Bendigonians pronounce mall as in pal or sell or tell. “Meet you in the Mall,” they say, still. Myer, whose original store was founded in Bendigo, is still there and so too is Colliers Shoes (formerly Colliers Bootery). The Mall is where you meet the kids to buy their new school shoes. And it is where young girls meet young boys at lunch time to share chips and gravy and feed the pigeons.
The young unemployed haunt our Mall. Sometimes they talk and rap and laugh and smoke and almost look happy. At other times they slide off into dark corners and do deals with the devil.
Old ladies. Take your pick. How many children has this soul raised? How many tears has she made go away? The empty house that waits for her. Back bent over, shopping trolley to the fore, she maintains a staunch cheeriness. Bugger the ATM. In she goes to the Commonwealth Bank wanting to talk to people. “I just want to know if my interest’s due dear……wouldn’t it be better if I what? But I haven’t got a computer…”
And gather the broken ones, those cursed to wander the world – the physically disabled, the psychiatrically disturbed, intellectually challenged, such careful, clumsy words for outcasts. Today they’re being taught how to shop and be independent – again. Life is one long, relentless excursion – libraries, parks, malls – any free public place will do. See them peering into the faces of strangers. What are they looking for? Eyes that meet. A touch. Hello.
The death knoll of our Mall was sounded the day they dug the foundations of the Bendigo Market Place. At the Market Place the traders pay perfectly good money to keep the area spick and span and free from trouble. As in so many other towns and cities, the cleft between the old and the new does nothing to enhance the architecture or the dignity of a city. By investing in the Mall and the surrounding shopping strips our councilors could have enhanced central Bendigo’s unique architecture. But it seems it’s too late for all that now, we have lost our heart.
In summer, as you walk through the Mall, you feel the searing heat on your back and in winter you may get wet. But the sun and rain and the presence of outcasts are far preferable to the prospect of being buried alive in the confusing, concrete bunker of the so-called Market Place.