1.8.05

ern's sister's place

After dropping my sons off at Strathfield railway station yesterday afternoon I drove to 40 Dalmer Street, Croydon, coming at it from the east and dazzled by the setting sun reflecting off the dirty car windscreen. The house is pleasingly neglected, a small brick-veneer cottage built probably between the wars. Aluminium windows, falling out of their frames, replaced the sashes at the front. There were green tiles set in the steps leading to the front door but the stairs themselves seemed to have been partly demolished. Behind a high wire grill down the side of the house a white ute was parked. There was an unkempt plant in the front garden that could have been a bird of paradise, but if so, it wasn't flowering like the one here is. Many of the houses in Croydon have exposed beams on the outside of the flat triangular frontal area of the peak in the roof, usually stained black against the white; at #40 these vertical boards are painted green, giving a suggestion of individuality to an otherwise nondescript property.

Here's how Michael Heyward described it: ... an unremarkable, liver-coloured brick-veneer. It had a low fence, a rose bush in the front yard surrounded by a lawn of buffalo grass and at the side two thin concrete strips to accommodate an absent motorcar on its journey from gate to garage. With its pubs and shops and factories, Croydon was sleepy and predictable ...

This was the house from which the Ern Malley hoax was perpetrated upon Max Harris and the other Angry Penguins in 1943-4, chosen because it was the family home of Harold Stewart, one of the hoaxers. It was Harold's sister Marion who passed the correspondence from Adelaide on to Melbourne and from Melbourne to Adelaide, thus sustaining the illusion that Ern's sister, Ethel, lived in Sydney's western suburbs. It was, of course, also in this house that Ern's short life ended when he was taken off by (the non-fatal) Grave's Disease not long before his literary fame commenced.

I didn't hang around for long but will probably return for another look sometime soon. It is after all a sacred site of a kind: not one for plaques and restoration, but a place that should be allowed to remain utterly ordinary and undistinguished in every way for as long as it stands, so that those who take the trouble to go there will be reassured, as I was, that marvels do arise out of the quotidian.

2 comments:

Laurie Duggan said...

Martin,

It felt great just to live for several years - as I did - just down the road from the technical college in Petersham where Ern was supposed to have gone. The building, when I was there, had a wonderful sign, something like 'Social Studies and Plumbing', worthy of Ern himself. Cheers,
Laurie

Martin Edmond said...

Cool - I didn't know he'd studied at Petersham - I'm next door in Summer Hill - someone should write Ern's bio - could be a fun read ...