‘Would any of you care if they put a freeway tunnel under here?’ I called out.
The question wasn’t directed specifically to Thomas Fisher (deceased 8 December 1906), though his was the grave directly in front. Enid had been his loving wife, and she had joined him in the same plot in 1911. It was a bit of a long shot – approaching the dead for comment – but if they were ever to be passionate about an infrastructure issue, this was going to be it. I turned on my dictaphone.
‘Our voices won’t record on tape, they’re too thin,’ came an elderly female voice.
I span 360 degrees, and then back again, but there was nobody around to disturb the green-grey tranquility of the Melbourne Cemetery. Could that possibly have been Enid, loving mother of Mark and Ruth?
‘W-w-what if I turn the playback volume up really loud, like in The Sixth Sense?’ I asked tentatively.
‘I don’t see why that would work.’ It was the wisp of a male voice this time. ‘We’ll get lost in the tape hiss.’
‘Mr Fisher?’ I whispered into a rectangular spread of pebbles.
‘Thomas Fisher, plot 1345B. This is my wife Enid. What can we help you with?’
So I asked again about the freeway. Given the only car they had ever seen was driven by a man wearing goggles, I gave a brief run down on the automotive revolution, moving to contemporary politics.
I discussed Jeff Kennett and his theory that as people were now spending more time on freeways, one way to bring them closer together would be to bring the freeways closer together. I mentioned how there were now tolls on roads our taxes had already paid for, the payoff being that we now had significantly better locations for shooting car commercials. I told them about the new Bracks government, flip-flopping from toll road outrage in 1999 to being the smiling owners of the ribbon cutting shears in 2000. And now it was ‘refusing to rule out’ a $700 million tunnel between the Eastern and Tullamarine freeways.
‘Can you tell us how University is going in the VFL?’ Mr Fisher asked earnestly, his interest apparently waning
But in an adjacent lot, Mr Sergio Sciaccia, (died 12-6-98 aged 68) had obviously been listening.
‘What’s a tunnel going to do, other than blow a few million cubic tonnes of carbon monoxide up through vent stacks in Royal Park? There’s a bottleneck in the inner city because it’s the inner bloody city. To improve congestion around here they need to knock down the shops and cafes in Lygon, Smith and Brunswick Streets and add an extra lane. Or else move the CBD, have they considered that?
I added that a Vicroads census suggested that only 5.2% of Eastern Freeway motorists were heading for the Tullamarine.
Then another new voice wafted into the conversation. ‘Hi I’m Harold from lot 1337. The last ‘new release’ I ever rented was ‘Daylight’ starring Sylvester Stallone. In that film the Hudson tunnel collapsed in New York, and Stallone, an out-of-work cop with something to prove, smashed through the top of the tunnel and swam to the surface of Hudson. That couldn’t happen here, could it?’
Mr Sciaccia responded first. ‘If they spend a billion dollars, I’m sure it’ll be structurally sound. The issue isn’t collapsing tunnels. It’s what we have as our vision for Melbourne. We can either follow the Los Angeles model and become a city of multi-lane freeways, with the traffic constantly expanding to fill these roads, or choose some other vision. We could even try allocating money towards public transport. What about reducing fares so that people are encouraged to use it?’
I offered the recent news that fares were set to increase again by up to 10% from January 1st, 2001.
‘Someone should write a letter to The Argus’. Enid Fisher said indignantly.
‘Who’s Sylvester Stallone?’ asked Colin Ebert, departed since February 1954.
‘Hey mate, can you find Davo at the Ascot Vale Hotel and tell him ‘Macca says hello’?’
More and more voices were springing up, and the conversation drifted rapidly away from the freeway issue. The light was fading and it was time for the green, wrought iron gates to close. I offered my farewells.
‘Will this be in the newspaper?’ Mr Sciaccia asked.
I said that it would, on the opinion page.
‘Aw come on. You’ve got dead people to speak about freeways. Surely that’s news. And if this ends up in opinion, the whole thing could end up looking like a literary device,’ he sighed.
I promised to do my best, but without recorded evidence it was going to be tough
Walking away, I heard a faint sliver of voice. ‘This is big,’ Mr Sciaccia was telling the others. ‘These types of decisions are about whether we have a sustainable environment in fifty years. If you think you don’t care, you will when the tunnel comes through, when the roads consume everything. And in fifty years, they all will too.’