The passage of the imminent Full Moon is a blind passage. We gaze up at it as into a bright street light, seeing nothing. Its lame attempt to outshine the Sun diverts our attention from much more important things, signs which can nourish our quest for authenticity, which demonstrate the vast and timeless backdrop behind our pretences, and which confirm the vanity of life which ignores death. This is a story of the embrace of tradition: how a group of wage-slaves transcended the imperatives of economic reality and became artisans.
The story begins at lunch-time, when a group of tradesmen emerge from the Quarry Hotel to return to work up the street. They see a young man in the intersection outside drawing lines with yellow chalk, ducking in and out of traffic, and enquire into his apparently passionate project. Word passes around at their workplace and when they return to the Quarry after work, they are followed by the foreman and an engineer.
The traffic is now dense, but the young man is still at it as the workers install themselves at the bar. A desultory conversation about the weekend’s football is attempted, but nobody is really attending to anything but the single-minded effort of the young man outside. Suddenly, as one, safety being drilled into them as of paramount importance in the union industry, the drinkers pour out of the pub and set up barricades with tables from the hotel, and begin diverting the traffic.
Instantly, while the young man, in his early twenties and of middle-eastern appearance, carries on chalking the plan for a building in the middle of the street, there is uproar. The barricades are aggressively confronted by irate motorists and, very soon, two and then four tram drivers, not to mention the publican trying to reclaim his property. Some police arrive, and any pretence of restraint is abandoned. A melee ensues, until thirty police in riot gear arrive, and after dispersing the combatants with capsicum spray and restoring the flow of traffic, take the instigators, including the young man, into custody.
Under questioning through an interpreter, the young Iraqi immigrant confesses that his intention, without offending anyone or breaking any laws, is simply to create a two-dimensional representation of a mosque, facing the Quiba along Weston St, and featuring a street-wide arch in the style of the Islamic arches which gave inspiration to the architects of the Gothic cathedrals, aligned east and west like the magnificent celestial arch he saw for the first time upon arriving in Australia, and which has filled him with such joy as a Muslim student of architecture that he sees his design in the intersection as a fusion of north and south, ancient and modern, spiritual and physical, and celestial and temporal.
The Superintendent asks him, what celestial arch? The Milky Way, he responds, adding his conviction that it was the vault of heaven which first inspired the Muslim arches of medieval architecture. The workers are released to be charged on summons, and the senior policeman, intrigued, follows them back to the Quarry. Politely resisting invitations to have a beer, the Muslim spreads a number of blueprints on a table in the lounge. The first is of his Celestial Arch a few minutes before midnight, outside:
The second is of the transit of the not-quite-Full Moon one and a half minutes later:
The third is of the ever so slightly asymmetrical angles at midnight:
Nobody in the pub has seen the Milky Way more than once or twice in their lives, but there is no cynicism. Instead, laptops come out and people makes calls and consult smartphones.
Pretty soon the assemblage is joined by some influential people: the Moreland Mayor, an Imam, an Aboriginal Elder, a Catholic Priest, a Buddhist Lama, someone from the Comedy Festival, another from the Brunswick Festival, numerous architects, geographers, engineers, teachers, trade union officials, photographers and journalists, an astronomer and an assortment of drug dealers, poets, artists and astrologers from off the street.
The Imam challenges the Iraqi’s Arch by presenting a depiction of the moment as seen from ancient Babylon:
This is not the inspiration for the illustrious invention of the arch, he asserts, but the transit of the opposite pole:
He does admit that the Iraqi’s is more impressive, but the Lama disagrees, and presents a depiction of the Arch as the vault of heaven itself encircled by the 360° vision of the Buddha:
The astronomer wants everyone to know that the Full Moon will actually transit over Guatemala, and presents the evidence of an anonymous astrologer, complete with deference to the tropical sign of the Northern Hemisphere, and this gets quite a few at the bar talking:
The same sky over us will look like this, he adds:
Irrelevant, says a geographer from PNG, what matters is the Arch, and here on Bougainville is the place to build it:
This causes great consternation among the entourage of the Mayor, but faced with the Iraqi student’s increasing discomfort, the tradesmen rise to the challenge. “She’ll be right, mate,” says the foreman. “We’ll just make it work, won’t we boys?” A rousing cheer goes up throughout the pub. “Midnight it is!”
By eleven o’clock, despite the hubbub, everyone knows the disparate elements of the Iraqi’s dream and their feasibility, and believes that at midnight something real will happen. And believe it or not, there is a real chance that the Arch will be erected across the intersection:
However, that is not the highlight of this event. Rather, at the stroke of midnight, one hundred and fifty men, women and homeless children are standing in the intersection of Lygon and Weston Streets in Brunswick, facing south towards the city and craning their necks backwards in a ceremonial observation of the Full Moon. The Aboriginal Elder welcomes the Iraqi-born student to her country, and ‘the boys’ now know how to build.
Nothing is more certain than that the Quarry will become a temple of ecumenical faith, but in the same way that land is an interruption of the sea, ‘country’ is buffetted by forces which cannot be enclosed by architecture. Diplomacy may indeed farm many ‘countries’ in one place, and if it were true that it never rains at a Full Moon, then perhaps, were the Virgo Moon shining full over Melbourne instead of Guatemala, one hundred and fifty converts would not be feeling so cold, wet and foolish.