As a young palynology research assistant newly arrived in Canberra I can’t afford to buy even a basic apartment. Then I discover a village by the sea. In the local paper I spot a three-line advertisement for a modest (and cheap) cottage at Broulee, on the Far South Coast of New South Wales, Australia. It’s offered fully-furnished – ‛walk-in, walk-out’. My sympathetic bank manager happens to own a holiday shack in Broulee and he agrees to advance me a tiny loan (rarely in 1970s Australia can a single woman get a mortgage). I buy the cottage. My plan is to rent in Canberra and take a succession of gorgeous admirers away for weekends. This doesn’t happen. I meet my future husband and with our eventual family of three children, we make Broulee our second home.
sunny windowsill a house spider weaves faster
Two of our three children reach teenage-hood. Canberra weaves deeply into their lives. The eldest boy plays saxophone in the city band, our daughter clarinet. The youngest boy, three years behind his sister, still loves the coast. All three play team sports at weekends: tennis, athletics, netball, cricket. Their cry is “But our friends are here, Mum.” Torn, we sell. And I immediately miss my 1960s fibro* cottage with its mildewy hall, wonky bedstead and old green-enamelled ‛Early Kooka’ oven.
coastal heathland small sharp leaves unheard on tin roofs
We resolve to explore our wide brown land. This works for a while. My mother, in her 80s, always joins us because going on holidays without her is unthinkable. To fit the six of us we buy a Nissan Urvan, a precursor to a people mover which handles like the delivery van it really is. For the next ten years we trundle up and down the East Coast when we can take time off together and find an affordable place for six to rent.
lakeside seagulls the closest beach a mountain away
The older children move interstate. My mother dies in her ninety-seventh year. Our youngest son finally leaves home. One day, going on-line in my lunch-break, I see a just-listed ad for a fibro shack at Broulee. We speed down the winding highway over the Great Divide to the sea. That evening I make an offer. Months later at a beach barbecue I tell my tale of two cottages, adding how unoriginal I am, buying another shack 30 years on, only two streets away from the first. Annie, a laid-back dress designer, takes a lazy pull at her joint: “Nothing of the sort. You’ve come full circle.”
welcome guest the sunshade fills with wind
There’s so much I love here. I love the half-finished laugh of the kookaburra when his mate isn’t around to add the grace notes. I finish it for him. Hoo hoo ha ha ha ... he’s not fooled. A male satin bowerbird, all midnight blue glossiness, builds his dance floor in a thicket, over-arched with tussock grass. He artfully arranges his stash of blue knickknacks – bottle caps, drinking straws, plastic ties, scraps of wool, my blue clothes pegs! I love the softness of the air when we sip a gin and tonic on the deck at sundown. My grandsons love it all, from pippi digging at low tide to catching garfish in the estuary. Full circle.
early autumn – slowly a rubber boat...breathes out
Note: fibro is building sheeting made of concrete reinforced with asbestos fibres, widely used in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s for its cheapness and durability. These days, because of the risk of asbestosis from free fibres no asbestos is used.