Key among my bucketful of wishes after my second husband died was a wish not to travel, but rather to cease travelling, or at least to slow down the petty pace of it all. I needed to stop awhile, to stay in one place long enough to enjoy my roses, to see the trees I’d planted grow up. The day I made The Wish, I was 41, standing in front of yet another ancient cottage contemplating my 65th bona-fide move.
The year before — with teenage son and two ridgebacks — I had followed my husband’s job across the nation to relocate from Perth to Shepparton. When he died five months later, we found ourselves rather abruptly back in Perth with my house still leased and — dogs and rentals being an uneasy combination — accommodation an issue. Two moves later, we had a short lease on a place where the rats and fleas came gratis, fortunately by then I had a job — or several part-time jobs. One was as literary officer for the Fellowship of Writers (FAWWA) working out of the old Tom Collins House in Swanbourne and our luck turned for the good when the tenant at Tom Collins moved out and my application for residence there was approved. It was a haven and a godsend. I started studying, writing in the night-times. For me, just then, the link with author Joseph Furphy* and his Shepparton connection was more than coincidence and it bought me time and space until my house sold.
So at the moment of The Wish I was looking over the fence at another old cottage – a house advertised for sale in the local paper, the oldest weatherboard in North Fremantle and past home of John Ewers, yet another writer.* At that point, the old cottage was a sad sight, listing on its stumps like a beached whale with most of its innards ripped out. But it had a roof and, more importantly, it was affordable. Like the girl in my story “My Mother Was a Russian Spy”, I was convinced I could fix it up.
Nevertheless, it was time for salutary reflection. Much of my life had been spent literally living out of suitcases. Was I to whirl from place to place forever? In the year that I became pregnant with my daughter, for example, I had set up three houses on three different continents – Australia, Europe and Africa – with a number of hotel stays and a rental in between in a 12-month period. I thought back to my careless words in South Africa’s Fair Lady in which I had blithely announced that I was at home anywhere, that like a turtle I carried my house around with me. But this was 20 years later and that shell was getting mighty heavy. It was time to take stock, to sit down and list my various moves and then to look at that list of 65 addresses in 11 different countries on five continents — and decide if this was the way I wanted to carry on.
The list worked. I stayed six years in that cottage – many times longer than I’d lived in any one house. With re-stumping and patching: paint, plaster, tile, the fitting of windows, doors, locks, the house itself came up just fine; I published my first book For Women Who Grieve, I completed my Honours in creative writing, I wrote my first novel. It was only the small garden that never quite materialised.
For The Wish to come true I had to wait a little while and several addresses longer until eventually Richard and I built the house looking out over the Canning River and christened it ChiZuri, ‘the good energy’*. Ten years on, our garden is a feast of fruit and flower. This last summer and into autumn we’ve picked lush armfuls of roses, buckets of fruit – pomegranates, grapes, figs, paw-paws, cumquats, avocadoes, mangoes. In the vege patches, Jerusalem artichokes stand ready for harvest, the winter plantings are greening-up.
My garden is grown. The Wish was granted. My 70th move lies ahead.