It’s been just the kids and I and my little-sister-in-law floating around this gigantic house. We’ve cleaned out the kitchen and I’ve been getting a handle on the old fuel stove. I love these things. They warm the house, heat the water, boil a kettle and can bake and fry all at the once.
I flipped out yesterday when I realised we’d been here for three months already. I was so naive to think we’d possibly be done by then. Very obviously I’ve never built anything much before.
Today I found I’d missed a month and it has only been two months and really, to give myself more wiggle room, you can’t really count three or four of those weeks as we’ve been to Canberra and back over a couple of those weeks – to get money and stuff.
So I feel slightly better about it all, but still: It’s July in four days! We were never meant to be here in July, we are supposed to be sunning ourselves on Byron Bay’s beaches.
Well, I don’t mind to be honest. To me life has changed already. I am where I am supposed to be right now, I’ve put some new lenses on and that is the main thing. I’ve got on some glasses that say I don’t have to be held back by circumstance or lack of funds or lifestyle choices (i.e. choosing to drop an income to stay home with the babies). We were heading into a serious rut of hubby working 12 hour days, stress levels hitting the stratosphere daily and always reaching for what was not there. Instead of enjoying the right here right now we reached, desperately, toward the next weekend or holiday. We were crushed by the fact that we could not afford to buy a house, at least none less than 60 minutes drive from work-central.
So we canvassed our options and it began with a push back into school.
This was not always going to be the next step in a linear career. It was a breather. A time to realign our orbit. Cutting the chain from the foot to ‘the man’ drew a bit of blood and sweat, but it was done and space from a high-pressure job with no time to think was filled by books and brain work.
We found we could live on a measly income and that was a real freedom.
With the next brainwave then of living on a bus and traveling Australia all my latent travel bugs had a party. Knowing we were leaving I began slowly de-cluttering our rental and when we moved we were able to fit most of our wordly possessions into two over-sized utes.
The mental release came then as we turned our backs on strugglesville (it was that for us) and toward a creative life, one where we create our life. And for us it starts with building our own home on wheels. We choose our way within our limits, but at least we have choice. Our own hands do the banging and sawing and gluing and sanding. Every time I take note of what I am doing I think that this is something I will be immensely proud of in the future. I think sometimes that it would probably be simpler or easier to earn the money to buy a ready-made mobile home or even a house and land package but it would not nearly be as fun and it would not nearly be as personally satisfying as putting our own hands to the task. This bus is both a creative endeavour and also a very practical and useful asset, my favourite kind of ‘art’ project. So I am actually immensely grateful for having a very clever husband who is very skillful in many, many areas who I can do things like this with.
When it all comes down to it I would rather be doing this with him than have him working for 12 hours a day in a very separate environment and having to reconnect our relationship after a day of disconnect. Every day.
Today the kids and I watched Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out. I think when we began this project I expected to whip our bus together the way W&G whipped their rocket together. In a day. Yes, I got my building cues from a British animation. At least it was a good one. I have found that at least we are resembling one aspect of that show. I am definitely like Wallace. I go at it with loads of enthusiasm and very little ability. I get into messes and Henry, like the intellectual Gromit, rescues me from my mistakes and is the one who actually makes it work. Together we are a good team! Or at least I think so.
Our rocket to the moon may not go up in a day or be so spectacular or defy physics so much, but one day it will really be real. Hopefully very soon.
We’re still here. Hoeing the garden. Feeding the ducks. Chasing cats. Spotlighting possums.
Somehow the ducks live on. Probably because they are inseparable.
This lifestyle is nice. I was tramping the wheelbarrow past the duck pen through the wet grass and wholeness filled me. If you’ve never tried this kind of lifestyle, don’t knock it. It really is fulfilling. Being involved in nature – that place that is essential to survival, that place from which all our nourishment comes from, air, food, water – is extremely grounding.
Hard work of the physical kind eliminates boredom, makes us use our bodies for what they were made for – just to be used! To do things! – reduces depression, stops us thinking about our problems and withdrawing into ourselves. I can’t see anything but good to be gotten out of hard work and caring for the things the people the land the animals all around us.
Anyway, it is fulfilling and I am finding it a refreshingly honest way to live. I could see myself tramping around a paddock to feed the ducks, muck out the pigs, grow some crops. It’s fun getting dirty. I’d like to turn some of this lovely soil into food before we hop on our bus and tootle off.
While I was in Canberra, stuck for two weeks with only a weekends worth of clothes to work with, I went out to a friends for breakfast and decided to make myself a necklace.
The previous day, when strolling around the idyllic Canberran suburb of Curtin, I spotted these gloriously rubied leaves and picked them thinking to whip them into some kind of necklace. I thought they would in fact probably turn out to be picked and left with all good intentions not realised. But, no. The morning of said breakfast date I whipped a long thread through the tip of each leaf, strung them all together and tied them around my neck. I was that slap-stick. And you can probably tell!
