Saturday, 14th of May, 2016
The days after my birthday turned out to be just as insightful and abundant as my actually birthday.
“How was your birthday K-4?” my Uncle chirped into the phone. “Well, I didn’t do much, but it was exactly how I wanted it.” I replied happily. My Uncle has called me K-4 from the time he started dating my Aunt when I was four. It is an abbreviation of K for Kirsten. My Aunt and Uncle are very entertaining unique people and they had just finished singing happy birthday into the phone, which is a family tradition that they joyfully uphold. Over and over they are birthday song birds to all those that are dear. Sometimes belated, but always without fail. They missed my actually birthday due to internet technical difficulties, but as it turned out, two days later was better anyway. It had been a full few days with house maintenance and spontaneous house guests, but this timing was perfect and my uncle and I proceed to speak for an hour, until which time my Aunt was in the background saying, “She is my niece! It is my turn! My niece is better!” My Aunt likes to pretend play, and one of her favorite character rolls is the possessive competitive Aunt. If Uncle Peter is taking up the whole phone conversation she likes to insist that I belonged to her first, and that she has the best niece which is why he is trying to hog me. My Aunt is my mother’s sister, she was 15 when I was born and we lived at Grandma and Grandpa’s together. As a birthday like 40 comes on, generation difference seem to close. It is an interesting dynamic because as a child I looked up to her, and while I still admire her as a women, I have now come into my own whole being and together we are navigating what it is to look to one another as contemporaries.
When Uncle Peter and I said goodbye, my Aunt took to the phone with enthusiasm, there was very clearly something she wanted to talk about beyond wishing me happy birthday. After a short moment she got straight to the point, and once again, I was being gifted with something unexpected that reached deep down into my soul. My Aunt’s intent of the conversation was to let me know she very much wanted us to build a house on their land, and to do so sooner than later she was going to help.
It was a detail filled conversation, where she spoke rapidly to let me know why this was suddenly in her heart in a stronger way than ever.
“The council have made a cul-de-sac at the end of Coolgardie road on our property for the work trucks to turn around.” Aunt Heidi said in a flurry. I was listening with my imagination alight and I knew exactly which part of the road she was talking about, and so I was visualizing it all as she spoke. I could see dusty trucks, and the rainforest trees covered in the fine film of clay dust that settles on the green leaves after traffic has stirred the dirt road particles into the air. “They did it without permission, but here is the good part, when I went in and spoke to them, I said, Oh I am quite happy for you to buy the land that you are using from us, and they did not know what to say.” My Aunt was enjoying sharing with me how clever she was at putting the council people in an awkward situation. When you live in a rural area, sometimes things like this happen and if no-one is paying attention to their land, suddenly a road will be widened, your mail box will be in a ditch, or a tree will be removed without communication. My Aunt actually had no intention of selling the land to the council, and it was really only the smallest strip of land, and as my Aunt said herself, it did not really matter, but what she was doing was setting the scene for some country folk bartering. My Aunt proceeded with the story, “So I said to the council guy, who is such a sweet guy by the way, he is a baby, and has the kindest face, and you could just see in his eyes he wanted to do the right thing, so I said to him, Well, how about this then, I need some surveying done, and I want a dwelling entitlement re-instated. What if you use our land, and then when you are surveying the road, you survey our land too? And the guy said, sure, we could do that.” My Aunt was very pleased with how this scenario had unfolded, it was like she was playing the game of life and she had been given an ace, just when she needed it.
My Aunt has wanted to have the land re-surveyed for a while now. The property is one whole, made up of three lots of land that Grandpa bought over time in the 1970’s. Each lot had a dwelling entitlement, but no actual houses. The dwelling entitlements needed to be reinstated in order to build on the lots, and it was thought that boundary adjustments would be made on the lots as well, which requires surveying. All of this costs money, and time and energy, and for some reason it just was not happening. Then suddenly, the council come along and made a cul-de-sac where they were not supposed to, and something stirred within my Aunt and boom, everything shifted.
There is a little more of a back story to this also, and why it involves me. A few years ago I planted a seed in my Aunt’s heart that we wanted to build a house on their land. It was something that I was very passionate about at the time, and something I very much wanted. Some of you might wonder why I would just invite myself to build a house on my Aunt’s land, but you see, I have a very close attachment to both this Aunt and the land. The land is part of my childhood story, and Grandma gave the land to my Aunt and Uncle as early inheritance many years ago, and it is so much land, that it is more than enough to share, so I decided that we should live there too.
