When I was twelve, I embraced mess. To get from the door to my bed you had to clear a yellow brick road through the heaps of clothes, art supplies and toys. It was like a fantasy quest where you have to discover the path to the palace. My room wasn’t really a bedroom. It was actually the sun room and had five windows and three doors – with at least one door or window on every wall of the room! Not a lot of privacy when you think about it. Two of the doors were opaque glass doors that opened into the dining room. We kept these closed. The other door opened onto the family room, which had once been an outdoor verandah. Two windows looked out onto the seasons of the Hydrangeas in the side garden, bulging with green growth in spring as they impinged on the path, blooming prolifically with their large blue, purple or white multi-flower heads in summer. In winter they lost all their leaves and were pruned, leaving behind a view into the neighbour’s yard. The three windows on the other wall looked out on the back garden, an expanse of green lawn, a dominating magnolia that spread its limbs wide across the yard, and the hills hoist, clothesline icon of the Australian backyard.
I’ve always loved libraries. This love has led me to try to re-create a library in bedrooms or houses I’ve lived in. Towering over my against the walls of my bedroom were as many bookcases as I could fit in the room. All my treasured classics, early childhood picture books, horse stories, sci-fi and fantasy young adult novels, and every novel I could find about kids in clubs and ‘gangs’. Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, the Five Find-Outers, the Lone Pine club and more. I loved our public library with its dark ‘stacks’ full of old hard cover books, where you had to turn a handle to separate the shelves and reveal access to these treasures. Apart from that inspiration, my parents also kept books. Mum had shelves full of Aristophanes and Thucydides, Goethe and Dante, books on Dali and Mondrian and cook books. They were in the hallway and the study in tall dark shelves. Dad’s books were on psychology, movies and radio in the study, and in their bedroom there was an old case with glass doors that opened when the key turned to reveal his childhood favourites: Biggles, H.G. Wells and school tales.
There were no books in the lounge room at the front of the house, it was dominated by a baby grand piano – rarely played – an ancestor’s beloved instrument. It was under this very piano where one day my cat rushed in, bird in mouth, and started to pluck the poor creature in front of the shocked eyes of my brother and my visiting grandparents. That’s the price you pay for having an over-engineered, wooden cat door that the two cats can’t actually push open – hence it has to stay permanently open.
Our house wasn’t usually witness to any kind of violence. The street was a pretty quiet one. There were elderly neighbours, a few bachelors and some families. From the front window of our lounge, you could look out across glossy green leaves and pink perfect camellia blossoms, and when they had been pruned you could look out over the street – as we lived on the high side – and see far away the tops of the fireworks on Sydney harbour on New Year’s Eve.