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.


Lisa said...

An intriguing geography lesson. I enjoyed it. It did not feel long at all.

Eryl said...

This is the best and most engaging interpretation of this meme I've read so far. I'm glad you broke all the rules. And even gladder that you have found that you were home all along.

Aleks said...

Long writing ?
Well Im happy that you stayed where you are otherwise how would I ever known about you,:O)
You are more nomadic than I'll ever be in my dreams,you brave woman! Groetjes uit Holland,en liefs!

persiflage said...

So you are an FCJ girl - so was I, but in Kew, not Richmond. My mother and aunt went to Vaucluse.
It is interesting how many people do stay put in their city of birth, and how strong their roots and friendships are in consequence. Having moved cities a couple of times, my life has been quite different and I wonder whether and where I would move again if my circumstances were to change.

Mike McLaren said...

The same place place since 1980? That's awesome! This is a wonderful post. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for the geography lesson.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Ocean girl. I'm glad it did not feel too long. It seemed somewhat repetitive to me wandering from one address to another, but that's the way it is with traveling. We move from one spot to the next.

Thanks, Eryl. What a relief to hear that you at least consider it's okay to break the rules.

You're right, I did find that I was home all along.

Thanks, Aleks. Yes there are many ways to be nomadic. I think often of the writer, Gerald Murnane ,who has traveled even less than me and yet he takes us places in his writing where no one has ever been.

Traveling can broaden the mind but it is also in the mind. In this sense you can travel without even leaving your seat.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Persiflage. So you're a Genezzano girl. What a school. It was always much more impressive than our school.

As a young adolescent we thought of the Gen girls as our superiors. Is that how you viewed the Vaucluse girls 0 - inferior? Never mind now. It's all history. Vaucluse is no more except in our memories.

Dave King said...

Comprehensive, maybe: too long, nah! Thoroughly enjoyable, certainly.

Anthony Duce said...

I enjoyed this so much, to learn about you and a world so foreign to the world I live in, and yet the same in so many ways. Makes me want put down all the places and experiences in my life, all at once, which would be very long, and I have only half as much of a story to tell. Thank you for the wonderful read.

Niamh B said...

Am so glad you took part Elisabeth - that was a really interesting post, it's just fascinating the twists and turns a life can take, and after all the early moves, to be so sure of where you belonged in the end.
Sounds like you've found home!

persiflage said...

No, Elisabeth, Vaucluse always seemed special to me because it was my mother and aunt's school, and my aunt became an FCJ nun. Because my grandparents lived in Richmond we spent a lot of time there. I don't think we were very class conscious in those days, and both my parents came from working class families.

JeannetteLS said...

Rules, Schmules. I didn't know there WERE rules to break for blogging. I broke them a while back, I think. Your writing is engaging and it is wonderful to read about the "geographical" underpinnings of your life... I think it was the backbone of something far more revealing than just where you've been. I love your blog. This just gives some of us who do not know Australia or you insights. THANK YOU.

Leslie Morgan said...

Elisabeth, I never feel that you go on too long. I know some people like minimalist communication, but I don't get enough information from it. I like an abundance of words so I can get all the flavor of what is being told.

I also like that you are sturdy enough to approach a task in a way that is meaningful to you. You don't feel compelled to follow any "rules". That is brave and attractive.

Lastly, I enjoyed learning more about you and your rich tapestry. Thank you for sharing yourself.

Kass said...

This just made me want more. I want pictures. I want to know how the geography contributed to what I gather is a rather extraordinary relationship with your husband and children. After such alcoholic disorder, you have gathered loved ones around you in your home and your work and your writing that is so remarkable, I'm in awe, just sort of jealousy (which I fight constantly).

Pam said...

Goodness. You have material for a whole series of books. What an amazing upbringing.

Kirk said...

"Nomadic in mind" I love that phrase.

Rosaria Williams said...

Enjoable, charming.

Rachel Fenton said...

Just read the other posts to get an angle on where you're coming from and I like your take immensly.

I was always baffled about geography at school Could not work out where anywhere was in relation to anywhere else. And so many places sound the same. I much prefer the geography of mind and memory. And yours is fascinating.

Kass touched on the same point that intrigues me.

Great insight.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Dave. I'm glad you didn't find it too long, especially given the wonderful brevity of your haiku.

Well Anthony, how about it? How about you list all the places in which you've lived and see what comes out for you? Some places will surely reverberate more than others. Therein lies your story. On the other hand, there's perhaps enough of a story in your wonderful portraits, though how much of that is yours, I'm not sure. Thanks.

