By Michael Mobbs
26 June 2012 – “The weather always has the last say”, my mum said to me last week. Eighty nine. Seen a few seasons.
We were talking on the telephone. Mum was sitting in the sun on her farmhouse verandah near Murwillumbah, northern NSW. A winter’s sunny morning there.
I could see her in my mind, looking across the rich, volcanic hills near Mt Warning. A good place to see things out.
“I’m watching you on this computer Anne [my sister] gave me. The house looks lovely.”
And so we went on to dissect that little video, the day’s weather there and here in rainy, cold Sydney where I was, to marvel at the computer and what it could show her, what I was doing, and how the kids were . . .
On her first farm Mum started in a tent, a mile away from the Lachlan river, downstream from Forbes.
“Your Dad pitched the tent on an ant’s nest and I threw the porridge at him”, she still loves to say. Shows how long a pot of porridge can last.
Imagine that – 1948.
A young girl from Epping, Sydney. Your suburban definition of western “civilisation” in Oz.
Raised by four spinster Methodist aunts who’d never married after all their blokes were killed in World War I. Knew only dry bread and water. Restraint. Doing without. Then she ups and goes farming five hours drive out west. The place nothing but trees and bush to start with, not even fences.
I guess a farm over the mountains was as good a place as any go go a-farming.
That’s property for you.
The stuff of dreams.
So many of them.
Property can be a farm for dreamers, like it was for my dad.
What dreams can property be now, for me? The son who went to the city, my dinky terrace house in a tumbled-up old industrial suburb beside Sydney’s central business district, where it was all given over to the then young city’s first farm in 1810, and now a suburb where dreams come true for developers building units, many owned by people from countries my Dad went to war with.
Cranes here, an uncommon thing in these property-busted days.
Sales fliers under the door every other day.
What am I doing here, transplanted from my beginnings over the mountains to . . . this?
When I bought the agent said, “Mr Mobbs, vy do you vant to leeve in Cheependaylah, only criminals and prostitutes leeve there.” “Suits me”, I said.
Not that I want to leave. I love living in the thick of change, dreams of all types. No one’s thrown porridge at me here yet. So there’s that.
Like many of his war mates, my Dad never “escaped” what happened although he sold that farm and tried somewhere else.
Property can’t do your “escaping” for you.
But it can give you the illusion of being able to escape. That’s what the fliers prey on, that yearning we have to find a place where we’ll be ok.
Anyway, to the point; which is more useful; illusions or having porridge thrown at you?
And now me, progeny of porridge-pelting parents – I’m surrounded by property sales yet I’m “breakfasting” on the changes here, loving the curious and irrepressible urge we humans have to give things a go.
Still, some things haven’t changed; the criminals and prostitutes remain here even tho’ the places are worth a lot more than when that agent warned me off the place in 1978.
And I reckon my mum’s right; the weather will have the last say.
Sometimes when I’m walking my black dog I can’t help looking at the fliers and painting something else on them in my mind; water where roads are, brought there by climate change, and people unable to get to the top of those magnificent residential erections because there’s no electricity. But mostly I just see people having a go; which, whatever form the property takes, is strangely renewing.
Funny thing, property.
Michael Mobbs’ book, Sustainable House, is the best selling account of how to build a sustainable project, what works and doesn’t. The book shows how Sustainable House has recycled more than 1.5 million litres of sewage in a five square metre garden in Sydney’s inner city Chippendale since 1996, uses rainwater for drinking, solar power for energy and provides accommodation for four people for utility costs of less than $300 a year.