Only the lonely



But where are the people? This was very often a question asked during the time we had foreign students living with us. We lived in Balmain. It is a suburb which many Australians would classify as having medium to high density living. We always look back with fondness of the twenty years we lived there. It is the place where our children grew up. So, how come this question; but where are the people?

The foreign students came from Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Germany with a couple from Holland. The question has to be looked at from the perspective of living in cities. Australia right from the start understood it had space.  Space was lacking in England, especially in the big smoked filled cities. Thus the suburban block here was soon to be seen as desirable for people to be housed on. At the beginning, people lived in terrace houses joined together forming complete streets. Balmain was one of those earlier suburbs of Sydney with streets of terrace houses. Parks were everywhere and it still felt very spacious.

However, the foreign students came from cities that were teeming with people. They would form throngs on the streets. I am sure that those that have been to Asia understand there is a huge difference between density of people there in cities compared to here in Australia. It were those people on the streets that the students were sorely missing, even in inner city Balmain.

My parents soon after arrival in 1956 went to live in western Sydney. Real Estate agents and blocks of land were the main topics of conversation amongst the migrants.  We too were swept up into saving a deposit for our ‘own’ block of land.  There was no real understanding of the social consequences in making a choice of where to live.  To be near a rail-station was desirable but as for other desirable needs, it just wasn’t about or questioned. Migrants had a need to have a roof and security of an income, all else was secondary. It was like a fever. One got caught up in the frenzy of making a new life. It was all a bit puzzling for my dad. He was different.

The street that my parents ended up living in was like millions of suburban streets anywhere in Australia. There were people living in houses but you would rarely see them. It felt achingly lonely. Sometimes a curtain would stir or a car would drive by. For me it was deadly, spiritual dehydration. Sure, the petunias and rockeries were plenty. Rosellas would be screeching and flying about and then there was cracker night. This was a yearly event with bon-fire on the street, somehow mysteriously related to Guy Fawkes or something. It was an occasion for neighbours to meet up.

All this in response to having read a lecture by Hugh MacKay. He is a well know social commentator. “The State of the Nation starts in your Street.”

It seems to fit in what is happening with all that card swiping and waving at poles. We are forced to dealing with less and less people. Banking is done silently in front of an ATM. People buy food on-line and sit at home all sated and possibly overweight. The steel posts at rail stations. Most work will finally be done by  steel posts and robots. Soon we might go to bed enjoying the icy embrace of a steel post or with a rotating robot with a waving of cards giving consent to heaven knows what sexual delights


I don’t know what can be done to liven up lonely suburban streets. My mum did her best and was fearless in her search for social contact. It was difficult. All those Venetian blinds and that obsession with privacy. A sign of change is that most people now prefer an apartment close to the city. People do seem to want to live close to each other, able to walk to shops and work. People need people.

We shall see!

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19 Responses to “Only the lonely”

  1. Therese Trouserzoff Says:

    I have a sense of relativity here, Gez.

    When I had my first big trip – two weeks in the UK and a week in Paris in 1981. The first thing that struck me when I got to London – from Heathrow onwards …. was that there were people BLOODY EVERYWHERE ! 7 X 24. Same later on for Tokyo, Delhi, LA, and New York.

    But later trips showed me that there were also quiet times in Paris, Rome, Chicago and San Francisco especially on Sunday mornings.

    I think the suburbs sneak up no matter where you are – but in some big cities they are definitely fleeting !

    On the other hand, I reckon Adelaide, Hobart, Perth and Brisbane are essentially only collections of suburbs. Granted, Brisbane is vast in area but could we really regard it as a city ?

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, TTOff,

      Those years in Revesby left their mark. Just imagine if I hadn’t experienced the horrors. Would I be writing all this nonsense?

      I am not the only one.
      Suburban Australia is a rich font of creativity. Where would Barry Humphries be without the nature strip or the keen aspirations of Kev and Sandy?

      The Sydney explosion of apartments is truly mind boggling. Yet, near us, suburban blocks are created as I speak. People buy them, put up giant black rooved houses and then spent lives driving up and down to Sydney to pay for it.

      I took a look at our previous house in Revesby. The fibro has been cladded with aluminium weatherboard and a storey put on top. The gum tree is still there. It was planted by dad.

      Helvi and I spent just one night in Revesby after our arrival in 1965. Mum was disappointed and thought we would love it there. I drove Helvi to Pott’s Point where I had a small apartment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Therese Trouserzoff Says:

        Gez, I had to sell Mom’s old fibro place in East Hills 8 years ago – to fund her nursing home. She had lived there since 1957. Dad checked out in 1985.

        A couple of years ago I chanced (kind of on purpose) a visit down the little cul de sac and the house was gone – replaced by a pair of townhouses. I was relieved. It gave me closure.

        Liked by 2 people

      • gerard oosterman Says:

        My parents went back to Holland around 1975 and some years later visited us in Australia. The neighbours in Revesby organized a reunion. They had nothing but kind words for my parents, especially my mother. She did make the street a more congenial place and made a difference.
        My mum wasn’t shy is seeking out people. She was a great social person and reached out.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. petspeopleandlife Says:

    I like quietness so I suppose it’s to each his own. I live in a town of about 120.000 or so humans with a fair sprinkling of canines and felines. I don’t live on a street and get to my acre in the woods by way of small black top road that is only for my property. I am accustomed to very little noise but at times when the weather is just right I hear the traffic on the street.

