Number 36

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Cathryn Skipsey

Why Giles Street ? well let’s start with why Alice Springs ?

I came to Alice Springs for 6 months in 1982. Being nurses, a friend and I had read in the Weekend Australian about jobs at Alice Springs Hospital, thought we would enquire and were asked “when could we start”?  I arrived on my own soon after from Canberra, where I was working at the ‘old’ Royal Canberra Hospital. My friend having changed her mind, was to come later.

My first introduction to Alice, other than being asked by an incredulous TAA check in clerk, “you are going to Alice Springs ONE WAY”? was to be asked by the shuttle bus driver if he could drop me at Melanka’s. OK I thought, but what’s a ‘Melankas’? Turns out the hospital was just down the road and he could have dropped me there…

Barry was working as an orderly at the time and he will tell you “we met in the pan room and that my face shone in the stainless steel bed pan.” Not quite correct, however close. After marriage, 3 kids and a stint in Adelaide for nearly 2 years we were back in Alice.

We started looking for our ‘long time’ home. Well I was looking anyway, in Old Eastside generally and Giles St particularly. Having friends in the street like Bob & Leslie Barford for many years at No.37 and Chris & Fiona O’Loughlin at No.32, it was always my wish to live in the street ourselves.

I finally convinced Barry that ‘yes we can afford it’ or at least the bank can and we purchased number 36 Giles St in 1995.

It was to be very much our ‘long time house’. Known in the area by the long termers as the ‘little green house’ on the corner, No.36 had been through quite a few changes and additions over the years. It continues to be our long time house. Giles Street has been a wonderful place to raise our 3 kids with many of their friends living in the same area and quite a few in Giles St.

There were the ‘baby sitting years’. Firstly our kids being ‘sat’ by the Mostran kids, Lauren & Daniel who lived across the road at No.31 and Niri Davis up the road at No.49. They then moved onto being the ‘sitters’ themselves for the youngest Mostran, Kathleen.

Our eldest, Hannah and her ‘bestie’, Biddy O’Loughlin at No.32 had the pleasure of their Grade 1 teacher, Miss Clifford (Jo) living across the road at No.33 and being able to put ‘love notes’ in her letterbox!  All good stuff and good memories.

I have always enjoyed the community feel in Alice Springs, on the Old Eastside and Giles St in particular. Having grown up moving houses at least 10 times and school nearly as many, I always wanted the permanence of home and school being constant for my own children.

That we have had.

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Barry Skipsey

Well it wasn’t that I was not interested in number No 36. At the time, I simply had other things on my mind. As a Photographer, I was in the middle of shooting the Australian Geographic Book of the RED CENTRE. A lengthy but satisfying and rewarding commission.

So I was out bush a lot and working to a looming deadline. Suffice to say that buying, selling and moving house at that time, didn’t feature in my plans for that year.

However, Cathryn was adamant and has a strong spirit. I saw that steely look of determination in my wife’s eyes; a trait I’ve always admired. So I agreed that when next I was back in town, we’d wander along to an open inspection. I thought well righty-o-then, we’ll go through the process with the bank, they’ll knock us back, the wheels will fall off the whole idea and that’d be the end of it. Well blow me down, they didn’t knock us back. Struth! You’d better get with the program Skipsey, I told myself and go with the flow mate, cause it aint going with you.

Despite the whole purchasing process hanging on by a thread in the form of daisy chain of settlement days that covered four properties in three States, it all went surprisingly smoothly. A call to the Agent from a phone box on Kangaroo Island during the family holiday, confirmed we had a settlement date. Had the sale of one of the properties in the chain, fallen over, I would not be writing this little piece of family history.

Some things are just meant to be.

Compared to our previous home over in Gillen, the block and the interior of was huge. After a hectic removal day (a long story) I distinctly recall waking in the night to visit the smallest room in the house. Wandering down the hallway, it felt positively cavernous. The move changed our lives in so many ways as we now had room to grow. Being self-employed and working from home as a Photographer and a Musician, I finally had a decent office-studio with an airy environment with which to meet clients and write the odd classic song; some very odd indeed.

