The Great Australian Dream…Thursday Doors

Welcome to Another Thursday Doors just please don’t look at the calendar. It’s already Saturday afternoon and if I don’t hop to it, soon it will be Sunday.

There’s no point going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

This week, we’re jumping into our time machines and setting the clock back to 1971 when my parents bought their first home at 101 Coonanbarra Road, Wahroonga in suburban Sydney. I was two years old and they’d been renting a flat in Rose Bay in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. However, Mum was expecting my brother and I was getting to an age where I apparently needed a backyard.

However, while these were practical and heartfelt considerations, consciously or unconsciously, my parents were pursuing the Great Australian Dream of owning your own home parked on the suburban quarter acre block along with the Hills Hoist (washing line), Victa lawnmower, backyard BBQ and the lone family car parked in the driveway.

However, this Australian dream had a rather narrow vision. The prescribed family was  comprised of a married Mum and Dad, a pigeon pair of kids, and no divorce. Australia was still under the influence of the White Australia Policy. So, our Great Australian Dream also had a lot of inbuilt flaws and was racist, sexist and completely excluded our Indigenous Australians.

 

The Unmade Road John Brack.jpg

John Brack, The Unmade Road

Moreover,, while many Australians aspired to this domestic ideal of home ownership, some artists and writers condemned suburbia as a conformist and narrow-minded wasteland, as depicted in John Brack’s The Unmade Road pictured above.

 

Wahroonga House rear

The rear of the house before renovation. I loved seeing our old pram in the picture. Dad’s father is standing in the right corner looking rather removed. and wasn’t impressed with the place.

Getting back to Mum and Dad’s place, as you can see from the rear view of the house in its natural state, it was in a bad way. The sort of place real estate ads would describe as “renovate or detonate” or a”Renovator’s dream”. Indeed, it was so dilapidated,Dad’s father refused to go inside and you can even see him standing in the right hand side of the photo above looking unimpressed.

However, my parents weren’t completely insane, because it had location! Location! Location! Wahroonga is a prestigious suburb and the house was a short walk to Wahroonga Park and the station, where Dad caught the train into the city for work. The house was built around 1916 as a workman’s cottage and has since been demolished, although similar houses have been preserved in this street and now cost over $1 million.Every night Dad beavered away on the place after he arrived home from work. Indeed, the photo at the top shows the front of the house post-renovation. No doubt, he felt triumphant and rather vindicated when it was finished, and he’d proven his father wrong.

However, this triumph wasn’t without sacrifice. I think the MGB was sold to get the house deposit and Dad must’ve been exhausted going to work by day, fixing the house up at night and also having a toddler and a new baby and all that entailed. Living in the house itself was also quite unsafe and mum was horrified to see me bang my head after I fell over a broken floorboard. While we were staying in the house of horrors, my brother also developed whooping cough from his vaccination and was seriously ill. I can’t quite remember if there was a home visit from the doctor which caused my mother to almost die of embarrassment, or whether she had to take my brother out to see him. However, in an unrelated incident, I do remember my brother’s car basket going flying off the back seat of the Morris Minor as we drove over the railway bridge around this time. I was horrified. So, it seems that there were quite a few nightmare’s interwoven with my parents’  pursuit of the Great Australian Dream.

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Me in the front yard of the house. 

Fortunately, this house soon became a stepping stone and we only lived there for six months. After it was renovated, Mum and Dad rented it out and bought a bigger and better house in Warrawee. They never looked back and moved a couple of times before settling in there current home, where they’ve been living for almost 40 years. If you look at them now, you’d never imagine that they started out in such challenging conditions.

Scan10114

The new house from the street with the Morris Minor parked in the driveway. 

Scan10072

The rear of the house in Warrawee. The pram is still parked out the back.

I wanted to share this story as an encouragement to other young couples who are just starting out and struggling to save up for a deposit on their first home. You don’t need to start out where you’ll finish up and hard work,  determination, a bit of sacrifice and taking a chance can pay off. Indeed, quite a few of my grandparents generation bought a block and built a garage on it and lived in that while they built the house. Nothing arrived on a silver platter.

My parents’ experience fueled our own pursuit of the dream Australian home on the quarter acre block. We bought a renovator’s dream a short walk from the beach and figured we’d turn it over quickly and move on to something better. However, unfortunately my health and disability issues have slowed down our progress and we are still in the fixer-upper and it still hasn’t been fixed up. We’ve been here for 18 years now and what we did at the beginning needs to be re-done and we still haven’t replaced the floors. However, I’m glad in a way because our place is a home and has a sense of freedom and not having to tiptoe around and barely breathe in case the house gets dirty, the floors gets ruined and your idyllic Vogue Living home comes crashing down to earth in a pile of rubble.

