Archive for the ‘Homes’ Category


November 25, 2018

The domestic bath tub, I have been reading, is an endangered species.

This must be a trend which has been a long time coming. My father, who died 2 years ago aged almost 90, told me he hadn’t taken a bath since he was a teenager. It had been showers for him. When, aged 8 or 9, I was deemed old enough to take a shower rather than a bath, I too embraced the change. It was a step into adulthood and also modernity – a bit like the point later where I took up coffee (albeit instant at first) in preference to tea.

It seems everyone is in too much of a hurry these days for a bath, and they take up too much space.

Nevertheless, as an adult, living in (mostly) older and unrenovated rental properties, I have always had a bath, and taken one when time allowed. It is a simple and cheap pleasure.

It’s not only good ideas that come to you in the bath. It was in the outside bathroom at Bailey St, Newtown, at the cruelly early age of 27, that the cold tiles behind my resting head revealed to me that I was losing my hair.

D, too, appreciates a bath. Once we were living together we settled into taking more baths than either of us had taken before because we could share the water in a kind of Jack-Sprat (and wife) solution. I would go in first, when the water was hottest. D (who likes the water a bit cooler and to soak much longer) would follow.

So it was a blow when, on our last move, we were forced to move into a house without a bath. It had disappeared in the landlord’s renovations which took place immediately before our arrival.

D is determined. He managed to rig up a substitute in the outside laundry: a narrow and deep box made by him from non-waterproof chipboard which he lined with plastic and filled with a hose from the laundry tub. But it was cumbersome and not something which could be lightly enterprised. At the end the water needed to be siphoned off onto the lawn.

D is a great curbside scavenger. When we passed a discarded bath tub he would slow and sometimes stop to inspect it, but none was worth retrieving.

A week or so ago, D arrived in the car to pick me up from somewhere with a large wrapped object in the back: a small fibreglass bath which he’d found at the Salvation Army store at Tempe and bought for $50. It was a gamble. When we got home, we measured the bath and the shower recess. Yes, the bath would fit! We manhandled it in. We found a plug. There remained only the problem of how to get the water from the shower head to the bath without losing water or temperature.

This is D’s solution:




We’re very pleased with it.

Last days at chez nous

August 18, 2012

A week ago, I received a 90-day notice to quit under the Residential Tenancies Act.

This was a bolt from the blue.  It is inconvenient.

We are but sojourners on this earth.  All of a sudden, the place I have grown quite comfortable thinking of as my home, my habitus, is the place I am about to be evicted from.

A lot of junk must be disposed of.  I’ve been going through my books.  I’ve been taking pictures of them in a last desperate hoarding gesture before letting them go.

This is one.

It is one of about 100 volumes of verse that I almost never read, but I’m still not sure if I’m parting with it just yet.

I knew just the poem in there for the moment:

It’s rather a mawkish piece, but just right now it tugs a chord.

And after ten years here, there are boxes, not of preserving jars, that are still unopened.

They must be the first candidates to go, but it will be hard.

Memory card full

April 4, 2011

As a friend commented to me recently, I am a retracer – he means of my own paths.

Recently, with a series of overcast weekends, I have been retracing my path to Petersham Pool, these days known as the Fanny Durack Aquatic Centre. The reason has been practical and sentimental.

As to practical – it’s closer than the beach and on an overcast afternoon, nobody goes there. You can get a lane or sometimes even the whole pool to yourself.

As to sentimental – for about ten years, from aetat 30 to 40, I lived opposite Petersham Park and swam at this pool regularly. Now the pool is to close for (they say) a year and a half, to be rebuilt.

Certainly, the pool needs work, though I put a lot of that down to anticipatory neglect – the plan to rebuild has been in place since about 2004. Many of the tiles have lost their vitreous surface. It’s not clear that the filtration system is really up to the task – perhaps because in recent years the pool has also been heated.

