Cheerful young man in Surry Hills

The title of this post is an in-joke.  Those who know will know.

At the age of 21 when I was in English IV, I moved out of home in West Pymble into a share house in Crown Street, Surry Hills. The house was above and behind a barber’s shop run by Mr Evangelinos Marinos, our landlord, and opposite a little supermarket and the Clock Hotel.

The rent, for the whole house, was $120 per week.  This shared with nicely-calculated weighting according to the size of the rooms between 4 of us. My share was $28. We ran a kitty of about $15 a week (we were economic vegetarians for the most part), and divided the other bills as they came in. I paid the deposit for the gas account. I never got this back but it was only $10.

I afforded this (moving out, not the gas deposit) with the aid of a subvention from my father – he paid me an allowance calculated as the money he would otherwise pay me for my transport fares from home and perhaps some small additional amount – I think this was $17 per week. But the greater part was met by driving a taxi every Saturday night, which at this time I did from Paddington base, a short ride away by bicycle.

The ride to University of Sydney down Cleveland St was more hair-raising. I still had hair then.

We were all student debaters – three boys, Mz, from UNSW, Rz and me from USyd, and Vz, a girl, from Usyd. It’s a few years since I last saw Vz, though I think she is still in touch with Rz and his then girlfriend and now wife, K. I see Rz from time to time, and Mz even more frequently, as they are both at the bar (the graveyard of student debaters). While we shared the house, Mz became an item with Ax, and he is still married to her. (Ax and K are also lawyers. K was also a debater.)

I was very pleased to be at last living in the inner city. I ended a letter to the SMH with a cheap shot at the expense of previous correspondents writing (it was about Jill Wran’s Australian Government postgraduate scholarship to go to the AGSM) from their “impeccably north-of-the-harbour addresses” and signed it proudly as at my address in Crown Street, Surry Hills, even though, at the actual moment of composition, I was sitting at my father’s desk in West Pymble.

When we moved in, the house was infested with fleas who sheltered beneath seagrass matting in the living room, which was directly behind the shop and entered directly from a side door in the laneway.  Later, the roof of the garage collapsed on top of my piano.

Perhaps one of the highpoints in the life of the household was when Rz and K, who were neither of them petite, broke their double bed at about 10.30 one Saturday morning with a mighty crash which must have given quite a shock to the customers in the barbershop directly below.  Mz claims that after that the clientele of old Greek men in the shop increased considerably, but I do not believe this.

Mz also claims that, when I was finishing my thesis, he would come downstairs to the kitchen in the small hours of the morning and regularly find me fixing myself a midnight snack of baked rice pudding. This is another tale which has grown in the telling.

That year there was a particularly long garbage strike, and the alleyways became decidedly noisome.

Just a few streets up, someone had written opposite the house of a well-known person, XXXX which was then (possibly by XXXX rather than the original graffitist) defaced with Xs through the Ss (I shall render these as B) as: “BMUG XXXX GMUGGLES BMACK.”  [Discretion is the better part of reportage here: there was also a “B” in the XXXX.]

This inner-city interlude didn’t last long.  As impending arts graduates then commonly did, I took the exam for graduate entry to the Commonwealth Public Service. I fell torridly in love with JR, who was taking up a scholarship at the ANU. She was a Roseville girl but we consummated our love in a large house she was minding on Glebe Point Road, towards which I consequently still feel fondly disposed, even if I cannot claim sufficiently permanent occupancy to warrant its inclusion in this series. At first I ignored the letters from the Department (not a glamorous one) offering me a job – I wasn’t keen to leave Surry Hills. But finally they sent me a telegram. I was flattered, and love swung the balance. Late in January the next year, my father drove JR and me down to Canberra for our new life together…

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