On Thursday 13th of August, 1998, my sister, stepped out of her self and into the afterlife.
It was 11.20am on a beautiful sunny morning. One of those magical, still days, that seem to absorb sound. She had been to an audition, had gone shopping, walked through the park.
At the busy intersection between Hyde Park, the Museum and St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, she stepped onto a pedestrian crossing and into the path of an on coming bus.
That may have been the worst thing that went wrong that day – but nothing else went right. She saw the bus too late. The driver never saw her at all. She tried to jump out of the way, but stumbled over her shoe. She was hit twice by the bus, and then it rolled over her: first with the front wheels, then with the back.
The car behind the bus contained two paramedics. They got to her only seconds after impact. She was already dead. They tried to revive her. They couldn’t. Later, on her death certificate, the cause of death was described as ‘multiple’.
The police were called.
The Accident Investigation Squad was called.
The Crime Squad was called. (Weirdly, there had been a robbery in a pizza parlour, and they were ensuring she hadn’t been hit by a getaway car.)
They all turned up.
The least experienced police officer was put in charge. It was the first fatal accident the policewoman had ever attended.
Nobody supervised her.
There were a lot of witnesses. Eight came forward. Seven were to the side or behind the bus. One, a private detective, was in a stationary car across the road. He witnessed the accident front on. With his compressed view of my sister and the bus, he saw everything.
He saw the two impacts. He saw her be pushed from the crossing. He saw her stumble around the front of the bus to the position that everyone else saw her for the second impact. He saw her head hit the pavement. He saw her being swallowed by the bus.
The police ignored the statement he gave on the day, because (they said) it was out of line with the others. Of course it was out of line — he was the only one who knew exactly how in-line it was.
In the meantime, my sister’s body lay on the road for two hours, while the police tried to work out what had happened. She was wearing a full length leather coat which left no marks on the bus or the road. It’s not recorded whether the road or the bus left any marks on her coat.
The position of her water bottle and her small packages were marked on a map. The position of her shoe — which was no longer on her foot, and may have marked the point of impact — was not.
And, although witnesses saw her at the top of the stairs, the bottom of the stairs, and on the small crossing that lead to the big crossing — the police concluded that she had not come down the stairs, but had gone through a flower bed, jumped over a retaining wall, and entered the road about 5 metres away. They concluded this because there was tape across the steps and the police saw numerous people jumping over it, or going around it and through the flower bed. Photographs of the accident site revealed that it was police tape, strung by the junior ‘officer in charge’ to stop people ‘contaminating’ the accident scene.
The police came to my mother’s house and said, “There’s been a fatal accident.” It made no sense.
My sister, always wilful — although never wicked — had always got into trouble of the innocuous, ‘not paying parking fines’, kind.
“Is she alright?” asked my mother.
“No, ma’am, she’s not alright.”
In the police eyes, my sister was yet to be a person. Until they met my mother, she was a statistic, a problem to be solved. But once they arrived at Mum’s home, this all began happening to Saturday Llewellyn Rosenberg (aka Brander) nee Jobbins — my sister, known as Satty.
To fold our arms around you, and bring you into our family — Satty was one of five children in a blended family. The middle child, and eldest daughter. She was one of those fey, pixie children. Highly creative and very sensitive.
When our family moved from rural Victoria to the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, she pretended to be a horse — for a whole year… of high school.
She went to art college in Sydney and Perth.
She married Will Brander in Perth, and they opened Big Belly Bus Catering. My sister always had a talent for naming thing.
A natural comedian, Satty always wanted to be an actress.
She returned to Sydney and was swept up in the New Wave of Australian comedy that bloomed at The Comedy Store in the 1980's.
Her character Debbie Fellini played alongside Rodney Rude, Vince Sorrenti, George Smilovici and others. Her picture still hangs in the bar of The Comedy Store at Fox Studios in Sydney — although I can’t find anything on-line.
Under her married name, Rosenberg, she wrote the screenplay for The Girl Who Came Late (starring Martin Kemp and Miranda Otto) which is a surprisingly sweet fantasy about her years as a horse. (It’s sometimes released under the title, Daydream Believer.)
Friend, Andrew Saw, said at her funeral, that describing her life was like trying to hand out name tags at the charge of the Light Brigade. He knew her well. In a family of large personalities — she was our stand out.
At the morgue, my brothers, my mother, and I stood together to say good bye. My mother whispered the most beautiful things to Satty. Everything she ever wanted to hear. How proud she was. How beautiful. How funny. How loved.