The pool is one of three pools built in Marrickville municipality in the early 60s. My half-remembered folk history is that agreement couldn’t be reached on where to put an Olympic pool, and as a result the area ended up with three 33 metre pools (more recently, I’ve learnt the Petersham Pool is in fact 35 yards). One, at Steel Park, closed some time in the 1990s. At that stage, the council was keen to close Petersham Pool as well and I got involved in one of the few grass-roots campaigns I have ever participated in – and even fewer which have been successful – to “save” it.

The proposed renovation of the pool will see it replaced by a 25m pool. This strikes me as absolute idiocy. I’ve heard it suggested that this was to enable races to be held in the pool. Talk about the tail wagging the dog and the warped power of competitive sport! There would be very very few races ever held, whereas the shortening will have a real impact on the utility of the pool for its predominant use (apart from hot days) of lap swimming. 33 metres, or even 35 yards, is much better for getting a sustained rhythm up.

The changing sheds have already been renovated. When heating was introduced (actually, I have very mixed feelings about this), we got hot showers. The last round of renovation saw two signs of the times, at least in the Gents.’ One is a nappy-changing table (and associated disposable-nappy bin). The other was that one bank of showers was enclosed into little changing sheds with doors. That is to me an unwelcome sign of the new prudery – call it modesty, if you will – which also seems to lie behind disparagement of the “budgie smuggler.” What exactly are we scared of? Gay men and pedophiles, I suppose, without much distinction between the categories. Both overblown fears in my opinion. To me, such changing rooms are a bit like gated communities. Doubtless they are in response to a desire expressed by some, but what do they say about us all? In due course, if you don’t go behind the door to shower you will be the weirdo, just as you will be if you wear Speedos.

On Sunday, I went for the last day. Earlier in the day there had been an “open day” with free admission for a couple of hours and the ubiquitous jumping castle for the kids. (Why? Why? There’s a pool there, for heaven’s sake!)


If that drew a crowd, the crowd had dispersed by the time I arrived. Any valedictory mood seemed quite restrained.

After my swim, I took a few farewell shots of the pool – furtively, because of the new fearfulness, which is the reason for the wonky horizontal and the excess of foreground in the first picture. My nervousness in this regard was probably exaggerated because one thing Petersham Pool has never been is officious.

The pool had maybe an hour’s opening time left, but I didn’t have the heart to wait for the dying moments. I took a final glimpse – the hardly grandiloquent front range seems likely to be demolished and replaced, including the toilets which serve the park.

I left through Petersham Park.

I walked up the (now somewhat neglected) pollarded avenue leading to the house where I lived for 10 years. Is it too groan-inducing to say it was a trip down (or rather, up) memory lane?

The house I used to live in is up for auction. If you look very closely you can see the real estate agent’s billboard – it’s the brightish oblongoid to the right of the right gatepost.

I couldn’t take any more pictures. The camera said:


Cheerful young man in Surry Hills

November 22, 2008

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…

Twickenham, 1964-5

November 15, 2008

Montpellier Row

When I started this blog, I projected a series on houses I have lived in. I got as far as the first house. I have now resumed the series. This is the second, chronologically speaking.

In August 1964, our family travelled to England: my father had a year’s sabbatical leave which he spent at Birkbeck College, London.  We travelled on the Orcades via Singapore, Colombo, Bombay, the the Suez Canal (including Aden and Port Said), Naples and Gibraltar. This is me with my sister at Pompeii:

M and sister at Pompeii

My sister managed to wind me up into quite a state about whether Vesuvius would erupt again while we were there.  Owing to fears about the potability of the water, we were allowed to drink Pepsi Cola.  This was a great treat.

After a short period in Earls Court (where else?) at the Overseas Visitors’ Club (the principal excitement was a leaking roof on the landing outside our room and a fire in an establishment over the road called “The Golden Egg”) we found a place in Twickenham, at 16 Montpellier Row.  Tennyson and Walter de la Mare had lived in the street.  The house was an early-Georgian Terrace with three storeys and a basement.  The picture above was taken some years later – I think the contemporary-looking upper floors next door date from after our time, but it may be that this is not in fact the right house, because for some reason my memory is of a front door and hallway on the left rather than the right.  That my father could afford it says something about the very low real estate prices in London at the time: the owner was a director of BP or something like that who had to go off for a year in the Bahamas or some other tax haven.  Perhaps my father’s recently-widowed mother, who came with us, helped to meet some of the expense.

