Murder of a neighbour

By Rhonda Dredge

It’s 8 am and Pellegrinis on the corner of Bourke and Crossley has just re-opened. There’s soon a queue for coffee and a blanket of media waiting outside. Cameras are clicking and footage is being recorded.

“I’ll come back later,” says a regular. Usually you can sit nondescriptly up at the counter but the media is looking for colour.

Outside, the Red Cross is being interviewed. The Prime Minister is due.

“It’s not as bad as I expected,” says one member of the modest little community of booksellers, wait staff and welfare people who work nearby.

She supports the change of street name from Crossley to Sisto to honour the co-owner of the cafe people have come to remember and memorialise. The TV guys have been filming the street sign. Their tripods are now in prime position as they wait for the big guns.

At 9.10 the police arrive. A photographer gets out her telephoto lens. She shoots locals, looking for signs of emotion. She needs to intrude if she wants a good shot.

Nick McCallum of Channel 7 steps up to the doorway, the place where multiple stories are now intersecting, some hospitable, others fanned by the media. He lines up with a newspaper under his arm, gets a free coffee and hugs a member of the family.

“I’ve been coming here for 35 years,” he says. “When I was younger it was the only place you could go for a coffee and a feed.”

Soon after, storyteller Arnold Zable enters. He’s posting a blog and has known Sisto Malaspina a long time. Another man approaches the doorway with a newspaper open at the front page. He asks someone to take a picture of him with the paper, the checkerboard floor behind, the rosy light and the distinctive lettering above the door.

“You never know,” he says. “You can be in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He has a European accent.

The arrival of the Prime Minister is now imminent and some locals are upset. One is calling the visit political opportunism and not that helpful for people trying to deal with the loss.

Nick McCallum disagrees. “He’d (the PM) visit Martin Place in Sydney. They’d be upset if he didn’t come.”

A security guy is now seated just within the entrance to Pellegrinis.

Scott Morrison arrives without much fanfare. The assistant commissioner of police stands out the front while the PM signs a memorial book. The media pack follows. It’s a day for the quick grab.

Pellegrinis is probably the most popular café in Melbourne. That makes Sisto Malaspina, the co-owner, the most popular man in the city and he’d just been stabbed, only a few days before a state election. The State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy is present as well.

At 10.35 the PM steps over the threshold of Pellegrinis. He’s leading the pack. Matthew Guy follows. Parliament House is nearby and he’s a cafe customer.

The storytellers begin working overtime. Arnold Zable is in the small room collecting details, as are dozens of reporters and cameramen. There’s a bit of confusion as the party settles by the espresso machine.

The lights are blazing and the PM begins to talk. His words are not important. His presence is reassuring and he’s putting his best foot forward. Sisto’s business partner Nino Pangrazio has his arm around Mr Guy and the mood is both convivial and frantic.

Matthew Guy begins talking about what he ordered on his last visit. Is this a quote or a shared moment? Does the cafe serve parmigiana? Has he been tutored about what he should say?

Pellegrinis is an institution and it’s part of a little patch of Europe in Melbourne, one that values the truth.

“This has nothing to do with ISIS or the PM,” says a local shopkeeper. “A neighbour has been murdered and we have to deal with that.”

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