Memories of Giles Street
My first memory of Eastside dates back to the mid 70’s visiting Susan Bryce in a little flat on that side of town. My boyfriend and I had come into town from Hooker Creek (Lajamanu) in the far north west of the Tanami desert. I’m not sure if it was Giles Street we were in, but I do clearly remember two things: a suntanned blonde woman in the middle of the desert (Susie), (I was blonde but didn’t have a suntan probably due to my recent arrival from Tassie) and secondly the disparity of Old Eastside from the non-leafy suburb we were camping in at the time, which was a hot box in the Gap.
A second strong memory of Giles Street was in 1983. A girlfriend and I had attended a Health conference at the new Alice Springs Casino and decided not to stay for the obligatory conference dinner but instead decided to explore the town.
It was raining in Alice. Water was cascading off the roads, buildings and ranges…just the time to explore the Todd River we thought! Excitedly we drove our 4WD towards the Todd to see how close we could get to see the River in flood. This was probably not a sensible move, as anyone with a brain knows that flowing inland rivers can be lethal. We realised this later. As a consequence of this flood a few people drowned while others were rescued.
At the corner of Lindsay and Giles Streets we were stopped in our tracks by a swirling mass of water. We very quickly changed tack and drove up Giles Street heading east, away from the River with the water chasing and lapping at all angles of the 4WD. Years later I moved to ‘No 9’ and had no hesitation in signing up for flood insurance.
While driving up Giles Street River we managed to rescue a woman in a little sedan whose car was beginning to float up Winneke Avenue towards Undoolya Road. I kept thinking at the time how fortunate we were to live in a house perched on a hill in Sadadeen.
The Casino dinner was a washout. The next morning a helicopter evacuated in- houseguests as well as the evening dinner guests. The Casino is located on the non-town side of the Todd River so guests needed to find other accommodation and some food! At the Gap, the railway track was closed. Water covered most of the town. Alice Springs was drowning!
Coincidentally Prince Charles and Princess Diana were visiting Alice. They were unable to be accommodated at the washed out Casino and so were downgraded to the Gap Motel.
Prior to 1978 when the Todd flowed, pick ups and drop offs for work or access to shopping in town for Eastside locals were via the Wills Terrace Walk Bridge. Alice now has a new bridge opened in 1978, which joins old and new Eastside.
Keeping with the theme of the River, my youngest child Alexander years later at the age of 12, attempted to cross the flowing Todd River from the Giles Street side early one morning on his pushbike. Alexander had a cricket game on so he decided riding was a reasonable transport method as this was always the usual way to school and the cricket ground. Why change route now? As I blissfully slept my boy was being swept down the river. He got himself out and came home cranky and dripping and is very lucky to be here.
I arrived in the Northern Territory in May 1975 to reconnect with a friend who lived in a shared house in Hobart. He had previously been blown out of Darwin by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Leaving Hobart to travel to the NT was incomprehensible to my Tasmanian family and friends, except for my mother Lucy, who had a very close friend (Faith Hawkins) who lived and worked as a doctor in Alice for many years. Faith was once married to the infamous John Hawkins who pioneered surgery in Central Australia. Lucy’s only concern was that I stay in touch.
I didn’t bother with detailed explanations to other family and friends about my destination which was an Aboriginal community called Hooker Creek, later more accurately named Lajamanu. The Tasmanian perception of a remote Aboriginal community by Tasmanians was nearly always completely out of whack, often racist, and usually paternalistic. I arrived in Lajamanu in the cool of an early morning around 4 am; delivering medical supplies. The community lights were blazing (as they still do) and I soon immersed myself in the Territory way of life, melting to the wonderful smiles of the Walpiri people who turned my heart and “grew me up”.
The future father of our three children, Stuart McDonell, was a white Community Advisor at Lajamanu and I was the nurse. Over the next twenty years we lived in various towns all over the Territory and returned to Alice in 1990 to finally settle so our children Claire, Ashley and Alexander could attend the popular Ross Park Primary School in Old Eastside. My granddaughter Monique, is now in Grade 6 at Ross Park and has the same Grade 6 teacher, Jackie Mullins, as my son Ashley had not so long ago!
I thought Giles Street would be the perfect suburb as the kids could walk or ride to Ross Park or to the nearby high schools, as they grew older. The other charming features of Giles Street were the large blocks and wonderful ambience. There was no comparison with the tiny blocks of the suburb of Sadadeen where we currently lived. The children needed room to play!
So the quest to get to Giles Street was a priority for me. One Saturday morning a dear friend, Mary Flint rang me excitedly and wasted no time in blurting out ‘Quick, come and look at number nine Giles Street’. The Open Home was for one hour. What happened to Open Homes, that lasted all day or at least half a day? Nine Giles Street’s Open Home was busy. On entering I noticed people tut tutting at the carpet, which was typically a fluffy, fake, dust mite ridden, patterned carpet from the 60’s with lace curtains against pale green walls. Green and orange are now my favourite colours, but I wasn’t so keen in the mid 80’s. My gut feeling was that this house was perfect. You know when you just know…
I paced straight through the lounge room over to the one and only window facing north into the backyard, and goggled at the magnificent Spencer Hill looming up into the sky. I’ll have it! No room for procrastination with one-hour Open Homes! I bought the house in 1993 from the Grants at a cost of $145,000. Mr Grant was an ex Police Commissioner and Mrs Grant (I sensed) was a wonderful cook and housewife and this homely feeling stayed with us during the 15 years we lived at Giles Street.
