The first little possum was wandering alone along Blues Point Rd late at night. We were newlyweds and had not yet rescued the Kings Cross cat and needed something to nurture, as mating animals instinctively do. We smuggled it up to the 14th floor of the NO PETS ALLOWED apartment building we were living in, and made it a home away from home in the bathtub. It loved us dearly until it shredded the lounge room curtains.
Then there was the brazen one who marched up to the dining table through the open balcony doors when we were late delivering his evening banana slices. Our dinner party guests were charmed of course, they came from England and admitted they couldn’t train squirrels or badgers to do that.
And what about when we woke in the middle of the night hearing something in our bedroom. Sit bolt upright, both of us. Thankfully. Possum runs across the pillows behind us and clambers up the bed light. I run for the camera, Warren for the clean sheets which sums up our essential differences. The poor thing is frozen in fear and won’t budge. While I am capturing the moment from every angle, my practical partner has built a barricade of pillows to shoo our intruder through to an open door. Exit possum stage left. Remnants of lamp to bin.
When Madeline was 9 months old we moved to Victoria. Warren was to be sent there temporarily, ha ha, so we reasoned that his daily allowance could be eeked out to cover our small family if we stayed somewhere cheaper than the one star Collingwood Motel. So we took a small room in a dodgy “guest house” at St Kilda. I was now 20 and should have know better than to rush to the side of an apoplectic fellow guest in the communal lounge. No, he didn’t say “please call an ambulance”. He panted out “I’ll give you ten dollars for a good naughty!” I locked myself in our room in mortification. Unamused when spouse said later that I should have asked for 20!
Next day we found a nice flat near a synagogue at South Caulfield and started the habit of keeping a carafe of port by the bed. This is probably the wickedest thing we have ever done.
A year later, in 1969, Warren was offered a better paid job near Yarram in nippy Gippsland. It was boom time then in the offshore oil industry and there was not much affordable accommodation around. We had to settle for a ramshackle farmhouse with no hot water to the outside bathroom. We trudged it in buckets from the kitchen for our weekly bath. We were briefly the custodians of a black Labrador pup that tried to please by bringing fresh lamb placentas to our kitchen door. Our little girl grew big and strong on her limited diet of Weetbix and bananas.
We befriended Marg and Ian, farmers from a few paddocks away. They gave us a baby lamb for Madeline to play with. It grew into a mouton of course, and since there was no properly closable back door in our “heritage homestead” it would make itself comfortable on our donated Night ‘n’ Day convertible sofa when we were out. It had a penchant for eating plastic anything, but the day it met us at the kitchen door with the decorative streamers off our littlie’s new tricycle hanging from it’s jowls we sent it for a short holiday from which it returned in Cryovac bags.
This was also the era of the fondue. Usually the pots were made of copper, and were very displayable on the then fashionable Welsh dresser. Back in the 1960’s everyone got at least one set as a wedding present. Methylated spirits went in the burner. If you accidentally used thinners because someone had decanted it into an old metho bottle, you had to be prepared to repaint the ceiling. Vegetable oil, cheapest you could source, went in the pot. Heat it. Cut up enough chuck steak into bite size cubes to give everybody a handful. It took a long time to chew so you didn’t need as much as you thought you would. Provide plenty of garlic bread too, cheap and filling. Everyone impaled a piece of meat and put it in the bubbling oil until shrivelled like a raisin. Dipped then in one of the three sauces you had made out of one jar of home brand mayonnaise. Mayo with curry powder, mayo with tomato sauce and plain mayo. Share a flagon of sherry between 4 while preparing and a cask of rough red during the meal. Repeat weekly. If you burn your arm with hot oil you won’t feel it till next morning and the scars will still be there when you reach 70. Ask Joan.
Joan’s spouse Alan was a work chum of Warren’s. They were a bit older than us and much more worldly. Joan had lived on a kibbutz and had a Palestinian black and white headscarf that she used as a tablecloth. Totally chic way of serving her pissaladiere. Beyond delicious, with it’s buttery shortcrust base smeared thickly with caramelized onions, crisscrossed with anchovies, black olives in the diamond shaped spaces between them. Baked while sharing a bottle of Lexia.
The Texan guys that Warren worked for could not get their mouths around his name. Warren Malcolm came out as “More than Welcome”. Inspired us to buy a hogshead of red plonk and have a bottling party. Had some suave labels printed too,
MORE THAN WELCOME WINE.
Made from grapes from the sunny side of a hill
BOTTLED UNDER UNHYGENIC CONDITIONS
It tasted ok with cornbread and that great stew that site manager’s wife used to make with green olives and a whole bottle of Catalina dressing.
The Texans bid for a job in Nigeria and we were set to go. Yellow Fever shots, visas, sad farewells. I would have been living in Lagos with partner in whoop whoop for months on end. But it didn’t come off, and a windfall opportunity to buy some damaged pipe and on sell it at a good profit got us the start of a deposit for a house. Thank you, fickle hand of fate!
So after the spartan isolation of rural life we bought a newly completed triple fronted red textured brick veneer house at 8 Conjola Place Gymea. Not a living thing in the yard, but rockeries with pockets of pigface and westringia soon softened its prominent septic tank. We made ginger beer and home brew, stored it under new infant Chris’s cot. One night the stash exploded. Baby became a bit jumpy at loud noises after that. We put less sugar in the next batch.
My parents had a poultry farm and piggery at Kulnura and we would go up most weekends to help out. Marlene and Charles were the managers and could Marlene cook! The kitchen mostly smelled of blistered red capsicums, except for the winter morning when it was scented with slow roasted piglet litter. The sordid detail is that my young brother thought they’d keep nicely warm in the lower oven of the Aga where Marlene’s meringues also came to a slow state of crispness overnight.
We learned other basics of rural life. How to wring the neck of a sick chook with finesse (that is, not separating head from body). How not to cook a pig on the spit actually in the piggery compound (conflicting aromas). How to create something edible from a tray of cracked eggs, lacquered with poo and feathers. But all good things must come to and end, and the farm was resumed for a dam.
Free weekends again. And now three kids. Bought a tidal waterfront block of land at 10 Calyspo Place Gymea Bay. Built a nuts and berries style split-level house. Made $20,000 when Council failed to clean their drains and a steep portion of our land washed away, voila, instant excavation for swimming pool. Pay out the mortgage, use nice windfall to build rumpus area under house but note that the difficult to conceal large structural beam could be handicap when selling in the future. Seven years on, buy another bigger better block with deeper water. Advertise Calypso house privately. Sell to guys who want to homebuild a small aeroplane and need a substantial internal beam to hang it off.
Build our current home at 1a Yellambie Street Yowie Bay. The land looked like a moonscape after it was cleared but 39 years on is a tropical paradise with undisturbed golden orb spiders, sun-baking water monitors, cascades of bougainvillea, exclamation marks of Gymea lilies where lorikeets sway and play and tickle around for nectar, where up-too-early magpies warble, where larangytic white cockatoos steal dog’s brisket bones, and where migratory channel billed cuckoos raucously screech like harpies through the night, tempting us each summer to buy them tickets on Qantas to get straight back to New Guinea. We are bonded to this place. It is where our pre-teenage sons, apparently even then environmentally sensitive, started a recycling program that involved secretion of discarded PLAYBOY Magazines salvaged during Council Cleanups then archived in a rock shelf cave behind our house. One cool winter’s day they lit a comforting fire in this midden amongst the precambian winkle shells, just like much earlier occupants probably had. And so set our Earthly Garden of Eden alight. Our kindly next door neighbours let the culprits take refuge on their roof till parental flames of fury were also extinguished.