The Apology to Suburbia


The photo above is of the very old 1730’s Saxon farm house with sheep-shed in Eursinge where we lived in between 1974- 1976.

With a lot of water having passed under the bridge, we found ourselves on a farm in Holland. My fascination with living on a farm is somewhat of a puzzle. I grew up on the opposite of rural life. Firmly entrenched in cities since birth. Rotterdam for my first ten years or so.The Hague for almost six years after that. Between my sixteenth and twenty fourth I lived mainly in between, the twilight zone called the suburb. Suburbs are something that I was never aware of till after our arrival in Australia and then it was too late. The suburb is neither rural nor city. It is an attempt to combine both.

Houses are strung together by electricity wires suspended from large wooden poles high up with long strips of bitumen in between lower down. Kerbs of grass and concrete driveways. People live very spread out and when I was living there they rarely ventured outside except for going shopping or work. This was when a car would be driven over the driveway onto the bitumen and disappear at the end of the street, perhaps going around a corner. Sometimes a careful listener could, during the dead of night, hear screams of anxiety or was it mere bottled up domesticity seeking an outlet?

Most people loved suburbs and that’s why most live there. What sort of other choices were there in the late fifties besides suburban living? Often the enthusiastic defender of suburbs will say that kids can play in the backyard and dad can grow fruit and vegetables, have barbecues or clean the gutters from leaves avoiding damaging bush-fires. The wife has lovely sunshine in which to dry clothes and room to also grow flowers and shrubs. Yes, that is all true. I might well be mistaken. My trauma of suburbs was more due to my age when entering this zone of separated houses by high fencing and curved driveways.

At sixteen the jumping around in the backyard wasn’t at all something I would want to do nor kneel in grass pulling out weeds or study the habits of worms eating dad’s tomatoes. I wanted and needed signs of life. Perhaps the case of some seeing a glass half empty and others seeing in half full could be made. I have never really been gripped by things half full/empty.

I have been found guilty of slighting Australia, but so be it. What can be done for atonement?

Do I go out and in deep sun-drenched suburbia, embrace a sheet of zinc alum and ask for forgiveness. I am so sorry colour-bond, I know you mean well and you never rust either. How could I have been so cruel? You give generously to all within your sun-locked boundaries and no nasty neighbour can ever be detected. No blade of grass can ever abuse you.

Next is the pebble-creted driveway so sweetly curved upwards to the triple remote garage. So sorry; please allow me to prostrate myself humbly for having slighted you so badly. I will never ever do it again. Here, allow me to varnish you and let your pebbles shine for ever brightly. You have given so much welcoming and loving traction to the Michelin and Kuma tyres. I am so sorry.

Oh, the horror of the hurt I have knowingly inflicted on all those kind beds of nodding petunias, those havens of suburban peace and tranquillity, harbouring and giving respite to the tortured souls of the Westfield shopping malls with local pubs and clubs. How can I make up? Would you like some water, some kind Leghorn manure to boost your cheerful growth? I am sorry.

The leaf blower. I am so sorry. How can I make up for having accused you of noise and mayhem while all you did was blow away leaves onto your preying neighbours property or into the kerbs of endless avenues. Allow me to take you out for dinner and lubricate your twin carby cylinder. Anoint your inlet suction and empty the bag. Please, let me.

As for the crispy manicured lawn. The worst of all my misdemeanours. Let me sink on my knees and prise out all those lugubrious weeds with sinister intent on multiplying themselves during the dark of the night. Here let me mow you with my Victa and I’ll rake you lovingly in neat heaps, ready for the mulcher who I have never abused. I always held the mulcher in high esteem. I don’t know why.

Last but not least, the Venetian blind. Let me dust you. Please accept all my Christmas cards which I will stick through your slatted shiny apertures. If you like I can also give you a nice trade in for the vertical ones but how to attach the cards. I can also perhaps show contrition by getting boxes of twinkling lights to adorn the roof and garage door right up to the fence and along the lawns.
I won’t do it again.


Tags: , , , ,

19 Responses to “The Apology to Suburbia”

  1. auntyuta Says:

    This is a fantastic account of life in Australia as I know it. If I had such a gift of the gab similar to yours I probably could have written something in that vain but from the perspective of a stay at home wife with three kids under three in the outer suburbs, a long,long distance away from city life.

    Same as you, I want to apologise now for feeling so desperately lonely in this very dreary outer suburb. I think I never complained too much for feeling lonely for I always kept in mind how fortunate we were to own our own block of land, being able to have a small cottage built on it for our young family. We could never have achieved this in Germany at the time. (Low income earners in Australia these days cannot achieve this anymore either!)