The intention here is not to show you how clever I am. Because, really, anyone could make something far superior to this. The idea is to show, almost in protest, that a decorative object does not have to be made somewhere overseas, bought in a shop, worn as a trend and then only to be discarded when the trend or the mood passes. When I picked these leaves I was celebrating Autumn, when I wore them I wore them as a celebration of Autumn. The leaves were put back onto the earth where they decayed and formed part of the soil to go back into the cycle of life.
When things are bought from a shop they usually follow a linear pattern along the lines of: mined, made, shipped, purchased, used, discarded. If things are to follow a cyclical route, which is the route which has allowed our earth to survive as long as it has, things must return from where they came, or for these various metals which we value so much must return into circulation rather than into a dump.
These circular patterns, though, are so large that no one can see the whole picture and so, in my mind, it is better to involve oneself in the lifecycles closer to home. Shop locally, work locally, play locally, grow your own food, put your food scraps into the compost heap to degrade back into soil to grow more food (and so they don’t turn into methane in the anaerobic conditions of the rubbish tip), and even…make your own jewellery!
And make things out of things that will not just end up as yet another piece of junk.
Organic jewellery. Next up: edible jewellery!
Canberra owns many fine walks.
One of my very favourites is along a road that I used to pedal along as a child.
When my family first moved to Canberra it was during ‘the recession we had to have’ in the early 1990s. So we lived cheap. For the first few years we managed to exist without a car! Just imagine. So we rode everywhere and I am glad we did because those days of riding have become cemented in my memory and those memories are not bad indeed.
We rode, once a week, from Curtin to Yarralumla, where we didn’t cross a road at all, except the one leading to the Governor-Generals house, which is not really a road at all, more like a very long, hot-mixed driveway.
This ‘driveway’, Dunrossil Drive to be exact, has become slightly iconic in Canberra, immortalised in many wedding photographs over the years as about half of them have been taken along the oak and pine forests on either side of the road and very often in the very centre of the road where one gets the classic framing of receding road behind with overhanging Elms on either side. Yes, it’s a lovely picture.
Staying at my Nonnas last week I organised a walk with a couple of friends, new to Canberra and needing to be shown all the iconic spots. This was a good opportunity.
We headed to the Brickworks first, which we found was in fact closed to ‘the public’, and I was glad I had not known that the previous day when I took myself down a dirt track along its side! Ignorance is a friend sometimes.
We stopped many times for children to climb trees and just do what children do.
There are a few patches of land either side of Dunrossil Drive and I was very worried at first, but I thought that surely they wouldn’t strip this beautiful drive of its beauty!? Surely not! And I was right. They are simply replanting.
After coming off Dunrossil Drive you pretty much come to a little wooden bridge straight away. This bridge has essentially remained the same, aesthetically, over all the years I’ve been over it, with a few wooden planks replaced as needed.
It was much safer to peer through the cracks then hang over the edge!
That, friends, is another Canberran icon, Telstra Tower, which looks over all of Canberra like a sentinel. Past the bridge there is a sweet little forest which borders the lake and hides the golf course fence. Bikes zoom past. Serious bike riders. So it was a bit of a hazard with little children buzzing around like little bees.
Coming out of this little forest you come to the grounds of the English Gardens where Sequoias and other very large trees tower, trees that may or may not be cut down very soon in the interests of public safety. For now it is a gorgeous area where there are Mulberry trees, Persimmon trees, Fig trees and Olive trees. There should be more public places where fruiting trees are grown. I really don’t know why fruit trees aren’t planted as a matter of course. We finished this walk so much later than we thought, though it was glorious. The moon sprung up and darkness descended, though walking through the well lit suburbs of scenic Yarralumla was no burden. The houses here are just as delightful as the forest along the lake. In the end my brother picked us up, though I was sure we were only 10minutes from the house!
One of the things I’ve had to come to terms with, growing gradually older, has been my limitedness.
‘Can we have it all?’
That’s something feminists have sometimes talked about. Women can have it all. When someone like me sees someone like the beautiful Clare Bowditch who can go on a tour with 1 year old twins at home, it blows my mind. She admits it herself, that her and hubby co-parent, freeing her to do some much. Many seasoned feminists are beginning to say that women can indeed ‘have it all’ but not all at the once.
That is reassuring news for someone like myself, who does not have a co-parenting relationship going on and who doesn’t put her children into childcare (both for financial reasons and also because I just prefer to look after my own children – I couldn’t bear to be apart from them, and we do get by…just, and even did so while Henry was a full-time student for two years).
The thing is, I do still have ambitions, too many I think sometimes, and there are days, like today, where I feel them all churning around inside of me, itching to get out. That book I am yearning to write! The music I want to create. The languages I want to learn. The things I want to make, and most, most importantly the thoughts I ache to think. The thoughts that are there, so unvarnished and rough that need so much more turning over to become those polished gems that I know they are.
