I’m sitting in a traffic jam. Four lanes of cars snaking their way up Punt Road Hill. In front, there is a shipping container with a logo, Anteo. For some reason, I take a photo. I like the squareness of the font and the blue and white colours against the grey of the container. I wonder what’s inside, where it’s come from and where it’s going. I think of cargo ships out on Bass Strait and the pilot boat waiting for them just outside Port Phillip Heads.
I’m thinking of shipping containers in the city bought for very little and dumped on tiny blocks of land and voila, they’re laneway bars. Architectural statements piled on top of one other. By night they’re overrun with hipsters and beards and nose rings sipping their way to oblivion on designer beers who hug and say Love you when they leave.
Other uses for shipping containers come to mind. Pop up shops, tiny houses as detailed in design and architecture magazines or just an old shed lurking at the bottom of a gully on a hobby farm in the eastern ranges. Theatre performances such as Flight which puts people in a simulated flight emergency and scares them shitless and pop up shops at markets.
The same people who go the laneway bars worry about asylum seekers and the refugee problem and Manus Island and stateless people.
I think of the years I spent in Hong Kong. Container ships were the first thing I’d see descending into Hong Kong after a trip away. An hour out from Kai Tak, descending from 35,000 feet. This was the early 90s, the heady days before 1997. We’d be out all night in Lan Kwai Fong and several miles away on the outer Islands were two refugee camps populated mainly by Vietnamese refugees and the odd mainlander. Some of them may have come by boat, others overland- there were two generations living there, children born in Hong Kong who couldn’t go back to Vietnam, but couldn’t go anywhere else – they were effectively stateless. The people hugged each other and said I love you. They left as anywhere else was better – it had to be. They had to believe this.
Shipping containers didn’t come into use until after World War 2. It was thought to be a more efficient way of shipping cargo, cheaper, timelier and streamlined. It enabled a more seamless delivery of cargo which ticked the boxes for just about everyone. It’s only been in recent times that containers have been put to more nefarious uses for smuggling purposes whether it be drugs, animals or human cargo.
All these thoughts, in the land of milk and honey, the land of the long weekend and Gods Own are banished as the traffic begins to move, the truck in front changes lanes and is out of sight.