It’s funny that the Australian places I miss most are places I’ve never spent much time. Places like Wilpena Pound…
And Kata Tjuta…
More than anything else, I miss blue skies, red dirt, and space.
Living in a foreign country sharpens what you feel about your homeland. Something I’ve noticed is you don’t necessarily relate to people of your own nationality. I don’t feel particularly drawn to Australians I meet here. We’re more likely to relate to people of our own class and who have shared similar experiences. This has surprised me. Of course this is true when you live in your homeland, generally – that you relate to your own class; but I would have thought nationality might take a higher precedence when away from home. Apparently not. (Coincidentally one of my friends just wrote about these feelings far more eloquently than me, over here.)
But the land. Sometimes I ache for Australia’s vast spreads of heart country. I play YouTube clips of kookaburras and banjo music and didgeridoos.
I’ve lived nearly my whole life in various inner-city suburbs of Melbourne, and loved each of them. I also feel passionately that Melbourne is the greatest city in the world. But I don’t find myself playing YouTube clips of W-class tram bells dinging, or looking up pictures of Puckle St. I just don’t miss those places like I miss the big lands. (I admit this could be a direct response to living somewhere completely overcrowded and tiny…)
In the middle of the Australian nowhere there’s a little house. One day, we’re going to live in it. It’s going to be somewhere really hot, all dusted up, and when we open back door in the morning the silence is going to pour in. Sometimes we’re going to sleep in the backyard. Often we’re going to get in the car and drive and drive and drive, to nowhere in particular. There’s something good in knowing you can get in the car and just drive with the windows down until you feel like stopping.
The furthest you can drive here is two hours. It’s stifling.
The best thing about living here in Hong Kong, though, is village life. We couldn’t have experienced this in Australia. Yes, I miss the red centre and the coast, but what I don’t miss is suburbia. The thought of moving back to the suburbs is as stifling as not being able to drive anywhere here.
Tomorrow I’m going to post about our village and our town. Tonight, I’m going to post about the little pocket of Yarraville we came from.
I remember drying my hair over the kitchen sink there one morning. I tended to do all my bathroom tasks, where practicable, in the kitchen since my children’s bedrooms flanked each side of the bathroom. The kids are, entirely through ill-conceived nurture, light sleepers and the slightest pluck of an eyebrow or moisturise of a forehead can set one or both of them off. So the choice was (a) be ugly and unkempt (this won on many days); or (b) do things in the kitchen that that room was never designed for. The metal sink quickly corroding from spat-out toothpaste it wasn’t equipped to wear, and I could often be seen perched on the bench taking to my legs with a Schick in full view of Val at #26. Et cetera. So anyway, this one day I was drying my hair over the kitchen sink and I espied from the window a red flag fluttering proudly in the mid-distance that I’d never noticed before. The ensign of an approaching Communist army? A colour party from the Williamstown Sea Scouts? An errant prayer flag, flying free from its moorings across the front verandah of one of the thousands of genuine part-time Buddhists in Seddon? Upon further scrunched-browed peering, I picked out the letters W-H-O-P and then, the next time the breeze picked up slightly, P-E-R. A Hungry Jack’s flag. No, my rear neighbours hadn’t been conquered by the Burger King Corporation (as far as I know). This, my friends, was actually how close we used to live to a Hungry Jack’s. Within reading distance of a signalling device for a fucking hamburger. At the time I was only a third of the way through losing my baby weight. I was partial to a Vegie Whopper (perhaps why?); I certainly didn’t need to be reminded that I lived only 400m from 24-hour fat-ccess as I prepared my daily tiny mesclun-based lunch/blowdried my hair over the sink.
Joel once went to this Hungry Jack’s late one night to buy us a snack. (Seriously it was so close, he took a shortcut out the back gate and was pretty much in the carpark.) When he placed his order at the counter, he was told that after midnight, it was drive-through service only. And to go outside and walk through the drive-through.
You might think it was a ludicrous request but you know Joel did “please walk through to the next window” because boy did we want those chips.
The proximity to a Hungry Jack’s was a definite turn-off when we bought that house. It was only once we moved in that I discovered there were dodgier – and closer – retailers around. I did have high hopes our little local shopping strip would satisfy all of my shopping needs. Oh yeah, if all I required was protein tablets, roast chicken, a bong, and a shit haircut.
In this particular backwater shopping strip, I found:
A newsagent. Dusty and inferior selection of cards, and the doorway wasn’t wide enough to admit a pram, oh and it got held up by a dude with a SHOTTY one time. But but other than that, inoffensive.
Tony’s Pies. The idea of a pie is good, but pop over to Tony’s when it struck you and invariably it would be shut. Very odd opening hours like Monday 9-2, Tuesday 8-7, Wednesday closed, Thursday 2-5. Rude signage pinned to counter with stuff on it like “Sometimes we sell out of certain pies. If you have a problem with this, go elsewhere. We are proud to serve a large variety of pies but we won’t always have what you want. Deal with it. Only REASONABLE customers served”.
Hydroponics shop. Had a sign on the door saying “WATER PUMPS $20 PUMP KIDS BATHWATER ONTO THE GARDEN”, written with one of those weird ’80s alphabet stencils no doubt purchased at inflated cost from the newsagent. We bought one of the $20 pumps. That thing couldn’t even drain a small fish tank in less than half a day.
Hairvenly Cutz. I promise you I didn’t make that name up.
La Sole Pizza. Oily, overpriced, and refused to deliver by hand over back fence. Fail.
Chubby Chooks. Filthy charcoal chicken shop whose greasy fumes wafted into my backyard at about 5pm – roastin’ time! – and set my cats in a frenzy.
A bottlo. There were so many bottlos in that neighbourhood, I couldn’t believe it. About one per 10 households. I no complain, we patronised that one stacks.
A gym equipment wholesaler. This one was seriously dodgy. I went in there one time to buy some new
bathroomkitchen scales. You know, to weigh myself. It was always locked, no matter what time of day you approached the front door. A huge muscle-bound 60-year-old wearing a bumbag admits you, and then LOCKS YOU INTO THE SHOP. Way to foster customer relations. Inside were plenty of body-building types, and an open bathroom in the middle of the store that’s clearly used often (i.e. dirty towels hanging over the shower screen etc.). During my scales-buying lock-in, I discovered that the 60-year-old bumbag guy’s wife booted him out of home a while ago. So now he and his huge guard dog live there. Of course they do. Showering in the shop. Sleeping on a stationary treadmill. Subsisting on protein powder I guess. I found that news odd but also reassuring, because in the previous few months we’d been sure he was operating a drug dealership out the back of his shop. His rollerdoor abutted our back fence and at weird hours each night, motorbikes could be heard idling and then roaring off. Actually now that I think about it, him living there didn’t preclude him from selling andro out his back door. In fact it probably only solidified it as a realistic explanation for the comings and goings.
Electrical wholesaler. Didn’t affect me one way or the other, beyond its large signage which dominated the northern fenceline of our property.
And the crowning glory, which opened on the site where the old VideoEzy used to be: a fucking Cash Converters. Complete with floor-to-ceiling steel grilles, groups of the n’er-do-wells all Cash Converters attract decamped permanently in the carpark, and freshly graph’d walls every morning.
Honestly, our place was like a little piece of paradise surrounded by piles of shit.
If you have intimate knowledge of the 3013, you should be ashamed of yourself if, by triangulating the geographical clues in this post, you’re unable to establish the exact location of our old house. You should’ve popped in for a Vegie Whopper sometime! TOO LATE NOW.
Suburbia, with its sad shopping strips, barren playgrounds and uninspiring streets…
I don’t miss it at all.