It took me a lot of courage to ask my Aunt if we could build on her land because at the time I had my heart set on it in such a big way, and she might have said no. When you want something to be real and true, you have to be willing to put yourself out there for better or worse. I even spoke to Grandma at length before I asked my Aunt, to get Grandma’s approval that it was right to ask such a thing. Grandma was very happy about my idea because I think she was always a little bit sad that she had to count me as one of her grandchildren not her child when she divided up the estate.
The short of the story is that my Aunt said yes, we could build on the land. But it is was not an immediate yes, it was a well thought out deeply discussed yes, and this discussion went on for about a year until we reached a point it was a clear, unhindered yes. There was much to consider and it was some relief to me when all adults involved in the decision confirmed it was a solid positive idea. There were past emotional family things to de-clutter to be sure we were relating purely with the right intent. Eventually we became so used to the idea the unsure yes, became a positive certain yes, yes, YES. After all emotional bridges were crossed then we started looking at the logistics of it. First we had to decide where exactly on the land we would want to build. Then we had to have the dwelling entitlement re-instated, and the property surveyed.
When we were last in Australia Cam and I walked around the land together. Then I took another walk alone. I had done plenty of preliminary visualization from afar, but when I walked around the area I had first had in mind something was telling me that spot was not right. I had to honor that and after more wandering another spot was pulling at my soul. It is like we are magnets, and I let the land tell me where I needed to be. As I stood in a small clearing facing the gully where Grandpa and I would go to collect the banana stalks I knew this was the spot for our house. “This feels right.” I told myself.
Once we had decided on where we wanted to build then we had to start doing the paper work, to make it official, but for some reason there was something stopping us all making that happen. My Aunt did not do it, and we did not do it. There was question of money, and time and energy. Each time we came to this hurdle we all stopped to ask, “Is this really what we want?” We were enjoying living in America and we were not ready to sell our house, Cam’s work situation was dicey so the dream was put to rest. Then suddenly us deciding to sell our house, corresponded with my Aunt’s opportunity to barter with council and just like that the dream came back to life in all of us.
My Aunt and Uncle’s house is in a very special spot perched on a coastal plateau South of Byron in Ballina Shire. From their patio you can see a sweep of rainforest, sugar cane fields and the brilliant blue line of the pacific ocean. Their home is very secluded, and privacy is everything to them. They like living with the trees and the wallabies, and possibly one day, us. It was heartwarming to know that if we built a house on their property with a walk through the rainforest we would also have their home to enjoy like our own.
“We had to have some clearing done for the fire break” My Aunt shared after the story about bartering with the council was over. “We had not been able to afford to have it done for so long, and the view is back.” she said happily. I was pleased to hear this, both for their safety and because last time we were home I had noticed the ocean was only visible a little between the trees. “The bird were not bothered by the clearing at all, by lunch time the birds were all signing again.” Heidi said with compassion for the wildlife she shares her life with. I was feeling an unbelievable gratitude rise up in me again, like when Mum had written to say she was going to try to go off her medication. Here was my Aunt, trying to make one of the other things that was important to me come true, and the beauty was fully felt because it was important to her too.
The Coolgardie property is also called The Old Mill. It was the sight of the first registered saw mill in Australia. There were apparently other saw mills before it down south, but this was the first ‘registered’ saw mill. When Grandpa bought the land, the mill was long gone, it burnt down in a fire, and all that was left was a huge mound of sawdust. Around the mill they had not chopped down many trees, and so the rainforest was completely regenerated into a vibrant eco system. On the other side of the road neighbouring properties had been completely felled, and the land is totally cleared. The comparison between the two sides of the road is remarkably different and it makes the rainforest seem extra precious when you see the barren paddocks opposite.
As I have mentioned my family were hard workers and Grandpa owned and operated two farms. He was also a school teacher in order to make a regular wage, with which he would buy land and livestock to generate further assets and income. As a child I accompanied Grandpa down to Coolgardie to work. The inland farm, what we call Tregeagle had livestock and fruit trees, and the coastal farm, what we call Coolgardie was a native flora and fauna sanctuary. My Aunt and Uncle have been amazing custodians of the land, keeping non native species at bay, and protecting the land as a vital part of the wildlife corridor on the far north coast of NSW.
So, to make a long story short, on my birthday my Aunt was very excited to let me know that the dwelling entitlements were being reinstated and that the surveying was going to happen as barter with the council and that should we decide to move back to Australia, she was actually trying to make it possible and easier for us to build a house on her land. Five years after I first planted that seed in her heart, more than ever it felt like my dream might come to fruition. Just like that we were revisiting it all again, it was coming full circle and my Aunt was meeting me at the depth of feeling I had cultivated long ago, but in her own time, and as life had it, on my 40th birthday.
