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The bleak ballad of Wilson Parking

Ellena Savage |  09 June 2016


I have to take my contorted body into town for an early osteo appointment, but it's winter so I sleep through my alarm, so I'm running late, so my friend and I drive, so instead of finding street parking and walking the extra mile, we park in a commercial parking lot right round the corner from the clinic — and there's an early bird deal if you get in before 9.30am!

Parking garageThe osteo tells me what I already know, that I need to not spend ten hours in a row at the computer, that I need to stretch more, massage my muscles more, text less. I leave feeling better but also more or less the same, and I go back to the car so I can start my work day. When my friend and I get to the payment station of the car park, it says we owe 70 bucks, which can't be right because we got the early bird special which was a quarter of that, so, nah.

We call the parking lot people and say we can't pay $70 for a couple of hours' parking, that can't be right, and she says look at the fine print, it clearly states that the early bird deal only applies if you leave the car park after 3pm. It's still 11, and soon our parking fee will go up to 80 bucks, which better resembles a parking fine, and there it is in the fine print which it didn't occur to us to read when we saw the early bird rate advertised big and bright.

My friend says something vaguely threatening about the 'consumer watchdog' to the parking lot person, and I say 'look, we don't have the money right now,' which is true in the sense that, while I haven't checked my account, I'm fairly certain there's no spare $70 this week.

The person on the intercom says that for an extra $5 she can text me an invoice, but the osteo said I have to stop texting so much, and I am fairly certain there will never be a spare $70 to pay Wilson Parking, Wilson Parking being a subsidiary of a subcontractor of Transfield Services, which runs security at Nauru and Manus Island, so I grow petulant and say I'll wait til 3pm.

I can work anywhere, I think. What difference does it make that I have only paper and a pen, no computer, no thesis to work on, that it's raining so much that every space in the city feels as though it's contained within a glass box ricocheting with metallic noise.

From my moral high ground I will spend my money at an independent café to eat an overpriced and fairly average tomato soup, rather than fund the torture of innocents trapped on tropical islands.

Such is the spectacle of a spiral of no control. The salvific instinct kicks in.


"Where I melt with frustration at a day taken out of my control, the corporation shows no such cracks. It is rational and utterly inhuman, and in contrast, I'm a hot mess."


The work I set out to do begins with good intentions, and devolves into pages of hand-written complaints.

Complaints accumulated over the past fortnight, wherein an artist friend was thrown under the bus for protesting her municipal government's suspension of democracy (and when I wrote a line of support for her on twitter I too received threats of sexual assault and was told I belonged in jail). Complaints about the toxic inertia of watching the reef turn to rot. Complaints about the ideological cuts to the arts that state loud and clear that the winner in our society is Wilson Parking and not the humans that burrow underground for the privilege of living in an affluent city, not a living body of natural splendour, not the artists who transform drudgerous days into meaningful ones.

In the solitude of writing, or thinking, one is never solitary: there's a rich entanglement of voices, some a whisper and others a scalding, they build and disrupt a train of thought until the thought itself is commanded by other voices. While I write, these voices spiral violently. Conversely, the unnamed and unnameable enemy of this human activity is the faceless entity 'Wilson Parking' stands in for: one that is purely accumulative and unperturbed by the movement of human tempers. No corporation navigates these shrill internal monologues.

'The corporation' of course sounds like a John Grisham-level conspiracy, but what it is, is the inverse of human flailing. Where I melt with frustration at a day taken out of my control, the corporation shows no such cracks. It doesn't choose between petty modes of individual consumption, it doesn't make exceptions; it drives the insistence that endless earning and endless purchasing is necessary. It doesn't ask whether it's right to profit from human rights violations, it accepts the violence of things and turns this into a managerial activity. It is rational and utterly inhuman, and in contrast, I'm a hot mess.

So we pack away our books, I wrap my scarf round my hair, and we walk through human traffic, and rain, for a couple hours. I collide with other bodies, dodge cars and homeless people sleeping and instructions to purchase the best ever deals. My friend and I hatch plans for bringing down Wilson Parking, but what we are doing, really, is longing for a new cosmopolis.


Ellena SavageEllena Savage is Editor at The Lifted Brow, and is undertaking a PhD in creative writing at Monash University.

Main image: Shutterstock



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Submitted comments

Imagine what it is like having an daughter with an intellectual disability who has no sense of the value of money. With the calm voice of rationality she has lost a lot of money. These people don't call themselves merciless predators but just following the rules of the transaction.

Tom Stuart 09 June 2016

Pretty sure the devil is a senior bureaucrat, laughing all the way to the bank.

Lisa 10 June 2016

Ellena, your beautiful story of entrapment stopped me in my tracks this morning. At least your predicament inspired your creativity, and yes also the misery.

Lynne Bliss 10 June 2016

Ellena hang in there.I bring you a story of long term victory over bureaucrats. Long ago (well over 50 years ago!!) when paid car parks were a novelty to anyone living in rural England, my mother took me to a uni interview in a far distant city. She entered the carpark not realising how much it would cost her to leave. She too protested. Then she took me to the local (free) art gallery, where to my narrowminded horror she broke a large chunk off a display cactus. I told her (moralistic prat that I was) that the wages of sin were only a little less than death. The small piece of cactus grew up to be the best, most flourishing cactus in her collection. Probably lived until she died 40 years later... And I am not the moralistic prat I once was.Though I don't like cacti.

margaret 10 June 2016

It is infuriating to realise the scant power mere mortals have in the everyday running of our lives/Be it parking fines/speeding fines/or anything to do with bureaucratic world we live in/We seldom or never seem to hear of these problems faced by the elite or the super rich/Is it one rule for them and one for us?/the only time we get to express ourselves is at the ballot box and that does happen too infrequently/How do I define free will and democracy with all these hurdles at every twist and corner

Maurice O'Reilly 10 June 2016

Last time I looked the Car Park sign describing early bird parking it was clear that you needed to stay until after a specified time.

Mike 10 June 2016

In cities that are big enough for the Wilson empire to thrive, if ever you get caught by the fine print and, if (big if!) you have the time to wait them out, there's a gallery and a library that can be enjoyed/utilised without paying a cent. And sushi rolls will tide you over better and cheaper than soup in a cafe.

MargaretC 10 June 2016

Wilson Parking, Transfield, Mammon....We need a Fiona Patten to crusade against wrong religion instead of right. Or maybe we just need to do it ourselves, as Ellena does in this article.

Joan Seymour 10 June 2016

I wonder if the Parousia will be delayed before the people of Victoria are told the secrets of the 'Commercial in Confidence' that the Kennett Government did with Transfield, Wilsons Parking and Sky Bus to keep a rail link to Tullamarine from happening for what, fifty years? It seems that Mr Andrews has found out.

David Timbs 10 June 2016

Got stung like Ellena - saw the special rate on entering Wilsons off Flinders street - sign not there after 2 hours when we got back so charged $25 (1997) to exit and no attendant and no answer to phone call. In effect, imprisoned so cough up! I don't think you ought to be respectful to this crowd, their operators and their owners. Action is needed.

Graeme 11 June 2016

Ellena, one of your many complaints was about 'an artist friend [who] was thrown under the bus for protesting her municipal government's suspension of democracy'. So we know the context, was this artist friend the woman who spat on the administrator of the Inner West Council?

Mark 12 June 2016

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