This is the story of a street. My street. I came late to its history, but I’ve been included, I think.
Families whose kids grew up here are now facing middle and old age, hoping, to continue amongst themselves here, the camaraderie they shared, the stories, the legends. They’d seen each other through some grim times: early deaths, particularly. But support was everything in Friendly Street: everyone was good for some comfort or a laugh when needed. Backyard parties are still legendary. When I first moved in I marvelled at the weekend procession of wheelbarrows and skills being exchanged up and down Friendly Street.
The Queen of Friendly Street is important. She’s loved. She sets the tone. The tone has always been tolerance. She cherishes neighbourliness and every exchange is punctuated with her laughter. She has a wide range of skills from sporting prowess to baking cakes, but mostly, what I’d call human relations. I felt I’d passed a test when I moved here. I still feel proud when she pops in from next door with some biscuits or just to check on the oldie: not that she would ever use such a word.
Everyone in the street had skills they shared generously, from the fabulous musicians who put on a great Christmas concert, to visual artists who invite us to their shows. I think you get the picture. It is an enviable one.
Did some of this happy to-ing and fro-ing, this feeling that we were in the right place, depend on us having welcoming front gardens and backyards? Probably not, but it was when the backyards started to disappear, along with the big front gardens, that Friendly Street changed. And the reason for that was development.
Not just welcome, exciting development, but fence-to-fence development that made older residents ask of each other, “Did the council permit this?” as old kitchen windows, shaded by nice outdoor blinds, at the side, disappeared, blocked out forever by the relentless and sometimes thoughtless “development” going up next door.
The Queen of Friendly Street helped us to be philosophical, as she was. Her laugh put a stop to our feeling miserable. I was not supported when I called it bullying architecture. What was the point, was the unspoken question? The only point, I mumbled, was to express my inner fury. No point. We could still be cheerful.
The development was relentless, inconsiderate. The street was filled with trucks that demanded the space without, it seemed to me, trying to stagger the use of the street and our parking spots and our easy access. The noise seemed to start terribly early (“Did the council permit this?”).
The ducks from the park up the road stopped coming to be corn-fed by me after they’d had a frolic and a bath in my lily pond. Yes, a high point of my day. They’d brought their babies to us for years. The Queen, despite not loving ducks, nevertheless led the escort across the road to the creek for the babies to have their first swim.
Even the smaller birds find the street too noisy now.
How will Friendly Street survive this? There are still many older, sturdy little cottages that might be snapped up for the same treatment (some of them having their own, sensitive add-ons at the back to increase their living space. Without upsetting anyone). Are their gardens up for grabs, up for bulldozing, too? Will they see their old trees go? Nothing seems sacred any more.
I’m not going further to speculate on what this kind of development will do to the spirit of Friendly Street. And to little friendly streets all over Adelaide. To neighbourhoods. That’s a word not used much anymore. I just know that it’s a little tragedy, and forward-looking development planners should have stopped it.
By the time you read this, the dogs may have ceased to bark about the cricketing incident that rocked a nation.
Some of us did not rock as much as others, not having had high expectations of professional men’s sport. We kept fairly quiet. Useless to protest against something that gave so many people, and nearly all political parties, a chance to relish the high moral ground.
Cricket, the holy game, the vitai lampada, the torch of life, had been extinguished by a few cheats. We condemned them and therefore we were not cheats. We would relight the flame once we have made them cry.
Old people didn’t buy this. We knew that what it really did was to give major political parties, a break from that gnawing in the stomach, from inconvenient truths. From trying to maintain the belief about Australia as the fair go nation while incarcerating boat people, refugees, held against international law. It gave them a reprieve from having to think about the policies that are driving children to attempt suicide. Because by thinking about that reality, no way can we talk of Australia as fair and decent.
Much better to try to maintain we are all decent except for a few guys who rubbed a ball with sandpaper.