Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Number 18

I am not quite sure how I contrived to hold court so comfortably in this charming photograph which must have been taken by Dad in the back garden at 18 Denham Place in about 1968 or 1969.

Clockwise from top left, the grown-ups are Granny (Helen Borthwick); her sister-in-law Aunt Jean (in spectacles, partly obscured); Aunt Jeanie Borthwick (confusing); her son, our cousin Ian Borthwick; my eldest brother Nick (with camera); Mongie (the late Mollie Bruce Pearson), also with camera; Mongie's old friends Mary Williamson and her companion, Granny's cousin Ruth Pearson; Uncle David Borthwick; Mum; cousin Janet Borthwick (my late godmother); Aunt Anne Hall, and my second brother Simon, who must have been about sixteen or seventeen. Far too many of them have gone now.

I presume this may have been some festivity connected with Janet's wedding, which took place at around this date. I recall on her wedding day Uncle David walked Janet from Granny's house to St. George's, which is at the end of Myamyn Street, stopping the traffic on Glenferrie Road by extravagant gestures with his silk topper. I was allowed to attend the ceremony, to which I wore a beautiful pair of bottle-green velvet short trousers which Mum sewed for me, a pair of fire-engine red patent leather buckled shoes, white socks, and a little white shirt with smocking and a frilly round collar, extremely smart.

Since the David Borthwicks lived on the land near the Ninety Mile Beach at Seaspray in East Gippsland, Mum may well have assisted Granny by providing much-needed supplementary hospitality to the out-of-towners, which included Mongie and her horse-mad entourage from Narre Warren North; they then constituted something of an elite in Victorian pony-club circles.

I am not quite sure why my elder brother Hamish or our other cousin Keith are not included here; maybe they were helping Dad to attend to Uncle Henry - usually a tricky undertaking.

I have the fondest memories of all those white daisies in the foreground, which Mum trained along the fashionably rusticated stone wall that shored up the terrace on that side of the old house. There was a huge liquid amber on the lawn off to the right, and an exciting sand-pit in front of the play room in the opposite direction, the scene of my earliest efforts in interior decoration and costume drama. (I was not so interested in earth-moving equipment.)

The windows here belong to the old dining room, which was lined with many books, and the spot where Uncle David stands on the far right is where the old Victorian weatherboard cottage ends and Mum and Dad's several extensions began. I think they had one more go at it before the older boys left home, and, in the mid-1970s, they decided to build a smaller house on the site of number 20 next door which was previously occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Gregory. Dad's old friend Joe Palliser designed the new house, which was finished in September 1979.

Unfortunately the people who bought number 18 decided to pull it down, and although as a fourteen or fifteen year-old I recall being pretty dist
ressed about that (we had an unobstructed view of the scene of destruction from upstairs at number 20), Mum and Dad rarely showed much sentimentality or regret about the fate of the old house. I think they were much more upset about the trees, including the liquid amber, a fine cherry, and several very old cammellias, all of which were cut down.

Curiously, I have no recollection of any persistent possum problem at number 18, but perhaps the methods Mum used to discourage them were less subtle than those few that the relevant by-laws still permit.

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