Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The House My Dad Grew Up In

Nana’s and Grandfather’s Campbell Street, Wollongong, house, while nothing fancy in its weatherboard siding and corrugated iron roofing, became precious down through the years simply because it didn’t change.

The bathroom/laundry was still out back, attached to the rear, along with a flush toilet at the very end of the building. This had been installed when the sewer was first run into Wollongong, and like everything else, was original. To use any of these facilities, you’d step out the slapping back screen door, and walk up the side of an ancient concrete courtyard. Dad said it originally contained a well for drinking water, which explained why it’s concrete surface had drooped towards its centre.

Even the external colour scheme reflected an age long gone, and before nostalgia restored it to popularity. Light mustard-tan coloured weatherboards, pure white window frames and Indian Red roof.

Inside, all walls and ceilings were delicately, yet starkly, lined in pine match-board, with ceilings white and walls a deliciously dark cream colour. With no further covering, these walls had no way of obscuring accumulating soul.

All pine-board floors, including that in the main drawing room that was set up with a formal table setting we never used, were covered in ancient, dark and shining linoleum – complete with intricate Deco patterns – which added to the aging aroma. The centerpiece of this long dark-timber dining table was a green-grey ceramic bower birds' nest with several small ceramic eggs securely positioned deep inside. One of my visiting rituals was to peer inside, and run my tiny fingers over these small, smooth, cold eggs, while the small pair of frozen green birds watched down eternally from atop their nest.

My Dad’s old room, off this formal room, contained yet more treasures from another era. Several
Boys’ Own annuals from the 1920s and very early 1930s, and an oval tin filled with Dad’s childhood marbles. I’d pour over the crude line drawings of these musty books, while marveling at the beauty of some of the marbles, already well past being found among crude Japanese marbles sold by the bag-full by our local newsagent.

I found it curious that Nana and Grandfather maintained separate bedrooms on both sides of the front door. Both had large, austere iron double beds. Nana’s room had a large metal trunk set under its bay window, and I always assumed it brimmed with Nana Treasures. Her mirror-mounted chest of drawers set in one corner always had brushes, combs and other womanly objects neatly arranged on crisp linen doilies.

Grandfather’s room on the opposite side of the hallway contained only his bed, a single wardrobe and small chest of wooden drawers. Yet unlike Nana’s, which always had its shades drawn to induce gloom, Grandfather’s spartan room was light-filled, even delicate. Today, Grandfather’s taste could be described as delightfully minimalist, bordering on monastic. Something you’d expect to find in Japanese serentity. Perhaps he couldn’t shake his military past.

Grandfather always kept two sheep grazing in the yards around the house, and once a year would have a man come by and shear them. He’d give them lumps of rock salt to lick, and they’d reward with the best looking buffalo grass lawns I’ve ever seen. He’d rake their droppings in to fertilise everything.

Five generations of Heininger men, including me and my son (also named Joe) have called that house home through the years. First there was Grandfather and his dad. Then my Dad.

My sister, Mary, her husband, Horst, and their son, Paul, now live in it, and while its basic shape remains intact, it’s overshadowed by blocks of home units on two sides and behind.


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