Surprising Thoughts A Bus Ride Sparks


Two weeks before Christmas I caught a bus to Chadstone Shopping Centre for an appointment. I first heard of Chadstone in the 60s. We called it Chaddy. It was a big deal then – Melbourne’s first suburban shopping centre. At last, we could understand those Hollywood movie references to ‘malls’.

According to Wikipedia:

Chadstone Shopping Centre is a super regional shopping centre located in the south-eastern suburb of Malvern East, Victoria in the city of Melbourne, Australia and is the biggest shopping centre in Australia and claims to be the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. The centre opened on 3 October 1960 and was the first self‐contained regional shopping centre in Melbourne.

The centre contains 129,924m2 of shop floor space, about 530 stores and more than 9300 free car parking spaces. It has as many as 68,000 visitors on its busiest trading days and attracts about 400,000 tourists a year from interstate and 200,000 from overseas. Sales at the centre exceed $1.4 billion—the highest turnover of all Australian shopping centres—and it has more than 20 million visitors annually.

Huge as it is now, we locals still call it Chaddy!

2007 Chadstone_Place_Entrance.jpg


Chadstone has been constantly reinventing itself but this visit I became disoriented. When I stepped off the bus from Mordialloc I didn’t recognise the place; the change so great from my last visit a couple of years ago.

There was a new bus interchange – no longer did you get dropped alongside an entrance I recognised.


I wanted to visit the Oxfam Shop but where was it? The old bus stops that flanked the entrance demolished, shopfronts moved or renovated, the centre expanded.

Sculptures and garden beds existed. Welcome cafes had me twisting and turning wondering which way to go.

Chaddy has expanded with age, like me. The expansion causing heartaches for those living nearby as homes gobbled but also nightmares for commuters and clients.

Anecdotal stories circulate of people driving around for hours trying to find a parking spot in the centre. My last experience of that was 20 years ago when John was still alive and the girls were in primary school. One of them had been invited to a birthday party at the ten pin bowling alley. (Is it still there?) Another time one of the girls invited to a movie (the cinemas are still there). To say we got lost both times is an understatement.

Even all those years ago the centre was huge with multiple entries and exits to car parks and a labyrinth of corridors and floors. We spent 20 minutes looking for a park and a further 10 minutes finding wherever we had to go. All of us stressed, no one arriving in a party mood. ‘Never again,’ John said, and I agreed. Even the girls thought, ‘it sucks’ and confided our local Southland Shopping Centre was better. (Comfort zone triumphs.)

However, like ex-Prime Minister John Howard’s promise to never ever introduce a GST, I’ve been back to Chaddy several times over the decades. At least ten times because often I do market research for YouSource based at Chadstone. I take public transport so have no issues with parking.

Once I figured the right direction and entered the mall I discovered a pleasant surprise – a real bookshop! Robinsons –– a branch of an independent bookshop I frequent in Frankston. I confided to the staff I had no idea they had another shop. The girl at the counter laughed.

‘We have eight stores,’ she said and proceeded to reel off names including large shopping centres like Eastlands, Fountain Gate, Northlands and Highpoint West. I didn’t absorb them all because like most Melburnians, depending on what side of the Yarra River or Port Philip Bay you live, it’s rare to shop outside your comfort zone.


People are parochial: western suburbs, eastern suburbs, south-eastern suburbs, northern suburbs, the peninsula…

The bus service between Mordy and Chaddy excellent and entertaining. The route passes several schools and suburbs, stops at Mentone and Oakleigh Railway Stations and multicultural Australia hops on and off as well as the silent majority, great unwashed, salt of the earth, uninterested masses – stereotypes and atypical depending upon your point of view and life perspective.

There are young parents with toddlers, grandparents with shopping jeeps; giggling and dour teenagers.

