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Tuesday, 30 October 2018

The sound of the waves

It started to rain as I left home in the morning to go into the CBD and by the time I had arrived there it was coming down heavily. The sun was shining from part of the sky at the same time as the drops fell onto the pavement. In Martin Place, men and women wearing yellow raincoats were giving away to people walking in the thoroughfare yellow-and-green umbrellas that had the logo of a travel insurance company printed on them.

Later I drove the car to the Shell station and put $55-worth of petrol in the car. The pavement near the pump vibrated sensibly as the liquid entered the car's tank, although I could not feel its flow in my hand where it gripped the nozzle's trigger. The sales clerk behind the counter told me "Have a great day" after I paid using EFTPOS and as I turned around to head back to the door of the shop, which I pushed with my hand to open. The car started normally and I watched the fuel gauge indicator zip to the top of the dial as the engine turned over smoothly.

Back at home in the mid-afternoon I was sitting watching Twitter as usual when loud music started up in the apartment next to mine. From outside the windows I could hear machinery operating at the site where they are putting up an office tower. Its mechanical noise blended with the heavy bass beats of the music coming from next door, and I remembered how I had quailed inwardly when my downstairs neighbour had made noise, in the years when I lived in southeast Queensland.

At that time, my home was on the second floor of a building that faced a park looked after by the municipal council. Rugby union teams played there on weekends and on some Thursday evenings a gridiron team practiced in the park. Utility vehicles belonging to tradesmen would be lined up in the parking bays that flanked the grass on my side of the expanse, in the middle of which, behind the clubhouse, stood a huge, olive-green paperbark tree with squiggly branches that was a resort for magpies and other birds that lived in the area. Magpies would sit and carol on the balustrade of my balcony in the early morning sunshine, and bananabirds would come to feast on the aloe flower that grew in a pot in the corner.

From the front windows facing it I could hear the surf as it struck the beach that lay to the east on the other side of the residential area. The beach sat beside the Pacific Ocean. To the north lay a river estuary and beyond that Mount Coolum rose like a woman’s breast from the plane where an airport had been laid out.

My unit had a light well near the front door that allowed noise from above and below to filter into it. I remember going down to the building’s entrance and at the front door buzzing my downstairs neighbour’s unit on the intercom after he had started playing music on his stereo, so that I could protest the intrusion. I once called the police and they came in a patrol car and addressed the residents of the ground-floor unit, which was not where my neighbour lived. On another occasion, the police came when I called and I gave them access to my unit, where they listened to the sound of the waves coming from the east and told me that they would not take the matter any further.

In the end I had a tradesman come in and put up a screen of louvred panes to block out the music and other noise that came from other apartments in the building. There had been plastic plants sitting in tubs amid a scree of smooth, white pebbles sitting in the enclosure that had been made within the light well, and all this was finally put behind frosted glass. The effect of moving air, which is so important in the tropics, was blocked off in order to enable more privacy and so that I could enjoy the sound of the waves uninterrupted. After I moved back to Sydney and put my mother in a nursing home there, I sold that apartment for $42,000 (plus inflation) less than had been paid for it five-and-a-half years earlier. The money resulting from the transaction was used for the deposit for my mother’s room in the nursing home, which its operator used to generate income and which was refunded once the contract terminated upon her death.

Now, living in the city, I am surrounded by the noises of humanity and nature is almost entirely absent, although currawongs land on the balustrade of my balcony from time to time, swivelling their dark heads from side to side and gawking at the space in front of my building. The bass beat from next door is, if anything, a welcome distraction from the clanking, hammering and droning that comes daily from the building site up the road.

Late in the afternoon when I went out to do some grocery shopping I was reminded of the ubiquity of technology in the city by a man riding an electric motorised unicycle on the pavement outside a renovated heritage building that is leased to commercial tenants for their offices. The sound the machine made as he rode it on the slick pavement, slippery with recent rain, was like that which is made by imperial fighters in ‘Star Wars’ movies. But at the supermarket when I went to pay with my debit card and when I asked “EFTPOS ok?”, the young woman with dark skin who stood behind the counter said, enquiringly, “Effpos?”, not understanding what I meant. I held up a plastic card in the space between us and she tapped at her screen to activate the transaction machine, which I used to pay the amount due for the goods that sat in my backpack: ling and snapper fillets, salami, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, broccoli, green beans, asparagus, bread and cheese. When I got home my apartment was silent.

My neighbour is a tall New Zealander and I meet him near the lifts from time to time. We say “Hello” to each other and make small talk when we pass in the corridor. He is friendly and he smiles at me and I have no intention of interrupting his enjoyment of music.

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