The other week my sister found a photo. It is not dated but from the look of it, it is probably the early 1980s. It is taken in the backyard of the house I grew up in, at a time when the back terrace is lush with plants in hanging baskets. There are five people in the photo starting on the left with an unknown man in a rust coloured top; Emidio Flamini, former Reid Street Fitzroy panel beater and native of my father’s hometown of Pola; my godfather santolo Mario Rosso, formerly of Altona (and before that of Pola); my father Nello sporting a 1970s moustache and wearing a dark-blue patterned shirt (that I took to wearing out in the late 1980s with stovepipe black trousers and winkle-pickers), looking rather proud of the garage and terrace that he had recently added to our Vermont South home; and finally my mother Livia on the top step, right wrist wrapped in a sling wearing a green floral dress that she made. It was the heyday of our brick-veneer 1970s home with the addition of a double-garage, large terrace, paved gardens with raised beds for vegetable-growing and underground cellar with brick arches for storing wine.
We are the only family who has lived in this house and this weekend it was sold. Now begins the task of going through the house contents, emptying the rooms one by one, deciding what to keep, dividing it between family members, what to give away to the local charity and what to discard. Since my father passed away in 2012, my mother progressively gave away household contents: most of my father’s clothes, her jewellery, my father’s books on politics and world affairs, kitchen items she no longer uses. But there is still so much there: paintings on the wall, some painted by my father who loved to paint as a hobby; photo albums and loose photos dating back to the 1930s in the wooden record stand my father made; my father’s classical CD collection; my mother’s sewing machines and drawers full of coloured thread and old dress patterns; packs of old letters from family in Italy; tins of old buttons that I remember playing with as a child; a lock of my very blonde hair from a hair cut when I was in primary school. There is so much to sort and sift through before the final contract of sale is signed.
And along with all of this are the memories: collecting plums and peaches from the fruit trees and making jam in the kitchen with mamma; my father taking on the writing of the history of Italy for a local Italian social club and spending hours poring over the old computer well into his 80s; the first steps my daughter took on the porch of the house with my mamma there watching; my papà and his friends playing tresette (an Italian card game) in the lounge room behind closed doors (to contain their rowdiness and cigarette smoke) while the women prepared the cakes, coffee and chatted in Triestino dialect in the kitchen; my niece playing “Sandy Blues Bar” in our 1970s style bar and making pretend cocktails for the grownups; studying for high school exams in the study where all the furniture is painted dark burgundy, using the World Book encyclopaedia as a reference; and more recent lunches with mamma in the 1990s renovated kitchen, right up to the day she went to hospital in late June.
I went there last month, to give myself an hour in the house alone, cook a last meal there (a plate of spaghetti aglio, olio and peperoncino) and take photos. With the heater off and no-one else around, it felt beautiful and somehow timeless. My father bought it in 1973, one of the first houses in what was once an apple orchard and what felt like the outskirts of Melbourne. The population mix has changed and 40 plus years on from those homes being built, many are changing hands and being renovated. Some may even be knocked down to make way for apartments and to house the new generations and huge influx of new populations in Australia.
I hope that the buyer of this home, my family home, is happy. I will remember it as it was back in 1981, with my mamma and papà on the back porch, surrounded by friends, happy and proud of the home they made in Australia. And if photos could come back to life, I would walk up the stairs, onto the porch and through the back door into the kitchen. I am sure I would find a delicious spread of food prepared by mamma for everyone to share.