Number 29

Number 29

In 1984, I was living at working at Kintore, west of Alice Springs near the western Australian border, where the Pintupi people had recently returned to reoccupy their homelands. From time to time I would make the long drive to Alice Springs for a short spell of restocking supplies, attending meetings and R&R.

On one of these occasions, I had arranged to stay with my friend Ushma Scales (now sadly deceased), who at that time was working for the Central Lands Council and was living in a CLC flat on the East-side (in Chewings street, if I recall correctly).

I arrived in the evening and threw my swag on the floor of the very sparsely-furnished flat, and settled down to catch up on the news with Ushma (also, I seem to remember, sitting on the floor – it was very sparsely furnished). Ushma was always a man of ideas, and he had an idea to share with me. “Why don’t we buy a house together?” he suggested. I would have a room which would always be mine whenever I visited Alice Springs, and he would have a better and more permanent place in which to live.

I had never owned property before, and the more we ruminated, the more attractive the idea sounded. We hunted down the current issue of the Centralian Advocate, and there it was, in the Houses for Sale section: a 3-bedroom house at 29 Giles Street.

We looked through the house, on the corner of Giles and Winnecke Streets, the next day. The house was built in the standard old Housing Commission style, very common on the East-side, and it had approval to build an extension to one side, for which the base had already been laid.

On the same day we went to the bank and worked out that between the two of us and the bank, we could afford the $70,000 asking price, plus and extra $10,000 loan to allow us the complete the extension. We made an offer, and by the time I drove out of Alice Springs a few days later, I was the proud half-owner of a Giles Street house.

Ushma moved into the house, and I had a room in which to store belongings, a futon on the floor, and a place in which to stay when I visited Alice Springs.

To complete the extension, we contracted Dudley Dagg, a DIY builder and long-term resident of Ernabella, who, like Ushma, had a Pitjantjatjara wife, and was at that time living in Alice Springs. It was a slow process, but eventually Dudley had completed most of the walls and roof, and we arranged for other friends and tradesmen to complete what effectively became a self-contained flat communicating though a door with the original 3-bedroom house.

The yard was quite bare when we purchase the house, so we planted trees, particularly in the front yard, a good many of which survive to this day.

Over the next few years I came and went – I worked in Perth, in Sudan, on Cocos Island, and studied in Boston, but frequently passed through Alice Springs where I had a base in which to stay. Sometimes when I stayed Ushma was there, and sometimes not. Sometimes some of Ushma’s ever-increasing family were there. Sometimes there were other staying for various lengths of time – Mark Chambers and Mike Carmody are amongst those I remember. When Ushma’s brother-in-law Stephan Rainow and Suzanne Bryce broke up, Stephi moved out from the abode in Warburton Street to the 29 Giles St flat, and shared it for a while with a Swedish princess before settling in with Dugati Campbell.

In the later part of 1988, I accepted a job in Alice Springs, and moved into 29 Giles Street with my partner Margaret. We decided it was time to have a house to ourselves, and we were lucky enough to fairly quickly find, and make an offer on, 21 Gosse Street, just around the corner from 29 Giles, at the foot of Spencer Hill. Ushma agreed to buy my share of 29 Giles Street, and Margaret and I moved into 21 Gosse Street.

We continued to be frequent visitors to 29 Giles Street, where we enjoyed many happy and convivial occasions. After Ushma died, he bequeathed the property to his family, and his daughter Milyika continues to live there.

David Scrimgeour

23 April 2016