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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Writer's Journal (exercise): Homes I've Lived In

Started as a 'Writer's Block' thing on LJ.  Includes an attempt to expand on that.

Writer's Block: How many different places (cities, houses, apartments, dorm rooms, etc.) have you lived in? Which is your favorite? And your least favorite?

My Answer:

Hope nobody expects a short answer!

27 homes so far, and the promise of a 28th before the end of the year.

Born Launceston General Hospital. Tasmania, Australia. (1939)
Lived Tasmania until age 15, and part-time 15-22; Sunraysia, Victoria 15-17; Melbourne 17-49 / 1957-1988; Three Bridges, Victoria, 1988-92; Melbourne 1992-4; Northern Rivers area NSW 1994 to date, with brief interruption for six months at Helensvale, Queensland (Gold Coast hinterland) in 2003.

1. Earliest babyhood, Rocklynn Place (Trevallyn?) Launceston, Tasmania.
2. Babyhood - 12 years old, 455 Wellington St., Sandhill, Launceston.
3. Aged 12-13, 32 Brisbane St., Launceston.
4. 13-15, 40 Fairthorne Rd.,Trevallyn, Launceston.
5. 15-17, Oleander Grove, Merbein, Victoria during term time, with father and stepmother; 276 Invermay Rd., Mowbray Heights, Launceston with mother and stepfather, during school holidays.
17-22, as student at Melbourne University, then at Library School, still at no. 5 during vacations. In term time:
6. Pascoe Vale (I’ve forgotten the exact address) with my Aunty Ev and Uncle Tommy.
7. the Salvation Army Hostel in Spring St., Melbourne.
8. share house in Nicholson St. Carlton, with two other girls.
9. private board at Mrs. Irene Duncan’s home in Caulfield, with her daughter and two other girls.
First marriage and first job, age 22:
10. 1962, Quat Quatta, Quat Quatta Ave., Ripponlea.
11. 1962, 40 Lambeth Ave., Armadale.
Separation, divorce,  remarriage:
12. 1965, Balaclava, Melb.
13. 1965, Bay St., North Brighton.
14. 1966-72, 286 Balcombe Rd., Beaumaris.
15. 1972-88, 11 McNaught St., Beaumaris.
16. 1988-92, property at Three Bridges, Vic., east of Melbourne near Yarra Junction and Warburton.
Separation, move back to Melbourne, divorce, remarriage:
17. 1992, staying with my friend Barbara in Kew, Melb.
18. 1992-3, share house with my friend Jennie and her two children in Elsternwick.
19. 1993, moved in with 3rd fiancé to his flat in South Yarra.
20. 1993-4, Black St., Brighton.
Married Nov. 1993, moved to Northern Rivers area of NSW Nov. 1994.
21. 1994-5 (12 weeks), property at end of North Pumpenbil Rd., via Tyalgum (west of Murwillumbah).
22. 1995-8, Pinnacle Rd., via Tyalgum.
23. 1998-2002, property at end of Upper Duroby Creek Rd., North Tubulgum (north of Murwillumbah).
24. 2002 (six months), Nobby’s Creek (near Murwillumbah).
25. 2002-3 (six months) Helensvale, Gold Coast, Queensland.
26. 2003-9, 1/21 Victoria Ave., Pottsville Beach (far north coast NSW, east of Murwillumbah, the furthest out we’ve been except for Helensvale).
27. 2009, 2/28 Elanora Ave., Pottsville Beach.
28 hasn’t happened yet, but the Housing Dept. tells us we are now high priority for subsidised housing, and it should happen this year. It will be somewhere in the Murwillumbah area.

Least favourite: no question, it was at Merbein, no. 5, a hostile environment in terms of both landscape and household. No. 25, Helensvale, comes second for similar reasons, and 24, Nobby’s Creek, also left a lot to be desired. Also the Salvation Army Hostel was the pits.

Favourite: that’s harder! There have been lots of good places. I hated leaving no. 3, Wellington St. Launceston, where I spent most of my childhood. The property at Three Bridges was very nurturing to my spirit, and I was happy to imagine I’d stay there forever. The houses at Pinnacle Road and North Tumbulgum each seemed like the ultimate at the time. And I’ve been very happy in Pottsville, but that’s been more to do with the general location than actual premises. Probably the North Tumbulgum  place would be the absolute favourite in terms of how much I loved it and revelled in it while I was there – but I don’t want to go back there now; I’ve moved on.

My true favourite place to live was one I didn’t actually live in, though I spent a lot of time there in childhood – my grandparents’ place at Spreyton, Tasmania, ”The Orchard House”, a vine-covered cottage on a huge piece of land with some uncleared bush and of course many orchards. It was magickal ... but doesn’t exist in that form any more.

(Even longer version – the stories behind the story – coming to my journal soon.) [This didn't happen.]

