…the house where I was born.
In fact, I was born at Royal North Shore Hospital, at St Leonards.
However, the house I was born into was in West Pymble. When I was born, it was called 1 Yanko Road, though later renumbered 37 Yanko Road. Here is an aerial view filched from Google Earth:
My parents were married in Perth at the end of 1950. The final year of their engagement had been spent apart because my father had left WA and gone to Melbourne to work. They then lived in Melbourne and Adelaide before coming to Sydney. The last place they lived in before they moved into the house was a flat in Ashfield which they had taken over from friends, also from WA. Housing was still tight in Sydney at this time.
My parents had the house built in 1956 by the father of a university friend of my father’s whose then wife is now my stepmother. I think my parents chose West Pymble because it was close to North Ryde, where my father then worked at the CSIRO. Ironically, within a few years he took a job at the University of NSW, then at Broadway and shortly after at Kensington, where he worked until he retired in 1986.
Opposite the house was Lofberg Oval, now part of Kuringgai Bicentennial Park. Like many ovals in suburban Sydney, the oval was built on an old rubbish tip. The old incinerator remained as a ruin but seems now to be gone. I think there had also been a night-soil depot, and the night-soil men had been known as “the Lofbergers.” There was also a disused quarry, ostensibly fenced off but easy to break into.
The house was a three bedroom weatherboard house. Two of the bedrooms were “double” and one was a single one.
Some aspects of the building of the house speak of a time which is perhaps now past.
To save money, my parents undertook to sand and varnish the floorboards themselves. Most of these were sanded by hand by my mother. The house was built on a sloping lot, with a garage underneath. My father subsequently excavated beneath the house and dug out a cellar which extended under the entirety of the house. Over the years my father constructed an enormous number of built in cupboards, in every bedroom and also in the long hall-way which ran the length of the house.
The house had two toilets (one in the bathroom) and a second shower recess (which was never used) in the laundry, which as well as a double laundry tub and a washing machine, was equipped with an electric copper. Against the wall in the toilet was a piece of sheet metal which had been fitted to lodge in the laundry window so that my father could use it as a darkroom: the enlarger would then rest on the washing machine and the developing trays be deployed in the tub. There was no gas in West Pymble, and the house was as a result an “all electric” house. This was thought to be very modern in the 1950s.
The living room had a fireplace for winter. In the 1970s, an under-floor oil-fired heater was installed in one corner of the living room, which resulted in constant tussles with my father about the thermostat setting. The official maximum setting was 20 degrees celsius, but we were always surreptitiously turning it up (not permitted), or tapping it to rouse the heater to action.
Until the mid-1960s, the lot was unsewered, and we consequently had a septic tank. Some older houses in the suburb also had rainwater tanks.
The garage was considered to be a “double garage,” though not really so in the modern sense, as it was double in length rather than in width. By the time I can first remember it, my father’s 1948 Rover, was parked in the front half of the garage. My mother’s car, a 1951 Renault, which was my parents’ first car, bought because of the many-months’ waiting list for a Morris Minor, was parked outside. The back of the garage was my father’s workshop. Later, when I started to practise the piano more seriously, the piano was moved down into the garage. About 100 egg-cartons were then glued onto the ceiling to reduce the resonance and provide some marginal acoustic relief.
My parents were playing tennis with friends when my mother went into labour with my older sister. Presumably only my father was playing and my mother was merely in attendance. They went straight from the tennis court to the hospital.
I imagine life was more tied down with parenting obligations when I came along, two years later. My mother told me that when push came to shove at my birth, it was 5 minutes to midnight. After the final excitement (or perhaps initial excitement for me) the obstetrician, Mr MacDonald (later a president of the AMA) asked my mother “Well, which day shall it be, Mrs [Marcellous]? My mother told me that she chose the first day because she thought I would always be looking forward to my birthday, and that way it would come earlier. I have sometimes wondered about what might have happened if there had been a ballot for national service and it turned out that she had picked the wrong day.
Two and a bit years later, my younger sister was born. In the course of my mother’s confinement, my father was left to look after my elder sister and me. He and my elder sister both were ill. My father may not have been very skilled in detecting symptoms, as my elder sister almost died of pneumonia.
In about 1971, my parents had the house extended. This was done by the original builder. They enlarged the verandah on one side of the house by adding a concrete terrace (which itself also had a cellar), and added a second living room (grandiosely called the “drawing room”) and two small rooms, intended to be studies for each of my parents. This time the builder took responsibility for the various built-in cupboards and desks, and the extension was carpeted, which was thought to be a great luxury.
My mother’s study was also designated as the spare bedroom, in particular for when my grandmothers (both widows) came from Western Australia to stay. You might wonder at the implicit sexism of that, but in any case, it did not last. Both my parents, having grown up in the country, had gone away to school as teenagers, and in any case they grew up at a time when shared bedrooms for children were taken for granted. But children’s and, in particular, teenagers’ expectations in the 1970s were higher. My mother soon had to relinquish the study, which became my bedroom.
When the house was built, the block still had a number of remnant gum trees. My father was an advocate of the “bush garden” and over time even more trees were planted, which is why the house itself cannot be made out in the above picture. A few forlorn friesias planted by my mother occupied the sole sunny spot, and virtually the only other flowers were a boronia nearby and some Sydney Rock Lilies (a kind of orchid) planted by my father in his “Society for Growing Australian Plants” (he liked to call it the “Society for Grabbing Australian Plants” because of their modus operandi for gathering material from the wild) phase, which struggled to flower in another intermittently sunny spot. In the bottom corner of the block, my father constructed an incinerator out of bricks and the household paper waste was burnt in that.
My elder sister moved out of home to the inner city in about 1977, one or two years after she finished school and started tertiary studies at the Conservatorium. She did not entirely give up her bedroom straight away, as she had to return to West Pymble to teach her flute students.
I moved out in 1981 in the final honours year of my arts course at Sydney University.
My mother died in 1981.
My younger sister moved out in 1984 to live in Forest Lodge while she was finishing her degree at Sydney.
Shortly after, my father remarried. The house was remodelled a little in the following years at the instigation of my stepmother. In 1989 my father sold the house and moved to Canberra where, prior to their marriage, my stepmother had lived for about 30 years. They still live there, although they have moved house three times since.