Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Geography of Home

I break all the rules and write too much, so my apologies in advance. This post derived from Niamh's geographical meme at Various. I read her post and then Dominic's. Then I took off on my own. Later I read Rachel's.

I see now that I have failed on all accounts to answer the questions Niamh set. I was never good at geography, maths or comprehension. In my defense, I am an autobiographical writer. I cannot bear simply to list things or to answer direct questions. I like to color them in as well.

Geographical Meme

Geography was a subject I took at school as an obligation rather than a pleasure. I did it out of necessity. Learning about the landscape and the people who occupied that landscape failed to excite me. I spent my childhood in a fog of not belonging. I thought that I should have been born elsewhere.

I thought I belonged in Europe but here I was in Australia with all these children at primary school whose connection to their land seemed certain and unquestionable. My own connection seemed tenuous.

I was born in Diamond Valley Community Hospital in Diamond Creek and spent my first three years in the nearby suburb of Greensborough, first in a converted chook shed that my parents used to occupy their then six children and later in a weatherboard house my father had built himself in Henry Street. In those days Greensborough was a place of grassy paddocks and dusty roads. A suburban countryside.

I spent my fourth year of life in the mountain suburb of Healesville on Myers Creek Road, where my father and my uncle, my mother’s brother and his wife had gone into business. They had bought a series of small huts as accommodation for city visitors and a cafĂ©-cum-milkbar. The venture failed. After a year we moved into rental accommodation in Wentworth Avenue in the genteel suburb of Canterbury, or Camberwell as it is most commonly known. Ours was the scruffiest house in an otherwise beautifully manicured street.

These are the years of my childhood I remember best, my years in that rundown Edwardian gentleman’s residence when all us kids were still at home, though my older brothers left home during this time. When I was fourteen we moved to a new AV Jennings special in Cheltenham, which my parents managed to buy.

When I was fifteen my oldest brother decided that my parents should sort out their mess – primarily my father’s alcoholism – and he organised to have the six youngest move out of home. My sister and I stayed with a Dutch foster family back in Camberwell but the arrangement broke down and we wound up boarding at our convent school, Vaucluse, in Richmond, for the rest of that year. We then moved back ‘home’ to Cheltenham for my sixteenth year.

By the time I turned seventeen, life at home had become untenable again and so the second oldest brother organised for my mother to rent a shabby cottage near the sea in Parkdale. This time she left my father and we four youngest lived with her. We were visited at times by another older brother who stayed with us when he could not sort out his bed sitter accommodation, and by my older sister who was herself homeless for a time, for all sorts of complicated reasons.

I finished my last year of school in Parkdale when we moved back to Cheltenham on the basis of a miracle. My mother swore that my father was reformed and would never drink again. His reformation lasted little over a month, as I recall, and by the end of the Christmas holidays when I had started at university my father was back to his worst. My younger sister, the one immediately below me, went back to boarding school, in order to survive her final year and my mother lived at home in Cheltenham with me and my youngest sister, brother and our fast deteriorating father.

At the end of that first year at university which passes through my mind in a haze of misery, I moved into an old half house with my younger sister who had by now finished her schooling and was off to university herself and her girlfriend from school. An unstable threesome, we lived in Caulfield, first in the run-down half house in Royal Parade near the then Chisholm College and later in an upstairs flat still in Caulfield not far from the race course on the corner of Grange Road and the Princes highway.

Several further moves followed.
I will list them here: Leila Street in Ormond with my first boyfriend to Beach Road in Black Rock in a dilapidated half house by the sea, again with my first boyfriend, and then onto Westbury Street East St Kilda, the year I started my first job as a social worker, at first with my first boyfriend but in the end alone briefly after we broke up. Then I moved back to Caulfield and shared yet another flat, this time with my youngest sister for a year, after which she got married and I moved in with the man who in time became my husband in a group house in Fermanagh Road in Camberwell. I shared with him and the three other occupants of that half house for only a few months before my then partner soon to become my husband and I moved to Canberra. The government had seconded him into the Department of Administrative Services and we stayed in Northbourne Avenue in the city for some six months.

Eventually we returned to Melbourne and rented a small old fashioned apartment in a block of four in Bourke Road Camberwell, from where we were married and later, forced to leave when the block was sold, we moved into a small single standing unit in Auburn Road. We lived there for about a year before we bought the house in which we now live and have been living these past 30 years.

My early days were days of constant movement but since 1980 I have lived in the same place. In many ways I can see myself living here for some time longer beyond the time our youngest daughter leaves home into old age, by which time we will no doubt move again if death does not take us first.

All up I calculate that I have moved house twenty times and all of these bar one within the first twenty-seven years of my life. For the past thirty years I have lived in the one place, in Hawthorn, an inner city suburb of Melbourne, on a busy main road surrounded by genteel and quiet streets.

I have only lived outside of the state of Victoria of which Melbourne is its capital city once for six months when we moved to Canberra and I hated it. I resolved then that I would spend the rest of my life in the city in which I was born.

Having spent my entire childhood in the belief I should live elsewhere in Europe – go back to my mother’s home in Holland – I finally decided that I wanted to stay put. I am a homebody – nomadic only in mind. Apart from brief trips overseas and interstate I maintain my links to the land and space here. My home.
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