Niamh, I suppose I have found my home after all the twists and turns. Thanks for starting your wonderful geography meme. It certainly has set me thinking and others too judging by some of these comments.

Thanks, Persiflage. Well I am now deeply curious about the years you were at Gen and about the name of your relative. The wonderful anonymity of blogdom. It's strange to come across a touch of the real past. All these things that i write from my childhood happened so long ago, I tend to forget that many of the people involved are still alive. Thanks again, Periflage, and let's keep in touch.

Elisabeth said...

Thank you for your generous comment Jeanette. I'm glad now that I broke those invisible or non-existent rules but before I put up this post I agonised for some time as I suspect many of us do when we have doubts.

In the end it's good to be affirmed in my decision to post this one regardless. So thanks again.

Leslie, I know I can rely on you to cope with an abundance of words. you're into such communications, too, but you at least weave through wonderful photographs that help reduce the eyestrain for those who can't cope with too much text.

Over the years I've noticed how much better I've become at reading text online. Once I would have to print it out. Now I can read on line for hours. Thanks Les, for your encouragement. I value your support.

Thanks, Kass. You and Les go together in my imagination, a bit like twins. There's seems to be some sort of kinship between you two from what I can read.

I enjoy observing and being part of the sort of bonding that happens in the blogosphere, almost by chance. We gravitate towards one another.

And thank you for the recognition that desite my relatively tough beginnings my husband and I, like my siblings and their partners, have by and large made good lives for ourselves.

It helps to see that people can rise above adversity. This applies equally to so many other people who write and present their work in the blogosphere, including, I suspect, you.

Elisabeth said...

Thank you, Isabelle. It has been a problem for me. I have so many stories to tell and so many of them run together and can sometimes get confused and confuse my writing. Still I persevere.

Thanks, Kirk. I have a good friend who wrote her thesis on the nomad and woman's desire.

She took her queue from the philosophers, Deleuze and Guattari.

I am not good at unraveling the complexities of their theories but I love the notion of the nomad, and I especially love the idea that we can all travel far in our minds.

Thanks, Lakeviewer. I'm glad you enjoyed my post. We share an interest in memoir and the autobiographical from different sides of the world, and much more besides, no doubt.

Elisabeth said...

I am geographically challenged, and always have been.

I have little understanding of where parts of the world are located in relation to one another.

Periodically I ask my husband to go through with me yet again, exactly where we are relative to north south, east and west. I do not have an instinctive sense of this. It's as much as I can do to sort my right from my left.

As I sit at my desk I look up and imagine ahead of me is Europe. I can only ever imagine Europe ahead of me, the other countries float around on my periphery, but I cannot locate them in space, hence my attempt to localize myself at the personal level in this post. Thanks for your understanding.

Jim Murdoch said...

I hadn’t realised you were quite so attached to Victoria. I can see why Murnane would pique your interest if for no other reason. I’ve always lived in the central belt of Scotland apart from six months in Aberdeen which I hated so much I swore I’d never go back to the city. Unlike you all of my moving was done as an adult; I spent my first eighteen years in the one house. Since then I’ve moved eleven times if memory serves right. Despite that I wouldn’t say I have an especial attachment to any place. That said I feel comfortable in and around Glasgow and probably take more pride in being a Glaswegian than I do being a Scot actually.

When I was young I wanted to live in Australia – I had a big map on my wall – but I have no idea where the attraction came from. There’s nothing about it that appeals to me now. I’ve been out of the UK twice, the first time to America – California specifically – and have no desire to ever go back; the second was to Dublin which was just another city, fine to wander around for a weekend but not different enough to want to move there.

As for your little history, who am I to criticise anyone for writing too much? Really, considering the number of relocations, you’ve dashed through them. A few pictures would have been nice. I have to agree with Kass there. I mean, seriously, what it a “chook shed”, a chicken hut, perhaps?

A Cuban In London said...

'homebody – nomadic'.

What a beautiful contradiction. And as for the length of your post, it suits me just fine. What a fascinating life you've lived!

Greetings from London.

Harryn Studios said...

i'm exhausted having moved through the changes you described - and a little more attuned to a condition that has long since faded in my own family ...
my own father, now deceased, remained very rooted in an area most of his adult life while many relatives were encouraging 'geographicals' for opportunity ...

he never spoke of it - because men of his generation didn't complain - but i got slight explanations from my mother about my father having to move about twenty times in early childhood - and he never spoke about his father who was estranged from the family ...
it became a big mystery - and remains one to this day - but i could always sense it was a pain my father chose to bare in silence ...

i believe i understand it a little better through your writing which brings a modicum of healing to an otherwise unresolved issue ...
thank you ...

