I have a strong connection with this place I have made my own. Home is so many things to different people. This is my home (the one I have chosen) away from home (the place I grew up in and forever shaped me).
I am just a couple of k’s from the city centre. The view from my door is that of the city towers, all glass and concrete, gloss and promise. The streets here are wide, treed and packed with what once were workers cottages. Mine, born around the turn on the city is a little shabbier than its older neighbours. We are packed in at a sweaty proximity. There are 10 other similar homes that border my small property. Only one shares a wall and thankfully she is an active septuagenarian but very quiet. I hope she lives forever. She is an ideal neighbour.
We talk to one another in the street. Even the faces not known by name share a smile and a hello. There is old Nell with her little dog out walking numerous times a day, often with the intellectually impaired man who lives near her. One neighbour feeds my cat if I am away. Our view on life is quite different but we share a love of animals and bottles of wine. She has banged on my door in the middle of the night more than once when there has been an emergency in her family. I am proud to say I know people who feel free to do that.
The suburb was predominantly Italian and Greek a couple of decades ago. The grapevines in my backyard bear testament to this. Once when I was pruning them a woman stopped to say her relatives used to live there – about 7 of them crammed into what is now inhabited by only one or two. I told her to let them know the remaining vine still bears fruit and usually a batch of dolmades is made from the leaves each spring.
There are housing commission towers and sprinklings of in-fill department owned dwellings. No longer European, the latest to move here are predominantly Sudanese. Women with luscious dark skin peaking out from colourful textiles wander the neighbourhood. People speak in many different tongues.
Space is quite precious. There are very few gracious homes with big backyards. The local park must be one of the best patronised in the city. The playground always has children frolicking. One quarter is unofficially doggy territory where the locals defy the “leash on” dictum and let their pooches run free. There is a basketball court mainly frequently by teenagers (though a couple of years ago I learnt to shoot baskets there too) and in between people – solo, couples, groups colonize space with rugs and possessions to read or chat or study or play, on sunny days. The place is alive on warm balmy evenings, impromptu gatherings fed by pizza and fish and chips from the local takeaways, a few stubbies purchased from the pub on the corner. At night we share the park with possums and flying foxes.
The library is a close second for popularity. Once tiny, it has stealthily been growing over the years. It is one of my favourite places. I have never been short of a book to read, which is lucky as if I had to buy them I would have to turn to crime to support my habit. A relative in the book trade rather arrogantly said to me once “people like you shouldn’t use libraries, its for the people who can’t afford to buy them”. I asked her when was the last time she’d actually paid for a book and rested my case. I am a regular. There are always kids there – story time for the littlies, free computer access hogged by the teens after school. DVDs, Cds, magazines and newspapers. Comfy chairs. An inviting atmosphere. A group of volunteers tutor kids, mainly from the housing commission, with their homework. It makes my heart sing to see them making this space their own. In this time of creeping privatisation I would arm the barricades to keep these free, public institutions.
Sure the place has been gentrified as anywhere this close to the city surely will. Any food establishment that thinks it will survive without a good barista will certainly fail. The pub, once green tiled, an informal RSL and blue collar domain, has gone up market, knocking the walls down to let the sun in and putting on finer fare. But there are still a few around that have resisted the change and cook up a fine roast for the regulars who claim their stool at the bar every morning at 10.
The hardware store has gone (and the beautiful old couple who ran it too), the butcher went (though no loss to meatless me) but the greengrocer is flourishing again and it’s only a kilometre to walk if you are after nails or a nice bit of rump. A cat adopted one of the shops as its home for 23 years. When she died, the window was full of tributes for weeks from the regulars. Pam was a bit of a surly moggy. The staff didn’t like her but the customers did. As she grew old, some kind of kitty Alzheimer’s kicked in and she forgot to be grumpy. The cat lovers got purrs and smooches, fortunately it was not left to us to clean up after her wayward eliminative organs.
Speaking of cats, I know almost everyone around here by name. They know me too. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Though my own puss gets a tad resentful when I come home smelling of foreign scents. I maybe unfaithful, but I always return to her. Anyway, I have enough pussy love to go around.
When its time to buy presents, I hit the local shopping strip. There are no foreign owned companies, so the profits from the book or doodah you buy, feeds the owner. A uni student with a passion for film has opened a dvd hire shop. He loans his private collections of foreign films in the back room for free, to the regulars. It’s quite a different world to ubiquitous chains full of blockbusters.
There is the quirky optometrist, who sends me a reminder every year to get my eyes checked. When I decided it was time to get a pair of glasses (I’m an habitual contact lens wearer since 15, I can count on one hands the friends who have seen me bespectacled) she picked me up and drove me to her clinic as I needed to be contact free for hours to get an accurate assessment and am too close to being legally blind (actually that is poetic licence, but lets just say my sights not good) to walk the streets safely without them.
I have lived within a couple of kilometres of my present home for the 19 years I have lived in Melbourne. I can walk to work and the majority of places I eat or play. I have no family here. My friends and neighbours have created a web of comfort and support.
When I think of moving away from this area, my heart contracts a little with grief. Despite the jockeying for a parking space, party prone neighbours who keep me awake, the occasional addict shooting up in the lane and a cramped old house without mod cons. But I don’t fancy living in a place where people don’t sit out on their verandas on warm evenings, or without nature strips, which become a place for an informal party.
There are home’s you are born into and homes that you choose. This is mine.