The Sociology of A Place To Call Home Part 10
by Sandshoe (Honshades)
I found a place to live in on my own in Townsville.
Alcohol was the primary issue.
I well empathised by that time with my mother intercepting my father’s account of being drunk on an occasion way back when. My mother looked up from her crochet and scoffed he knew that was not true. My father said it was true. My mother would have no truck with it.
I saw my father affected by alcohol once. His lowered inhibitions revealed he could crack an inappropriate quip not half. I was 16. The occasion was the one work party it was deemed appropriate I attend with my parents and his quip to a half circle of his colleagues…all male…answer to an admiring reference they made to me.
Fortunate my mother did not hear him. I kept it secret from her. His quip
was racist and sexist. I kept secret from him how offensive it was from my viewpoint. He was fragile if he knew I understood it and I perceived his work colleagues were shocked.
Unheard of in any case had I…as I considered…bawled him out in a private location the next day. I have never repeated what he said.
We can choose to change culture.
I drank in my early experience of University although never in my College room, sometimes to excess. My father and I had a drink at a bar at Brisbane airport on one of several occasions he flew to Brisbane to see me.
Residents of Women College were often drunk and disorderly after nights out. My own ultimate indiscretion rests on walking early one morning from College to attend a champagne breakfast at the University.
Champagne flowed. Few people turned up. I had never drunk champers before. The effect was a delicious high until I arrived back at College. I had forgotten Open Day. Residents were expected to host visitors who included parents with high hopes their High School age daughters in transition to University would establish residence in these exclusive premises. My vivid recall is of the trouble to maintain myself upright and walk through a throng of people to escape upstairs into my room. No-one intervened. No-one mentioned it.
My companionship was girls from homes of academic professionals, government ministers, graziers, industry and some small business. The WC song was a collegiate binder. We vocalised satirical concept of our ‘propriety’. Our residence lent ‘us grace at every station’.
Residence for a year and a term was nevertheless fearful containment driven by homesickness. I thought it a coop of claustrophobic imprisonment. In contrast to sun dappling through the trellis of a bungalow verandah, brick stolidity and the daunt of panels of glass on a walkway between the buildings allowed me a corridored view of my housing outside and in especially that I felt anxious electric lights illuminated our traipse across the walkway.
My better adjusted college friends who went to boarding school assured me living in the WC was a cinch. Kindness was mark of my experience of day-to-day chat between residents who were my friends. I loved their friendship. When I heard a discrete rumour someone was bullied by
someone somewhere in the College who I did not know the concept was remote as if they lived in a distant country. I stood against one attempt. I outright rejected the fresher system of extreme pranks.
I never sought the counsel of the Principal of the College. Likely I carried with me from High School a habit of aloof co-existence.
On habit, complicated that evening meals were formal during the week and we wore our university gowns. The Principal’s gown hem dipped at the back where it was torn and she walked with visiting dignitaries down a centre aisle after we had taken our places. The back of her gown had small rents. Its tattered condition I was incredulous was said to be evidence of her status. Someone catching a shoe heel in the dangling loop the hem made and her falling one evening was nothing compared with anxiety she would.
Rostered students at the Principal’s table withdrew with the Principal and visitors to an elegantly furnished room for after-dinner drinks. Alcohol in
the College was otherwise forbidden. I dreaded a rostered dinner. If the Principal tripped on her gown. I feared I would deal with it without any grace. I felt foolish sat on a stage elevated above a hall of diners.
If we missed a meal, we were on our own. I had an income and fashionable clothes. On weekends I explored restaurants in Brisbane city. Regular remuneration meant I had means even sufficient to send home a swag concerned my parents were paying my residential bill. My father wrote his thanks it came in handy to pay an insurance bill. I do not know if it was as much money as I thought or his insurance bill was a doozy.
I did not consider playing tennis. I played a high standard at 12 years of age. My mother was a champion tennis player and my siblings. My father who was not accompanied me to competition matches, more often regional games my mother as well. He stood at the back wire fence of
the court where he groaned and mumbled instruction at me if I missed a shot. I felt I was an impostor. If my parents conceded to protest I may have made that they did not ensure I took my racquet to College, it was an error on all of our parts.
A close friend who became a professional educator told me in the 90s she knew what I should have been. She said a tennis professional. I was astonished the thought had never crossed my mind.
My father wanted to rail my bicyle to College. I was refused it. He was mistaken to not send it. I did not want to incur expense. Freight from North Queensland to Brisbane looked like unimaginable luxury.
I joined the University Filipino club because I enjoyed its family atmosphere and sobriety. A History club offered by contrast a drinks evening and I withdrew from the slops.
I saw the musical Hair in Sydney in 1969 standing in the last place allowed and entranced. I sat that afternoon in the middle of Kings Cross I
had visited once as a child with my brother and took a mental snap shot of its now eccentricity that my surround seemed a stage itself draped in flags that were each the flag of the United States. American soldiers on R & R from the Vietnam War and their soft accents dominated a soundscape of Elvis singing Blue Hawaii. I felt suspended in sun and isolation from the mainstream politic. I remain impressed how elegant in uniform and sober the soldiers were as they strolled in and out of one business address to the next.