After a term, I started school at the Orleans Street Infants School. The classes were numbered backwards – I spent a term in Class 6 and progressed to class 5. Already out-of-date, our playground chant was “We won the war in 1964.” You could still see war-damaged sites in London (am I imagining this?) and having won the war was obviously something which, twenty years on, still filtered through strongly to English children as a possible last vestige of national prestige. The war did not just hang over the heads of English children.  In (Australian) fifth and sixth classes, much of my set of friends’ staple reading was cartoon stories of wartime derring-do bought from the railway bookshops, and copiously illustrated books about WWII planes and other materiel.  And of course we all saw The Battle of Britain, Tora! Tora! Tora! and Patton.

Some friends up the road had a TV, and Dr Who entered our consciousness. Even my younger sister (who turned 3 at Gibraltar on the way home) could say “I-am-a-Dar-lek-and-I-will-de-stroy-you.”

There was much which made a deep impression on me, even at such a tender age. I acquired a plumby accent, probably a childish parody (I said “rarely” for “really”) which I stubbornly failed or in any event was unable to shed on my return to Australia. This caused me considerable grief, especially in infants school and the first years of primary school.  Eventually, funnily enough when my voice broke, I was able to tone it down.  We saw so many cathedrals that shortly our return to Australia, on being taken to hear the Carillon at Sydney University, my younger sister moaned to my mother “Not another church!” I formed an ambition to become a bishop.  My parents gave me a book, Many paths, one heaven by Nuri Mass which took an essentially comparative approach to the question.

My father drove to Paris with his (maternal) cousin, a descendant of one of Jane Austen’s brothers. My mother travelled there separately on her own, which was thought very adventurous of her.

We climbed the dome at St Paul’s cathedral, and I told my sister not to shout at the whispering wall (she was only whispering really); we didn’t make it up the last ladder into the ball and cross at the top. I lost my beanie in Westminster Hall.

On a more daily basis, we played in a park just near Eel-Pie island, and walked down the Thames to Richmond, where there was ice-skating. Hampton Court and Kew Gardens were within striking distance. A distant relative of my grandmother’s had a grace-and-favour apartment there. I am sure we were very much the colonial poor relations.

Before we went to England we (children, at least) had never seen a “Keep off the grass” sign.

After a year, we returned the way we came, this time on the Iberia, to Perth.  We stayed in WA for a month. My maternal grandmother had us all christened in York. My father was not present, having remained on the Iberia to return to Sydney for work.  We then followed him on the Orsova.

For years after, I recurringly dreamt that my father had taken us away again on sabbatical.  Waking, I counted the years to when we might go again. From time to time, we would see off colleagues of my father departing for their years away.  Up until about 1970 or 1971, this sometimes involved an exciting hour or so running all over the ship on which they were to depart, which only sharpened the pangs. In the end, I suspect because by then we were a two-income family and a trip away would have mean the loss of my mother’s income, we didn’t go again. This was a great disappointment.

Brighton Street, Petersham

November 12, 2008


This is what ultimately should be the eighth in my series of posts about the homes I have lived in – that is, eighth by order of home rather than order of posting.

In 1990, after house-sitting for six months for some friends (in the end, I went overseas for about two of those months myself), I found a flat in Brighton Street, Petersham. For the previous 5 years I had lived, for the most part, in Newtown. With the move to Petersham, my gritty mean-streets youth came to an end.

Apart from times between housemates at Bailey Street, this was the first time I had lived on my own. As I was a student at the time, it was important to me that I should find a place which I would be able to afford on my own no matter what, and this fitted the bill. The initial rent was $110 per week.

The flat was part of a house which had been divided into four flats in all. Judging from the bathroom fittings, this had been done some time in the late 1940s or early 1950s. The flat consisted of a bedroom, a living room, an area at the end of living room (beneath a different roof and ceiling line) which served as a kitchen (there was a stove and a sink), and quite generously proportioned bathroom and laundry with double tub. The flat opened at the back to half of the original back verandah. The living room opened to the side of the house onto a side porch. 

