Our little weatherboard home was built by a wise man and his wife in the 1950s.
Tools were basic, hammer and nails, and help from Jimmy over the road, an odd job man supplying practical skill and a garage of handy items. A small bank loan was obtained and work proceeded as wages were saved.
The family lived in a shed by the side fence. His wife, mother of their three children and a hairdresser by trade, earned housekeeping by running a primitive backyard salon. Often Jim’s wife fed the youngest with a bottle as the mother trimmed a customer’s hair.
The house was built from a plan in a book. Each stage was photographed and now every detail has been preserved by the local historical society as a tribute to an owner-builder. From earliest days fruit trees were planted, and vegetables and flowers grown according to the season. Many kinds of birds have delighted in the garden over many years. Presently two magpies rule, chasing the little ones away.
All around us, the scene has changed. Old weatherboards have gone and two-storey houses and units have taken over. On a side road leading to the highway and shopping centre, homes have disappeared and, in one block, 500 units rise up, with more under construction.
Traffic has so increased that the council waste collector is often compelled to reverse and enter from the other end of our street. Parking is limited to two hours and the unsuspecting are fined.
Not far from us, homes are being compulsorily demolished to make way for railway crossings to be removed. Many homes and businesses are affected. Local families who have lived in the same home for a lifetime are being displaced. Public safety, of course, is paramount, but homebuilders have invested lovingly and sacrificially in a way of life, almost impossible to recreate elsewhere. This is a continuing experience for many families in our community. And how could any price compensate for the loss of the spiritual capital of the years?
In all this our little home remains as a place of peace and haven for birds and insects, safe from the outside rush and cacophony of modern living. And our little dog, companion of many years, lies safely at rest in her corner.
Regular painting has preserved the weatherboards, those experiencing dry rot repaired. And the walls have no cracks because the wise builder built on concrete foundations. Around us some modern buildings show the cracks which appear as the ground has moved and settled. One day our little home will be bulldozed like the rest. But the evidence of what was achieved is preserved in the historical records. Family photos record the love and life of the home where I am privileged to live.
Recently on a Saturday morning when playing a recording of the opera Madame Butterfly the beautiful voice of the soprano floated across our lounge room and out through an open door. Suddenly back came the whistling sound of a visiting butcherbird in perfect pitch.
For years we have been entertained by the coming and going of birdlife who have found our garden a picnic ground with bird bath included.
One memory stands out. For a long time a little brown thrush came by morning and evening and flitted back and forth along the back fence, gathering little scraps before flying away. Finally, the little brown thrush disappeared altogether.
Where is this little brown thrush and the wise and careful craftsman who built our home and died too soon from cancer now? Was the butcherbird bringing us an answer that all was well for them?
There is evidence in the Scriptures. Paul, a craftsman and tent maker, assured young Timothy that the work of a wise builder was approved by God. And Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth, reminded his listeners that not a sparrow falls to the ground unnoticed by the heavenly Father.
In his house of many mansions there is room for the little brown thrush and a job for the builder who gave us the home in which we are privileged to live every day.
Our story is that of many families. Now the children have grown up and left bringing sadness and joy. Adjustments have to be made.The next story of life is unfolding. But still our home is a place for the grandies to come, a safe backyard to play. (Remember to wind the old Hills Hoist, oiled, as good as new!)
But there is a sadness about it all. A future where land and building prices are denying families a home and a backyard. Everyone wants to live near the city with jobs scarce in regional centres leading to shortage of land. However healthy a country life, families need schools, tertiary education and hospitals. The greed of developers, short-sighted council planning, and bureaucracy are stumbling blocks. Bird life disappears.
The Church needs to take a stand. Together we can urge governments, councils and communities to have an achievable vision for the future, and make possible decentralised family living. And to hold to account developers, institutions and banks.
Our future families deserve the chance to make the dream of a home possible. We owe this, mindful of the inheritance by which we have been richly endowed.