Number nine was termed an “ex executive government home” as it had a sliding door out to the carport; that was one of the executive bits! Concrete and Oleanders were perhaps not the best border to the property but I just adored the street and the ability to escape up into the hills. The children loved the pine tree out the front next to the very long concrete driveway (another executive bit) and declared the pine tree would be our next Christmas tree.
Sadly not long after our move into Giles Street, Stuart and I decided to separate and I remember thinking “I am now one of those awful single mothers that no one wants to know”. But living in Giles Street as a single mum wasn’t like that at all; in fact I found a whole new group of friends and so did the children.
Playgroups were held regularly on Friday nights often at the Carmichaels, two doors down at number 13. These were a therapeutic time after a long week of transporting children from one event to another, maintaining a job, caring for friends in need and generally being flat out. So many mothers and kids. The playgroup children are still friends today and meet up locally or on Facebook. To be honest the playgroups were not really about the children; they were for the Mothers. The playgroups allowed us to be who we were and all the women supported each other magnificently.
We had many birthday parties in Giles Street; all kinds, for different ages and stages. Claire at 13 years of age invited her whole Year Seven class from Anzac Hill High School, which amounted to around 35 children. Of course, the original invitations were for about a dozen friends, but Claire was feeling generous as she became a teenager.
Little kids birthdays were magical. We had apples tied with string bobbing up and down on the washing line. This birthday game was one of Ashley’s favourites and he became quite serious if anyone looked like cheating. At one party two year old Ashley drank all the little pots of tomato sauce intended for the cocktail sausages. There was sliding on plastic with bubbles out the back and Margaret Fulton’s legendary cakes decorated to look like ballerinas, soccer fields or swimming pools.
Parents go to the nth degree to ensure their little darlings have the celebration of their life when they come of age. Alexander’s 18th in 2006 was one such party. I decided to have the 18th at home because other venues were out of my financial reach. Alexander, of course, was going to be of tremendous help with the organisation. I don’t think I laid eyes on him until late in the afternoon of the party. Luckily his close friends Clancy Scollay and Tom Sullivan were wonderful. At their insistence, I moved most of the furniture into a locked room including the piano. Clancy suggested I remove the paintings from the lounge room walls. Huh?!! Oh My God, now I was getting nervous.
Shane Bloomfield was the security at the front of number 9, but that didn’t deter a few teenagers jumping the back fence, from the laneway and tossing a firecracker or two into the fire bins. It was July 2006 and freezing.
A small number of would-be gate crashers from Charles Creek had found an invitation with a photo of Alexander aged four, posing in Rona Glynn preschool ‘Wendy House’ clothes. The hopefuls claimed to have received the invite legitimately and insisted they were friends of Alexander “Grizzly Bear”. Shane was nyinty and on to them immediately as the invite was for ‘Panda Bear’ (Alexander’s nick name at the time).
Despite a few problems, it turned out to be one of the best parties I have ever been to. It was a bit tricky to get rid of 18 year olds at one in the morning, but fortunately I had registered the party with the police who turned up when I needed them. We survived. Not sure if the rest of Giles Street did!
As the children grew and expanded their friend base, our Giles street house became too small and more space was required. I also needed space for my Midwifery Practice, which commenced in 1990. The Practice was a significant part of our lives. The very long concrete ‘executive’ driveway became a Midwifery consulting room and an extra lounge room. The extension meant that the children had space at home after school while I continued to consult. I resorted to a lock on the internal door of the consulting room to discourage Alexander from taking part in abdominal palpations! It was a beautiful room and many mothers and babies enjoyed the quiet ambience and the unique old Eastside natural light. The old Midwifery room is now used by the new owner for Naturopathy consulting.
I am so proud of my children, Claire, Ashley and Alexander. My hopes and dreams for them didn’t turn out exactly how I imagined because the Alice Springs/Territory influence wasn’t quite in my forecasting.
Claire danced spectacularly all her young life mentored by a passionate and local dance teacher, Lynne Hanton. Claire went on to study at WAAPA and then later danced in the Moulin Rouge.
Ashley became a parent at 15 years of age! He has managed to not only bring up Monique (Moni) ‘right way’ but both Moni and Ash have become favourites in the local music and entertainment scene.
As for little Alexander…he accompanied me to Hobart as he was beginning to become a regular acquaintance with the law. A Quaker school in Hobart called Friends, and influential close friends, somehow turned him around to become a witty and exceptional business entrepreneur. Funny thing is, Alexander who was extremely self obsessed and complex, now considers his life logically with his family always foremost in his thoughts.
I have now returned to live in Hobart after being away for 32 years and often think about our time at number 9. The tiny garden shed out the back, referred to as the Granny flat, required some minor renos that cost far too much; just to save an Apricot tree, (which by the way never produced apricots and died the year I was leaving). The Granny flat (which never did have a Granny in it) became the kids’ space. The shed was hot in summer and cold in winter but the kids loved it. They loved the fact that they could hide away and watch TV really loud, use as many mattresses or swags as possible for sleepovers, and later on in life, do naughty things which they assumed (wrongly) they hid from their mother.
Number 9 Giles Street will always hold huge memories. Friends dropping in for deep and meaningfuls and the various dinner parties usually held outside. Neighbours looked out for each other particularly for each others’ children. The coffee and chats with John and Joanne and the tea and toast in bed with Pip on a weekend, made for a sense of community.
Each year when I return to Alice to catch up with Ashley, Monique and close friends, I sit in my borrowed car or amble past number 9. I can almost see and hear Ashley’s rap music, Moni’s ballerina dancing, the clatter of the table tennis in the carport or the basketball pounding the concrete… and I smile at the wonderful memories.
360 Argyle Street
12 October 2013