Attempted expansion

First there was a house called Rocklynn Place, somewhere in Launceston, Tasmania – maybe Trevallyn; I know it was hilly. I often heard my parents speak fondly of it, their first (rented) home, but they bought a house while I was still a baby, in Wellington St. Launceston, in the suburb of Sandhill, where four years later I acquired a little brother. It was a great pace to grow up: a big back yard, trees to climb, berry bushes, strawberries and vegetables growing, and other young kids in the neighbourhood. The local primary school was short tram ride away; as we got older my brother and I often used to walk the distance instead. When I was 12 my parents built a house at Trevallyn. Many years later someone said to me that that’s what people do when a marriage is in trouble – have a baby, renovate, or get a new house. It seldom works.

After the Wellington St. house sold, we lived in a rented upstairs apartment in Brisbane St., near the city centre of Launceston, while the Trevallyn house was still being built. Our old family doctor, now retired, lived downstairs with his wife. That was nice; he had a wonderful bedside manner with children and had always represented security to me. The old house was a bit spooky at night, but interesting with its ornate high ceilings, chandeliers and panelled walls. I was in my first year of High School; now I could walk home. (Dad used to drop me off there in the morning on his way to work; a bit of a detour for him, I now realise.) We’d had a boarder in the last couple of years at Wellington St., a migrant from Wales. He came with us to Brisbane St. and was soon joined by one of his younger brothers.

When I was 15 my parents divorced; both remarried soon. My brother and I went to live with my father and stepmother during school terms, in the rural village of Merbein, Victoria, near the town of Mildura where I did my last two years of High School. During school holidays we lived with my Mum and stepfather back in Launceston, at Mowbray Heights. Nothing could have been a greater contrast!

Mum and our new stepfather, Jack, whom we’d known as a family friend for some time previously,

After the mountains, lakes, rushing rivers and surrounding ocean of Tasmania, the district of Sunraysia, where I found myself in term time, was a horror – unrelievedly flat, stinking hot, and dry. And it turned out that my stepmother was a secret alcoholic (not that that’s a secret that can be kept for long) and a sadist to boot, who managed to make all our lives miserable.

We had a stepbrother in his late teens, a jock who had little understanding of the bookish kids who’d suddenly invaded his home, traumatised as we were by the break-up of our parents’ marriage and our removal to a place which felt so alien and hostile. My stepsister was only 18 months older than me; we’d already met in Tasmania during what we now realised was our respective parents’ secret courtship. We got on very well, and she became my ally in the family, but she was away at boarding school in Melbourne most of the time. Like the rest of her family, though, she had no sympathy or understanding for my 11-year-old brother, who had a bed-wetting problem. He became the family scapegoat; I did my best to protect him but had little power to do so.

Dad was at first unwilling to believe that we were being badly treated; he thought we were just trying to drive a wedge between him and his new wife. We had to eat in my bedroom, at the desk where we did our homework, not with the rest of the family. So he didn’t see or believe the many times we were fed mouldy vegetables, or the broken glass we used to find in our food. We didn’t eat it of course; we used to throw it away surreptitiously. Yes, we did get hungry. We lived mainly on fruit. Grapes and oranges were the main crops in Sunraysia; there were always so many that a few weren’t missed. Then there was the time some of my favourite books went missing; after a few days she brought them to me, wrecked by dirt and rain, and said she’d found them under the hedge. “That naught little boy!” she said. My brother denied it of course, but was disbelieved and punished. We knew it was she who had done it. When my mother sent me a beautiful blue party dress to wear to the school social, it disappeared mysteriously.  Some time later my stepsister told me she had seen it in a Salvation Army jumble sale. Again, we knew the culprit but were far too cowed to say anything.

It took me a very long time afterwards to realise that my step-siblings had also been traumatised by the early death of their beloved father, and their mother’s descent into alcoholism and madness. My stepsister confided in me that while they were still quite young children they had sat down together to try and plot a way to murder her, but couldn’t think of anything foolproof. They must have been shocked by her sudden marriage to a very different kind of man from their father. He had been a man’s man, an outdoorsy type, as well as a highly successful businessman. My father was “one of the boys” with his mates in Launceston, but he had a crippled leg with a pronounced limp, from an accident when he was 10, and couldn’t engage in sports. He was a gentle man who loved reading and thinking, the arts, and left-wing politics. He had been a successful car salesman in Tasmania but the conditions were very different in Sunraysia and he didn’t keep his new job. He tried selling insurance for a while, hating it, and ended up being kept by his wife in return for being gardener, handyman, chauffeur and errand boy. His stepchildren gained some respect for him over the years, for his own qualities; he and his stepson even became fond of each other – but by then my brother and I were long gone.

I got into the University of Melbourne and moved to Pascoe Vale in Melbourne to stay with my beloved Aunty Ev and Uncle Tom, Dad's youngest brother and his wife. My little brother came too, and started school in Pascoe Vale. My stepmother didn’t want him around any more, especially if I wasn’t there to look after him; and Dad just wanted to get him away from a place where he was unhappy and unsafe.

It was a lot of travelling for me every day. While I was still a student, I moved into the Salvation Army Hostel in Spring St., Melbourne, and from there to a rented house in Nicholson St., Carlton shared with two other girls I met at the hostel. One was working, the other was also a student. We couldn't keep paying rent during the long vacation when I went home to Tasmania (still "home", you'll note) and the other student to her family. So we split up, and when I came back to Melbourne the following year it was with my dear cousin Anne who had found work there. We boarded in Caulfield in the home of a lovely woman called Mrs Duncan, a widow with a student daughter, who had two other young women boarding there as well. She was like another Mum to us all.

