My daughter and I love house-spotting. We would get in the car and drive through the hilly Melbournian streets of Keilor, where gorgeous homes hug Brimbank Park, to look at what she calls “rich people houses.”
We would dissect the differences between rich people’s houses and regular houses. Rich people are situated on hills surrounded by nature, either in the form of parks or green pastures. The houses are double-storied with windows that overlook the tree-topped hills hugging the Maribyrnong river and the nature trails in their backyard. There are architectural features like water fountains, gargoyles on the roof, turrets as decoration, balconies enclosed with glass fences that don’t impede the view.
Rich people’s are situated on hills surrounded by nature, either in the form of parks or green pastures.
When we find a house of interest, we would stop and search it online. If it was recently sold, we’d look at photos of the interior. My daughter would muse about what life is like for the people behind those walls and imagine making friends with a child who lives there and being associated with the glamour of a mansion on the hill. In her head is a Disney-themed storyline of fun sleepovers, pool parties in the backyard and shopping sprees.
It makes me realise the dichotomy of the adolescence my daughter is living, compared to the one I had in a household funded by a disability pension. Due to my mother’s mental illness, my childhood was chaotic and ever-changing. I went to numerous primary schools and moved often as my single mother battled her illness. We didn’t have much in the way of possessions. But my mother’s thrifty ways ensured we never went hungry or had to worry about paying the bills. I never owned brand name clothes. I got new shoes twice a year, in summer and winter, and we mostly made do with second-hand clothing.
Due to my mother’s mental illness, my childhood was chaotic and ever-changing.
As an adult, I chose to buy second hand clothes and create my owns outfits. The first house my husband and I bought was a fixer-upper that we decorated with second-hand furniture bought in op-shops and online, that I then refurbished and painted orange and white to fit my 1960s aesthetic. To my ethnic family, my bohemian shack was tacky and old, while I loved the splashes of colour and individuality it showcased.
My daughter’s childhood has been privileged in a way that mine never was. She has had the stability of being in the same primary school, living with two parents, and only moving once so far in her young life. As the only child to two working parents she has benefitted from the largesse of a disposable income, and the chance to learn financial prudence with a weekly allowance.
I listen as she muses about her fantasy about the mansion on the hill and think about the fantasies I had when I was her age— to have a mother who wasn’t in and out of hospital, to not be the ‘new girl’ at yet another school, to know what the next day will bring.
To me, the house we now live in is a “rich people house” — with its open plan spaces, large windows, a modern kitchen with an island and pull-out drawers. While to my daughter, it is an ordinary house in an ordinary suburban street.
I listen as she muses about her fantasy about the mansion on the hill and think about the fantasies I had when I was her age
As we drive home after fantasising about living in the rich people’s houses, I tell her that they are no happier than we are. I tell her I was just as happy in my ramshackle fixer-upper as I am in our brand new townhouse because I have the only thing that matters — my family with me.
“I know, Mum,” she says. “I love our house. I just like to dream.”
I smile, glad that she has the space to fantasise in way that I did not. It confirms that she has bigger dreams than I could at her age because of the chaos and uncertainty I lived in. As I pull into the driveway to our double-storey townhouse, I feel a lightness in my step. It’s nice to fantasise, but it’s even better when your dreams come true. My childhood dream is now a reality: I have stability, a home of my own and I know what the next day will bring — more laughter and love with my family.
Amra Pajalic is a high school teacher and author of memoir Things Nobody Knows But Me. You can visit her website here.