My boyfriend’s conscription into the Army was averted by student deferment. He was a vociferous opponent of the Vietnam War. I was opposed since the beginning of 1968 when a returning soldier invited me to a secret location to view photos he had smuggled out of unimaginable atrocity. I kept secret his identity.
My great enjoyment was the University choir and Church In the Round I attended with my boyfriend on occasion although I was not a believer. I can find no contemporary reference to the meeting. The congregation sat around the pulpit. The minister was a skilled facilitator. The meeting was participatory. I made one naive address people are born good.
Another resident was leaving College to rent with friends. I was offered a place. Our share house looked over the Brisbane River. The address was
a romantic aspect and its facade. Inside was a sprawled dump of poverty burdened inmates.
Male associates of my flat mates who were close friends met me at the door when I came home one night in the company of my boyfriend, grabbing at and mocking his wearing a collegiate tie, intimidating and drunk. My flatmates apologised. I did not fit in. They exploited visits to a parental home from where they thieved resources and food. The student might well have been owed as was the answer to my conservative reference opposed to it as theft. I experienced depression relieved by exercising initiative to find other housing.
I shared a University admin professional’s rent in a soulless 2-bedroom flat in a multiplex over a set of shops, but did not like in my cosseted naivety her obsessive talk about a married lecturer who she avowed she was in love with, he with her. I justified to myself I was the fault I had not pandered to her tortured heart when she left abruptly. In retrospect I thought it irony she complained when I applied to move in that her flat mates never stayed.
My neighbours were a couple with one talented child who was High School age. His parents gave me permission to take him to live theatre to
see ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ by Tom Stoppard. I made him cocoa in my flat after the play. His parents were happy he enjoyed the play, but decided on potential led astray by a University student. He was a 15 year old. I did not resent instruction I was to minimise contact with their son. I instead acquired sad embarrassment as add-on to struggle to find a flat mate.
I chose to move into a soulless unfurnished apartment in a modern tenement building with a final year traumatised by her first experience of a Practical as a Social Worker. She believed she would leave Social Work. I yearned to study independent of the restriction imposed on me by the Education Department. The atmosphere was one of unreality, struggle and student penury. A male friend of ours on our way out for an evening balanced a whiskey on a ledge over a living room doorway. He announced it would be there for him when we returned. I felt intimidated and relief my flate mate had to find housing at distance to access employment she was assigned to.
Accommodation on my own in the furnished downstairs flat of a quaint two story home, a kind landlady living above, provided me haven.
Frocked up in a ballgown, I met the second boyfriend of my life other than early childhood and innocent loves, he tall and handsome dressed in an Airmen’s Club formal dress uniform. The occasion was a society
event. We introduced ourselves as a waiter offered a drink tray. ‘Never when I’m flying’, he said charming. He flew a plane. We danced a waltz.
My boyfriend had excused himself from me concerned to rescue wallflowers. He was however beginning to look neither handsome or gallant soaked in alcohol at the end of social evenings.
The next time my new friend and I coincided was in the University library, I dressed in a blue sweatshirt with the identifier University of Queensland, white jeans and desert boots, my hair in two plaits. Classic.
He asked would I coffee with him in the refectory basement. A song starting up on the juke box sounded in the stair well as we walked down the stairs together. I heard for the first time George Harrison’s ‘While My
Guitar Gently Weeps’. I engaged with the exquisite sound and song, swept into the words. I look at you all/See the love there that’s sleeping/While my guitar gently weeps.
I ended my relationship with my then former boyfriend. His grieving I had not factored in. Guilt tortured me. I feared he would fail his year that he was repeating.
The two men attended the same High School.
My new boyfriend called hinself the product of a working class family. He told me in an unguarded moment he had seen me with his former schoolfriend the night we met and decided to steal me off him as one-upmanship. He baldly told me he had resented at school his schoolfriend’s background. He had thought his schoolfriend returned higher grades because of his privilege.
The two men have been successful. The son of a worker has achieved even perhaps his then ambition to be a man of greater privilege.
Meanwhile, either way I felt indescribably uncomfortable being told frequently of his tortured feelings for a former girlfriend. I was single
In Townsville then the summer holidays ending and my aboritve attempt to find employment behind me, committed to lying to my parents I was happy to go to TTC, I had lived in five different addresses in the two previous years of 1968 and 1969.
I was looking for my sixth home away from home. I discovered the hard way the special disadvantage of the Townsville TTC. The College was in an isolated location. Getting there without private transport was not easy. There was some limitation on bus service to it or was it no bus service that went direct.
I viewed part-furnished rental accommodation with a real estate agent. I felt shocked and confused it was shown to me, a window opening vacant, window frames leaning against an internal wall, broken furniture. It seemed worth being condemned for demolition.
The premises I rented was a securely lockable half-house.
My travel time was near an hour and a half each way.
to be continued…
Christina Binning Wilson