Number 34

n34

THE HOUSE AT NUMBER 34

 Heather Wilson

I was just 21 when I flew into Alice Springs from a small rural town in South Australia called Naracoorte looking for adventure. I was planning to work my way around Australia and the Red Centre was my first stop. After 28 years, I still haven’t moved on. But I did find my adventure, living here.

My husband-to-be, Mark, had moved from Melbourne; he came on the Ghan with a mate. He worked up the track at the roadhouse at Dunmara, pulling beers and doing the night shift for a while before he moved back to Alice Springs to take a job at the airport.

We met only three weeks after my arrival in town, at Bill’s Gambling Night, which was a fundraiser for the Federal Sports club. We made lots of friends through the sports club and they, in time, became like family.

Everyone was young. We’d moved to Alice for work and the sense of excitement you get from a new beginning. The town had a relaxed, easy atmosphere. Everyone was from somewhere else.

On Sunday afternoons, we would all go and watch the footy and then head back to the club for a casserole, which the girls would have cooked up earlier in the day. With music and dancing, it was a great place to be.

Some weekends a car rally would be organised and we would all pile into cars and follow dodgy directions, only to end up back at the club. We had regular barbeques or progressive dinners and once a year, there was a talent night to raise funds for the club.

In those days, there was no cinema in Alice Springs but in addition to ABC TV, we did have “dial a movie”, which was a novel form of entertainment. A van would come to your house with a selection of videos, which you could rent for the night or the whole week. So for a night in, you would order takeaway pizza and a movie; what luxury!

Mark was working at Australian Airlines and I was nursing at the hospital. It looked like we were in Alice to stay. It was time to settle down, take the plunge and get off the rental property merry-go-round. So after a few phone calls, Mark and I were doing the rounds to see which house ticked all the boxes; which house we might buy.

My wish-list was different to Mark’s. I wanted a place that was neat, tidy, well-maintained and easy to look after; one that required no renovations. Mark had other ideas. He wanted a “project” – a house to do up and make our own.

We visited Sadadeen, Gillen, North Side and Gap Road. Nothing appealed to Mark, although I was inclining towards a house in Sadadeen.

“No way, the house is totally wrong; this is not the house for us,” was Mark’s instant reply.

The next day our friend and real estate agent, Gary, called to say there was a big house in old East Side that we should take a look at. We drove up the gravel driveway and saw this big, white house, with a huge front veranda and a massive, white gum tree in the front yard.

Walking through the front door, we saw the lounge had a welcoming, open fire place. The kitchen was an old-style galley type, with a brown carpet. The house looked a bit unloved and, having been vacant for some time, had that old musty smell too.

The back yard was huge, with more gum trees, as well as oleanders, a plum tree and citrus. Mark surveyed the house and yard and looked at me with raised eye brows, smiling.

“Oh no, he loves it and I hate it,” I thought. There was so much to do. The garden was all dead and the kitchen and bathroom needed renovations, painting and new carpet. I shook my head, “no way”, but he kept on smiling and said: “Just think of its potential. It has four bedrooms; lots of rooms to fill.”

That was that and we signed the contract. With all our worldly goods in a ute, we moved in.

That was back in 1987. Since then, our house has grown and seen so many things. The house has changed with us and we have moved along with it. Our home has kept us safe, warm, cool and sheltered.

Most of all, I remember the floods in 1988, when the water lapped at our back door and we waited helplessly, relieved at last that it did not actually come into the house.

We have experienced other huge storms, like the one with winds of over 180kmph that brought the front yard gum tree branches through our roof and left us with a natural sky light. I also remember how, one Friday afternoon in the late 1990s, hail stones the size of golf balls crashed through windows and car windscreens and dented just about anything left out in the open.

Of course, there was always the extreme, searing heat of over-40-degree days and records being broken; the hot, dry spells that are a given in Alice Springs.

Looking back on our 28 years in Giles Street, I remember our first big event was our engagement party. Then there was the wedding in 1988, when the neighbours all came out to wish us luck over the fence and waved me off as I set out to church.

Not long after this, it was time to start renovating and doing home improvements. We began with a new kitchen. Our friends, Clinton and Dean, put in the new pine kitchen, with laminated tops. Then we tiled the floors in the wet areas and put new carpet down in the lounge, dining room and bedrooms.