The flat had a pleasing westward aspect. There was a jacaranda over the fence in the next yard.

brighton Street jacaranda

On the skyline a few houses further up was a massive camphor laurel in which flocks of birds gathered at sunset.  This fell a victim to urban consolidation, and was felled shortly before I left just on ten years after.  That was heartbreaking.

The flat’s situation, on the edge of the green basin of Petersham Park, was also favourable.  The nearby park seemed to affect the air quality, particularly at night (and more so in winter). There was also the added attraction, in summer, of Petersham Pool (now the Fanny Durack Aquatic Centre). I could walk across the road, down the avenue of trees which ran directly opposite our driveway (just visible in the top picture), have a swim, then come home and have a hot shower in my own home.  This sometimes attracted curious glances (to put it mildly) as I stood waiting to cross the road in my cossie and with my towel over my shoulder, particularly as from the street the proximity of any swimming pool would have been far from evident to many.

Beneath the driveway and the avenue was a stormwater drain which was presumably a buried watercourse. When it rained hard, the flow of water would excitingly lift up a large round metal plate at the foot of our driveway.

Life in the flat wasn’t entirely idyllic, of course. I was reminded of this when I recently visited NC, who still lives in flat 1. With no prompting at all from me, she recounted at length the numerous conflicts she had had with other residents. Most, though not all of these, involved noise; others involved use of the “common property.” Police had been called; letters written to the landlord’s agent.

I, too, had my share of such difficulties about which I was less assertive than NC is, and there were periods when they made my life there a misery.

Aside from this, the bath which had lost its enamel and certain inadequacies in relation to security, the flat’s main drawbacks were the lack of a proper kitchen and, partly because of this, that there never seemed to be sufficient places to keep things.

As to the latter, I should probably acknowledge that this was as much an excuse as a reason. I have never been a particularly domestic person, and living alone I indulged to the full my capacity to allow things to descend into squalor, principally by the simple strategy of never putting anything away.

It should be with diffidence that I offer the following pictures of the living room. I took them at the end of my final law school exams, when, even by my own low standards, things had got particularly dire.


Brighton St Interior 1991 - 2

Brighton St interior 1991 - 3

Shocking, aren’t they? I am wondering if I have taken the confessional urge too far, a bit like the game “Humiliation” in David Lodge‘s Changing Places. I may have to make this into a private post. Perhaps the Australian government will block this page with its impending Great Firewall of Australia.

That was probably the worst point, though as the years went by the water-table, metaphorically speaking, of grime rose. I grew accustomed to it. At least one friend periodically urged me to move somewhere better, and told me that my environment was having a depressing effect on me. I think, in retrospect, he was right, though moving may not have been the answer. I was lonely.

On this account (see here at 8) my time at Brighton Street almost came to an end after about four years when, on account of a rashly ventured contemplated marriage which was abandoned before it began, my partner-not-to-be and I rented a house on the other side of Petersham Park. Notice was given, cupboards were dismantled and moved up the narrow staircase of the new house. When the joyous day was called off, I revoked my notice (which had still not run its course) and moved back, still single.

In my final year of my music degree, D, who was facing eviction from a similar flat on the other side of Petersham, moved in with me. By then, the brick and plank bookshelf in the pictures above had been supplanted by a piano lent to me by a friend, and the books mostly lived in the garage in a by-now deregistered car – my immobile mobile library.

D transformed the flat. He tidied up the junk in the back verandah and turned it into a work area for his sewing things. After a bad run where bicycles and one sewing machine were stolen, he semi-enclosed the verandah with a lattice-work made out of metal packing tape. In the second of the pictures below, poorly composed because I wasn’t in a position to impose on the present resident’s privacy, you can just make out this lattice work behind the silver-grey cloth which is pegged to it.  You’ll probably need to click on the picture and view it at the largest possible size to make this out.



Then I took a job in Perth. D came with me. The flat had to be given up.