Satty looked like she was meditating. Washed of the blood, she was as pretty as I’d ever seen her.
My brother Boak filled out her identification form. Under ‘occupation’ he wrote, ‘Actress, Writer, Star’. He wrote her full name, Llewellyn Saturday Rosenberg nee Jobbins.
The coroner’s office filed her death under Tobbins, at which point, she was nearly lost forever.
That first night was a whiskey fuelled wake as family and friends began gathering at Mum’s house in shock. Mum was concerned about the bus driver, “He didn’t get up this morning intending to kill anyone,” she said. She asked me to ring the police, and pass on her forgiveness to him.
We have no idea if the Policewoman passed on my mother’s message – it seemed to us, in hindsight, that she took the forgiveness as a confession of guilt on our part. My mother intended to release a fellow human from terrible suffering — not the police from their obligations under the law. At that point, whatever justice we could get for my sister and her son — stalled.
Obituaries were printed in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Encore Magazine (the film industry bible, here) and The Movie Show on the ABC. There was also a small par in The Telegraph, in which absolutely every detail was wrong — except Satty’s age. It would have made her wild.
We had a wake at my brother’s house. Friends did the catering, and supplied waiters. We finished the film she had been making for Tropfest – Freedom From Hunger and entered it. John Polson selected it under Director’s discretion, and it screened under the bat highway in Sydney’s Domain at the height of summer early in 1999.
We also hired a solicitor and asked him to find out what had happened. We thought it was a simple brief: supervise the police enquiry on behalf of our family; and ensure the best possible cash settlement for her son.
A month after the accident the officer in charge of the investigation rang my mother to say that she could see no reason to press charges, and asked if Mum wanted a coronial inquest.
Our shock was total. The police hadn’t interviewed either the eye witness, or the bus driver.
All you big brothers and sisters — know this: You are our gods. You are our baby Jesus. You are the link between we mortals and our parents. You are the gods in whose lives ours rise and shine.
You taught me to write… your name, not mine.
You made me the student in your classroom.
You taught me to read — Black Beauty — by reading it over and over.
You taught me to whiny like a pony.
You held the torch on long car rides.
You scared us crapless with stories of axe murderers —
“Don’t look back! The madman’s on top of your car…”
You told me I was adopted.
You crawled into bed when there was thunder.
You made me so angry I threw a fork at your head, and nailed a plait to the wall with its tines.
You danced like a mad thing.
You ran like a man.
You wrote long letters when you moved out of home.
You never let me walk the plains of adolescence alone.
You laughed like a southerly buster. You laughed like a reward.
You were one of the funniest people I ever met.
The night we walked home late and you squatted beside a parked car to pee. Me, the wing man, watching the blind alley entrance for strays. We were laughing. Garrulous. Hilarious. And when you’d finished, and we walked away — the car you’d wee’d next to — its engine roared into life.
Ankle shoes, and kid leather gloves
Waxing your arms as well as your legs
Knowing the lyrics to every song. (Your niece Molly has the talent too.)
Like Hemingway’s Pauline, as a mother — glamorous and childish.
The light in the bathroom had to be perfect. You’re right of course. You can’t set your face straight with bad lighting.
Your love of lingerie —unimaginable luxury. Worn to be seen.
The TIME it all takes
Standing together in the mirror, we had nothing in common. Your mauve eyes and pixie lips. Even our earlobes are different. You were as Mum as I am Dad.
Mum gave cousin Jo, Satty’s underwear. Jo tried to give them to her sister Kim, who said, “I love her and all, but that’s disgusting.”
Mum gives away Satty’s things like it was the biggest clandestine secret in the world. I caught her the other day sashaying towards me as pleased as Punch. From inside her voluminous DJ’s bag came a pretty black, floral camisole. In a whisper Mum asked, “Do you think this will suit Amy?” — my pretty sister-in-law, “It was Satty’s. I’m concerned she won’t want to wear clothes from dead people.”
Brother, Cam, approached — sensing a secret, “What are you two plotting?”
I turned to him, pleasant-faced, “We seem to have an ethical dilemma. Mum wants to give Amy one of Satty’s shirts — but she doesn’t know if she should say where it comes from. She’s frightened Amy won’t want to wear the clothing of dead people.”
