Stephen Gilfedder: Old Comms

Old Comms
Melbourne, early 1970s

All were fabrications, exaggerations or “necessary at the time”
—the famines and deportations, the purging of the Kirov,
Show Trials of the Thirties, Benes overthrown,
Masaryk breaking a long jump record out a window,
Molotov’s Magyar adventurism, Dubcek’s bucolic retreat.
A sentinel for this class resistance stood against the human tide
At rush hour, under the clocks at Flinders Street, the Struggle
In a threadbare overcoat, spreading The Tribune to the masses.
His brethren from the politburo at the University curated
Polemic, dialectic and the official line in monographs,
Dancing to the Bells and Lazy Ade at the Manor House hotel.
The enemy nearby and symbol of capitalist oppression
Was copper “Skull” of white pith helmet and matching gloves
Controlling proletarian traffic flow over Princes Bridge.

Skull’s uniform mate Jeffo was the go-between with Norm,
Compositor and class warrior at the rubber stamp emporium.
Jeffo would sidle up beside the vulcanizer as the dies
Were heat-pressed and flip through New China Reconstructs
And features on opera of the unyielding peasant tide, invariably
“Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy”, and give the bad news
To the Port Melbourne stalwart, sacked by the robber barons
At The Age for alcohol-related issues, as he struggled
With tweezers, forms and pica box to hand-set type.
With advance notice of charges for consorting at the Waterside
Or Queensbridge with Painters and Dockers pals,
The worker would stack his magazines for further study,
Finish off stamp back orders, the furniture trade’s reading
“EUROPEAN LABOUR ONLY”, before his periodic stint in Pentridge.

It’s true that Melbourne at this time was ripe for revolution,
“Manchester by the sea” Pringle called it, swings locked on Sundays,
Sparking activation plans to emerge from mud brick homes at Eltham
Or terraces in Parkville, over a carbonara at Tiamo or Café Sport.
My poetry in their literary bible landed me a plum arts job sight-unseen
Along with a gin and tonic and a flourish for the people’s vision.
Revealed as the academia versus artists cricket match
Projects like the cultural pub, a mural on the Dartmouth dam
And upstairs at Florentino, us one side, business types the other.
So the community’s promotional budget was largely spent.
At the comrades dinner I sat between a functionary and an artist
An item of suspicion in my flares though there was approval
Of my Ned Kelly beard and roll-your-owns, and together we all sang
Lustily, not the Internationale but Waltzing Matilda, in Latin.

Stephen Gilfedder

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