I live on the Central Coast – a series of dormitory suburbs north of Sydney. The CBD is just over 100k (62 miles) away from this northern end. It’s about 2 hours by train if the trains aren’t delayed, and with a 20 minute car run to the station included in that time. If the F3 isn’t choked with crashes, bushfires, or traffic, it’s about 90 minutes at the 110k limit on the Newcastle-Sydney Freeway.
It’s a strip of land squashed between the rolling Pacific Ocean and the inland Dividing Range. Just inland are chains of picturesque lakes studded with pretty islands. The hinterland is full of fat farmlets and ‘substantial properties’ – mansions on a few acres that sell for millions.
Everywhere, there are empty second houses owned by people who don’t have time to visit them, while locals can barely afford to rent. At the most, these second homes are tenanted on long weekends.
One house in our street is literally inhabited for four days twice a year, at Christmas and Easter, though the last year, they only made it at Easter. This year, they came on a long weekend too, and as they have noisy dogs and children who think screaming is acceptable, we’re hoping it’s a momentary aberration.
This was a holiday place in the south and along the coastline, and a coal mining area in the north – with rural endeavours along the rest of it. The only people who lived here were those who made a living off tourists, or worked in the coal mines. The mines are mostly closed now, or automated.
Not far away, driving down the desirability of absolute lakefront, is the power station, its high chimneys marking the sky for miles around, but invisible from our little pocket of lake and sky, which cups us like a blue bowl. No smoke in the sky, they filter out ‘visible’ smoke. Usually the only stains in our sky are the nicotine stain of Sydney to the south.
Like any fringe metropolitan area, more than just city-dwellers looking for cheap real estate wash up here. The junkies, the alcoholics, the abused and their abusers. The crazy, the crazed, and the crying inside.Those who need medical care in the capital, but can’t afford to live near a decent hospital.
Our street is a cross between retirees, upwardly mobile and ordinary working people, and society’s leftovers. I’m actually leftovers, the Underclass, but i pretend to be polite and middle-class – amazing what you can do with a posh speaking voice.
The house across the road, cut into two flats, attracts the Underclass. When i first came here, there was a beer-bellied 30’s guy upstairs, and a younger guy with gaol-house tattoos downstairs.
Bazz was skinny, covered in blue ink, but with a big smile, his long hair in a mullet. We met when he came over to help get the fridge up the stairs. He’d seen us struggling from across the road. It’s the sort of first meeting you give a person a lot of credit for, a really nice gesture, and we appreciated it.
Mr Whatsit and I had little contact with any of our neighbours – i don’t really want to get to know them, had too many crazy ones. There were occasional loans of battery chargers by us, help with carrying things inside from him, basic good neighbourly stuff.
Mr Whatsit was helping Bazz with his car. When reading the battery’s install date, it came out that Bazz was completely illiterate, and couldn’t read numbers either. It was only ten in the morning, but he was already drinking bourbon and coke. A young man on his way down.
Then his girlfriend moved in. A tall, slim, very pretty girl, Mandy spoke to me once, her eyes downcast when Bazz spoke over her. We tried to steer clear of them – we could see Bazz was wired too tight.
Like most of us who end up in abusive relationships, Mandy was probably on a rescue mission which had gone horribly wrong. The fights started. You could hardly hear her, just him shouting and screaming, getting in his car and doing burnouts in the street, driving off like a madman, screeching back into the driveway, more yelling.
Neighbours called the cops, as did we, but it went on, for months and months. Sometimes you could hear Mandy, a little high-pitched voice, or hear her sobbing. He didn’t hit her, at least as far as we knew, but it was abuse of a different kind.
Their ground-floor flat was barely habitable. Bazz had three goofy, friendly Staffordshire Terrier crosses, kept fish, tanks and tanks of them, and wasn’t the best fishkeeper – the tanks were often discoloured.
Then there was the mess from three dogs, carpeting the back yard. The smell reached out if you went past the front of the house.
Bazz and Mandy were both about early to mid 20’s. I went over one day, i can’t even remember why. I was talking to Bazz, and he was telling me how they were moving to Sydney. They had an offer of somewhere to live and he’d be able to get work.
A woman came round the corner of the house, looking to be about mid-forties and not ageing well. Very thin and hard-faced. She smiled, i recognised the smile, and assumed it was Mandy’s Mum come to help with the moving.
We said hello and shook, and Bazz said, “You remember Mandy?” Of course i did, but i couldn’t see her in the woman looking at me. It was less than a year since the first time i’d seen her.
I pretended to recognise her, managed not to look shocked, finished the conversation and went back across the road. To my unsmelly house. Once my sinuses stopped complaining, i realised they were both on something nasty – amphetamines of some kind, most probably.
Part of me wanted to help, particularly Mandy – i could see myself in her.
I know there was nothing i could have said, nothing i could have done. Nobody could have told me, when i was young and in love, that i was in a bad place with a man who was wrong for me in almost every way, or that the drug i was taking was messing with my perceptions, and destroying me.
Meanwhile, the house across the road emptied out. The guy who lived upstairs never came back after a court date, and Bazz and Mandy took off to the Big Smoke in his 80’s vintage Holden Commodore.
Pair of kids on an adventure. Dogs in the back, friends helping move the furniture with some hired trailers.
At first, the street seemed quiet without them, then a man who claimed he had been a medic in Vietnam, plus another woman and her pregnant daughter, moved in upstairs.
With three people in there, it was so crowded that the fights were just like before. A deaf guy with a weakness for brunettes lived downstairs where Bazz and Mandy used to be.
I have Bazz’s phone number, he has mine. When i next clean out my phone, i think i’ll delete Bazz’s.
No sense in holding on to the dead.