So, what if you were standing right here in the Meat Market district in the year 2050? What would it be like?
Ying, aged 10, resident, 3/18 Tyrone Street, North Melbourne
We all live close together here. Sometimes, when the window is open at night, I can even hear the man downstairs breath out. I know when he’s home because I can smell the cigarette he’s smoking. In thirty-one years from now, it will be 2050, and I hope I’ll have children of my own by then: three of them. And I’d like to be the City Mayor. If I am mayor I will have banned both cars and cigarettes by then, and all the city streets will be planted with grass and trees and edible flower gardens. It will be real grass. If I do have three children, I’ll need to move my family into the apartment upstairs – Tara’s apartment – instead of this one I share with my mum, because this one has only one bedroom. I hope my cat’s still alive. She could have kittens, too, by then. And you know what I could do if was the mayor? I could get to my office by rolling right down Elizabeth Street, along the grass, right down the middle of the street. I suppose I’d have to wear trousers, rather than a skirt, otherwise everyone would get to see my undies. But maybe by then that kind of thing won’t matter. Maybe people won’t care about that. Imagine if I wore a short skirt to work and I was tumbling along on the grass, on my way to the office down the strip in the middle of Elizabeth Street, and people came out of their cafes or whatever and pointed or waved at me, saying, “There goes the mayor.” Or, “Morning, Mayor!” It doesn’t even occur to them to tease me about the colour of my undies!
Jan, aged 74, new patient, Australian Prostate Centre, 14-20 Blackwood St, North Melbourne
I gave up philosophy last year, but by 2050 I think I will have picked it up again. If I’m still alive, I will be one-hundred-and-five and I will need philosophy, or something. If you walk up the road from here, up to Lygon Street, you’ll see a lamppost there with a quote from Italo Calvino: something about the nature of cities and what it’s like to be new to one. I’d like to see more of those kinds of lampposts, wouldn’t you? We’re a meaning-driven bunch, are we not? So, why give up philosophy, then? Well, it’s just the diagnosis, I suppose. It’s given me pause. Hit me for a six. Stopped me in my traps. All those old clichés. Sometimes, the more you look at it, the less meaning there is to be made, don’t you think? I read too many books. So, I’m taking a break from philosophy, and enjoying sitting here on Blackwood Street with my morning coffee. Look at that old piece of bluestone, beneath the entranceway to the old Meat Works. See the marks we’ve made on it, over decades? See the way it’s worn down, concave and smooth, the physical effect of thousands upon thousands of foot falls? That’s what I’m noticing most mornings now, that kind of thing. If I’m still here in 2050, I’ll have thought up by then a pithy piece of philosophy for some graffiti artist to spray onto the dark glass wall of this Prostate Centre building. It could use some colour, this building, don’t you think?
Mitch, aged 42, volunteer, Melbourne International Jazz Festival office, The Meat Market, North Melbourne
If you get all caught up on what’s going to happen next when you’re deep in the middle of an improvisation, you lose your way. Which is not to say you’re not constantly building on the past, or that you shouldn’t have some kind of plan for what’s around the corner. It’s just that things get a little slippery, and that’s kind of nice. Like, who is to say that it’s not 2050 already, actually? Who it is to say that you’re not already there, looking back, wondering what the hell these people back in 2019 were doing with themselves? Send them a beat. People ask me sometimes, when was the best time for jazz? Was it the ragtime 1890s? Maybe. But what they didn’t know in the 1890s was what would happen to jazz in the twenties, right, or what Miles Davis would do with it when he hit his prime in the sixties. Nobody could have predicted Miles Davis. What was the best year for jazz? Could be it’s 2019, right? Or it could be it’s going to be 2050. The thing about jazz musicians, I mean improvisors in particular, is we embrace our mistakes. We’re not afraid of our mistakes. What we’re doing is creating fresh melodies over the continuously repeating cycle of certain chord changes in a song. That’s valuable, isn’t it? Maybe you want to think about that, too, when you come here asking me questions about the future. Here’s a question for you: what makes the best form of free improvisation sound so good?
Millie, 28, barista, ST Cooper Café, North Melbourne
Don’t ask me, I’m just making the coffee. Latte, double ristretto, macchiato, flat white. I used to work at Industry Beans in Fitzroy, and I was the chief barista at Proud Mary’s in Collingwood for a while. Now I’m here on Blackwood Street, North Melbourne, tucked away, tiny little shelf of a coffee joint: stand up only. I still see a few familiar faces who know me from those other haunts, those people who like the way I make their coffee and who follow me from deck to deck. Nothing too creepy. It used to be that I only worked for places that paid penalties rates on weekends. It used to be that I worked as a barista only three days a week. I was a uni student then. Don’t ask me about my acting career; don’t ask me about dance injuries. I don’t want to talk about that. It turns out you can be a barista your whole life; it turns out you can pass years making coffees on Blackwood Street, down from The Meat Market in North Melbourne. Thirty-one years probably won’t make any difference to me. I’ll be taller, maybe, do you think? Hopefully I’ll be standing here in more comfortable shoes. I don’t like being short. I wish I could wear heels but I don’t want to be uncomfortable on my feet all day. 2050? Don’t ask me. My feet are aching here already. I don’t want to think about it.
This story is part of the Future Stories project with RMIT’s non/fictionLab and creative writing program, which paired writing students with academics to produce creative responses to themes explored during Melbourne Knowledge Week 2019. Come along to Chorus of voices on Thursday 23 May, 10am to 11am to hear from the students and staff involved in the project.