Day 1 – moving day
It’s an empty white cube of a house. Jo’s up the ladder scrubbing the top of the kitchen walls, and I’m dusting soot and tiny spiders from around the cast-iron fire.
We’ve been cleaning for two hours solid -- we could make a cup of coffee and take that break we’ve been talking about, but although I brought the coffee, sugar and two mugs from the old house, I forgot to bring the kettle. And the gas bottles seem to have run out. Ten minutes later, our landlady pops her head around the door: she’s brought her kettle, a jug of milk, a mug for herself with a teabag already in it. She dials the local bottle gas supplier and hands me the phone ‘Suck up to the gas lady,’ she says, ‘and you might have gas in time for tea.’
We sit on the steps in the empty house in the sun and chat. It used to be a farmhouse. Kathy made those stained glass windows that Jo has been buffing to a shine, emerging from cobwebs and dust to let in fractured colourful sunlight. The walls were turquoise and every other colour. We knew that; we’d found scraps of turquoise, grass-green and bright blue where the creamy paint has chipped in places.
Four hours later, or is it five? – the movers have been and gone, rolling box after box into the house, straight down a ramp through the French doors. The house has gone from an empty container to a fortress of boxes. The teenagers from the big house are curious, so they express it in the way of fifteen-year old boys, by driving round and round on their motor cross bikes, staring (there are four teenage boys at the farm this weekend, thankfully only one of them lives here and the rest are cousins from Queensland). Much showing off of the hundred-dollar paddock bomb, a broke-down Toyota that roars and smokes past the house full of curious teenage pimply faces, zig-zags erratically away across the fields and stops under a far-off tree, no doubt for a quiet smoke out of the sight of Mom.
There’s packing paper everywhere. The dog is restless, but the sofas are in place so it’s starting to look like a home. There are beds in the front rooms – you can barely see one of them over the stack of boxes, but it’s there, so tired backs and sore arms will have a place to sleep. The fridge is humming and burping gently to itself in the corner, and the gas man shows up in his ute with a bulldog, greeted with much interest by Toby (met with aloof interest by the bulldog, ‘I’m sitting in the front seat of the ute, I’m a cool cruising bulldog.’) Gas bottle in place, I’ve had a lesson in how to light the (curses, curses) water heater, and I’m off. Back to the city to pick up the boys, James and Paul, who have been supervising the outward part of the move and starting to clean the old house.
It’s 9PM before we’ve got bowls of pasta and we’re all headed straight to bed. End of moving day, and we’re cooking with gas.
Day 2 in the new house
I’m glad I said last night, ‘Everyone’s sleeping for as long as they want tomorrow’ because today it’s painfully evident that’s exactly what we need. Maybe two days of sleeping. Searing pain in the shoulders, aching back, sore arms – all that leaping up and down ladders and racing to scrub down every wall before the movers arrived with the tall bookshelves has left its mark. But we have coffee and hot tea, toast-but-no-butter or a scrap of shared-out muesli. We bless the cranky water heater that was so cursed yesterday, as the shower revives us somewhat and someone unpacked clean towels. Hot tea and clean towels: that’s civilisation.
Paper continues to fly. It’s a public holiday and the only place we could buy food was the gas station. Have you ever tried to feed two hungry vegetarians and a growling carnivore on gas station provisions? I have, and the answer is risotto with dried mushrooms and wine (thank God I brought lots of beer and some wine), wrinkly apples and some dried fruit baked long and slow in the oven Lots of biscuits, and tea.
Sometime this afternoon, the teenagers were given a stern talking-to by dads, possibly moms too, so they take themselves off to run motocross races up and down the airstrip half a kilometre away in the dark. Everyone’s happy but as the wind howls around the house and the motocross roaring goes on into the night, I just can’t get warm at all, the fire smokes and everyone’s a little cross. James goes to bed with a headache. I go to bed later and lie looking into the pitch-black country darkness, thankfully now silent, and think, ‘Oh my goodness, what have we done?’
Day 3 in the new house
Today we met Bob. He was born in the house 85 years ago, he says, jerking a thumb towards the front room. ‘There were no hospitals back then.’ He and Gladys lived here until seven years ago, when they sold the farm to Kathy and Denis. He’s little and wiry and really nice: now I know why the house feels so pleasant. Nice people have lived here for a long, long time. Maybe ever since go.
We’re unloading boxes at a rate of knots and finding favourite pictures. Denis is down the back of the cast-iron stove – all we can see are his knees and feet sticking up and wiggling a bit. We don’t know how he got there and somehow he gets out on his own, too. (We did offer to pull.) He’s been cleaning and checking the motor on the blower under the stove – apparently it’s got an in-built fan to force the hot air around the house. We’re going to need it. About seventy-two people have told me, some of them several times, it gets cold around here in winter.
I woke up in the morning to glimmering sunshine on the mist, bird song and laughing kookaburras, and the worries of last night were gone. About 8AM and a little figure in white shorts and t-shirt happens to go ‘jogging’ past the back door. She heads into the old barn, hangs out for a minute (I think I see little eyes peering at me through the slats of the barn, as I’m making coffee in the kitchen), then she casually ‘jogs’ back the other way. This is Millie. She’s six and mad about dogs. I go out with Toby and it’s all good, apart from some initial nerves on the part of the young lady. Toby chases balls and runs into the dam for a swim, in fact, performs just as a wonderful treat new dog ought to, and prances around telling Millie she is great. Both of them are covered in mud but very happy as we head back to the big house, discussing things as we go. How old is he? Does he have brothers and sisters? Can he fetch other things apart from balls? If I threw the ball into the dam would be swim to get it? Um, I forgot his name. What’s his name? Can he do tricks? Basking in the glow of being the first of all the cousins to meet the new dog, she goes in to tell the others and Toby streaks straight in to the kitchen, only to get evicted out the patio doors. Oops, maybe that wasn’t politic. We’ll run back to the cottage, shall we?
Millie is around later, and I think we’ll see a lot of her. She’s sitting on our sofa, swinging her feet and asking more questions. When Denis, her Dad, comes round to do the fire, he says he might have to get her a dog of her own just to keep her out of our hair. Could be right, there. When I ask her what sort of dog she wants, she umms for a moment, and then says ‘One like this one.’ Toby’s got a new admirer.
Day 4 in the new house
I’m up early, the clocks went back but it still feels like 7:10 so I’m up. Opening the curtains, there’s a grey flash of movement out there in the murky pre-dawn. Kangaroos! Up and down the paddock next door, maybe startled by the movement of the white curtains at the house, maybe just doing their own thing. They’re like sloppy streaks of dark grey in the grey field, but it’s exciting to know they are there.
Toby and I stomp around in the wet grass taking photos as the sun lifts over the hill. There’s mist over the fields again and the clouds roll back. It’s cool but so beautiful. We collect kindling and remember why we don’t leave the laundry hanging out overnight. All the leaves in the paddock (I’m learning to call it all paddock, not lawn) are thickly covered with dew. Coffee goes down easily and it’s the beginning of day four.