"Moving house should be exciting and usually it is, but this time it’s different. There is so much more at stake… it’s not about just me anymore."
I am surrounded by boxes. Some packing-tape closed, some half packed. An eclectic array of plates, baskets, ornaments and vases form an Op-shop display across my kitchen bench. I hate every minute of this packing-up-moving house- saga because I’m not taking everything, only the things I need and those that I walked into this relationship with.
Moving house should be exciting and usually it is, but this time it’s different. There is so much more at stake… it’s not about just me anymore.
I’ve moved a lot in my life. At last finger-abacus count more than 15 times. It’s made me reflective. It’s made me reminisce on the houses, places and people I have lived with in my 46 years.
I should continue packing, but instead I’m driven to write about the places and the people who have shaped my life so far. Every shared house, rented house, bought house and couches that people let me bunk down on in hours of necessity.
As far as I know, and I’ll check with Mum and Dad, my first home after being carried home from King Edward Memorial Hospital in Subiaco was in a cockroach -infested house in Rivervale. I remember little about it, I was a wee babe after all. But if memory serves from conversations overhead by my parents and grandparents, my Dad and Pop tried to brew their own beer there and one night, a crash bang of explosions woke the household as the fermentation process blew all the bottle tops off the homebrew, scattering the cockroach population into a frenzy and the batch of beer wasted. It was back to the Red Hill Tavern for the blokes in my family.
The first home I actually have a memory of, was in William Street ,Beckenham, number 222. My Dad built a bunk bed in my bedroom, which I was too scared to ever sleep in. Only child syndrome at its best! He painted it fire-engine red. It was really quite a fine example of carpentry for a man whose trade was a tool maker. I have a distinct memory of Travis Gillespie and I getting married in that room. Travis’s older brother Darren conducted the commitment ceremony, which consisted of Travis and I pulling down out pants and touching private parts together for a few seconds. That’s what we thought marriage was at 4 years old. We never got divorced, so technically, he was and will always be my first husband. Perhaps this is why he could never marry anyone again. He has a partner and child with her, but they are not married. Perhaps I should tell him, it wasn’t a binding contract and I’ll never hit him up for alimony.
I went to Kindergarten and year one in Beckenham and I vaguely recall a birthday party hosted on the back lawn. The only friends I remember from that time are a girl called Brigit (possibly the original Jones) and Lynette Hay. All little girls in party dresses playing pass the parcel and receiving party bags as they left, all sugared up on chocolate crackles and fairy bread. I also remember a swing set where I played with my good friends Batman and Robin. Robin was my boyfriend and Batman was the annoying older super hero that kept telling us what missions we had to do. Batman and Robin were imaginary friends, as was naughty Susan.
Naughty Susan, as the name suggests, only made an appearance when I was naughty. Mum had made up this alter ego for me and when I was being non-complaint. She would send me to my room and tell me, ‘Don’t come out until naughty Susan has gone home.’ And I wonder why I’m a little tapped in the head these days???
Mum had a big pickle jar of sweets she kept in the kitchen. She’d let me have a sweet if I was good or pleased her that day. One day I had the audacity to ask for another sweet from the jar and she literally exploded. Like Oliver Twist I had asked for more and she humiliated my 4 year old self by sitting me in the middle of the lounge room with the whole jar of sweets in front of me.
‘Okay greedy girl,’ she said with venom ‘Eat the whole lot!’
I cried and argued that I only wanted one more, but she must have been premenstal that day or something else my young mind didn’t understand which had tipped her over the edge. I don’t think I even ate the second sweet, and I remember my Aunty Linda who witnessed the ordeal, trying to reason with my Mum saying ‘I think you’re being a bit harsh.’
To be fair, I’ve never been able to stop at one sweet or chocolate. I was in pieces, as was naughty Susan. We made a pact that day, me and my naughty other-self to steal sweets from the jar when Mum wasn’t looking. It was safer that way. No more having to be confronted by the wrath of that evil woman that surfaced that day.
Mum and Dad ended up selling the William Street house to a real-estate agent that converted it into a real-estate agency and built a second story on top. Its had a few purposes over the years, and when we drive past it now you’d never know it was ever a home where a young English immigrate family had their first burst of independence. I think it’s a dentist or doctors surgery now.
My Dad loves telling the story about how he’d had to pull a young guy out of the Good Samaritans collection bin one night. He heard someone shouting ‘help’ and after dragging this poor drunken soul out, in slurred tones he regaled the tale of how his mates had shoved him down the shoot and he couldn’t get out again. Oh the pranks they used to play in the good old 70’s.