His smile breaks into a light shower of laughter, “Well — you’re going to have to re-think the last phrase if you want to give it to Amy…”
The insurance company wants all this information. It means going through her photos, her accounts, her accountants. Working out her worth for my nephew who is ten… School fees. IOUs from boyfriends. Contracts for unwritten scripts.
All filed neatly,
And it makes me want to trash the structures of my life —
Because they are magnificent scaffolds that work as my prison.
It makes me want to dance all night, and fuck all day.
I’m a carbon-based Voyager Mission — travelling a predictable trajectory through space sending out messages to the universe, seeking intelligent life forms.
…I can’t get no satisfaction…
What sort of joke was that?
What I need is an emotional archaeologist. Someone prepared to dig down through all those analytical layers to find — at least one atrophied emotion with a little blood still set in amber, to see if they can resurrect the dinosaur of my internal life.
Oh bullet buried
In my unexpressed soul
Something soft and real
A building breath.
Like the gaze of a suckling baby.
Wide dark pools of trust
But made flesh
Beginnings, middles, ends
Ten toed miracle
That everything is ok
That the house hasn’t burned
And the family is whole
The ordinary miracle
Of being loved
Mum went up to ‘Sat’s corner’, as we call it, on the anniversary of her death. My aunt and two friends wouldn’t let her go alone and turned up dressed like a flock of crows bearing flowers.
Sat’s corner is a busy city intersection. My aunt became anxious that pedestrians would steal her floral tribute, so she paid a drunk five bucks and a hip flask of scotch to watch them…
… then insisted that they all go over the road to St Mary’s Cathedral (she being a rogue catholic in an Anglican household) to light candles …
… my mother, meanwhile, quietly suggested to the drunk that he sell the flowers, and by himself something to eat….
… before careening across the road to the cathedral…
… where a state funeral for a newly dead, post-war football legend was in progress — the place was overflowing with fans and mourners.
Undeterred — my aunt descended on the police cordon and, awed by the authority of her age and dazzled by her enormous bejeweled cross, they parted, allowing the black-clad ones to walk undeterred to the alter….
….where they discovered that, due to renovations, they couldn’t get to the candles….
…. so they reversed back through the church, through the mourners, through the police cordon… and out a side entrance.
…arriving like a coven of old lovers into the middle of the footballer’s family.
By this time, my mother (who is in her seventies) was laughing so hard at the realisation they were crashing a funeral, that tears of mirth were rolling down her face.
Now trapped in this stranger’s funeral — attempts to comfort her were greeted by greater convulsions — which (on her account) didn’t subside until the second straight scotch at the nearest pub…
This taste for the absurd seems to be genetic. Satty was a stand up comic with a taste for men which was even younger and more garrulous than mine. When she died we were unsure how to word the bit about ex-husbands and surviving lovers… which we finally worded (demurely although amid much laughter) as ‘loved by many’.
A few days after the notice was posted, but prior to the funeral, I arrived at my mother’s house to find her pixilated. “I don’t know what to do…” she was saying, with a glimmer of amusement.
She ushered me in to her tiny home, to reveal eight of my sister’s ex-lovers — arranged in various stages of grief around my mother’s breakfast table. They were arguing about who had loved my sister most. “I’m worried” said my mother, “ that they might start arguing about who loved her most often!”
So we’re coming to the Coronial Inquiry — and the last lug to come to the party is the insurance company. I think they have a policy of dragging these things out hoping that we (the families) just go away. I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually works — since their requirements vacillate between boring (income, tax, $$ value validation) through the macabre (coroner, police and accident reports…) to the totally surreal and slightly depressing (requests for colour photographs of accident… rather than black and white. Sigh.)
It’s worse than tax and totally gruesome. They tell you details… How she put her hands up to stop the bus… How she twisted her ankle and went under… How the bus rolled over her… How there was the tiniest pulse when they got to her — but maybe she was already dead, and it was just her blood settling.
And I think about the thousands of people who do this every year. And that makes it fucked, and twisted — in a totally tawdry way.
Our lawyer normally does conveyancing (like when you buy a house.) I think he’s missed his calling as a drag queen. It’s not his dress sense (which is nouveau rumpled) but his language… and his perspective… which is squealing squeamish. Here are some highlights from his correspondence.
“….. I also have a personal problem with looking at gruesome photos, and having discussed that with Mr. Robson (the Coroner’s assistant), he was of the view that I could probably get away with doing a proper job, without looking at the photos of the autopsy and/or the scene.
