My aunt owned, at one time, the most wonderful old house. My father was not nearly so enamoured of it as it was a rather geriatric old house & he spent one frantic holiday replacing the cedar beams that had been eaten out by white ants before the whole roof fell in on the inhabitants. I come from an opinionated family & he gave his opinion of that house frequently & vehemently but as I was neither responsible for it's upkeep nor its mortgage I was free to love it unreservedly & love it I did.
It was already a hundred years old when my aunt purchased it ~ no indoor loo, no indoor bathroom, no laundry. Three great cement tubs lined the back verandah & a comode hid behind a curtain for those indisposed to make the long trek down the back paddock to fight the mosquito's for squatters rights on the outside dunny. Even I considered that something of a drawback. In a muggy Queensland summer the ripe smell of the dunny & enough mosquitoes to carry you away made any trip to the loo something of a brave undertaking & to be avoided if at all possible. The shower was a cement slab under the water tank ~ a space inevitably shared with large green tree frogs & where the frogs are the carpet snakes invariably follow. Showering was not for the faint~hearted!
One of my most treasured possessions is the manuscript my aunt wrote about the history of that house, well house & garden because my aunt was a gardener. As she herself confessed she didn't much like going anywhere unless it was *down the back paddock to gather potting mix*.
Like at least one prior house Trafalgar Vale was bought, not for the house, but for the rich red soil on which it stood! Obsessive is the term I think. It was years, & then reluctantly, before the house was modernised but from the day my aunt signed the papers she was turning that rich red soil to create the loveliest garden. There is however, one rather large drawback to that rich red loam; everything you own, sooner rather than later, turns red, especially floor coverings.
I have very clear memories of that house, clearer memories than of the one I actually grew up in. Funny that because my aunt was the most appalling housekeeper & cook; my mother is brilliant at both but the house itself when I knew it had a great serenity of spirit. French doors with lace curtains opened onto the long verandahs & the verandah rails were swathed in yellow alamanda & purple wisteria. Early in the morning, & it was very early if I wanted to see my cousin before she left for work, the air was rich & heady with all the garden scents. The light lay over house & garden like a Turner landscape & beneath the smell of damp soil & growing things lay the pungent aroma of turps & thinners.
My cousin introduced me to the pleasures of milk coffee drunk from blue & white china while the verandah slowly grew warm with sunlight & in the distance the blue eye of the bay winked seductively. The back verandah was engulfed in a large Jacaranda tree & all summer the ground was littered with macadamia shells because the back steps had a perfect notch to hold the nuts while we cracked the hard shell with a hammer.
My aunt grew roses, the old fashioned roses ~ Cabbage roses, Damask roses, Moss roses ~ the sort that still kept their exquisite scent even under the hot Australian sun. I think she got this particular obsession from my grandfather who was known to grow about seven different varieties on one rambler ~ at least he did until one of the boys ran the whole thing over with the mower.
"Go home & ask your grandfather," my aunt's teacher once told her, " if he has a Tamarind growing in his garden, because if there is such a thing, it will be there."
Genetics are funny old things. My kitchen window sill holds a variety of jars & vases sprouting different bits & pieces that sooner or latter get popped into the soil. The ficus has escaped it's pot & sprawls over half my ceiling. My house remains unfinished but outside my garden sprawls in lavish abandon. I am not the gardener my aunt was but she enjoyed my gardens. I pinch the soil between my fingers, feel how it crumbles, smell the heady promise of new growth while the house awaits attention & the dinner burns.