with your left foot, while delivering mail, perhaps a little lighthearted banter, using your right arm, to any street address. As it happens, we’ve a vacancy in Crookwell.’
‘I can’t get to Crookwell from here with a broken shoulder! It’s not on the railway line.’
‘Ah yes, but you drove yourself to hospital yesterday morning, no worries there. You can drive and you can ride. By the way, my name is D’Arcy D’Oliveres and I shall be doing your run while you’re in Crookwell.’
‘Good luck to you.’
‘Oh I know what they’re like, these letterboxes of Dog Rock. I doubt they’ve changed. We always knew it would be a slow process of education there but have no fear, Des, for would you believe, that in a former life, I was the Dog Rock postman?’
Well this rendered him speechless or perhaps it was the packet of Nurofen Plus on top of the four litres of Moselle he’d put away as we spoke but it’s true: I was the Dog Rock postman once but when I got out of Kee-mo that last time, I thought, given this third chance at life, I should make something of myself. So I cashed in my super and took a medical degree in Madras. And btw, pay no heed to these Trots, this Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union, when they claim Australia Post managers use doctors nominated by corporation to force staff back to work before they are fully recovered in order to secure salary bonuses based on keeping the amount of time lost through injury to a minimum. That is a canard.
You know, I find I am actually looking forward to going back to my old beat? That doesn’t sound right. You know, I find I am actually looking back to going forward to my old beat? That’s better. Mind you, was a time when the Dog Rock Post Office, nowadays a trendy cafe forever changing hands and names, had a postmaster, a senior postal clerk, a postal assistant, a postman and a telegram boy to serve a population of 352. Today it’s up the road and round the corner, a warehouse serving an ever-expanding population, currently 2753, through the services of a single delivery contractor – Des, who just euchred his shoulder colliding with a rhinotek reindeer then driving off a culvert coming up wrong-angle to a letterbox at one of the numerous lot B’s along the Old Cow Flat Road – and a postal manager.
Scandalous? To those on the left, to the unionist Trot – perhaps. The economic rationalist will bear in mind that in our last financial year, while we recorded a profit of $260 million on revenues of $4.9 billion, our mail component – our traditional strength – lost $204 million.
How do I account for it? Neglect of correspondence, the sure sign of computer-induced ADD. The letter writer must filter out distraction and compose the mind to reflect deeply. The SMS texter, au contraire, wont to solving minuscule hypertextual problems, exhibits, on autopsy, the pathognomonically enlarged dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, gained at the expense of the deeper cognitive function required to write a legible, cursive hand. Could it be that a system devised in ancient Persia, as described by Herodotus, and used in every civilization since is under threat? Not really. Breathe easy. Your right to receive the latest information on supermarket specials is constitutionally guaranteed and, on the subject, please don’t resort to a jussive ‘no junk mail’ sign with the bend gules. It cheapens the look of your residence and only puts the postie in a bad mood to have to stop at a box and not relieve himself. It could lead to injury and what does it say about you? It says you’re a person doesn’t give a fig for the economy because you’re doing people out of a job and you must know that but you don’t give a rat’s. It doesn’t take a deal of effort to recycle mail or if tossing it in the bin is too much trouble for you, do as I do: hurl it down next to the box and mow it up with your mower. That will send a message.
As to the Dog Rock postal manager Manuel Laybah: I understand from Des he opted out of the selection process, citing ignorance of Australian culture. Forwent an opportunity to participate in the selection of five Australian Living Legends of Popular Song – thus joining our Last Anzacs of 2000, our Olympians of 1998, our Medical Scientists of 2002, our Fashion Designers of 2005, our Philanthropists, Racing Greats, Country Singer, Tennis Champs – through honouring them, on a postage stamp or two, as individuals who have made a lifetime contribution to the development of our national identity and character but declined, citing ignorance, more likely on a feeble pretext of having 435 private boxes to sort each day before opening up at nine a.m. – all, regrettably, numbered in so ad hoc a fashion that anyone he tried to train to help would be more of a hindrance and picture it: here is Manuel tossing up mail like a croupier dealing blackjack while his sluggish highly-paid attendant stands by perplexed, letter in hand, wondering why box 75 is nowhere near box 76, but you see, our unique Dog Rock private box system, such as it is and it isn’t, cannot be changed, for then no one on the other side of that wall would know where their box was. Think of the consternation, the repercussions, the heart attacks! Half this town would have ISH. In the end, it was only Des and the girl who picks up the outgoing mail in the white Toyota van chose the Legends of Popular Song but vox populi, I see no problem. Can you see a problem? Two or more gathered together, no sexual bias. Where’s your problem?