Characters galore and wonderful fodder for a writer considering the trip takes almost an hour. I love to use the trip to catch up with reading too, but always have my notebook handy:

Old man climbs the stairs to board the bus. It is an effort.
Greek? 80s?
A full length dark blue trench coat almost sweeps the ground. He’s hatless, grey hair atop brown wrinkled face. Two-three inches of trousers crumple over light blue trainers.
He swings a bag of oranges in his right hand and clutches a plastic bag bulging with 20 cent coins in the other along with a rosary, the light blue beads bright against a dull silver crucifix. He mumbles to himself, reciting prayer or penance as he shuffles down the aisle.

Who is he? Where is he going? Why the oranges? Why the coins? Is he a retired priest? What’s with the blue trainers?


Houses and shops and public buildings viewed from the bus window all hold a story or make interesting settings.

I spot a sign, a rectangle of white cardboard hammered to a telegraph pole. Black Texta announces: ‘I buy houses’ and a mobile phone number is listed. The sign placed near a bus stop and intersection to attract passengers and motorists.
Who is buying the houses? A local or foreign syndicate? A developer wanting to make a killing?

Who? Why? Where? When?

Drivers play the radio or motor in silence. Many wear bright turbans along with their uniform. More women are drivers now. Often the bus pulls over in Warragul Road near the depot and there is a change of shift. Each driver has their own code, signs off and takes their cash box and a bag with their personal belongings.

Most still bring sandwiches from home, have a thermos, a book or newspaper to fill in the time when traffic, timetables or sudden changes give them spare minutes. Although less smoke nowadays, it is not unusual to see drivers pacing outside the bus enjoying a cigarette. Or more likely chatting on a mobile phone!

Mornings or Afternoons
Mairi Neil

The bus arrives to a restless queue
Driver grumpy, wishing time flew
Passengers board like a mutinous crew
No smiles, or greetings, courtesies few.

Timetables set and must be obeyed
When punctual, the memories fade
Lateness, delays, cancellations weighed
Invoking criticism, complaints, tirades!

What do passengers care of roadworks?
Better to assume all drivers are jerks
Perhaps skiving off, looking for perks
Responsibility of time, theirs to shirk.

Traffic jams, stress, interrupted flow
Vehicles broken down or going slow
Bicycles hesitant of where to go
Negotiating routes even hard for a pro.

Who’d be a bus driver, I often ask
Their daily challenge an unenviable task
The bus arrives to a restless queue
The long-suffering driver wishing time flew…


Passengers plug into iPods, read books, message or chat on the phone, talk with each other or ignore the veritable Babel as English and a dozen other languages punctuate the air.

A girl, perhaps 14 sits opposite me reading Douglas Adams The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The comic Sci-Fi popular in the late 70s – I suppose in a world inhabited by Trump and his supporters the bizarre world created by Adams will seem normal!

A teenage boy, perhaps 16 talks loudly to impress his girlfriend and uses the ‘f’ word freely. A woman in her 60s or late 50s tells the boy to ‘Have some respect for others on the bus. Mind your language.’ Duly chastised he remains silent until he and his companion got off two stops later.

Good on her for speaking and good on him for respecting her point of view. I ponder the times when I’ve been in a train carriage and a portable player booms rap or techno music and I’ve wished the owner would turn it down but avoided confrontation by not speaking up. Sometimes we allow our fears and inhibitions to cloud our judgement.

A bus ride can have your brain ticking over like a Geiger Counter and also send you off on a philosophical journey, or into the past – all fodder for a writer.

Retail Therapy Flash Fiction
Mairi Neil

Sarah tapped the credit card on the machine just as the TV commercial advised. The shop assistant smiled; handed her the parcel.
Sarah beamed and said, ‘technology’s wonderful isn’t it?’
Happily swinging the bag containing her Nikes, she visited Prouds to take advantage of their jewellery sale. Purchases in exclusive boutiques followed. How she loved end-of-season sales, the packed shops, the casual assistants doing their best.
Chadstone a retail paradise that Sarah appreciated more than ever. In less than an hour, she’d spent $4,000.
What luck that the old dear had left her credit card on the counter this morning when Sarah served her coffee.