It was a traumatic departure, far more difficult than the usual fairly gradual move that you can undertake when moving within the same city and also a wrench after so long. I slept the last night in the flat alone before throwing the mattress and the last chair out on the pile ready for the council removal service. Unsurprisingly, the cat got wind of something peculiar going on and it was touch and go whether we would be able to catch it in time to make our flight.

It was some months before I was able to arrange for the car to be towed away for a fee. A few other possessions, some treasured, somehow got left behind in boxes in the garage.

I also left behind an unused spray-can of oven cleaner. The agents deducted $40 out of the bond to clean the oven.

Bailey Street, Newtown

November 11, 2008


In 1986, I moved to Bailey Street, Newtown. This is a little one-way street which runs off Enmore Road just a block back from King Street. The shops fronting King Street roughly opposite the Greek church were over the back fence. I can’t be sure now what the rent was, though at one stage I think it was $150 and then $165 per week.  I lived there for just on three years.

Here is another picture which gives slightly fuller context of the row of terraces:


By way of comparison, below is a shot from 1988 or thereabouts.


After a few months, Hx moved in as my sub-tenant.  “Sub-tenant” suggests something rather hierarchical about our relationship, though of course, so far as ultimate responsibility under the lease was concerned, it was rather the other way around. I knew Hx through her [I had misremembered: see comment below] brotherboyfriend, Fx. Fx moved into the house in Crown Street, Surry Hills which I first moved out of home to, though after I had moved out.  (Are you following me here?)

Hx was involved in running “Poetry in the Pub” at the Harold Park Hotel. The poet, John Forbes, whom I also knew through Chris Burns (they worked together for China Bear Removals, which operated out of the Wheat Silos now turned into apartments at the end of Station Street) used to hang around a bit. Correction: by comment below in 2013 I am informed that “China Bear Removals never operated from the Wheat Silos. We operated from Paddington, Centennial Park, Mascot and Botany”

I thought Forbes was coming round to see me, but in retrospect I suspect he was trying to crack on to Hx. This didn’t stop him borrowing $300 from me – a proposition which astounded me at the time. More luckily than I then knew, he paid me back. I don’t know how many Sudafeds or how much cough mixture you could buy with that.

My bedroom was upstairs at the front. Hx’s was the very tiny rear bedroom.

Downstairs the house had a terrible smell, which I intermittently attempted to mask with drops from a product misleadingly called “Nilodor.”   The wall had been knocked out between the corridor and the downstairs front room, but this was the room where the odour was probably the worst, so was scarcely used.

Inside and on the ground floor externally, in a misconceived act of 1970s decoration, the paint had been removed from the bricks, which constantly shed sandstock on the floor.  I’ve sometimes wondered if this wasn’t also the origin of the terrible smell.  There was a very groovy wall-paper mural of an autumnal forest scene in the back room which gave quite a trompe-l’œil effect. The effect is compromised in these photos by the Advent calendar, but you can get the general picture:

Bayley St Xmas 86 2

Bailey St Xmas 86 1

The toilet and bathroom were out the back. It was when lying in the bath, with my head resting against the cold, wet tiles, that I first came face-to-face (or rather, cranium-to-tile) with the fact that I was losing my hair. That was a sad moment.

At some point, Hx moved on and Sx, who was doing philosophy honours [Trad & Mod, for the cognoscenti] at the time, moved in. I brewed my own beer using a home-brew kit and the Coopers cans which you can still see in the supermarkets. The empty bottles were stored outside in the corridor leading to to the back yard and bathroom. There was an elaborate ritual required to clean and sterilize the bottles. Sx joined me in this.  He had a particular fear of being poisoned by a snail in a bottle by reason of his exposure to Torts and the famous Snail in the Ginger Beer Bottle case. If I had only known, I could have told him that although the plaintiff in that case succeeded in the House of Lords in maintaining her claim, the jury remains out, or rather, never even retired as to whether there actually was a snail, because the case was settled. But I suppose we were wise to be vigilant all the same.

Later, Sx and I were at law school together, and we still see each other. Hx went overseas at some stage, and I have lost touch with her.