Barry said...

I can understand the simple pleasure the stability of location provides after so much turmoil. The was a very moving and wonderfully written post.

steven said...

elisabeth you're writing flows so smoothly, i could read more and more. really i could! it isn't an easy tale and what's more the wonder is that you are who you are. i know in our unpacking of our lives we can see the details of our present moment as being unimaginable to the self we left behind thirty or forty years ago - i mean, can you imagine telling twenty year old elisabeth about yourself now?! but we are who we are in part becuae of who we have been. the men who helped create us were caught in-between so much and slipping sideways through alcohol seems to have been a fairly common choice. sad. have a lovely day. steven

Marja said...

Great for you elizabeth that you have been in a stable place and especially a home for the past 30 years. Home is so important for your children, a home you never had, a very confusing life for a child. It is remarkable how resilent you are and that you did so well and became a social worker.
Did you ever visit Holland. You wouldn't have liked to live there.
Too cold and crowdy.

Reader Wil said...

Thanks for your visit to my blog and nice comment. Have a great week.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Rachel. I had intended the comment about being geographically challenged for you, but somehow I forgot to include your name with it, so please, here it is again, forgive me:
Rachel, I am geographically challenged, and always have been.

I have little understanding of where parts of the world are located in relation to one another.

Periodically I ask my husband to go through with me yet again, exactly where we are relative to north south, east and west. I do not have an instinctive sense of this. It's as much as I can do to sort my right from my left.

As I sit at my desk I look up and imagine ahead of me is Europe. I can only ever imagine Europe ahead of me, the other countries float around on my periphery, but I cannot locate them in space, hence my attempt to localize myself at the personal level in this post. Thanks for your understanding.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks Jim. I'm glad you can see clearly now why Gerald Murnane and I have such a close affinity, besides his current stomping ground or at least for the past thirty years until very recently has been in the area where I spent my first five years of life.

And there's me telling GM you are from Edinburgh, when you're a Glaswegian. I still haven't quite forgiven myself.

Place is almost as important to our identity as our name. Thanks, Jim. Sorry about the absence of pictures. One day I might get round to them. I know they reduce the eye strain and add some colour. On the other hand, my children were always so proud when they moved beyond 'picture books' into 'chapter books' the ones without pictures.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks Jim. I'm glad you can see clearly now why Gerald Murnane and I have such a close affinity, besides his current stomping ground or at least for the past thirty years until very recently has been in the area where I spent my first five years of life.

And there's me telling GM you are from Edinburgh, when you're a Glaswegian. I still haven't quite forgiven myself.

Place is almost as important to our identity as our name. Thanks, Jim. Sorry about the absence of pictures. One day I might get round to them. I know they reduce the eye strain and add some colour. On the other hand, my children were always so proud when they moved beyond 'picture books' into 'chapter books' the ones without pictures.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Cuban for your greetings from London, from another nomad, in your case both in thought and deed.

Thanks, Paul. It is often difficult for children when one or another parent insists on remaining silent about their past.

My father kept so much to himself, it left me feeling there was a great hole in my ancestry and I've been picking at it ever since. It sounds as though that might be part of your struggle as well. The good thing is it can be a spur to creativity, at least that's my theory and so far I've found little reason not to believe it.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Barry, for your kind words. I see your face,I hear your name and I think immediately of bells ringing and of triumph over adversity.

Thanks, Steven. When I was eighteen I wrote a letter to my twenty one year old self. I still have the letter, it's an amazing document and one that I have used elsewhere in my writing.

It never occurred to me at eighteen to reach further ahead into the future and write to my fifty year old self.

When I was young I planned to die at sixty in order to avoid the whole aging bit. To me at ten years of age sixty years was plenty old enough to die.

Needless to say, I don't think that way now, but when you're young and the world stretches ahead of you and time seems boundless you can be cavalier with your predictions.

Elisabeth said...

Hi Marja. I've been back to Holland twice. Funny that I should write 'back' to as if I came from Holland originally. In my mind I did. I loved Holland on both my visits, but you're right I don't think I would enjoy the cold. The busyness might be okay because I rather enjoy busy. Thanks, Marja.

Thanks Too, Reader Wil, my other Dutch friend. I enjoy visiting your blog very much and I'm pleased to see you here, too.