Once we’d settled in, I remember escorting the Gas Bottle man as he dragged the hose around to the cylinder. Looking around the house and the expansive backyard, he surprised me by asking, “Nice place mate, are you a Bank Manager or something ”?  Well the Banks got a fair bit to do with it I thought, but no, I replied.

A few years later we added our own addition in the form of a self contained unit out the back. I needed a Commercial Darkroom at the time, so we added a bedroom for the visiting inlaws and moved the laundry over there too.

With the arrival of the digital age, the Darkroom is no longer needed. It’s another of my storerooms now; or as Cathryn likes to put it, another Man Cave!

We married in 1984, under a big river gum at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station. With the move to Giles street, that personal site of significance was now only a leisurely 15-minute walk away.

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Standing on our front veranda and watching the first rays of morning kiss the top of Spencer Hill, we see the rock wallabies soaking up the golden dawn. What a delight. With the Telegraph Station Reserve on our doorstep, the kids now had a big playground to explore. In Giles street, they grew up in a safe and secure environment with good friends only doors away. But most all, they grew up with space wrapped around them.

Cathy and I left Alice Springs in 1988, bound for a stint in Adelaide. We didn’t know whether we’d ever come back to Alice but it was time for a change. With a one-year-old daughter under our wing and a son on the way, we were still shedding tears when we crossed the boarder having waved our friends and Alice goodbye. We were gone for two years. Cathy worked for a Nursing Agency and I worked for the Adelaide Advertiser as a Press Photographer. That move proved to be beneficial in a number of ways. But for me personally, it cemented my need to have space around me at all times.

I often tell a little story. When it came time for holidays living back in Alice Springs, we’d all jump in the car and drive down south. Effectively to get our injection of simply being down south and partake in all that the city had to offer. The Cinema’s (long before Alice had a Multiplex,  the beach, the Zoo, the ginormous Shopping Centres, Macca’s, you name it. Once we’d had our fill, we’d drive back home to the desert, to Central Australia, penniless.

So when we found ourselves living in Adelaide, in the city, and it came time for holidays, it all just seemed arse about to me. “So what do we do now,” I asked myself ? Do we jump in the car and drive up to Alice to get our injection of the bush?

To my way of thinking it felt quite bizarre. The upshot being that I (we ) as a family needed the bush and the space it provided to survive, not the city. When we needed that injection of the alternative, we could easily get back in the car or jump on the plane or ride the Ghan and get it out of our system.

We simply need the bush to survive. Or, as my lyrics go: “I need these Red Rocks, I need these Blue Skies. I need to taste this Air, breath it deep inside. I need to feel the Sand under my heels. Give me all these things and I will survive”.

It’s a wild generalisation I know, but living in the bush, there’s less chance of falling into the trap of spending money you don’t have, to buy stuff you don’t need, to impress people you don’t like.

So it was, two years later, we sat on the back veranda of our Semaphore home, wine in hand and agreed that it had been fun, but it was probably time we went home? With that we put our Adelaide house on the market, the outlaws come over from the east to look after the kids and we jumped on a bus; giving ourselves a week to find a new home back in Alice. Four years later, now with three kids, we’d grown out of that home (Plew St) and Cathy found Giles Street.

Our brood have now all flown the coop and we hear different voices from a new generation of kids in the street now. Riding their bikes or flying down the footpath with the clicky clack of skateboard wheels, off to school.

I’m enjoying the postings of those who have contributed in the street to this blog, thus far. I must admit, after all these years, I still don’t know half of them. Suffice to say, I believe that all streets, in all isolated country towns, would harbour similar stories and characters. I do hope this has started a trend. Well done Anne.

Yes, I’ve lived in Cities; I spent my formative years in Melbourne having moved to the mainland from King Island as a six-year-old. And yes, in the Cities you’ll come across those that I’ll often refer to as rough diamonds. Those that have a particular quality about them, are passionate and almost seem to sparkle. But bumping into them, in a city of several million, well it’s not going to happen all that often.

Given the population of “The Alice”, it’s been my experience and joy to meet up with more than my fair share of these so called diamonds. And I’d go so far as to say that in Alice, we appear have more diamonds per capita than anywhere else !

Perhaps even more so in Giles Street.

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