The Bus from Mordialloc to Chadstone
Mairi Neil

The sea a mix of grey, blue and green
as white sails parallel to the pier
leave the Creek as if pulled on a string
outdoor tables and chairs filled with families
a kaleidoscope of  colourful dots on the beach
groups and singles claiming patches of sand
and in the distance wetsuits mimic dolphins
the swimmers braving a tumultuous sea
gulls circle above gannets poised on rocks
myriad hungry eyes ever-watchful for food…

An old lady wearing too much makeup boards
with gaudy red lippy and rouge-stained cheeks
manicured red talons clutch bag and brolly
she sits beside a young girl whose compact mirror
wobbles as she applies mascara and eye shadow
the risk of losing an eye high as the bus bounces
over gouged lumps and road bumps
the old lady stares in disapproval or is it awe…

on the pavement solitary walkers stride
solo by choice or circumstance
perhaps walking through depression
a man and woman pant past
jogging fitness freaks, hot and sweaty
obligatory cords dangling from ears
music or meditation to increase their speed
not keep in touch with world affairs
an overweight man pushes a shopping jeep
looking uncomfortable and miserable –
for his generation, this was a wifely duty
or is he reduced to delivering junk mail
to maintain a quality of life?

when Oakleigh comes into view
graffiti walls compete with inner city lanes
the bus almost empties of people
going to work, to study, to shop
to catch a train to the city…
but just as many climb aboard
heading for Holmesglen TAFE
or the irresistible magnet of Chaddy
towering blocks of concrete and glass
studded with neon gems and greenery
surrounded by vehicles disgorging people
into a bustling commercial hub
no longer unique but replicated
throughout Australia and the world…

Please feel free to comment –

What experiences have you had on public transport that could be a poem, story or perhaps a novel?


Creative Conversations and Observations for a Poet and Writer on Public Transport


On reflection, having to travel by public transport and perhaps do more walking than others need to, has been a gift for my writing. My notebook is filled with snippets of conversation, details noted, ideas, characters and plots, from daily observations as I travel from A to B by foot, bus or train.

Strange as it may seem in this modern world, I don’t drive and have never held a driving licence.


It’s a long story, which involves a deeply traumatic accident when I was a teenager, and one I won’t revisit today.

However, I make any situation work for me! I try to enthuse my students to spend more time on public transport (it is better for the planet after all) and to always be alert and have their pen and notebook at the ready.


Monday Morning
Mairi Neil

Often I wake to early dawn
Pastel colours suffused on lawn
Dewy drops dripping from leaves
Ready to fall if gentle sea breeze…

Daylight comes with steady gait
I breakfast quickly, not to be late
The working day waits for no one
And shining sun now promises fun.

Buds are blooming insects thrum
The birds from the Wetlands come
Magpies chortle, blackbirds trill
Juicy worms now a morning thrill.

Trains trundle past, destination known
A glance at the clock, time has flown
Aurora locked outside with a bone
Handbag checked for keys and phone.

The walk to work an easy pace
Night shadows gone without a trace
Neighbours’ gardens perfume the air
Examples of love, and diligent care.

Cars jostle for parking, traffic grows
Some drivers’ rage leads to blows
Modern living a frenetic dance
But I work within strolling distance

Often I wake to the early dawn
As pastel colours suffuse on lawn
Night shadows leaving without a trace
I whisper blessings for the Creator’s Grace …

albert street

Monday Afternoon
Mairi Neil

The bus arrives to a restless queue
Driver grumpy, wishing time flew
Passengers board like a mutinous crew
No smiles, or greetings, courtesies few.

Timetables set and must be obeyed
When punctual, the memories fade
Lateness, delays, cancellations weighed
Invoking criticism, complaints, tirades!

What do passengers care of roadworks?
Better to assume all drivers are jerks
Perhaps skiving off, looking for perks
Responsibility of time, theirs to shirk.