“ Unfortunately the photos at the scene include photos of you late sister’s body uncovered, and I am not going to look at these photos, unless I absolutely have to as I am likely to have a seriously adverse reaction, as I am over sensitive to these things. I do not think that will inhibit my utility, and if I have to look, I will steel myself….”
He was delighted when ‘Mr. Robson’ finally forwarded the photographs, in three separate envelopes marked: 1) Should see; 2) Wide shot gory — sort of ok; and 3) Close up gory (probably best not to look.)
We were delighted when we finally fired him, and hired someone good.
The inquest was the defining landmark in craziness. The Private Detective’s wife stole the show. Her testimony was brief but pertinent. “I didn’t see very much,” she said, “I was looking out the window. My husband said, “Oh my God” and I turned to see a pair of legs extending out of the bus which was straddled over the pedestrian crossing. I screamed and turned away.”
Was my sister on the crossing? Six years later and two thumbs up say yes.
The second day was “Bump and Drag” in which the police explained how she ended 15 metres off the crossing. Satty became like the magic bullet in the Kennedy trial. There were seven witnesses. In their evidence Satty comes down the stairs; reads a very little piece of paper; before stepping out onto the crossing. She also ‘jogs’ 4 metres north (into a flower bed!) before leaping onto the road — in order to wind up 3 to 15 metres off the crossing.
Well it’s Friday night
oh and what a world is out here.
It’s all blue and white above
and blue and green below
and in the middle
is pink and loving.
The crazy train is boarding for another coronial inquiry
will be interesting
what can I find to amuse me until then.
Tap Dancing From Around The World
It’s like -
in the zone
Like you’re in two places
and they’re the same place once.
You’re so alive -
you’re almost alive twice.
And the pace
and the concentration
But you’re floating above it…
so the pain is fascinating.
like pulling glass out of your foot,
like running so fast you feel like you’re falling.
Like falling so fast you feel like you’re flying.
Wanting so hard
it’s like having.
like an early summer’s breeze.
Warm in the cool,
cool eddies in the warm flesh.
Hope on a rope.
Lifting you higher,
filling your lungs,
choking your breath.
A moment of
in the noisless noise
of a sudden rush
of naked self absorbtion.
Giving the held thing.
Sharing the selfish.
the unbroken pane.
One of my few blazing rows with Satty was over ‘love’. I had defined it as a verb. I proposed that if you didn’t ‘do’ love… if it didn’t manifest in action (meaning cooking, cleaning, turning up when you didn’t want to) that it wasn’t love… that it was lust, insecurity or vanity. That if it was love it would endure the dips of ennui, irritation or despair — that love could hold a vision of perfection and happiness into the future.
She said I was being judgmental, and that I lacked passion. Given that I also think Satty frequently traded judgment for passion, we were probably both right.
Don’t dis the dead, huh?
Here’s a thing (although probably not THE thing) — The most tangible manifestation for my love for Satty, was to get as much money from the insurance company as possible.
I never imagined the process would be so convoluted.
I never imagined the police could be so slow and dim witted.
I never imagined I could feel her death on such a visceral level.
Now that has passed — it seems the next tangible act of love is to rescue her from digital obscurity. She died in 1998, when the web was first spreading its wings. None of her films are on YouTube. Her obituaries are neither on line nor on Trove. The websites where she might have shone — The Comedy Store, Tropfest — have all been remodelled for a post Y2K world.
When the inquest was approaching — or the details are flowing like now — I feel them as though I were a twin. The nuances of her death crack my brain and makes my body sob with grief. Sometimes it sneaks up on me so I can’t pinpoint the cause, and think I’m going insane…
I’m forty years of age. I’m forty five years of age. I’m fifty years of age. I’m fifty fife years of age — 16 years later, and the process of making sense of my sister’s death is still strange and painful.
I consider myself to be a native, rather than a tourist to Loss — and yet I’m still — coming to terms with her death.
Satty had the capacity to blink in and out of my life like the fairy on a Christmas tree. She was my only sister, and I am still grieving for her. A part of me is only just starting to believe that she has gone — and not just gone away. I read somewhere (the Bible I think) that in times of despair, only those who grieve can be comforted and healed. I take that to mean if you don’t express it — if you suppress it — it festers until it blooms.
This is just another flower of my love.
Planted on her imaginary grave.
16 years and counting.
Tags: Llewellyn Saturday Rosenberg Jobbins Brander Australian Comedienne film maker.