Canis lupus familiaris
We’d followed the news all week, those many of us lucky enough not to be in the terrible centre of it. With hope slowly withering to horror and sorrow we’d read and discussed each new awful development. On Friday we awoke to the news that overnight police had found her body. Even as late as Thursday night we’d been hoping, against hope, for the best. On Friday morning thunderclouds rumbled over the city, darkening the sky, dimming the early spring light, as if the sun itself could not bear to break over a new day. On Friday morning, on the train into the city, on our way to work, we barely spoke; and the silence was heavier than silence ever should be.
On Saturday we paused in our sorrow, because that is the great privilege of those many of us who did not know her, and we watched Sydney beat Hawthorn in the AFL grand final. The last Saturday in September. A community has its rites. On Sunday, though, through our hangovers, we remembered once again, with a horror that wouldn’t give way to numbness, and we talked to each-other in voices hushed and bowed, and we gathered in Brunswick at midday beneath a sky that threatened rain. Thousands of us. Tens of thousands of us. Somehow an entire city of us.
As we turned the corner into Sydney Road to begin our sombre march police ushered us into one lane of the street, to allow trams and traffic to pass in the other direction; yet even so no vehicles moved. No vehicles dared to move. There were so many of us that crowded into a narrow column we seemed to stretch the entire length of Brunswick, from Moreland Road where we began to Brunswick Road where the trams waited patiently for us to finish our procession. As we began to walk some of us talked to each other but more of us were silent. For some of the men in our number it was as close as we had been to women we didn’t know all week: a sense of shamed propriety has fallen upon us, and we’ve been keeping our distance, lowering our eyes. Now though our very presence is itself a sign of respect, and even contrition: for one of our number had done this awful thing. It is always one of us.
The march takes us an hour. All of us, men and women alike, together. There are so many of us, and we are walking so slowly. People are people, and so some of them turn slowly to chatting to friends: about life, about daily frustrations. There are so many of us that friends cannot find each-other, and phone calls are made: the landmarks of the nightly news, the places she stopped on her last awful night, are used as points of reference: “I’ve just passed Bar Etiquette” one man tells somebody on his phone. He’ll be with his friend soon.
“I think we’re nearly at Hope Street” another man says. He sounds as if he has momentarily forgotten himself, as if he is touring historical landmarks; but it’s forgivable. It is, in its way, understandable. Later, in a pub in the city, a female friend asks me why I had marched. “I don’t understand the point” she says, and I gasp and stumble for a reply before muttering something about solidarity; but I think perhaps we marched because we needed to see for ourselves something that had hovered all week somewhere between the abstract and the horrifyingly real. We are human, and only through seeing something of it for ourselves can anything begin to make sense to us.
There are many families marching. There are women and men, of all ages, and – if one can judge such a thing from appearance alone – of all backgrounds. Many people have brought their dogs, because in some ways a community is bound together by its dogs. There are whippets and retrievers and Labradors; mutts and mongrels and purebreds alike. They are all on leads but they don’t need to be: dogs have a better sense of propriety than most animals; than many humans, for that matter. A dog can read the mood of an occasion and adapt its own behaviour to suit, and the dogs on the march are silent, their heads down, their pacing as slow and stately as the thousands of humans around them.
Yet they are dogs, and sometimes they can’t contain themselves, and when the path of one dog crosses with another there is a burst of activity: the dogs wag their tails eagerly and sniff each other all over, raising their noses in keen excitement. Everybody on the march knows that dogs will be dogs, and their small transgressions against the sombre mood of the procession are forgiven; and so the dogs begin for us, in their way, the process of healing; they begin the long task of pulling us through our collective grief. Each dog in the crowd is a small burning star of happiness and joy and because they are dogs we can forgive them for it, even today, even at the end of this awful week.
Image sourced from http://en.wikipedia.org