Darren ‘Smokie’ Dawson
Newport, Melbourne 1992
My father had suggested on numerous occasions that it might be time for me to enter the property market. Being extremely naive in all matters real estate, I showed no interest in heeding his advice. But my hand was forced when my parents decided to forsake the hustle and bustle of city life for a more peaceful lifestyle on a half-acre block an hour’s drive from Melbourne. I may not have been keen to buy a house, but was even more reluctant to move to the country.
The property I eventually settled on really did not have a lot going for it: a non-descript, architecturally insignificant two-bedroom weatherboard, built in the post-war boom on a long narrow block. The petrol storage facility just behind the back fence was a minor inconvenience, as was the fact that the house stood on a major arterial road. But this house was now mine. And the bank’s too.
My dad’s gift for cold pragmatism was again evident when he counselled me that one should never get attached to bricks and mortar. “You will always have the memories,” he said. My mother was silent at the prospect of “losing” her only son, and I later learnt she had shed a tear or two on that first night I spent away from the family nest. Would she have shed more tears had she known that nor were my eyes completely dry?
As I was the only one among my circle of friends who had taken this large fiscal plunge, the house soon became something of a social club, so much so that the term ‘open-house’ could well have been invented to describe my humble home. When the pub closed, the night carried on at my place. Whether it was parties, last-minute get-togethers, sporting events on television, casual beers, dinners (more often then not of the take-away variety), my place was many things to many people. I was attempting to repay the bank mortgage on what was my own personal share-house. Over time, the tiny second bedroom was inhabited variously by mates, foreign backpackers and even my sister and her husband.
No matter the mood or the situation the one constant was music, courtesy of my battered Technics CD player. It was the golden age of the compact disc – when those shiny silver discs of music were still something of a novelty. I collected them voraciously. Sometimes the music was quietly humming away in the background, but more often than not it was dialled up to “11”. Silence was a foreign concept to that lounge room. Was it any surprise that the neighbours – merely a couple of feet away – never once returned a football errantly kicked over the fence?
Into these scenes of domestic dishevelment walked the woman who would become my wife. Within a whirlwind two years of meeting we were engaged, married, and had started a family. Rapid giant leaps, but now I had someone with whom to share the journey. During that time, we also purchased a house together. For, without us ever openly broaching the subject, it was tacit and clear in our minds that my first house would not be part of our future together.
When my house finally sold, I prepared for a short period of living itinerantly until after our wedding day. But I had decided, prior to vacating my dwelling, that the final hours in the now skeletal-looking abode should be spent listening to two of my favourite albums of the time: REM’s Automatic For The People and The Church’s Starfish. All of my possessions, apart from the old CD player and these two precious discs – had been packed away into storage. I put on The Church, and as the opening chords of Under the Milky Way softly made their way through the speakers, I asked the woman with whom I was planning to spend the rest of my life to dance with me. “I like this,” she whispered. I was unsure whether she meant the music, the slow dancing, or my holding her close. But I did not ask and I did not care either way.
I looked about the denuded living room, and was struck by the realisation that – despite the petrol tankers rumbling by and shaking the foundations, the stained carpet worn down to the underlay, and the sash windows which never did open fully – I had formed an attachment to my little house, against my father’s advice. As the song played on, I recalled an interview with The Church’s frontman Steve Kilbey, in which he had said that the themes of the album Starfish were built around distance, journeying, travel, and destination. It was somehow fitting that at that moment, dancing with my wife-to-be in that near-empty house, with the “Sold” sticker on the board out the front and the overgrown yard where I once kicked a footy with mates, that we were contemplating our next steps – both of us nervous, excited, yet unsure of where we were headed. But I had discovered it was much more enjoyable and satisfying to not be taking these steps alone.
Recently, the house was demolished. A property developer took advantage of the long narrow block and built a pair of non-descript, architecturally insignificant townhouses. Thankfully, my father was so sagely prescient when he suggested that I would retain the memories.