Husband and I used to live in a rather cosy three bedroom flat in North Melbourne. I was fifteen minutes from uni on foot at a very leisurely pace; we were two blocks from the Lort Smith Animal Hospital, three from the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and two from Errol Street. The latter was a place where we could find at least two excellent cafes (a shout-out in particular to Hot Poppy, a local icon), really good gluten free gourmet pizza (at Oskar’s – honestly, that place is marvellous), and, occasionally, crepes (Frau’s!).
We lived near many of our friends, and two of my favourite people in particular lived about a five minute walk away, meaning a convenient stumble home after a drinking night was a real possibility. It was very easy to find cat-sitters if we wanted to go away. I could walk just about anywhere I had a realistic need to be.
We lived there for five years, from when I was 25 to when I was 29.
And then we moved.
With such a fantastic setup, why on earth would we move? And why so far away from the city? We ended up in Hurstbridge at first, a semi-rural northern town full of kangaroos and horses, before moving out to the Dandenong ranges temperate rainforest where we currently reside.
In no particular order, we left our homey little flat for a few reasons:
- we were a bit sick of renting and rental inspections. We wanted to buy at some point; it was unlikely we would ever be able to afford to buy in the inner city, and neither of us was particularly likely to want to live in the suburbs. We just don’t roll that way. So: we were probably going to want to buy a good distance from the city, and it was worth renting at that distance for a year to see if we could each survive the commute and distance from friends.
- Many of our friends were doing something similar, moving away from the inner city anyway. Not all, certainly, but we were spreading out and the really good situation where we were all nearby was already dissolving.
- I wanted a dog. This possibly should be reason number one, but I did say “in no particular order.”
- We wanted more space. I grew up with a fair bit of space around me, as did Husband, and while urban living was fine for a few years, the compact nature of it all was getting to me a bit.
- The point where I cracked, honestly, was the noise. Our apartment block was on a truck detour route, and for years I slept through the traffic noise of too-tall trucks roaring past our windows (I imagine a giant trying to tip-toe in a similar attempt at stealth) in the middle of the night without a problem. Then suddenly, I couldn’t. Suddenly, it drove me nuts. The fact that it wasn’t dark at night because of all the artificial light. The fact that it was never silent. The lack of personal space. The closeness of our (totally inoffensive, incidentally) neighbours. And we had a really enviable living situation for an inner city couple, too!
So we gave up the cafes we could easily walk to. We gave up being able to trot over to our closest friends’ houses. I gave up being able to walk to the lab (although at this point, I’d mostly finished my PhD lab work).
It was an adjustment. We basically went and picked the puppy-who-would-become-Amos while the ink was still wet on our Hurstbridge rental agreement. We moved house, then I spent a weekend at a conference, then I drove a three hour round trip to pick up the puppy, and it all happened at once.
Moving house, big commute, writing a thesis, and a new puppy. It was a massive adjustment.
There were frogs. It was properly dark at night. You could see stars. There were kangaroos on the fire track. We could, with admittedly some effort, walk down to a local café (at the time, there were really only two in Hurstbridge). When we left the lights on, there were an extraordinary number of fascinating insects. Not everyone will get excited about this, but gigantic leaf moths, crickets, and so on fascinate me.
And, of course, there was Amos. Tiny puppy Amos, bumbling about on his uncoordinated little puppy legs, offending our poor elderly cats.
After a year – and a few offers of trying to buy the house we were renting, because we honestly loved it – we started househunting to buy. The experiment, we decided, was a success.
Unfortunately, the property market in Hurstbridge was dead at the time.
We ended up looking in the Dandenong ranges, since we both love forests.
Finally, here we are, in the house I name the Mountain Fortress, because it is largely inaccessible and just driving here has terrified a few of my more inner city friends due to steep hills, blind corners, and sudden drop-offs.
It is stunning. It is extraordinary.
It comes with a number of very real challenges, which I will list for entertainment value in Part 2 of Rainforest Living.