Two and a half years ago my childhood home was sold in order to pay for my mother’s care. My mother had lived there for 60 years, 27 of those years on her own. It was a humble enough house in a convenient location with a large parcel of land that had been home to five boisterous children and some of the nicest trees I have ever known.
The house I live in now was also on a beautiful botanic property looked after by a widow with 3 children. While we were building our present property I spent some weeks living in my mother’s already sold house as a stop gap measure between an expired lease and completion of our new home. The house was in a poor state of repair with dreary weather coming in from all sides and didn’t contribute much to my highly stressed state and it was difficult to remember joyful times there. It was a ghost of itself with much of the familiar furniture long gone or the rooms that should have had some nostalgic hold, reeking of dampness and cluttered with half heartedly packed boxes and bags. There was still a stack of the real estate agents glossy advertising brochures sitting on a chair when we arrived, barely disturbed by the paucity of buyers. After taking one for posterity and fuming about the ridiculous waste on such pompous advertising for the little house, I set about trying to amuse myself and make something with the posters.
One of my main drives was the dream of finally living in our new home but to me it would not be a home without a garden and so I set about preparing plants for the coming springtime.
I had bags of tulip bulbs as well as ranunculus and anemones, jonquils and daffodils which I had bought weeks before, believing I would be planting straight into the new garden. With a bit of research I found out how to make origami boxes and spent hours turning those posters into temporary planter boxes.
I snipped cuttings from Mum’s neglected and depleted garden and poked these into the boxes as well. There was little point in being inside because there was no heating, I had no studio space or things to work with and no company and the smell of fungus and damp was quite overwhelming. And in truth most of my life at this house had been outside.
Outside in the old places of my childhood I could remember the history of the garden as it had changed over our lifetimes. Metre by metre I could remember the planting or flowering of each of Mum’s plants. The place where our twin gums (our Namatjira gums) had been and then replaced by the sleep out, the place where the clothesline had been with its burden of bed linen laboriously washed in the Hoover Wringer machine and lugged out, and hauled by my exhausted mother to swing in the breeze and tempt our fox terrier. I could map the garden by plant names as I walked around it, even though many of those plants had long since gone. My memory went back further than my younger brother’s but not as far as my older brother’s but the history had been shared and amalgamated. The names formed a chant in my mind as each day I wandered and more of the images emerged. I have a song line for my home and now that my home is gone, that means nothing to anybody. I understand the devastation we have committed our aboriginal people to.
I have been reading about Kintsugi and The Tea Ceremony, prompted by a blog I love, Art For Housewives. Kintsugi is the repair of broken ceramics using a type of lacquer mixed with gold dust to accentuate the damage and repair of an object thereby imbuing it with history and character. In the Tea Ceremony a type of song line developed over centuries as these highly valued objects passed down through families with much of their history manually or orally recorded.
Many years ago I read a book by Heide artist Neil Douglas and his partner Abbie Heathcote
in which he was laughing about the tenacity of old plants in a redevelopment. No matter how hard the new owners worked on that garden the old plants kept springing up through their well planned landscape. My new garden is a combination of memory and new hope. Mum’s garden (including some of Grandma’s plants), my contribution and our previous property owner, Lurline’s, garden. I rescued as many of her plants as I could before the demolition
and replanted them in my new landscape so my garden is a comfortable mixture of old and new and nostalgia. And those tenacious poppies of Lurline’s defy discipline springing up in the middle of pathways and reminding me that this place had a history before me.
Lurline's 60 year old hardwood floorboards came up a treat and blend beautifully with modern décor.
And why am I prompted to write about all of this now? Well digging in my garden recently I was surprised to see my old home float past me on a film of polyester. The origami boxes which had housed all my bulbs have disintegrated long ago except for the plastic coating on the paper!
With Melbourne in a property frenzy for the last 5 years these A3 glossy pamphlets are being printed in the millions and dumped in equal numbers into our landfill. It is just one tiny part of our destructive human nature. We must start to understand that the things that are persisting in our lives are not the landscapes that have taken decades of love and labour to produce but inappropriately produced items that serve no use and seduce our vanity, boredom or laziness.
What is it you want your children to remember and pass onto their children? Do you want them to live on a property of landfill in which they poke a spade into soil only to discover one of their own disposable nappies from 40 or 50 years before?
Our forebears came to this country as ignorant clots, hell bent on recreating England and too terrified of their surrounds to appreciate the innate beauty, but over time, their laboriously created new landscape, with its European mementoes, has blended with the original(not much left) to create a beautiful conglomerate mosaic. It is worth preserving and building on to create complex beauty and history instead of ripping up and disposing of the past like toilet paper.
I hope some of Mum’s old plants rise up a create havoc with that bland lawn around the McMansion which supplanted our house.