I left Mrs. Duncan's when I got married the first time. PostieHubby and I moved into a little corner of an old mansion called Quat Quatta in Ripponlea. The rest of it was used as a reception rooms and we sometimes tried to sleep to loud strains of "Hava Nageela" but the rest of the time it was very private. Cold, though, and after a few months we shifted to Lambeth Ave Armadale where we occupied half a house - the left side. An elderly couple lived in the right. That ended when we split up. I went into a unit in Balaclava and he moved to Sydney.

When things got serious with the man who was to become FishyHubby, we first moved into a flat in Bay St., Brighton, opposite the library where I worked, then bought a house  in Balcombe Rd. Beaumaris. A few years later, with two little boys sharing a bedroom, and having acquired a teenage foster-son as well, we found a bigger place in McNaught St Beaumaris, and lived there until the same little boys were both university students. The foster-son had moved out some time previously during his own student days. As someone later said, our other two kids didn't leave home, home left them.  Time for them to find share accommodation with other students, as FishyHubby and I decided to move to the country. It was a property at a tiny place called Three Bridges, near Yarra Junction and Warburton, in the hills east of Melbourne.  At first we shared the house with another couple, whose idea it had been in the first place, but by the time they were due to put some money in, they had decided they didn’t like country life after all - which was just as well, as by then we had decided we didn’t like them after all!  So then it was all ours and so was the mortgage. After four interesting years there, we were bankrupt, separated, and living singly back in Melbourne. First I stayed with a very dear poet friend in Kew. She was much older than me, and looked after me well during those difficult days, but it was only ever meant as a temporary, transitional measure. Then I shared a rented house in Elsternwick with another dear poet friend whose own relationship had just broken up too, leaving her with a school-age son and a new baby daughter. And there I was during my divorce from FishyHubby, and meeting and starting to date the one who is now WriterHubby. Eventually I moved in with him at his little old flat on the border of Hawthorn and South Yarra. Later we found a nicer one in Brighton, though still quite small,  and were living there when we got married.

A year after our marriage we decided to move to northern New South Wales and have been living around Murwillumbah ever since except for a brief excursion to the Gold Coast. We first rented for 12 weeks, a house that was a converted shed (quite common in these parts) at a tiny place called North Pumpenbil, somewhat off the beaten track. We knew that was temporary. The landlady was moving up from Sydney to live in it herself after that 12 weeks.

We found a wonderful house on Pinnacle Rd, between Pumpenbil and the historic village of Tyalgum. It had three bedrooms, panoramic views of the Border Ranges, and a big room for conducting Reiki seminars. The landlord’s marriage had broken up and he wanted to go travelling. After four and a half years he had found a new lady and wanted his house back. We were devastated – until we found an even better place at North Tumbulgum, a hill on the other side of Murwillumbah. That was a house on a horse stud. The owners also ran a swimming pool on the Gold Coast, and visited twice a day to attend to the horses. We just occupied the house, and enjoyed the trees and rolling paddocks, and the wild wallabies that often came to feed on the lawns. This one had four bedrooms, including another big seminar space.

After five years the landlords said their daughter was having trouble finding accommodation and they wanted to offer her the house. It took ages to find anywhere else; there just wasn’t much available. Finally we settled for a flat which had been a granny flat above a big house at Nobby’s Creek just outside of Murwillumbah. Both were now let separately; there was a young family downstairs. After we’d been there six months, the landlord, who lived in England, came to visit and decided he’d like to come to Australia more often and use his flat while he was here. Time to move again.

A friend invited us to share the house she was renting at Helensvale in the Gold Coast hinterland, rent-free in return for minding her 12-year-old daughter after school while the mother was at work.  We were six months there and then she kicked us out, prior to moving back to Melbourne herself. It had not proved a happy arrangement!

Luckily for us a friend in Pottsville Beach, on the coast east of Murwillumbah, had to break a lease on the large three-bedroom unit she was renting and asked us if we’d like to take it over. As soon as I saw it, I realised it was the one I’d been shown in my head for some time. And it had a nice big room for holding classes! We were there five and a half years until, last New Year’s Eve, the landlord decided he’d like to move back in along with his grown-up daughter.

We’re still in Pottsville Beach, in a smaller but nicer unit which we found quite quickly. (Same number of rooms apart from the extra bathroom, but each of them smaller than those where we were.) We’re still not fully unpacked and settled. It takes six months, people have been reminding us. It feels more urgent though, as we have now been advised by the Housing Department that since Writer Hubby turned 80 (in February) we are now high priority on the list for special housing, and it’s likely to be within the year. That’s good news in many ways, but I’d like to finish unpacking and enjoy this charming home as much as possible before we move on. The next house will be in the Murwillumbah area, hopefully close to the town centre, and we’ll get a 10-year lease. We’ve loved Pottsville but we’re quite looking forward to being closer to Murwillumbah again.

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