If Des, as I suspect, were telling the truth, it would appear to have arisen later then went unvetted all the way through to the top and over. Mr Graeme John, our long- term Managing Director, retired in March 2010. In his 16 long years at the helm he took an active interest in the stamp issue program, personally approving every stamp design released and indeed, in 1997 it was actually Mr Graeme John initiated the Australia Post Australian Legends Award and accompanying stamp series, and the 2010 issue – Australian Legends of the Written Word – was the last he personally reviewed and approved for production. How commendable. I have in my possession a final art proof of that edition, dated twenty second of the twelth zero nine, a tri-fold pack holding a facsimile edition of the proof, with a signature of the MD himself and an imperforate sheetlet of the 12 stamps comprising the 2010 Australia Post Australian Legends of the Written Word stamp issue and I shall treasure it. All the more as Australia, which lacks the printed matter rate, declares itself, in so doing, inimical to the written word.
Well no such luck this year with Mr Graeme John retired and headquarters in turmoil. Our new corporate structure in which Australia Post, part of every day, is to be divided into four divisions, including, inevitably, e-Services, intended to bite the bullet, would not take shape before July 2010 and it was during the interregnum – March through July 2010 with no one, as it were, at the philatelic helm, that Ross Commoner slipped through.
Ross Commoner, ex-SRA. Erstwhile Assistant Station Master. Took over, as I recall, from Bobby Calvary as Dog Rock ASM. A lifelong Dog Rock nobody. Hail, democracy in action! What may have seemed like a good idea at the time and possibly put forward in good faith, I stress ‘possibly’ – ended in what may yet become an embarrassment presented before a senatorial committee, for who was it destined to receive – and indeed, might have, were it not for the last-minute intervention of provisional head of Distribution and Express – their 24-carat gold replicas of their personalized stamps, January twenty six, Australia Day? Dot Org, Nick Cave, Kamahl (aka Kandian Kamalesvaran), Dud – I should have liked to have seen included Geoffrey Gurrumul, make a pairing, in my stamp album, with One Pound Jimmy from 1952, but Ross Commoner? The brother of Coralie Commoner? Frogmore’s Ross Commoner, his only recent appearance, as far as anyone can recall, three years back at the Goulburn Soldiers Club where you wouldn’t be game to park a vehicle for fear of Todd Carney jumping on the bonnet? You wouldn’t ask Ross to sing you the anthem at the Suncorp State of Origin yet here he is on not just one but two of ten commemorative stamps, threatening to join the likes of Nancy Millis and John Tapp as an Australian Legend.
Someone should have said something. Someone should have been a wake up yet it went right through to the 24-carat gold replicas and who minted those? Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu? Everyone is blaming someone else but you can bet the blogs are aburble, Twitter atwitter. Trots are always alert for a slip-up. My Facebook friends all scoff at me. Thankfully, it’s only just past the end of the month of Jan so very few of this year’s Legend issue have actually been sold – it is our quietest time of year, we’re still clearing Christmas stock and most of the Legends of Popular Song, including the cuckoo chick, were consigned to Dog Rock for a reason I shall delineate, while the two stamps featuring Ross – his gold replicas having been melted down, have quietly, as I understand it, been put to rest, though I have as many as I could get my hands on, buddy, as they’ll be worth a bob. I seized the entire local allocation. I have ninety percent of the issue and they’ll be joining my proof sheets of the Auld Mug that never got won and the four stamps commemorating the boycotted Moscow Olympics. We are bruiting it about there were only four Legends of Popular Song, Dot, Nick, Kamahl and Dud and as for Neil Finn, a deserving nominee, he’ll have to wait. He’ll have to wait his time across the ditch, I mean, can’t they do anything over there? Must we honour all their Legends? Russell Crowe gets a wombat gong and what price Reg Mombassa? That said, there was only one artist in ninety-nine, only one operatic diva in oh four. The current issue, including the large-format prestige booklet featuring all ten stamps – one of each Legend pictured as they are now and one of their choice, from the archive, in their prime, because you wouldn’t get to be an Australian Legend until you were, oo, say, at least thirty-five – recalled. The handsome 64 page booklet, a collection of biographical features on each