When I was halfway through Year 2 at Beckenham Primary School, Mum and Dad bought a block in Roleystone with the intention of building their dream home. My Aunty Linda and Uncle Dean had already built a house there in Welsh Road, another house I never lived in but I sure spent a huge amount of my childhood there.
While their architecturally designed home was being built in Hawkestone Road, we rented a house in Dreyer Road, directly opposite the Roleystone shops. They are barely recognizable now from the shops I remember as a kid but nevertheless they are still there. The original layout is etched on my memory. It was owned by Italian families in the area and along with a huge delicatessen, there was a butcher shop and a fruit shop. There was a doctors surgery, where Dr Haggart had his practice and a chemist next door to pick up the prescription after your consult. I had my ears pierced there.
Harry Newell had his real estate agency, which eventually doubled as the video shop. It was like old home week there on a Friday night with everyone rushing to get one of the 10 copies of whatever new release had come out that week along with four other videos that you could rent for the bargain price of $10 for the entire weekend. There was also a bottle shop and a fish and chip shop.
When I was a teenager I had my first job at the Fish and Chips store. Glenn Smith lived over the road from me and one of my best friend’s Jackie Parker lived down the street and up the hill a bit. Between our houses was a bit of vacant land we called ‘The Reeds’. We’d go to the Reeds with other kids in the hood and I lusted over Justin Pill and prayed one day he’d kiss me in the Reeds.
I did kiss him eventually but not in the Reeds but in an awkward game of Spin the Bottle at Nicky Turners 13th birthday disco party. Not sure why I remember this detail but I was wearing one of my Mum’s spotted 80’s style dresses that night and felt very grown up. The kiss was disgusting and I vowed I’d never kiss anyone pash-style again. It was akin to placing my lips on the end of a vacuum cleaner with more suction. Eek!
When our proper house was finished being built, we moved into 64 Hawkstone Road and that will forever be my eternal home. The place I want my ashes scattered. It was where I was happiest. We were happiest as a family.
We lived half way down the valley overlooking hills that were English-green in the winter and Australian–gold in the summer. Opposite our house was a field with cows and paddocks, and at the bottom of our block was a nature reserve full of wondrous woodland that was my whole playground.
We had no fences around our property and I’ve craved that ever since. Our house was designed for the landscape it was built into. It was like a massive set of stairs, each level edged into the steep slope it was built into. It started at the lowest level with a conversation pit, then three stairs up into the family room with stairs leading up to the kitchen area with a balustrade that overlooked the family area from the dining area. More steps up to Mum and Dad’s room, then more steps up to my bedroom, the second bathroom and the guest room. After some time, we built a studio on top which overlooked the beautiful valley and the fields over the road.
It was the room we spent the most time in. Dad watched telly while Mum did her art work and I edited videos, overlaying soundtracks tracks to footage of video I taken of me and my friends on schoolies week and nights we’d spent recording ourselves singing songs and putting on concerts. I’m pleased to say those videos have disappeared, as I’d die of embarrassment if anyone saw them now. I was documenting the everyday lives of me and my friends. I always thought I might make movies in my later life.
Sometimes, I would climb out the window of the top room and sing at the top of my lungs and hear my voice bounce off the hills. I was the new age Maria von Trapp from The Sound of Music and the hills were truly alive with the sound of me. God I loved that house. I made up dances down in the slate -floored family room, playing all my vinyl records (which I still have) . I can still see the feature brick walls and massive macramé wall-hanging decorating the walls and the open ceiling with exposed beams.
My Mum had impeccable taste in home furnishings and our house was always Beautiful Homes and Gardens photo-shoot ready. Down the back of the garden, we had a garden shed. But it wasn’t a garden shed at all…to me it was the headquarters for the Kool Kats Club. The Kool Cats Club moved between Helen Annison’s house and mine. Although I think all the members preferred coming to my place for meetings because my mum would buy Tim Tams and lavish us with fancy sandwiches. At Helen’s we only got home-baked wholemeal bread with Promite on. Too be fair…I have loved Promite ever since, so I was happy with the more humble offerings.
Helen’s house was an emporium of cool stuff. She had an old English telephone box and a chicken coupe. Her house backed onto the Primary School. Funny how, as a kid, everyone else’s place seemed way more exciting than your own.