Jean Bedford and I have owned ten houses together – one in Melbourne, three in Sydney, several in the Illawarra. We had a kit house built for us on Coochiemudlo Island in Queensland and later bought a house in Byron Bay.
We have rented ten others – in all the above places as well as in Canberra and Gippsland. As anyone will tell you, the occupation and acquisition of houses always have a history. Our most curious venture was to buy a derelict Rugby League Club barn of a place at Coledale in the Illawarra and convert it to a residence. The most disastrous was the purchase with a friend of three hectares with several dwellings at Wombarra, again in the Illawarra. Termites ate one of the cabins. The friend became ill and withdrew and we could no longer afford the mortgage.
Each place had its celebrations and crises. I wrote in every one, at first academic works, then journalism, then fiction and non-fiction. In some houses the brief stay permitted the production of only one book, in others we were there long enough for me to write quite a few.
When I think back over all this chopping and changing – the terraces in Glebe, the stylish Federation number in Marrickville, the pole house, the fibro shack – one house stands out. It wasn’t those few with water views or with swimming pools or with the great gardens Jean constructed, it was the very first house at 85 Cecil Street, North Fitzroy.
This was the hardest and most stressful to buy. With no permanent jobs, we borrowed the deposit and secured a mortgage that fell through after the contract was signed. We were threatened with the loss of the deposit, the house, and liability for any difference in price between what we had offered and the amount paid when the house was subsequently sold.
It was scarifying. I remember standing outside a TAB office wondering if I could summon the courage to rob it and knowing I couldn’t. For weeks we were in occupation and paying rent while desperately trying to raise a loan. Eventually our solicitor applied pressure in the right quarter and another mortgage was obtained.
The house was a red-brick, three-bedroom, two-storey Georgian terrace, one of a pair and only metres from bustling Brunswick Road. It had a large roof deck at the top level, wreathed in a grapevine and affording a view over the area. Altogether a fine place to live but, as well as the trauma of its purchase, the other reason it occupies a special place in my heart and memory is that it’s where I began the first Cliff Hardy novel.
If I could transport any of these dwellings to Newtown, my favourite location, it would be 85 Cecil Street. Even though it’d be a bit too big for just the two of us now, and the stairs would be a bit of a problem with my crook heart and gammy leg.