Home Alone.

Home alone

Gerard Oosterman
Gerard Oosterman

Mention the word ‘table’ (tavola) to an Italian and the implications are clear: family, food, laughter and above all, the excitement of conversation. The word ‘tavola’ could easily bring tears to any red blooded Italian, having been away too long from home.

But, mentioning the word ‘table’ to an Australian and someone might ask: Ikea, or have you inherited a “Parker Table”?

(This of course is not the only difference between Aussies and the European or other nationals. But, as they say in Russia, Viva La Difference!)

A curious form of isolating oneself, at times, from the outside world persists here more than anywhere else that I know of.

Perhaps the words ‘Own Home’ demonstrate this difference. Am I right in thinking that those two little words would conjure up for Australians what the word ‘tavola’ does for the Italian?

The words ‘Own Home’ for us Australians is the need for the world of absolute ‘privacy’. Perhaps, to our Anglo forbearers, their ‘Own Home’ was their castle – up with the drawbridge and just in case of anything or anyone unwanted, they had the back up of a moat to keep out intruders, including any unannounced visitors.

While the drawbridge and moat have gone, we have substituted them with the paling fence, and now the impenetrable colour bond aluminium partition fence, blocking even the remotest chance of seeing a neighbour, or worse, a neighbour seeing us.

Some ‘own homes’ now have total block-out metal electric window shutters. Perhaps in the future they will do away with the need to have any windows at all.

We have a self contained farm cottage that we let to anyone at weekends. It is miles from neighbours and we live also well away.

When the Europeans come to stay, they keep everything open – doors, curtains, and are quickly outside, keen to strike up a conversation. The Aussies draw curtains as soon as they arrive.

The need for ‘privacy’ seems to overwhelm everything, even when it means blocking the glorious country views and light. Perhaps they are impatiently waiting to jump into bed for a bit of an old fashioned quickie, but so would the red blooded Europeans, would they not?

We recently had a couple celebrating 40 years of marriage. Surely they would want to relax, unpack and watch cricket, go to the loo, or do something decent first? No, the curtains closed soon after arrival.

With the culture of one’s ‘Own Home’ comes another curious phenomenon. You rarely actually see anyone outside in their gardens and I am buggered if I know how Aussies maintain their gardens so spotlessly. The petunia borders are all weed free. The lawn is in absolute submission and not a leaf is allowed a minute’s rest in the guttering.

Back about fifty years ago, we lived in a new Sydney suburb called Revesby, near Bankstown in NSW. A neighbour would, at weekends only, climb on his roof and sweep the shiny ‘Wunderlich’ glazed tiles clean of bird shit, deposited generously by my brother’s pigeons. It was the only time we actually saw him outside, ever.

These days, if you want to see people enjoying their outside garden areas, one has to go to the suburbs of mainly Italian or Greek inhabitants. In Sydney, the Middle Eastern areas are probably the best place to see outdoor activity – people hanging over the fence, kids playing on the streets, the burning of rubber by over-excited youths, and a general feeling of excitement or ‘things happening’.

Now we come to the tricky ‘Unleashed contributors’ bit. Is it also this ‘privacy’ thing that sees so many people writing under nick names, often even changing their names as they go along? Is it safer to write something a bit controversial under the guise of a nick name?

I hope I am not under some kind of danger here. Am I doing something wrong or should I start writing under another name as well? Surely, the comforting umbrella of the ABC’s Unleashed forums will keep us always safe.

What is the answer to all this nonsense?

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