Later still, before I finally moved out, my sister KR came to stay and was joined by her then boyfriend, Gg.  Their love was forged when they were working together at Coorow just south of Geraldton in WA at a native nursery.  For some years I had a Sony walkman whose plastic outer case had been fused together on the memorable occasion when their shared bunkhouse caught fire on account of romantically lit candles. KR arrived from the West on Good Friday, 1989. Gg turned up a month or so later.  He rode his Harley across the Nullarbor to follow her – I think this was a little test of love she imposed on him.

KR and Gg lived with me for some months while they got the money together to leave Australia together. On Gg’s part his critically entailed selling the Harley.  This was a long and rather involved saga as it was not a perfect specimen and took a bit of shifting.  Ultimately it was sold on consignment at a not entirely satisfactory price.  I got the impression that this was phase 2 of the test of love.  Greater love hath no man than this, as they say.

Most of my time in Bailey Street coincided with my turbulent years as a high school English teacher, but by this time I had started at law school.   The prospect of intervals without housemates prompted me to consider moving somewhere cheaper where I could be sure of being able to meet the rent on my own. When the chance came to house-sit a friends’ (much larger) house in Marrickville for six months  in exchange for keeping up their mortgage (which was less than the rent on Bailey Street) I took it up and KR, Gg and I moved there together.  In due course KR and Gg took flight to see the world.  My friends returned from overseas and I found a single bedroom flat in Brighton Street Petersham.

Life in Canberra

November 8, 2008

This is (or at least will ultimately be) the fourth post in a series I’ve decided to do based on the homes/houses I have lived in.

In 198x, having finished my honours year at Sydney Uni, I went with JR to Canberra. She had a scholarship at ANU; I had a job in the public service.

For a few weeks we stayed in a hall of residence at ANU. We scouted around for a house, preferably in the inner north, as we didn’t have a car so would be reliant on bicycles or public transport.

We were pleasantly amazed at how cheap Canberra rents were (this has changed). We found a house in Shortland Crescent, North Ainslie for $60 a week. It had 3 bedrooms and was furnished, although there was somebody else (Christopher, who was a member of the then professional dance company in Canberra) living in the garage in the back yard. But the garden was basically ours, and in the end, one tenant later, the garage flat was empty.

Living in a group house in Surry Hills, I had learnt the first lessons of adult domesticity – that nobody owes you anything and that you need to pull your weight in a household that is not built on your parents’ support. Now I found myself plunged into a kind of quasi-matrimony. This wasn’t without its difficulties – we were both young and isolated in a new town, and we hadn’t really thought this out in advance in any particular way.

After about six months, I bought a car with a payout (I accepted the first offer) from a bicycle accident a couple of years before. With this we ranged far and wide over the hinterland of Canberra – I still have all the 1:25,000 maps. This is a view looking down to the Brindabella Valley:


The pictures of the house were taken on a recent trip to Canberra to visit my father and step-mother. Since I lived there, drought conditions have taken their toll, and the extensive front lawn has been tan-barked (on the property) and neglected (on the nature strip). The trees have also suffered something of a decline – I am sure there were more prunus trees on the driveway, including on what now appears to be an ad-hoc parking apron in front of the porch.

It is intriguing how consistently a “homing” psychology invests one’s home for the time being with a homelike attraction – even when, on first inspection, it had seemed totally unprepossessing. This must be something hard-wired.  So the street where I live now, which I remember feeling to be rather drab when, many years ago, I dropped off a friend then living there, now has that home-like aura.

But just as the aura can develop, apparently it can fade away.  While I was down in Canberra this time, I caught up with JR and Mkk, long married. In the intervening years, they have lived in Canberra, except for a short period away. In an odd twist of fate, they have bought a house which is just over the back fence from one they previously owned and lived in for some years. Mkk commented that he had found that he lacked any sentimental feelings about houses he had previously lived in. When Mkk said that, I inwardly demurred, so far as my own sentimentality is concerned. Now I’m beginning to think otherwise.  I find that my sentimental attachment to the house in Shortland Crescent, which persisted for many years, has almost faded away, though funnily enough, when giving JR and Mkk my current address – which starts with the same street number, I almost gave Shortland Crescent as the street.  I guess it was on my mind.