    As always, Gerard, you dealt with the subject with a tremendous amount of humour. I had a good laugh again. Thanks for this excellent post! 🙂


    • berlioz1935 Says:

      Which was the funny bit, AuntyUta? I didn’t laugh, because it was the stark naked, albeit sun drenched, truth.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Try as I might, I just could not adjust to living in the suburbs and always thought it must be me lacking something. How could I reject the ‘dreams of own house on own block’ that the whole of Australia seemed to hold up as the ultimate of achievements.
      However, after many years I have met scores of people who also had problems with living in suburbs.
      Thank you Uta.


      • auntyuta Says:

        I laughed, Gerard, because you did so aptly describe all the things that make up suburbia and how people are being kept busy looking after their fenced in block of land. When Peter shrank away from doing all this work he would always say: “I am not a Laubenpieper.” A ‘Laubenpieper’ is someone who just loves to do all these things on a little plot of land.
        And the weeds! Don’t they indeed grow overnight? It’s never possible to get rid of all the weeds!
        I think a mulcher is a great idea.
        What is done with a leaf blower and how you use Venetian blinds around Christmas time, well, I couldn’t help it, it just made me giggle!
        We already received one Christmas card in the mail this year. But I am sorry, we won’t be able to stick it into a Venetian blind for none of our windows are decorated with one of these.


  2. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    What an interesting old house! It had great character, and I’m sure, did not have next door neighbors breathing down their necks. I am hard pressed to say which I prefer, having lived in all three; city, country and suburbs. Just give me a little heat and food on the table and I can be satisfied. The country entails more work, The city is noisy, and the suburbs have leaves which need blowing and raking!.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, it was a very interesting old farm house. It had enormous oak beams spanning the width of the part that in winter cows would be housed in. It was later made into our living room in which I also exhibited my paintings.


  3. berlioz1935 Says:

    I’m a city creature too and had to get used to the suburban lifestyle. It was very hard When the neighbours activated their petrol driven machinery I hid behind drawn curtains I rather read a book than racking dried leaves. The feeling of guilt is still with me. I blame Captain Arthur Phillip who invented the quarter acre blog of land. It gives you the illusion of being a land owner and at the same time provides you with enough work not to make revolution.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, enjoy the present Berlioz. All is quiet on the leaf blower front. We have now 3/4 months of piece…but… just.. don’t relax too much… get ready for earplugs, keep them handy in the shed. With the drought grass doesn’t get mowed either. I take blessings wherever I can glean them from.


  4. Rosie Says:

    Great house. Your disdain for organised suburbia is obvious Gerard but it is even worse now – there is absolutely no individualism in new housing areas at all, and never likely to be as people stay firmly inside their homes. As for leaf-blowers etc. – don’t even get me started – leaves dropping from trees are considered untidy? What is this? Do they not know how nature works at all?


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, it seems so unimaginative and even though everyone strives for individualism, as a whole it just ends up being an architectural nightmare where individualism is replaced with futuristic tokens. Quasi Tudor, Colonial, Edwardian, all papier mache copies of so much of nothing.


  5. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    Leaf blowers….aaargh! I think they are banned in some countries – or maybe only districts.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, whatever happened to raking? It used to be such a lovely thing to do and hear.
      Now, not a leaf is allowed to simply rot away. No, it has to be blasted in total submission and sucked up in a black bag.
      As a kid I used to dry some autumn leaves in a book.


  6. petspeopleandlife Says:

    I can identify with country life but I’ve never really lived in the “burbs.” But my home here in town is on an acre and for that I am fortunate. Can walk about and feel as if I;m in the country. Love my home even though it is was built about 1950 or so. I don’t think I could deal with living in “cookie cutter” houses in the suburbs. They all look the same. Great write up here. Loved it.



  7. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    It would be lovely and generous of you to post some of your paintings Gerard. We would all love to see some! Do you paint any longer?


  8. gerard oosterman Says:

    Well, now I am chuffed/ of course I will be pleased to show some of my paintings. They will be etchings as my paintings I haven’t really taken much photos of. No, I now try paint with words. It takes less space and no turps.
    Thanks for the invitation kaytisweet.


  9. petspeopleandlife Says:

    In a subdivision the homes all look about the same with the same kinds of landscaping, no trees, and roof lines that differ only a bit from the next one and the next, and etc. That is “cookie cutter.”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: