Moved out last week. Finally, irrevocably. The imperium sine fine, as the Old Man might have said, is over. No coming back this time.
Half a century on, the Craig Davis Homes house I clambered through when it was just rising sticks on a dusty Werribee block is in new hands. Good hands, neighbours’ hands as a matter of fact, which is a comfort, but it’s gone.
Two hefty Bunnings tubs of photos, albums, negatives, letters and records I’ve retrieved barely scratch at the surface of the stories this house holds.
In a sudden convoy of awkward departures, the home has given up its contents to back seats, car rooftops and hard rubbish collections because no-one had room for them. It’s a ghost house to me now. A ghost house with five decades of magical, fitful, humorous, painful memories of birth, growth, mischief, learning, achievement, success, death.
And care. Always care. Hard love, tough love, stroppy love, soft and tender love.
The jacaranda, silver birch and hydrangeas look tired now. The lemon tree too. The sugar gum we planted when my youngest brother died went all crooked. It’s gone. The 22-foot borehole beside the woodheap that the Old Boy hand-augured is long gone too.
The driveway cricket pitch where I replicated a steam-train Lillee only to be carted streetwards by another brother – alternating between right and left hand bats, mind you – is overgrown with pomegranates.
The sheet-metal garage where young McMaster slashed his foot to the bone on its tetanus edges, where we emulated Hurricane Higgins snooker skills – and blasted Hendrix riffs out to the neighbouring streets – is a dusty empty shell. A vacuum to the study, music, mayhem and youthful boozy lodgings it accommodated.
The dozen backyard cement stepping stones above a grassed-covered septic tank we didn’t realise was there – steps we negotiated with our eyes shut – are gone. The old apricot tree, the Tarzan swing clothesline, the short-pitch cricket wicket, the back fence which another brother again, and a cousin, set alight – next to our cop neighbour, Jack – memories only. The illicit under-age driving, in full view of Jack, again a memory.
Mum, that’s Maureen, lived in that back yard, a perpetual motion machine of washing. In, out, never-ending. Same as the ironing, and cooking, and dishes, and school lunches. Dad, Jim, was forever over paperwork or, if out the back, twirling off-spin tennis balls at us, chopping redgum logs to pieces or wrestling with the recalcitrant flames of a backyard brick and metal-plate barbecue.
Kids, seven of them, tangled with hoses and trikes, tennis racquets and totem tennis poles. Out front on the road, we staged Test matches, telephone wire-mangling kick-to-kick footy, dodged a young Bisby’s quarter-mile drag trials in his purple metal-flake EK. Or was it an FB? Not sure, but if we hadn’t moved quicker we’d have been skittled a hundred times over. Great fun.
The house was ground zero for outings to soaring tree-huts, underground huts and dangerous haystack tunnels, to bird-egg gathering expeditions and swimming in State Rivers Commission channels.
Mum didn’t know where we got to. Probably didn’t want to. As a kid, you’d set out in a bike in the morning and return at dusk – rivers, weirs, derelict farms and hideouts, dog-tired mutts and long dusty miles behind you.
Impecunious but enterprising, we’d would scour the roadsides for bottles to reap the deposits on them. Tarax, Coke, Marchants, Schweppes … beer bottles at 10 cents a dozen were hard work. The prospect of dragster bikes and yo-yos in their side contests were a huge lure.
Riding to school was an adventure along railway tracks, up and down a steep river ford, over and under giant bluestone bridges. The school bus route was maybe 10 times longer, heading the opposite direction before looping through market gardens, outlying communities and farms, and other schools.
Years later, the driver bailed me up at the Old Boy’s funeral to say g’day. Lovely bloke. Different world back then.
It wasn’t all boy stuff. A couple of sisters provided Mum and the household some sugar, spice and all things nice sensibilities.
Funny how all that’s ethereal now. Mum’s gone and the physical connection with this four-bedroom red-brick house is over. Done.
Pity, too. Don’t know if I can even drive past it anymore.
This article appeared in the Geelong Advertiser 28 July 2020