At the end of my first year in Canberra, JR went to the UK for research. In her absence, an old girlfriend of mine, UB, moved in to share the house. Whilst there she wrote what would ultimately be her second-published book and studied Hebrew with Canon Laurie Murchison – as well, that is, as working in the public service. After a few months she moved, to share a house with her father who had come to work in Canberra. I then shared the house then with MI, from Perth. I am still in touch with UB, but last saw MI in 1996. I’m not sure what it was that I said, though I am sure it was something.

In my second year I finished a part-time History Honours year with a first. Amongst other things, this entailed a lot of deep pondering of feminism:

Reading Simone

Studious and stupefied in Canberra

I confess that I took these pictures myself as a bit of a joke.   For the curious, that’s Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex that I’m reading in the first picture, and her Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter in the second, the score to “Symphony of Psalms” at my side, and bottles of Bushmills and Benadryl behind me.

I decided that the scholarship which that got me was my ticket out of Canberra.

Georgina Street, Newtown

October 19, 2008

I’m embarking on a bout of domestic reminiscence.

From 1985 to 1986 I lived in an unpreposessing house at the foot of Georgina Street, Newtown.  Then it was white, and shortly after I moved in was graffitied on the parkside wall with the legend “The Widowed Isis” and an Illuminati-style triangle.  I believe TWI was a band.

Georgina Street, which served as a proxy for Victoria St in the early 80s film Heatwave (with Judy Davis as, very loosely speaking, the Juanita Nielsen character) was then in the process of gentrification. Many of the houses were still divided into single rooms, although things had come a long way already from the 1960s, when it apparently was a centre of aboriginal housing, and, or so my google-booking tells me, known as Georgina Street mission.  Part of the film was actually made in the house, as the Judy-Davis character’s home.

I lived there as a lodger.  I paid about $40 or $45 a week.  My landlord, Rxx, had bought the house about a year earlier and was doing it up.  Mine was the front bedroom, which had a kind of louvred-French door at the side:

Rxx was involved in the Gay Counselling Service and the associated gay co-operatively run gym, Fitness Exchange.

From time to time there were gatherings associated with these groups at his house.  I was a bit over-awed by the crowd who turned up.  My own sexual position was decidedly undecided, though I did have quite bright Telefunken-blue hair which had to be re-dyed every few weeks.  I was free to do this at the time as I was doing a PhD in history and was beholden to no employer – though I drove taxis from Newtown base most Saturday nights.

These were the early and most terrifying (for gay people in Australia anyway) days of the AIDS epidemic as the disease cut its first swathe through those who had been boldest in entering into the gay life in the 70s and early 80s.  Rxx got involved in Ankali, and in commissioning a special song to be sung at AIDS funerals. Some nights each week, QQ, an Anglican curate, would come to stay with us and lead his other, Newtown and gay, life at an anonymous distance from his parish. These were the early years of the Newtown Hotel. QQ subsequently died, I am reasonably sure, of AIDS.

A few doors up in Georgina Street, H, a gay City of Sydney alderman (also later to die) lived. H was politically allied with the young Frank Sartor.  Sartor doorknocked me once seeking support for “Neighbourhood Watch” and took it quite politely that when I expressed a basic reluctance to be involved with the police in dobbing my neighbours in. H’s partner, G (who is still, Casaubon-like, compiling a dictionary of sexual slang) had his own private quasi-professorial office in the enormous first-floor drawing room. That was (and still is) in one of the terraces in the imposing row on Georgina Street itself, to which this picture doesn’t do justice:

Warren Ball Avenue, on the northern side of Hollis Park, had and still has even grander houses:

Further up, Georgina Street had and still has a synagogue, though it keep a pretty low profile.

