One day, I’ll tell you about our house. I’ll bore you with its history.
But right now, all you need to know is that the land on which we live was divided in November 1861, ten years after gold was first struck in Ballarat. And, at best guess, the house we live in was built in 1863. It is a grand old double brick house, a homestead, which has housed ten families before us. We are, in the true sense of the word, custodians, not owners. It’s bluestone foundations will be in exactly this spot long after we are dust. This house was built to last.
I’ve always been captivated by the romance of this place. It has a magical, meandering garden out the back, with fairy paths and gables; a botanists wet dream. The front garden is formal, with a row of white roses leading to a magnificent front hedge. I am only slightly biased when I say that it is really, really cool.
We’ve lived here for three years now, and discovered most of its secrets. We think. Or we thought.
A couple of weekends ago, our neighbour had her 70th birthday. Suse, the girls and I went over to her party, and ended up in a conversation with one of her sons. It became quickly apparent that he had spent the majority of his childhood at our place.
“Is the little hidey cupboard still there?”
“And the path to the kitchen?”
“And what about the old dunny?”
“No that’s definitely gone.”
“So what about the cubby hut in the front hedge?”
“I’m sorry, I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
His wife walked over, leaning in. “He dreams about your house all the time. That he’s up in the attic.”
“Is there an attic?” he asked, almost fervently.
He paused. “Are you sure?”
I looked him in the eye. “I’ve been in the roof space, the whole roof space, and there’s nowhere that you could happily call an attic that anyone would ever want to sleep in.”
“Oh,” he said, disappointed. “I must have dreamt that bit up.” It’s as if this was the first time that this had been entertained as a possibility.
“Can I draw you a map?” he asked, snapping back into childhood.
He proceeded to spent the next half an hour drawing me a map of the place, exactly as it had been, thirty years before.
“Is that wall still there?”
“And this one?”
He and I were enthralled. Me, for any further lessons or learnings of this grand old place; him for the chance to relive his past. Meantime, Suse and his wife laughed looking on at these two men, drawing up a treasure map.
“Right, so that’s a bedroom now?”
“Wow, that doesn’t seem right,” he said, his voice drifting away.
“Well, it does to us.”
“No, sorry, I mean, that was where the den was, with the tiny TV. And dad would come and knock on the window, telling us to come back for dinner.”
I paused for a second. “Would you like to see it now?”
You’d think I’d just given him the house.
* * * * *
For the next hour, he traced steps, walking his way around, trying to get his head around the layout. He showed us where the old man of the house used to smoke his pipe and down his wine of an evening, and where he’d sit in the back dunny, door wide open, ‘The Age’ spread out all around him, for hours at a time. He showed us where the hidey cupboard was, and the various skinney hallways into the kitchen.
“And what about the cubby in the hedge?”
“Go for it,” I said, like I had to all things to that point.
We walked out to the front, and he stopped, staring at the hedge. He frowned for a moment, before marching towards it. “Not in this side?”
“No,” I said, a little weary of my lack of answers.
“What about this side? Is there a passage?”
“There’s no passage anywhere,” I said.
“What about in there?”
With that, this 100kg man pushed his way into the side of the hedge. There was no real clearing until he pulled the cypress leaves apart. A couple of twigs snapped, and then the hedge ate this large man up.
“Yeah, it’s still here.”
“It’s even got the boards still there.”
He backed out, wearing an enormous smile. A smaller hole was there, a clearing was now present. I pushed my way in, scratching myself as I did, to discover what he had found.
A wonderland. An enchanted forest. A cubby hut within an immense hedge. The old boards, fifty years old, fallen, over but still there.
“That’s where the boys used to go to smoke,” he said.
I looked around, at this perfectly formed centre to the hedge, measuring five by two by one metre. Ten square, open metres of which we were completely unaware. And I felt the history of the place once more.
And right then, I felt liked he’d given me the house. Or even better – he’d given my kids the house.
The coolest cubby house I’d ever seen.
* * * * *