My Aunt then said the sweetest things to let me know that she truly wanted this to all happen yesterday, whilst simultaneously letting me know there was no pressure. “Well, by the time you come back, we won’t have our dream of the girls being little and walking up the driveway to our house, but we will still have them for a while.” It suddenly felt like we were on the same life path, and I too felt that sadness that we had missed sharing the girls early childhood. The reality is that by the time a house is built, the girls might be ten and twelve or older. The regret was brief for a deep gratitude that I felt that my Aunt was making her future life plans with us in it.
“We are going to be like the Chittendens!” I said to Cam exuberantly. We are going to be family all living together in houses we can walk to on land joined together. The girls will be able to walk over the creek and up the hill to Auntie’s, and we will be able to have a fresh water spring, and a big garden and grow everything!” I said with glee, “You know there used to be a huge banana patch down the hill from where I think the house should go. We will have our own banana stocks! But we wont be able to have a dog because of the wallabies and koalas.” I said thoughtfully wondering how we would navigate that with Elle? Cam was listening quietly but the dog comment made him interjected. “We can still have a dog, we can train it.” He said. I was shaking my head no. “But don’t we want to keep the land native animal only? I mean, we want the wallabies to come right up to the house like at Aunties, and the wallabies will smell the dog. I want to be respectful to the wallabies. But I do like the idea of the girls having a dog to walk with as a warning for snakes.” I said thinking more about all the wildlife on the land. I always had a dog with me on the farm as a child, and they really did alert us to snakes. That will be a big decision when the times comes. “We will just have to take the dog down to Tutu’s a lot.” I said thinking how much the dog would love to swim at Grandma’s house.
I jabbered on and on with all the imaginings, I could see it all so clearly. The effervescent bubbles of happiness were overflowing to the degree I had to announce it. “I feel so happy! I just feel really really happy!” I said to Cam as he was washing the dishes. Given his sarcastic sense of humor he said, “Well please don’t be, let me see what I can do to help you be normal. What will it take for me to make you angry and exhausted?” Cam likes to tease me, seriously, he really likes to get in there and be a bug. But at this moment even he was enlivened to imagine a dream house too. “Let’s just build Jan and Charlie’s house. I like it because it is open but private.” he said. “Oh yes, good idea.” I replied. “Let’s get them to come and build their house for us!” I said thinking of our dear neighbours from Beachcomber cul-de-sac who had built their dream house on Tallows beach in Byron with their own hands. We have not seen Jan and Charlie since they visited us when we lived in Brooklyn, and my intuition was telling me they were too old for building houses now, but they would be fun to go over house designs with. Dreaming is so important, even if the dreams don’t come true, the joy of imagining possibilities is something worthwhile. I could feel the dream spirit at work between Cam and I.
With helpful words Aunt Heidi let me know I could be free to create. “When you build your installation you mean,” she said when I started sharing house plans. If only she could have seen the smile that spread across my face to hear her say the word, “Installation.” It lit a flame in my heart and my whole perception of possibilities expanded. “It will be an artist’s home.” I said with knowing. “But we won’t build a big house.” I said in a matter of fact tone to Aunt Heidi. “I like to think of the land as a whole, and I think our house should be smaller than your house, so that it is like your house is the main house and our house is the guest house, or a managers house. You know I like to travel, and I like to think of the future and look at the bigger picture and two big houses on the land seems wrong to me. I think there should be one big house and one smaller house, that could be a guest house if we don’t live in it.” I said, not completely sure if that was my truth, but I was testing it out. I am sure I will test out all sort of ideas. “What about a yurt?” Do you think we should put a yurt on the land?” I said.
In the days that have followed I have found myself wondering, could this be it, could all of this actually happen? Is the time finally right? Are we going to move back to Australia and be able to build a house on my family’s land? There is a whole world back there waiting for me to fall in love with all over again. There are people to hug and appreciate.
I am sure the dust will settle and the dream will subside as we deconstruct our life as we know it. We will live and travel in America a while longer, and then we will go back to Australia knowing we will be welcomed with open arms, and the land will be there for us should it all feel right to build on when the time comes. It will be a new chapter of life that is sure to filled with both ups and downs. Some dreams will no doubt be put to rest, but others are bound to come true, and it seems building a house in the rainforest by the sea might be one of them.
Thank you for reading Magnesium Blue