Indeed, we have two kids and three dogs charging round the place and we can all stretch our wings and be ourselves. Give me a couple of years, and I hope to see a wrecking ball go straight through the place and we’ll start over.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our trip down memory lane and wondered if you’d like to share any stories about renovating, buying your own home or even about dreaming.

This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0 Please pop over and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

9 thoughts on “The Great Australian Dream…Thursday Doors

  1. slfinnell

    My husband’s health history has kept us from having the Cosmopolitan look in our home as well. But lived here now 31 years, 165+ daycare children and 2 of my own later. It’s home and unless I win the lottery, I’m ok with it 🙂 Loved your family memories and glad you’ve taken time to share.

  2. tidalscribe

    When we arrived as ten pound Pommies in Perth in 1964 a quarter acre block was what my parents had been told – or assumed – everyone had. After a few dicy months they bought a new house on a quarter acre block of mostly natural bush – on one side an empty block the same size and the other side empty scrub with lovely Xmas trees in yellow blossom. Of course as it was a new suburb new houses soon popped up and the blocks got smaller. Our garden still boasted gum trees. The house was a little brick box ( hot in summer ) with three bedrooms and not a lot of room for five of us. A builder or someone with money could have extended and done a lot with it. Nine years later Dad was made redundant and they moved to a country town. Sadly I know what happened to our house, it was demolished and there are six houses on the two blocks. My aunt and uncle were more adventurous and avoided suburbia, taking on a highway service station and cafe down south, with more adventures to follow.
    I called my novel inspired by our experiences Quarter Acre Block!
    As for the indiginous people and what we knew of them, that’s another story, perhaps I should write a blog about that.

  3. maxwellthedog

    I absolutely love this post, Ro. Great photos and a super narrative. We often think back to the houses we’ve had as we’ve moved around the Pacific. From the humblest of digs in Guam to a spectacular place in Hawaii and now our small but cozy house in Southern California. The memories! Each home was a meaningful piece of our lives and we’ll never forget them. In the early days we worked like dogs to fix, remodel and improve some sketchy properties but now we only remember the good times not the sacrifice. Your trip down memory lane was a trip for me, too. Thanks!

  4. Rowena Post author

    Glad you enjoyed it and re-visited your own journey. What took you to Guam? That sounds very intriguing. I lived in Heidelberg Germany for about six months and also lived in Geraldton in Western Australia for about a year as well as living in Perth/Fremantle. These places are both so different to where I grew up in Sydney and also where we live now right near the beach as well as a massive enclosed waterway which is great for sailing and other water sports.
    I like what you say about remembering the good times and not the sacrifice.
    I do think it’s vitally important for young people to see where people start out and not just the finished product. That also applies to skills like learning to play the piano. My mother went through the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and busted a gut with many , many years of tuition and practice which of course she also loved. However, what I saw as a child growing up was that she could pick up almost any piece of music and sight read it seemingly to perfection. I didn’t see her at the beginning and how she started out. That said, he brother did. They were both sent off for piano lessons together and apparently right for the start, she had a special gift.

  5. Rowena Post author

    Life must have been tough for immigrants to Australia. It’s so different to Europe and our environment is pretty rugged and I don’t really think it’s easy for a lot of people to permanently leave home. There’s that great quote from the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy taps her red slippers together and chants: “There’s no place like home.” You just don’t have to explain a whole raft of things to people who come from the same boat. That said, getting out of your boat and mixing with a wide range of people is also good for the soul and expands your outlook. Diversity is important. However, for me, I find it’s good to have that anchor in the familiar of home.
    Have you heard of Jimmy Barnes two books Working Class Boy and Working Class Man? I’ve read the first but not the second, although it’s sitting on the shelf. Working Class Boy is beautifully written and includes references to moving out here as ten pound Scots. Here’s a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OBTDqy3f_c
    Hope you’re enjoying your weekend. I’m psyching myself up for a walk.
    Best wishes,
    Ro

  6. Norm 2.0

    What a wonderful and very personal post. Thanks for letting us in and sharing these memories with us. I do think the hardest thing to instill in us during the impatience of youth that we all experience is that where we are today is only a stepping stone to where we’ll be in the future.
    Every journey starts with that first step, but it’s not the end; you’re allowed to keep going from there.
    Cheers 🙂

  7. tidalscribe

    Thanks Rowena, I hadn’t heard of Jimmy Barnes so will follow your link. I think it wasn’t too hard comng to a country with the same language and lots of fellow pommies, though we mixed straight in and my best friends at school were Australian. At home the ABC provided plenty of British TV and radio programmes for a bit of nostalgia. For refugees and people with a different language it must be hard.

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