Let me take you back to Melbourne in the 1990s. It was grim. There was a recession that never seemed to end. The city had a deserted air – shuttered shops, broken windows, small bars were just emerging, built from the wood of desks from primary schools closed by the premier, Jeff Kennett. There was a mass exodus of residents to Queensland. Heroin was everywhere. The Russell and Bourke streets precinct was all drug dealers and video game arcades.
I was young, studying and working in a series of McJobs. Two of my workplaces were set on fire. I began to think that was the natural ways of things. Places burnt down overnight and, like a character in The Road, you just picked up your meagre belongings and moved through the decimated landscape to the next thing.
The internet said I had ascension flu. Was I awakening on a deeper level or was it just a cold?Brigid Delaney
Read moreDespite all this, the time when I was aged between 18 to 24 was magical. And, of course, you only know they’re glory years after they’ve gone. It turns out we only ever got one Paul Keating, and I didn’t appreciate him at the time.
I am thinking of that time because last week the suppression order was lifted on the identity of Lawyer X, the gangland lawyer turned police informant.
She looks very different now. In many ways she’s a whole different person. But it was her, my supervisor when I was selling pies at the MCG in the 1990s.
I remember her so well because in the downtime, when the footy was on, Nicola told me that this was just a weekend job, and she actually worked during the week as an articled clerk (a trainee lawyer).
I too was studying law. I presumed my pie-selling days would be over when I graduated. And here was my boss, who had obtained a coveted articles of clerkship at a prestigious criminal firm, telling me that – no – the median wage for an article clerk was so miserly that she had to have a SECOND JOB! at the MCG selling pies.
I left the MCG soon after that and travelled overseas but I often wondered: does Nicola Gobbo still have to work a second job to make ends meet?
People who would become famous or infamous drifted in and out of my life those formative years.
We’re not talking Bob Dylan or Andy Warhol here, more gangland barristers and alternative prime ministers. But no one was famous, or even infamous, back then. We were all just kids.
The scary initiatorAged 18 I moved out of home to Newman college at the University of Melbourne. To settle us into college life, O week involved a daily program of initiations. They were fairly mild and involved things like memorising chants and jogging around an oval.
The AFR reports on Peta Credlin’s hijinks at Melbourne UniOn my first day at college all the freshers had to line up in the quadrangle while a fleet a limousines pulled up the drive to the booming sounds of Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries. Some intimidating older students in academic gowns and dark glasses got out. They were our initiators. One of them, the scariest, was a third-year law student by the name of Peta. My friend Tom, a fellow fresher, was tasked with writing a rap in her honour:
But oh Miss Credlin
She mighty fine
Damn hot debater
She oozes style.
I didn’t see her again after that year but, as well as oozing style, she also oozed power. I often wondered if she would pop up somewhere in public life.
The politics nerd, who was always good for cigarettesIn second year, I transferred to Monash and lived at Mannix college. It was a lonely time. I only had two friends. One of them was a good friend’s older brother, so I guess he had no choice but to look out for me.
He was the sort of guy who looks 35 when he’s 20. It’s a deferred blessing. I see him on television now and think he hasn’t aged a day in 25 years.
I went back to visit my old school, and something magic and strange happenedBrigid Delaney
Read moreHe was studying politics but he wasn’t just interested in politics, he loved it – particularly the Labor party. It was his animating passion.
I remember him at college balls, standing on the sidelines smoking Marlboro Reds and talking about Keating, the accord and the Kirribilli agreement. People would ask him for cigarettes and then take one, inhale and splutter. They were strong. You only ever scabbed off him in a cigarette emergency.
One night he helped me out in a real cigarette emergency. The whole college was on a Yarra booze cruise and I was dancing close to someone holding a cigarette. It was not Dan. But that person came in too close and the ember connected with my eyeball, burning a hole in my cornea.
Dan urged me to wash the ash off and, when the boat docked, made sure I got to the emergency room at Monash hospital. (Did he take me to emergency? I can’t remember.) I had to wear a patch for a month while my retina grew back, but otherwise I was OK.
We eventually lost touch and I had wondered over the years if Dan Andrews would ever fulfil his dream of working for the Labor party.
Daniel Andrews and his wife Catherine Photograph: Instagram/Daniel AndrewsThe woman who sews at nightAustralian politics: subscribe by email
Read moreAs a student I lived for a time in a share house in North Melbourne. It was the most extraordinarily grown-up house – belonging to a doctor who’d gone on a year’s sabbatical.
The house had this incredible indoor sauna, and after a bitingly cold Melbourne winter day, we would all convene in the sauna and sit around in our towels and chat.
There were five of us, including a friend from my home town who was the older sister of a classmate. She worked as a nurse but at night, or when her shifts allowed, she sewed her own clothes. I remember she had an expensive, heavy sewing machine.
She was very glamorous and cool. She took me to Meyers Place bar for vodka tonics and to my first indie nightclub, some place on Flinders Lane where we danced to the Stone Roses.
But Lisa was also supremely organised. She was the person in the house who divided the telephone bill each month, using a range of multi-coloured highlighters.
When Lisa left nursing, she started her own label, bearing her surname.
“Would people really wear a label called Gorman?,” I used to wonder.
The dude in the bomber jacketAged 25, I got my first job as a lawyer in the far-flung south-west town of Portland, at a firm that did compensation work for injured workers.
One day an up-and-coming union heavyweight flew into town for a meeting and my firm put on a dinner. I had actually met him a few times back in Melbourne but only have vague recollections of a bomber jacket. Bill.
‘I recall Bill saying something that would be echoed by George W Bush years later at Trump’s inauguration: “That’s some weird shit.”’ Photograph: Ym Yik/EPAIt was nice reminiscing with him for about five minutes, before two men at the table started arguing heatedly about some ancient dispute. Soup had just been served when punches were thrown and one of the men got up and literally picked up the table and tipped it over – sending all our entrees flying into the air.
Now standing well back from the table, I recall Bill saying something that would be echoed by George W Bush years later at Trump’s inauguration: “That’s some weird shit.”
We don’t see each other much any more. He has a busy job with the Labor party now.
• Brigid Delaney is a Guardian Australia columnist