During more or less the whole 20 years that my wife and I have lived in the Blue Mountains we would really have preferred to live in the Southern Highlands but somehow or other bizarre events always seemed to get in our way. In the meantime two of my longest-standing Australian friends – the painters John Olsen and Tim Storrier – have managed to relocate there from even further afield and appear very content to have done so.
The scenic and urban attractions of the Southern Highlands aside, my wife’s family have long and significant connections with the area. Her maternal great-grandparents for example being one of the earliest families to open up the area around Robertson. Later on, one of her uncles also ran highly successful farms off the Kangaloon Road. If a chance to move to the area finally arrived for us what could possibly go wrong?
Towards the end of last year a beautiful villa designed as part of an estate of forty such by a leading international architect and which we had seen and liked three years earlier suddenly reappeared on the market. Just how lucky could we get? I was still in a ward recovering from some fairly heavy-duty surgery at the time but both my wife and I saw the house as an ideal place to relax, recuperate and build my fitness again. The charming five-page brochure produced by the community accurately reflected our views on how such places ought ideally to be be run. Coming when it did, a second chance to buy a house we had both really liked seemed almost too good to be true.
Indeed, for almost two months we revelled in the unusually warm weather while carefully renovating our villa. Only very occasional incidents cast disturbing doubts on our idyll such as the discovery that a number of our door locks seemed to have been altered very ingeniously to thwart possible access from an outside key-holder. Once my wife even found herself unaccountably locked out since we apparently had a full set of keys. Rather oddly the vendor also left no forwarding address although ‘believed’ still to reside locally.
Suddenly, out of the blue, a new community management statement appeared which is some thirteen times longer than the original, delightful five-page affair. Not much of the former would have been even intelligible to anyone, say, for whom English was not a first language. But it was the total change in tone that presented a much greater worry. Would we have even dreamt of buying our house if we had had sight of this chronicle of a thousand negative commandments beforehand? For several nights I tried to imagine the kind of people who could possibly have devised it – without much success.
THOU SHALT NOT LET THY GRANDCHILDREN PLAY ON THE GRASS: the rules may not precisely state that but this is surely their intention since several of our residents are elderly couples. Would a mere knee-capping suffice as punishment in such circumstances? I exaggerate, of course, but why on earth should an upper middle-class community be foisted suddenly with a rulebook devised apparently for a Gulag? Do weird nocturnal committee meetings take place while squadrons of patrolling fruit bats protect the privacy of the airspace? Was the whole incredible document intended to be an anti-bourgeois manifesto perhaps – with a sidelong look at Mr Marx? Did someone actually say ‘Let’s give these complacent residents a taste of something a bit more post-modern?’ Only those present at the meetings would know. Was a proposal made that strata managers might perhaps be called commissars at some future date? At least that would be rather more in the spirit of present-day Australia. If you doubt me just inquire about such matters at your local uni.
Or did someone have the brightidea, perhaps, that a boringly contented middle-class community would be much more fun if treated as some kind of theme park? Indeed, if vintage German uniforms could somehow be obtained, what about re-naming the whole place Stalag Nine? That, at least, could be thought to be more ‘inclusive’ for all those who enjoy repression. There is indeed an ‘inclusivity’ officer employed at present by Blue Mountains City Council which is in a spot of bother, of course, for hiding illegally- dumped asbestos.
Where do we go from here? We are in utter disgrace at present for erecting a temporary pergola in our yard so that I could sit comfortably in the recent very hot sun. This is neither intrusive nor attached in any way to our building any more than the huge umbrellas which most prefer. Unfortunately I have been told not to haul heavy weights for some months after surgery and thus cannot unfurl large umbrellas.
No-one seems to believe me or my surgeon, of course, although he was a recent Australian of the Year. Are my wife and I also deliberately affecting the architectural integrity of our community’s buildings? Not in any way according to the architect who actually designed them and with whom I held a long and amicable conversation recently before he flew off to Majorca. I did not previously know him but he had long known my writings. Before coming to Australia I served for eight years as an advisor to the British government on the Arts and Heritage. Likewise the once unattractive house we continue to own in the Blue Mountains was opened two years ago by the National Trust of Australia. My wife was nominated a while ago for an important Hollywood Award for her work on the film Babe – surely still a bit of a Southern Highlands icon?
To date no-one believes anything we say but I fear it is their abject, utterly over-the-top Community Management Statement, not us, which will in the future seriously devalue every single building any of us own in the park.
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