MY father was in hospital recently, and while it wasn’t the way he wanted to spend his Christmas, it did give us the rare opportunity to talk. To really talk.
In the course of a conversation that lasted most of a day, Dad casually mentioned that our family home – the house he built in the 50s with his own hands – had been demolished by developers to make way for units.
I wasn’t prepared for how much the news would rock my world. After all it was just a bunch of weatherboards, tiles and windows – right?
At lunchtime I went for a walk on the beach and of course Googled my childhood address. The old place was still there – in cyberspace at least. There was the driveway I’d learnt to ride a bike in; played basketball in; parked my first car in.
The house looked a little worse for wear, but it was still the place Dad had built with love and toil in the little spare time he had on weekends and after work; the only way my folks could afford a roof over their heads.
As a kid I loved hearing his stories of carting timber and other building materials strapped to the frame of his bicycle. The thought of creating a house from the ground up still seems like a kind of magic.
For so many years it was the centre of my life map. Whether I was playing with friends down in the Moonee Ponds Creek, seeing a movie in the city, or travelling overseas for the first time, my bearings depended on that quarter-acre in Melbourne’s north.
I know it wasn’t bricks and mortar I was grieving as I walked along the beach.
When asked about his family home, the French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard, said that a house shelters day-dreaming, protects the dreamer, and allows one to dream in peace.
887 Pascoe Vale Road was my first dreaming. The place where I was read to, the place where my family sat around the dinner table every night, the place where I slept soundly and safely.
Our backyard was the MCG wicket each summer and the Punt Road goals in winter. Over the years it was home to a menagerie, including an incontinent rabbit named George, and an enormous sand goanna that escaped into the suburbs, never to be seen again.
Incredibly it was the location of the Magic Faraway tree, the scene of epic World War II battles, and frequent Wild West gunfights.
The Welsh have a word – hiraeth – to describe the yearning for the lost places of our past.
I know it wasn’t bricks and mortar I was grieving as I walked along the beach at Christmas. But I also know that I carry the essence of my childhood home with me always.
“Where you come from is gone,” Flannery O’Connor wrote. “In yourself, right now, is all the place you’ve got.”
No property developer can ever touch it.