Click for Lightbox. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis


The Labour in Vain, a pub in Fitzroy, Australia, is good terrain to let your mind go for a wander. If only for what’s across the street from it.

Like this branch of the Chemist Warehouse. It’s outside facade is made out of black brick. The store’s name is painted on it in bright yellow. And under the name: ‘DISCOUNT CHEMIST’. To the left of that: ‘Stop Paying too much’. Interesting use of capitals. To the right: ‘AUSTRALIA’S CHEAPEST CHEMIST’. Again, very fond of the very free spirited use of capitals. And if anything, they’re on message.

It’s good to save on your chemistry needs. Never wanna pay too much for painkillers, wart removal cream or cough medicine. Booze ‘n smokes are expensive enough as it is, you know.

A couple of doors down, right on the street corner, is the Perseverance Hotel. Beautiful building, with a genuine little castle tower(ing) above its door. The historic name is painted along the edge of the roof, in curly caps. Ironically the paint isn’t persevering well against the troubles of passing time. It’s barely readable.

This weekend it’s Aussie Day and yes: this is where things go down. So they say. The Perseverance, which labels itself as Melbourne’s First Jager Bar, is known for its iconic I Love The 90s parties on Fridays. Great, if you’re into unpretentious good fun. At least, that’s the word on the street. Those exact words.

Sitting in the Labour in Vain across from the Perseverance, I’m just wondering when pretentious good fun becomes unpretentious. Or the other way around. There must be a fine borderline. But where is it?

And there go another 20 minutes at the bar.

It’s not busy at the Labour in Vain at this hour. Even though the front door is wide open. You can still see the carpet on the floor. A few tables down, a red haired woman is sitting by herself at the window. Her glass is empty. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. I have the photo to prove it. She uses one hand to support her head. She has her back towards the DISCOUNT CHEMIST, which means she is staring at the Perseverance from inside the Labour in Vain.

This little stretch of Fitzroy deserves a book.

Down the bar, a woman in a bright blue vest is chatting up a guy wearing jeans, a hoody and a leather jacket. A multipack of Durex condoms sticks out of her left pocket. The bright red of the packaging contrasts intensely with her vest. Again: I have the photo to prove it. But there’s nothing to prove. She’s just not hiding her intentions and neither should she. Could be she bought them at the DISCOUNT CHEMIST across the street, only to take ‘m home and place them discreetly on her teenage son’s bedside table. She’s a good mother. Or just a frisky woman chatting up a guy at the Labour in Vain. It’s not important.

There go another 20 minutes.

A rag is pinned to the wall near the restrooms. ‘Better to be politically active than politically correct’ it says.

I’m close to booking a ticket from Europe to Melbourne, only to spend 14 days straight at the Labour in Vain.

By now it’s getting close to four o’clock. Still bright sun out. Won’t be long until the bartender comes around from behind the bar to draw the heavy black curtains, shutting out any daylight so the night can get an early start. Leaving the sun to labour in vain.

That last line was just too perfect. Another drink then.