And then, while these things flit, tantalisingly, through my mind Sophia will cry “I need to go to toilet! I need to go to toilet!” or Gunther will come and sook all over me “I’m hungwee! What can I have to eeeat? I want coornflaakes…!?” And my thoughts are reluctantly pulled toward the reality of the present. “No, you can’t have cornflakes. You have to eat something healthy!” “Noooo! I just want cooornflaaakes! Ooohhh sob, sob, sob.” “Okay, give me a minute. I have to take your sister to the loo then we’ll talk about it!”
And so I am called from all these lofty aspirations to care for two little human souls and bodies, wipe their bottoms, blow their noses, brush their hair (occasionally), wash their faces, bathe them, mitigate their fights, feed their tummies, read them stories, teach them to read and write (which is rather rewarding!), hug them, kiss them, tell them I love them and just be there for them. Day in day out and on through the night.
I struggle because I hear of mums who manage to write between naps, once the kids are in bed or who get solid chunks of babysitting relief, but I don’t have that. I have one very high-energy child who literally plays til she drops, and even when she is lying in her bed wriggles and sings and grabs and chats and hops up and down and no amount of ‘training’ has ever stopped any of these behaviours. So by the time she finally does drop off, mid play, I am about ready to fall off my own perch myself!
And I think then that sometimes it is okay to leave the ambitions til another day. I intend to live to 112 and so I have many years ahead. My kids will grow up, they will slowly begin to look after themselves and while those days creep up on us I will slowly add things to my pile of ‘things-to-do-in-the-future’ and ever so much more slowly will begin to take them off. And meanwhile I will do what I can now. I can still play piano and I can teach the kids how to play. I can continue to slowly learn French, and do that with the kids too. I can still build a bus with my husband. And I can still perhaps crochet a rug. I can continue to enjoy story-time with the children and just pray and hope the language consumed will in turn have a good effect on my writing. I can keep blogging!
But I shouldn’t attempt to do everything right here and now because if I focus on my ambitions I will miss out on the beauty of the moment and there are lots of those, every day. I just need to look beyond the trips to the toilet, or even the missed trips to the toilet.
And the grand reality is that, as a parent, you matter ever so much to these one or two or three little individuals and your interest and investment in their lives is paramount to their current and future happiness and self-actualisation, and to me this is too vital to pass up and shrug off.
Though it’s hard sometimes and the desires still itch away.
I wish I had more photos for you. The day before these were taken I took myself along a little dirt road which ran lengthways along the Brickworks building (I found out later this was ‘not allowed’). All along the road I was just awestruck at the size of this industrial infrastructure. Nothing computerised, everything just massive and manual. Chutes coming from and leading to nowhere in particular. I could not comprehend how men would have worked here, the machinery seemed immense to my very inexperienced eyes. And how the building stood up was another matter, everything appeared to be made out of corrugated iron, rather dilapidated and very exposed. There were tunnels many feet above the ground, just hanging there.
Granted the building is 100 years old, built in 1913. It was apparently one of Canberras first buildings and many of the older buildings (which are slowly being demolished, although my Nonna still lives in an original specimen) are made of the stuff. The iconic red bricks this Brickworks produced can be recycled and are sold for $1/brick, and they are rather beautiful to my mind.
The tall chimney, which can be seen from around Canberra proved difficult to get to, the whole site being closed off excepting the workers of Thors Hammer. You can get in to buy wood from these guys. For now they are the caretakers and I am glad such a worthwhile business has their hand in it.
The building stopped functioning as a brickworks in 1976 and has had a few attempts at a new life since then. When I looked at it I saw a potential vibrant community of craftspeople entrenched in history. It is a perfect venue for a craftspersons marketplace, a music venue, gallery, even perhaps a recording studio and artists space. The kind of things that should happen here ought to reflect the building itself and in a way hearken back to the days when most things were done by hand and by people with real skill. Bootmakers, woodturners, painters, glassmakers, weavers, spinners, food producers and makers, musicians. I would love to see something like this installed in this beautiful old building and if, one day, I had the money I would invest it heavily into this place, it is worth restoring for the preservation of Canberras history and ought to belong to all and be freely accessible, and not as it is now, locked behind fences with security signs strung up.
Here’s a photo from wikipedia. I don’t often include these pictures, but the Brickworks is a very sentimental building to me. My childhood was spent very much under its gaze in the surrounding suburb of Yarralumla and its beautiful pine & oak forests. The chimney is worth showing off.
This is the back of the Brickworks, I kept my walk to the other side where there are piles of discarded bricks embedded into the side of the hill and the old quarry where the red clay was mined can be clearly seen.
This is the entrance to the brickworks, I remember going under the front part of this building while it was still neglected and there were no fences to keep anyone out. We saw the smaller kilns and invented spooky stories for the vast, darkened interiors. There used to be market days here, held in the outer area.