The house was getting a face-lift and I was happy to get rid of the mission brown and heritage green, so popular at the time but really not a good look for home interiors.

The house had been built in 1961 and was an ex- government property. Its age meant that any work needing to be done was never easy; the double brick wall, old ceramic pipes and wired fuses all needed extra attention.

While the inside was getting a well-needed makeover, Mark got busy in the garden, changing the areas to suit our needs. First he did the lawn, which remains his pride and joy, although the actual size has been reduced over the years. A few gums trees and oleanders needed to go and were replaced with a veggie patch.

A few years later came the happy cries of our first baby.  Lauren arrived in August 1992 and as she grew, the garden changed again. We put in a swing set and a sand pit. We got a puppy called Bernie.

My rose garden had to make way for the men’s shed area, which appeared practically over night. This has been well used by the blokes of the neighbourhood, as a meeting point and venue for darts, current affairs discussions, many laughs and many more beers.

In the all-important bar area, the official measurements of the dart board were correctly implemented. In case we hold official darts competitions, it’s all approved – by the darts official who does the Masters Games!

And we got a wood pile and open fire, which doesn’t give off much heat, so I freeze in winter. We installed a pot bell, requiring the collection of wood with chainsaw, trusty dog and friends to help. But the woodpile kept moving. In the last 28 years, I can honestly say it has been moved about 10 times. A standing joke for Mark has been: “What are you doing today?” And he would say: “Moving the wood pile.”

In May 1994, our second child, Michelle, came along to expand our family. The new arrival meant more projects, like the cubby house. The garden was modified again and garden beds introduced. We paved the outside area, front and back, and put in the cement driveway.

We have seen the neighbours come and go. We were happy when, in 1996, the O’Loughlin’s moved in next door, with three kids at that stage. Tess, their youngest, spent most of her free time playing with our girls. Not long after that the Skipsey’s moved in and with the Mostran’s across the road, there was a happy feeling in the hood of friendship.

When Jenny Mostran and I were pregnant at the same time, we formed our still-strong relationship. Our son Frank was born in 1997. It’s been wonderful to see our kids grow up together, as great mates.

I think that’s what makes Giles Street special — having neighbours who’ve been around for a long time and who are happy, living in this part of Alice.

Of course we invited the neighbours when, in 1997, our pool was put in; we had a proper pool party that year.

Our house celebrated every birthday, Christmas and New Year but more than anything, it was just a place to meet, especially for coffee mornings with the play group mums. It became a hub of children and business.

We went through the usual pets, with the chooks, silky chooks, guinea pigs, rabbits, frog, fish, cat and dogs. They all came to live with us, some for a long time. Others had short lives, especially when we had heat waves.

In 1999, Amy, our last baby, came along and made the family complete. Number 34 Giles was a busy place, with kids in the area coming over to play, swim or just hang out. There was the smell of biscuits from the oven, newly mown grass and fresh rain; the buzz of excited kids, slamming doors and running around.

The house has been good to us. The best times were when the verandas were hosed down and the kids lay on their tummies and slid up and down on the wet cement; or when they stood out in the rain, catching droplets off the edge of the house in their mouths.

Why do we stay here at number 34 Giles Street? Why did we pick this house? Why did we live in it for nearly three decades?

Because it’s more than a house; more than just bricks and mortar. We remember when every bit of work was done to the house, each bit a stage of our lives. This house has shared our dreams, our plans, our secrets and our hopes. We may go away for a while but we always come home.

I walk in the door and breathe a sigh of relief that all is right. I have come home and a sense of belonging engulfs me and I smile. We are home and our house is our castle. We love our house at 34. It has kept us happy and safe.

However, nothing is forever and one day it will belong to someone new, beginning their journey on Giles Street.

Where to from here? Mark and I don’t know yet what we will do as the kids grow up and move away. It’s hard to think about retirement but I know for sure it will be down south somewhere. The weather here is a little too hot and the summers go on too long for us to stay in Alice when we get older.

Friends have already moved away to start the next chapter of their lives but we don’t have a leaving date yet. Work is plentiful and life isn’t so bad, so for the present will stay at number 34, loving, living and laughing often.

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