You wouldn’t know if it’s springtime or what season the outside world was grappling with when you’re walking the upper level of WestRoads in the mornings. Inside the mall, each season has the same prescribed climate; temperature is maintained at a constant mid-seventies, there is no breeze, and the lighting is never darkened by clouds or the threat of rain. Because spring has dismissed winter, I’m walking throughout the neighbourhood in the mornings instead of WestRoads. The three laps of the upper level and the two laps of the lower level of the mall have become a meandering one hour stroll through the streets where I live.
Some mornings I have to wait for the spring harsh rains to become a soft gentle shower; when occasional droplets are falling on the sunshine that is breaking through the clouds. It’s that perfect time of the year. Mornings are being warmed by the gentle spring heat; the tight buds on the forsythia and dogwood branches are straining to open and the trees are sprinkled with leaves and blossoms. I vary my walking track each morning. Sometimes I tackle the uphill uneven footpaths first off and other mornings head in the opposite direction to keep the hills for midway through my amble. The other morning I set off before the rubbish trucks had wandered through the neighbourhood so the bins, plastic bags of rubbish, green recycling tubs, cardboard boxes stuffed with paper and plastics, yard waste bags bursting with grass clippings and leaves, and bundles of branches tied with string were all in disorganised chaos on the footpaths. It was easier to leave the footpaths and walk the roadways; I fell into a pattern of long and short strides and my thoughts went back to when rubbish bins lined the nature strips of my childhood.
Like most people back then we only had one galvanised rubbish bin. Once a week on rubbish day the bin was put out on the nature strip to be emptied by the rubbish man or, as we all knew him, the garbo. One bin was more than enough because most people burnt their rubbish. Our incinerator was an old 44-gallon oil drum in the back of the yard. I don’t know where it came from or how it got into the backyard. There was a cut out rectangular hole, about ten by six inches, at the bottom of the tin so the ashes from the burnt rubbish could be culled and thrown onto mum’s garden.
When I think back I wonder if it was the ever-present incinerator in the back yard and the ashes being scooped out from the fire and smoke that caused me as a youngster to close my eyes whenever we drove past the Springvale Crematorium on the way to Aunt Peg’s. Mum’s sister and our cousins lived in the country town of Dandenong; a 20-mile drive from Melbourne in the Austin A40 down the Princess Highway. The crematorium was a silhouette across the fields. I silently ached for the A40 to accelerate and leave behind the incinerators that burnt bodies.
Before meat, fruit and vegetables, groceries, and bread and biscuits were wrapped in plastic you’d just tell the shopkeeper how much you wanted. Items were weighed on a shop counter scale and then wrapped in paper, or put into a paper bag, to be carried home in a string bag or a shopping jeep. And the paper and food scraps became food for the incinerator. Our rubbish bin was filled with glass bottles, tin cans, and anything that wouldn’t burn in the incinerator. I remember the small horse-drawn rubbish cart; green with large wheels on each side. The cart’s shape was a large drum cut in half; curved metal, sliding coverings on each side formed the top of the cart. The horse stopped, slowed down, and started without a command. The rubbish tins were the equine traffic signal.
The garbo lifted the metal tins onto the side of the cart and dumped the rubbish into the cart, and when the cart was filled he would slide the coverings closed. I remember the rubbish trucks replacing the horse-drawn carts. In summer the garbos would run up and down the street, dressed in footy shorts and a singlet, banging the rubbish bins on the sides of the truck as they emptied the rubbish into the truck. At Christmas, mum and dad would always leave a few bottles of beer out on the footpath for the garbos.
Aksarben, where I now live, is a quaint suburb of Omaha. Bordered by Elmwood and Memorial Parks, it embraces an array of homes, from brick Tudors to Craftsman-style bungalows, and the streets are lined with mature trees. It’s a suburb where you would expect houses to have front fences and a name. I amble a different way through the neighbourhood each morning searching for a front fence; a French Gothic picket, a row of dense evergreen hedge plants, or a low stone front yard wall. But my front fence searching is in vain.
No one is gonna call a house a real Australian house unless it has a front fence, front yard, and a name. The front fence and front yard are part of Australian history. I think the front fence has remained part of The Land Down Under suburban house because an Aussie wants privacy from the street and a place where their little ones can safely play. There are some, though, that maintain a fence in front of a house adds nothing to the appearance of the house or street. Many different styles of front fence lined the street where I grew from a young boy through early childhood and then, to a fledgling adolescent. A relative of ours had a large concrete scalloped fence. Our house had a high wooden picket front fence; in time it transformed into a low square picket fence and then into a scalloped picket fence.
During the fifties and sixties, many picket front yard fences were restyled into unique statements by Greek and Italian immigrants. Melbourne still has a few traditional front yard fence styles; wooden picket, low stone or masonry pillars interlinked with thick chains or rods, woven wire, squat brick veneer with a touch of decorative wrought iron, or tea tree.
It is said that every house built in Australia before about 1930 was christened and given a name by its architect, builder or first owner. After the Second World War, the Australian government committed to a vigorous and sustained immigration program and house naming was once again in vogue. British, Italians and Greeks were the first to arrive in large numbers to The Lucky Country, and when they secured their first home they named them after the counties, Italian towns, Greek regions, and English parishes they came from or where their families lived. If a house didn’t have a name then its name became who lived in the house; the Tillerson’s, the Bate’s, and the Ashford’s houses made up part of our street.
Our house was named Montrose; a lovely little dark coloured plaque with curly and fluid gold lettering was attached to the weatherboards by the front door. Montrose is a small Scottish coastal town nestled between Dundee and Aberdeen. The McAdam name stems from the Scottish Gaelic McAdam clan, which originated as a branch of Clan Gregor. Clan Gregor is a Highland Scottish clan famous for the legendary Rob Roy MacGregor. Back in the late forties and early fifties I don’t think Mum and Dad would have so admired Rob Roy that they would name our house after a small Scottish coastal town 100 miles from his birthplace. Maybe the house was already called Montrose and, because I’m a descendant of Australian Royalty, a third great-grandson of the transported convict Thomas Raines, the house chose us.
The immigrant Lebanese family, the second owners of the Milk Bar on the corner of Douglas Parade and North Road, only knew mum as Mrs Montrose. The shop was only a block away so whenever we ran out of milk or needed some bread, mum would duck over to the corner shop instead of going to Mrs Worms on Melbourne Road. She would be welcomed as Mrs Montrose; whenever mum was in the middle of something and I went over to get the milk whoever of the Lebanese family was serving at the time would ask, and how is Mrs Montrose.
As I saunter through the neighbourhood I also look for house names. So few houses have a name. They only have numbers. But there are a few houses with the same name; Huskers and Big Red. And that makes me stop and think; a house shouldn’t have the same name as another house in the neighbourhood. A house should be named for a geographical feature, a type of tree or plant or flower, an animal of the area, the seasons, an event or period of local history, a memory or desire of the person who lives in the house.
Our house also doesn’t have a name, just a street number, so I think I need to give it a name. If the house had a name it might help the postman deliver letters and it would ensure the butcher, baker and milkman made their deliveries to the correct address; a trend already redefining the retail grocery trade is the convergence of online shopping and home delivery. Coming up with a name for a house should be an enjoyable and pleasing experience so I need to think about a name in the backyard over a few cold ones; I’m thinking The Beer Drinkers Arms, The Malt Shovel, or The Stagger Inn.
I should probably also start leaving a few bottles of beer out on the footpath for the garbos at Christmas time.