Traffic jams, stress, interrupted flow
Vehicles broken down, or going slow
Bicycles hesitant of where to go
Negotiating routes even hard for a pro.

Who’d be a bus driver, I often ask
Their daily challenge an unenviable task
The bus arrives to a restless queue
The long-suffering driver wishing time flew…

One of the poet’s I admire is Roger McGough – he writes about a world I recognise and in a recent lesson, we discussed his poem Conversations on a Train and how we could use it as inspiration.

Where is conversation taking place?
Why are the women travelling?
What do the people do for a living?
Are they experienced travellers?
What are the Illuminations?
Any more information to be gleaned?
How does the poet use language and dialogue to tell the story?

Conversation on a Train
Roger McGough

I’m Shirley, she’s Mary.
We’re from Swansea
(if there was a horse there
it’d be a one-horse town
but there isn’t even that).
We’re going to Blackpool
Just the week. A bit late I know
But then there’s the Illuminations
Isn’t there? No, never been before.
Paris last year. Didn’t like it.
Too expensive and nothing there really.

Dirty old train isn’t it?
And not even a running buffet.
Packet of crisps would do
Change at Crewe
Probably have to wait hours
For the connection, and these cases
Are bloody heavy.
And those porters only want tipping.
Reminds you of Paris that does
Tip tip tip all the time.
Think you’re made of money over there.

Toy factory, and Mary works in a shop.
Grocers. Oh it’s not bad
Mind you the money’s terrible.
Where are you from now?
Oh aye, dya know the Beatles then?
And what do you do for a living? You don’t say.
Diya hear than Mary?
Well I hope you don’t go home
And write a bloody poem about us.

In class, we worked with a partner and transposed the poem into a short piece of dialogue so we could mark the voices speaking and fill the gaps in conversation.

What differences are there between your dialogue and the poem? What’s more effective? Notice how you mentally supply the other half of the conversation because of cultural background and life experience.


We then tried to write our own poems using McGough’s as a wonderful example.

A Trip to Tassy
Mairi Neil

I’m Mary, she’s Jane
We’re from Mordialloc
Our bit of paradise
Is Mordy –
Sea, sand and serenity.

We’re going to Launceston
Just the weekend. A bit short, I know.
But you need a break, don’t you?
Yes, work’s so bloody relentless
We’re cleaners. That’s right,
In business together.

Bumpy old ride isn’t it?
Gov’ment should fix the roads.
Oh, we’ve heard that, haven’t we Mum?
Road kill. Shocking statistics.
Those bumps were pot holes.
I bloody hope so!

We clean all sorts: houses, factories,
Shops. Too right there’s some sights
And smells. Ha! Ha! That’s funny!
Jane here would love that.
What Mum? A switch on yer nose.
Yeah, people can be filthy.

Everywhere. We went to England
Last year. Buckingham Palace.
Yeah, it was clean
But ya should have seen
The dog poo in the streets.
Like I said, people are filthy.

There can be perks -mostly jerks.
Jaded Jane? You could say that.
It’s not a sought after job
For anyone. Of course, I finished
School. The economy’s crap.
What’s your line of work?
Gov’ment huh? Cushy job.
Wow, that was some bump.
Why don’t you fix the bloody roads!

Off The Rails
Off The Rails

Frankston to Flinders Street
Mairi Neil

Jason and Trev
Yeah, just finished TAFE
Our holiday gear
Is that why you thought
We were Tradies?
Jason’s tools need
A harder case than that
Like he is – Ha! Ha!
Have a guess. No, not sparkies.
Do I look like a painter?
Jas here’s a carpenter, I’m a baker.
And you’re a secretary.
Oooh! sensitive.
Nothing wrong with being a secretary
They record minutes and write too.