    I am not a real sociable person but I can understand the need to be with people if you are gregarious. We don’t have many folks from other countries except Mexico. But if one goes to the university and watches one will see a pretty good diversity of students from Asia and Africa and other countries. The young people are all walking with eyes glued to their phones. A few ride a bicycle to and from classes. Very interesting to watch the young people with eyes to their phone. I just don’t get the fascination with a phone.

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Each to their own alright, Ivonne.
      At my age, peace and quiet is a much coveted requisite to the final exit. “Those who lived virtuously turn right, those who whooped it up turn left and contemplate scorching heat and decadence.”

      I could not live in one of those apartments with thousands of others. When one is young all is different. One seeks company and goes dancing till late at night or go bungy jumping. Friendship and conviviality with others is important. The children come and go and then suddenly it is a bit quiet.

      We had the farm and it was just right. A final fling at something totally different. Living on the farm we still had friends and visitors.
      Now though, we have something in between. A townhouse near other people but not on top of each other. Close to shops and hospital. Un petit jardin.

      The suburbs that I mention give neither the peaceful serenity of the farm or the excitement of city living. To me I get goose-pimps. Yet, it is promoted as Australia’s biggest dream in achievements. What do young people do in those streets? Each house separated by the fence and cloaked in privacy.

      Mr Whippy Ice cream van playing Green-sleeves used to liven it up a bit. Now, that little joy has been banned. Too many accidents with kids crossing the street.

      I think urban architecture and planning has been non existent. It can be so much better. It need not be boring. But, when money is the prime objective, what can one expect?

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Christine Says:

    We’ve lived in the one suburb for 40 years and now watch the enormous houses getting built all around us. The existing modest house is demolished; recently, one was described as a “bungalow” by a smart real estate type. Five children were raised in this “bungalow”; sharing bedrooms, as once was the norm. The huge houses have solid, high walls to shut out . . people?

    A townhouse would be good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, Christine.
      The houses are enormous and now have to have home theatres, media rooms, offices, multiple toilets and bathrooms. The Estate moguls are thinking up all sorts of reasons to add more rooms. I am surprised they haven’t added rail stations or internal bus stops.

      And yet, when someone gets murdered, the response is often;” we hardly ever saw them. They kept very much to themselves. We did not really know them.” ( after living next to each other for 30 years.)

      I would really like to know about those “close knit communities”. Fences now are impenetrable. Walls getting higher.


  4. leggypeggy Says:

    We are lucky to live in a friendly, welcoming street. Poor John bought the house in 1978. I arrived in 1982. Most of the neighbours have been here for at least 20 years. Several times a year we have neighbourhood parties.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. gerard oosterman Says:

    Yes, Peggy. We too lived in a street where we had street parties and get togethers. That is often a result of making efforts to invite people and make a good neighbourhood.
    When the children were young we had child minding clubs, vegie co-ops and so on.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. shoreacres Says:

    I’ve lived urban, I’ve lived country, and now I’m living — well, I’m not sure what it is. It’s an apartment complex in the midst of suburbia, but I have almost no contact with any of my neighbors. Partly, it’s a result of the way the buildings are constructed — there’s no need ever to see anyone who doesn’t live in your four-apartment section.
    And of course there’s a lot of movement in apartments — people come and go on a regular basis.

    It doesn’t bother me, actually, but I have a high tolerance for solitude, and often prefer it. I suppose it’s developed partly because of my work. Twenty-five years of working alone on the docks can do that to a person.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes Linda, you have hit it on the head. It is mainly due to architectural design and construction. Often common areas for people to meet are missing. The binder in a workable community are the children playing outside.

      In Finland that is very much part of a design. Parents can overlook children playing outside in a common area. Also, cars are kept separated from houses, parked close by but not within common play or meeting areas.

      We, to some extent have this here with people living opposite other people, and able to observe the goings and comings. I put some barbeque and seating arrangements in a shared garden hoping for social intercourse. But the cyclamen stealing episode and bullying for us to sell-up or else, put an end to that.

      There is a divide between home owners and renters. The few children that do live here are locked up inside and are probably bent over devices.

      My mind’s eye had you living on a boat, Linda. Isn’t it funny how imaginings are often wrong?


      • shoreacres Says:

        Well, I did live on a boat for a time, and have mentioned that, so perhaps you came across that and didn’t realize I’d changed my digs. 🙂

        I learned after a time that when you work on boats, living on one is rather like being at the office all the time. Not so desirable!


  7. Curt Mekemson Says:

    I grew up in a small town of six to seven hundred people, Gerard, where everybody knew everything about everyone else. There is good and bad about that. The Mekemson boys had a ‘reputation.’ Possibly well-earned. But we knew all of our neighbors and all of the kids in town. I went from there to Berkeley and the Bay Area which was just about as urban as you can get. And from there off to a rural community in Africa. Of all the places I have lived, and there have been many, suburban is my least favorite. We now live out in the woods and know all of our neighbors again. In fact we are having them all over for a party tomorrow. Folks here really look after each other, although we come from very different backgrounds and political persuasions. It’s nice. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, Curt. I can imagine the Mekemson boys having an adventurous bent if they were anything like you. That is often a sign of a good place to grow up in. The suburban stillness and privacy is not conducive to exploration or imaginings.
      Glad you are happy to live where you are.


      • Curt Mekemson Says:

        There was all kinds of mischief we could get into, Gerard. And did. 🙂
        We wake up each morning with grin, here, still marveling that we have found such a fantastic place to live. –Curt


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