Legend, pulped, though I shall retain one as I must refer to it but the cost, not to mention potential embarrassment to an organization struggling to survive in the modern e-world – scandalous. Stamp Bulletin, March-April issue, being revamped as I speak. Thank you, Dog Rock. Thank you for your customary bastardry, you postcode you. But we fear this blunder won’t just disappear, though our PR team are doing its best by calling in some Chinese hackers. Sorting machines have been programmed to frank within an inch of their life either stamp featuring Ross but you can bet your life some blogger with time on his idle anarchist hands, some Trotskyite Bolshevik bludger, will stir up trouble for a former employer on WikiLeaks. Some even suggest managerial heads may roll but I say no. Someone lower down the food chain will be found accountable for this breach of trust and that’s where I come in, in a capacity as postal detective Sergeant. I wear quite a few Australia Post hats, not all of which have chinstraps. I am resolved to start at the very bottom so here I am in Dog Rock. Where better place to start? Someone hereabouts, I suggest, is heading for Centrelink. It is my brief to find the culprit. We may surmise we just met him but we must not jump to conclusions, which is one thing I learnt in Madras. See, just because someone is covered in gold jewellery may not mean she is wealthy. It may just mean she has no access to a drawer, or a strongbox, or indeed a dwelling.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a logical fallacy. Just because you bark at the postman may not be the reason he moves on.
So I’m off to find myself accommodation in Dog Rock. I expect to be here for at least a week. I need to check out this Ross Commoner, brother of the winsome Coralie and I expect I have my choice of B and B’s. Always a few about – they live in hope – but it never really took off, did it, the B and B concept, not round here, though some still live in hope. This is not Ireland. I could stay at the pub but I still have a little hearing in one ear and I’m told I need a good night’s sleep if I am to rise at three a.m each working day as I must, for Des says I have to get to the Mail Centre, thirty klicks north, to start work at four thirty a.m.
It’s a fifty klick beat, the Dog Rock beat, always was. Nothing has changed there. You need to set limits. One time, you did it on a pushbike and got some fitness into you. At his best, Lance Armstrong, with domestique George Hincapie, rode for US Postal. Eight hundred drops, though, that’s gone up. No vacant blocks or paddocks now. It is a long beat and that’s a lot of drops, when you’ve no apartment blocks to service, and I haven’t ridden a motorcycle since, oo, was it when I served as a cavalry scout for Operation Barbarossa, Wehrmacht sixteenth Panzer Division, second Panzer regiment, on the Beemer flat twin airhead? No, it would have been when I sold the Royal Enfield, a thumper, on leaving Madras, so I’ll be slow, at first, in the predawn, breaking up my mail. New challenges take time when you’re well past it. Struggling to recall names – what was yours again? Slowly affixing my yellow printed redirections in the magnifiers. Manuel tells me Des battles to finish the run in daylight hours and it’s a bit like surfing, in that you can’t really deliver mail in the dark, well, you can – I’ve done it – but you really shouldn’t try because of the dogs. Cats dive down the nearest drain but dogs go right off by night and they’re bad enough by day. Not to mention the ’roos and wombats on the nature strips here plus a certain rhinotek Santa with team of rhinotek caribou. You could do yourself a mischief. Maybe fracture a collarbone.
Manuel tells me a lot of people who used to have private boxes are having their mail redelivered to their street address as a result of the downturn.
Notice how wombats always leave a calling card by the letterbox? What is that supposed to say, Jaan Kirsipuu?
Australia Post, while part of every day, does have a policy that weekends are not everyday affairs yet I’m told Des often delivers mail on Saturday and Sunday. Claims he has no choice, can’t find anyone to help him. It would only be junk, hey! Bite your tongue. It would only be unaddressed mail. And he wouldn’t want anyone to help him, if the truth were known. He’d have to pay them.
Shouldn’t have taken on a five year contract. He won’t get another as he’s let us down in hurting himself but you know what? Whether or not he is touching up vouchers I can’t see him voting for Ross Commoner. And he is a Finn fan, did you not see the Split Enz albums among the cricket trophies? He would have voted for Tim Finn ahead of Ross Commoner. I’m pretty sure, being dinky-di, he was alert to the dangers of provincialism.