I’ve just moved house. Something to be done as infrequently as possible, if you want my post-move opinion. It’s less than two years since I last did it – and this time I’m planning to stay put for a very long time.
This is the 19th place I’ve called “home” in my lifetime. When I counted them up on my fingers just now, it gave me quite a shock. Nineteen places I’ve lived and loved in, and said “goodbye” to.
And I mean that literally. Almost every time I’ve moved on, I’ve taken time – alone – to walk through the empty rooms and say goodbye to the house. I say it aloud: “Goodbye house. Thank you.” I remember the good times I’ve had in it, and have one last look around.
Does that sound silly? I hope not. It’s something I’ve always done, instinctively, and I know others who confess to doing it too.
I grew up in the weatherboard house that my father – a carpenter – built after my parents married in 1949. Set on a half-acre block, it was a two-bedroom place – until I came along. Then Dad converted the laundry into a third tiny bedroom for me; my sisters shared the other room until they grew up and left home. I loved that little cocoon and when the others had left, stayed there rather than move into the bigger room.
I didn’t say goodbye to that house; my parents moved to a place on a smaller, flatter block of land while I was living overseas. A couple of years ago the house was up for sale and my mother went along to an “open house”. She said she barely recognised it, so many changes had been made during the intervening years.
When I was 19, I moved out to live in a share house with two friends. It was the first of several. Two rambling old New Zealand houses filled with music, parties and mad antics; a mansion flat in London’s West Kensington; a brief stint in a riverfront apartment at Surfer’s Paradise on Australia’s Gold Coast; back to London, to a falling-down old terrace house in Notting Hill. Then there was a hut on a kibbutz in Israel, shared with two girls from Finland; a snow-bound three months in a high-rise apartment in Edmonton, Canada, as a newly-wed; three places in two years in Melbourne – the servants’ quarters of a grand mansion in Kew, a townhouse in Glen Iris and a cute worker’s cottage in Hawthorn. Then two years in a pre-fab company house in the Saudi Arabian desert, where my husband was posted; an exotic and exciting time, full of travel and learning.
Returning to Australia, we bought a modern house surrounded by trees near the Brisbane River. When baby number 2 came along, it was suddenly unsuitable and we invested in a Queenslander cottage when we extended and renovated into a beautiful home in which to raise our children. We stayed there for 13 years – apart from my childhood, the most settled time of my life. There was an almost-two-year hiatus during that time, when a move to Central Queensland saw us once again in company housing. Later, after a move to Melbourne, we found a two-storey Tuscan-style villa, painted a warm, deep yellow and smothered in ivy, in the heart of bayside Elwood. There were olive trees growing in the courtyards, and a massive bay tree outside the kitchen door. Five years ago, living on my own for the first time in my life, I found an Art Deco flat in St Kilda which became home for three years. Returning to Brisbane last year, I rented the basement flat in a Queenslander cottage while I looked to buy. This week, I packed everything up again to move in to a place I can truly call my own.
Now, surrounded by packing cases and bags stuffed full of a lifetime’s “stuff”, I hope it’s a long time before I have to move again. But I look back fondly on all those places and the memories they hold for me. My childhood home might be unrecognisable and my first shared house has been demolished, but the rest of them are places I hold in my mind’s eye and could walk through blindfolded all these years later.
My new office looks out onto trees shielding my apartment from the house next door. It’s light and sunny, and I just know it’s going to be a place I’ll enjoy sitting and writing. I’m not sorry to have said goodbye to renting…hopefully forever.