Trev’s sister’s a secretary
For the CEO of Metro
Pity she wasn’t the CEO
This train line needs a makeover.
You could write about that in your paper
We’re getting off at Southern Cross
Heading for the Ghan
And the desert.
You been there Pam?
Plenty of stories for you.
She’s going to write about us Trev.
Make us celebrities – eh Pam?
Front page news
Tradies Take Over Train
Tradies Testing Transport’s Timetables

Yeah, we were the jokers at TAFE
And school Jas – remember that
Trip to Springvale?
Very droll Pam – not the cemetery
But just as dead heh, Jas?
Deadly Trev – we missed the bus
Home remember? Aw getting off
So soon! Don’t you want to know
What we did? All right be like that.
Go on Trev, she like you…
Fancy coming with us Pam?
To record our story, of course!
Smile Trev I think that blonde’s
Heading this way…

Another poem by Roger McGough I love is –

Waving at Trains
Roger McGough

Do people who wave at trains
Wave at the driver, or at the train itself?
Or, do people who wave at trains
Wave at the passengers? Those hurtling strangers,
The unidentifiable flying faces?
They must think we like being waved at.
Children do perhaps, and alone
In a compartment, the occasional passenger
Who is himself a secret waver at trains.
But most of us are unimpressed.
Some even think they’re daft.
Stuck out there in a field, grinning.
But our ignoring them, our blank faces,
Even our pulled tongues and up you signs
Come three miles further down the line.
Out of harm’s way by then
They continue their walk.
Refreshed and made pure, by the mistaken belief
That their love has been returned,
Because they have not seen it rejected.
It’s like God in a way. Another day
Another universe. Always off somewhere.
And left behind, the faithful few,
Stuck out there. Not a care in the world.

Trains play a big part in my life and it is no surprise they inspire me to write.

Currently, I live opposite the Frankston railway line and 500 steps from Mordialloc Railway Station, and have done for 31 years.

Before that, I grew up in Croydon with the Lilydale line two paddocks away from our back fence. Before that, I lived in Scotland and watched my father drive trains, thrilled when he was on the Weymss Bay route and we’d wave a sheet from the back landing of our Braeside home. He’d toot the horn to let us know he’d seen us. (My Grandfather, also a locomotive engine driver in the age of steam so Dad was carrying on a family tradition.)

Dad drove steam trains, also diesels and was at 23 years of age the youngest diesel instructor for British Rail. When we arrived in Australia in 1962 with good references and proof of his 25 year career with British Rail, I can’t even imagine his devastation at being rejected by Victorian Railways, deemed too old at 40 to be a driver, and offered a job as a cleaner. ( A common immigrant story)

His active connection with working with trains forever severed – except at the dinner table where we feasted on stories of Papa and Dad’s exploits.

Trains are one of the most efficient and sustainable forms of public transport. For years I travelled to the city for work: red rattlers caught at Croydon Station at 7.30am and the infamous 5 o’clock flyer home from Flinders Street.

When I lived in Prahran for 5 years, I trammed to North Melbourne – and using the trams gave me my first paid published short story!

A move to Mordialloc in 1984 entailed travelling in and out of the city on Blue Harris trains, Silver Comengs, and now Metro’s Siemen trains. If given a choice, I opt for train travel over car, bus or plane! And I always have my writer’s notebook at hand.

3.05pm Flinders Street to Frankston
Mairi Neil

He shovels a healthy salad
into bearded mouth
his bamboo fork
environmentally friendly ––
but not the plastic container…

She swigs Kamboucha
for inner health
what about Mother Earth’s
digestive tract? Blocked
by the plastic bottle and cap.

Fast food aromas embedded
in train carriage upholstery
waft in the air, cling to clothes
junk food litter clutters floor
peeks from discarded plastic bags…

Excess packaging the norm
as the world chokes and
even those who profess care
sucked in and swallowed
by consumerism

Landfill dumps grow
There is no ‘away’ in throw!


What’s your favourite form of transport? What transport inspires your writing? Have you written a poem based on overheard conversations or observations? Please give me a link to share.

Thank you