(C) Julie Boyd 2011
Thirty years ago, three major events occurred in my life. The first was the birth of my beautiful daughter, my son’s much loved little sister. The second was the launch of the first space shuttle, at that time a masterpiece of engineering and aesthetics, opening space to humans in a way previously unknown. The third was the beginning of construction of my friends’ mud-brick homes.
At that time we were young professionals, with few resources, just starting out on the next stage of our lives after the madness and mayhem of university, weddings, a couple of divorces and a violent end to my marriage. Over dinner and a few drinks one evening we decided that the best way to help each other was to work together to put a roof over each of our heads. And so it began. Weekends filled with planting fruit and nut orchards, pulling down old churches, schools and houses to recycle timber, bricks, furniture and anything else that could be salvaged. Shared research into different types of housing to decide what was best – mudbricks, straw bales, cement bricks, or timber. Sue started first. She was a single mum with a 12 year old daughter. Child support was not a feature of our lives back then and she, like me, was doing it solo. The creative support of friends was all we needed. She bought an old Melbourne tram, and drove the truck herself, to transport it to the country. Converting that into a liveable space, complete with bathroom, was our first project. My house was simply a renovation, hers took some time to plan and build. The frame and roof went up with reasonable success, but our first attempts at mud-bricks for her were a little disastrous. They crumbled, for various reasons, but eventually we created a system which involved carpeting under the roof, tipping clay onto the carpet, then one of us would aim the hose, another would push a cultivator back and forward, while others filled the moulds. A minor miscalculation with brick size and roof height meant there was a gap at the top of the walls. That was easily solved by sending Sue’s Dad off to learn stained glass making. The result- a stunning kalidescope of colours every day as the sun shone through.
The brick-making process was then used at Petra’s place. Her husband and mates did the heavy lifting as we women removed nails from timber, made more mud-bricks, planted a garden, and cleaned used house bricks for chimneys and paths.
As the years passed Sue moved away, I sold my place for a profit and shifted to Tasmania. My kids grew into wonderful adults. I travelled the world in my work as an educational consultant, and was rapt to be working in Florida at the right time to not only attend a shuttle launch, but to also meet some of the astronauts – a wild and gutsy bunch of fascinating human beings. The juxtaposition of the shuttle as a backdrop to a swamp filled with pre-historic alligators and armadillos was unforgettable.
Early this year Petra called and asked if I would house-sit their dogs. I jumped at the chance. As I drove into the area, the past enveloped me like a warm blanket. So much hasn’t changed, the rolling green hills, the people, the little towns, me. The bricks I made still show my mark, the trees I helped plant are now heavy with luscious fruit or early blossoms, the solar panels still provide power, even during a recent earthquake.
Thirty years on, my daughter has just celebrated a milestone birthday with her friends who are now engrossed in getting married, starting families and building careers; the final shuttle has successfully launched, my professional life has gone full circle, and I am blissfully ensconsed in front of an open fire, glass of magnificent home-grown pinot in hand, fresh bread baking, and just picked veggies roasting in the oven, while rain and wind rage around us. The snores of contented puppies beside me on the ancient sofa confirms that they, too, are secure in knowing what really is important in this cyclic life.