Some memorial benches come with million-dollar views, and they're totally free.
IHAVE never met Jim Malane. And I never will. He's not here any more. But I'm grateful to him. He's reserved me one of the best seats in Melbourne. It's always there. And every time I sit on it I give him a nod.
The seat is perched by Port Phillip Bay on a Beach Road clifftop, just past Black Rock. Jim would have known the million-dollar view was priceless. I do too.
Beach Road is one of the city's busiest blacktops. At this time of year, it's a magnet for people desperate to escape the summer heat. They park their cars in droves, slam their doors and stream down to the water's edge. Any moment, a press photographer will be along to capture a shot of young girls beating the heat. Lots of teeth and little swimsuits. ''Phew! What a scorcher'' will scream the seasonal headline.
The ribbon of asphalt that winds its way around the bay is also home to a legion of Lycra lunatics who think it's some kind of pathway to defeat age and physical decay. No one seems to have told them that it's a dead-end eventually. They pedal their mega-expensive bikes clad in mega-tight Lycra, battling car doors on the left, car bores on the right. You can't miss them - head to toe in bank branding.
The swimmers, the harried mums and dads wrangling children down pathways to the beach, the kite surfers staggering with their toys and ambition to reach Tasmania without a ferry are busy.
In the race to fight mortality and have fun, the bike riders and the beachgoers usually charge past the memorial bench seats. They dot bayside pathways, these useful monuments, each unique, a sacred spot for the families who put them there. Each one a gentle reminder of a life.
They are tributes to men, women and children whose time of loving the bay has now ended. But their spirit endures as they beckon us to sit and see the world as they once did. When you take the time to sit down, it's a moment of stillness as Beach Road charges by, a frenzied backdrop.
Each seat bears a small plaque with, variously, a loved one's name, birth, death and a brief message or memory.
At Greenpoint, Brighton, the view is the stuff of postcards and calendars. Step right up and see the sunset over the city. In the foreground sit the famed bathing boxes, a favourite of tourists. Further away is the Eureka Tower, seemingly ablaze at its sun-kissed peak. At this spot, there is a wooden bench with a sad story from a place of terrible beauty.
''In memory of Tony Tighe.
Born in 1948.
Who played in this park as a boy, lived with an adventurous spirit. Died on Mt Everest 1972.
Lovingly remembered by family and friends.''
It's one of many in a chain of bayside seats offered by the bereaved. It is a touching and stark reminder of passing spirits.
And so back to Jim Malane. It's his seat. I am a grateful visitor. I read his dedication every time I sit there, which is often. For me, it's a spot to sit and think as I gaze out over the bay to the You Yangs, and everything in between.
It's a buffer from life which seems to grow ever more frantic. Just ask the cyclists gunning for immortality and the beachgoers battling for a car park. Next time you head down that way, find one the benches and have a sit. Read the plaque. It just might stop you in your tracks.
''In loving memory of Jim Malane.
Relax, rest easy and enjoy the wonderful view.
Your loving family.''