Gabriela Abalo said...

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it. ~George Moore


Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Your life sounds memoir worthy. I think staying put but imagining you should live elsewhere is what makes you a good writer.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the wonderful quote, Gariela. It's very apt.

And Jane thanks to you too for your encouraging words. As you suggest writing seems to erupt within the tensions and conflicts of our lives.

Mim said...

Dear Elizabeth:

I read every word with interest!

Yours for writing,

Beth Niquette said...

Your writing, as always is riveting. I was glued to the page to the last word. You are so very gifted.

I have been thinking about your sick kitty and wondering how it's doing? Thank you so much for your sweet words about my paintings.

I do believe you are right. Even before I could read, I would draw my feelings. I still do. Sometimes I have to sit very still and look and think about what it is my drawings are telling me about myself.

PhilipH said...

Excuse me for dropping in. But you know how it is in blogland.

Enjoyable biog. Glad you've now 'settled down'. My own life, up until 16 years ago, has been similarly nomadic. About 30 different addresses in 52 years of wedlock!

Now living in the Scottish Borders, the longest stay in my life thus far.

Cannot imagine uprooting again!

Cheers, Phil

Arlee Bird said...

I enjoy doing autobiographical pieces on my blog as well, though I think you have gotten much more detailed than I normally get. This was an indepth look and you and where you come from in your life and it was fascinating.

Vivid account.


Elisabeth said...

Thanks Mim. Ah the joys of writing,and better still when we find interested readers.

Our cat is doing well, Beth, but she's hating the biusiness or being confined indoors in the same room. the wound on her ear is savage and so we need to get those antibiotics in and keep her out of further trouble.

The vet suggested a week indoors. I can't see us getting beyond the next day or so at most. She, Anoushka, will go stir crazy.

I think she'll be fine in the end. It's just hard on all of us, listening to her piteous crying especially late at might when she wants to be let out.

Elisabeth said...

Fifty two years of wedlock and thirty years of marriage, suggests you've scarcely stayed in the one place for more than two years, Philip - and I thought my movements were excessive.

It must have had its drawbacks, all that moving, though I suppose there might have been positives, too.

But you're settled at last by the sound of things, in the Scottish borders. Is that good, or would you prefer to be on the move?

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Lee of Arlee Bird. What a terrific name for a blog. I'm sure it has a history.

Most blogs I find have an autobiographical element, however well disguised. It's the human element I suspect that endears us to one another.

It's lovely to meet you here and to visit your blog.

Dominic Rivron said...

Nomadic ... in mind - I can relate to that. It's probably one of the reasons I blog, am a radio amateur and have a telescope which I drag out into the garden now and again. If I don't go round the world I can at least bring the world here.

I spent a lot of my time at university in a similar haze - I think a lot of people do, with or without concrete reasons for doing so. It's even possible to look like you're having fun at the same time.

Phoenix said...

You write well, so your blogs never feel long at all (says a fellow long-winded blogger).

I have moved very few times in my life...probably less than five, to count. I like traveling, and am nomadic in that way - but I need a home that stays consistent.

I understand why, after all your moving and your experiences, why you would want something similar.

Bella Sinclair said...

My, but you write so beautifully! You have an amazing memory for remembering all those moves and circumstances. And I love the way you say "nomadic only in mind." I feel very much the same.

JahTeh said...

Elisabeth, I can't believe how close we have lived to each other over the years, in different suburbs although in different years.
I still live in Cheltenham but only 3kms from the family home and I don't intend to move anytime soon. Being a fixed fire sign means just that.

Elisabeth said...

I had a friend Dominic who has since died. He too had a telescope which he would drag out into the back yard and together we would watch the stars.
We all, his family and mine, drove for hundreds of kilometers to watch Halley's Comet years ago.

It's a broader form of travel, than simply staying on land. Thanks, Dominic.

Thanks, lovely Phoenix. I agree however much you travel, a home base is important. It's like being able to explore further afield in the knowledge that there's a home nearby and preferably with someone waiting for you, at the end of your journey.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Bella. I use words for my details, you use the most beautiful and entrancing lines in paint, pen and ink. I'm glad to hear that you too are 'nomadic in mind'.

I had noticed that you live in Cheltenham, JahTeh. Our house was on Warrigal Road. I remember when we first moved there, I was taken by the length of this road, that it starts in Surrey Hills and ends by the beach in Mentone. It's a good place to live. I loved our trips to Southland. I note that shopping complex is one of your stomping grounds, too. Thanks. We understand each other's geography.