When I was living and working in the city, there were a number of people who we shared our back laneway with. There were the people who slept there occassionally. There were the people who went there to inject heroin or amphetamines. There were the tourists and suburban folks who wandered in thinking they could get through to the next main street. There were the folks who brought the bins through from the serviced apartments. There were the council cleaners. There were church folks who’d come in and out through the back door. And there were workers from a Japanese restaurant who’d have their smoke break in the laneway.
What I found was that some of these groups were hard to get to know and others were easy. But there was also a group in between who I think just needed consistency. I don’t think I ever got much of a response from any of the people who worked in the serviced apartments, and I never got to know any of them. But it was a different story with the restaurant workers.
When I moved into the area I was looking out for opportunities to be present to others and to get to know neighbours, but also aware that a lot of people may not be in the city for that purpose. So with the restaurant workers I started off just trying to make eye contact with them and nod acknowledgement when I saw them. When I started to consistently get a nod back, I started to wave and say hello. What really changed my relationship with these neighbours though was going away on a holiday for a couple of weeks. When I got back one of them said, ‘Oh, you’re back! Where did you go?’ From that point we introduced ourselves, and it suddenly became comfortable to loiter and chat together when they were on their break.
Over the last couple of years I’ve become less involved with the city and more involved in the area where I live now. I’ve really enjoyed beginning to get to know some of the locals around Carlton and Carlton North. If I walk down Rathdowne Street I’ll often see our nextdoor neighbours. If I walk Lygon Street I might see one of the workers from Kathleen Syme Library. At the housing commission flats I might run into someone I know from church or from my time working at Credo Café in the city.
In my own street the other day I recognised someone I’ve never met, but have often seen at the library. He was patting one of the cats, which seem to be repopulating our street. I smiled and said hello and he said hi. I don’t know if he recognised me, but he might next time.