Oddly enough, some friends of mine moved into a house a couple of doors up from the synagogue which had apparently been lived in by sun-worshippers – Zoroastrans, perhaps – who had left the house full of gold-painted bricks.  Just opposite the top of the street in the old was the famous “Maurice’s,” the the first eatery on King Street when you came from the university and much favoured by student groups, occupying the ground floor of the now-restored Trocadero.  A mainstay for my sustenance, it was presided over by the eponymous Maurice, a very courtly gentleman, I think a Maronite rather than a Muslim. His rather gorgeous (and we all thought, surely gay) son occasionally helped out, as well, of course, as his wife and other female family members.

The street has since been closed off at the King Street end, and a tree planted in the middle.

The gates date from the original subdivision.

The neighbouring house was divided into two or three bedsits or even, perhaps, bedrooms with shared facilities. The front room was occupied by a ZZ, a bottle-burgundy-haired woman with a hopeless-looking son who sometimes turned up – looking fairly heroin-addled though his afflictions may have been more psychiatric than that. Rxx told me that ZZ had prevailed upon the council workmen who in those days had a shed in Hollis Park (since demolished) to paint her room on council time in exchange for some kind of payment on the side. She would get on the turps at which stage abuse would start to fly fairly indiscriminately, including to the man, XX, who lived in one of the back rooms of the house and with whom she lived in a kind of symbiosis. I still remember her yelling once at him “Everybody knows that you shit yourself!” Undoubtedly if that was true she knew it because she washed his underpants for him. I also remember her yelling and muttering “He’s a fucking cat!” – referring to Rxx’s sexuality. This was not a term I had heard before with this meaning.

ZZ was also a bit of a cat-lady and fed innumerable strays. Consequently we had an infestation of cats, including one particularly tough ginger tom and another smaller (and, necessarily, female) tortoise-shell cat. These got into the roof and house because of the disrepair in the eaves and rafters.  This is when I learnt a sad lesson in life.

Rxx decided it was time to get rid of the (feline) cats. He got the official cat-trap from the RSPCA, and steps were taken to catch them. The first to be caught was the tortoise shell.  But for her fertility, she wouldn’t have even been a problem. I’m bound to confess that I caught her myself with ease. Rxx took her away to the gas chambers of Yagoona. Catching the tom, by comparison, was a truly terrifying experience. We cornered it in a room when it had come into the house, and I remember it literally running up the walls to escape before Rxx finally bagged it. It could quite easily have taken out my eye, or so I felt and feared. It ended up making its escape in Centennial Park when Rxx was taking it to a less regular end (Yagoona was just too far away).

I feel terrible about this still.  In life and expecially in any conflict, retribution comes first to the weakest and mildest rather than those who most deserve or provoke it. The softies suffer first.

The house really was quite unrestored. There was one room – the dining room or third bedroom, which was basically full of lumber of one sort or another, and in which at one stage we caught a couple of very large rats. The kitchen had a genuine Early Kooka and no hot water. The only hot water was above the bath in the bathroom – a “rocket” heater which you had to light manually with matches whenever you wanted hot water. It is easy to forget how primitive many houses still were in the Newtown area at this time.  Rxx washed his clothes by soaking them in the bath.  I used the laundromat up on King Street.

A large post-Christmas party was my undoing. I had cooked Christmas pudding, and as the party went on, I was running the hot water continuously in the bath to get the suety remains off the plates. This was too much for the rocket-heater, which caught fire. For the next week or so (it was the holiday season) until a new (second hand) heater was found, we had no hot water. Rxx showered at H’s place, and I at a bed-sit occupied by the then-young poet, Chris Burns (whom Neil will possibly recall), in the end terrace of the big row.

Rxx didn’t directly reproach me for the fire (or maybe I was just too young to notice), but after that things were never quite the same. A few months later (by which time, having promised not to have blue hair, I had taken a job as a teacher)  Rxx asked me to move out so that he could progress the renovations. Quite kindly, he let me leave my possessions in the house as I first went and stayed with a colleague closer to the school where I was working. Eventually, having prolonged that stay for rather longer than I should have, I rented in my own name a more humble two-up-two-down workman’s terrace in Bailey Street, Newtown.

I remember, I remember…

June 30, 2007

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 place (once)

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.