The journey involved a very long and boring day of driving along the highway in a battered old magna with Love Chunks, nine year old Sapphire, Milly the dog and Skipper the rabbit. Too many games of 'Who Am I?' and 'Guess the Car Model', scattered pasty and sausage roll crumbs on the seats and sly farts emitted and only discovered by other occupants several minutes later ("Geez Milly, we need to get you off tinned Pal") were only eased by loo and playground stops, petrol refills and realising that yes, the Big Koala at Dadswell's Bridge really does look like a huge pile of marsupial doo doos.
Squeezed under our feet and between the arm rests were our suitcases, beloved boxes of wine, two bamboo plants, pet paraphernalia, two laptops, assorted electronica and some tupperware containers full of slightly-perishable snacks such as cashews, Oreos, breadsticks and homemade melting moments. And blocks of Lindt, Nestle, Cadbury and Cote d'Or: essentials, you understand.
The Ibis put us up for three nights as we excitedly awaited settlement, receiving the keys from the land agent and the 'set down' of our furniture. It was in fact the smallest living occupant - Skipper - who took up residence first, being deposited in his hutch by the back door three days before we were official owners of the place.
On moving-in day we battled 39C heat, buzzing blowflies and the cheerful banter of blokes who'd endlessly ask, "So, where do you want this box?" whilst knowing that the only place for most of the stuff labelled 'Shed' was outside. Any thoughts I had of being ruthless and a devilish declutterer in Adelaide were long gone as I got even more heave-happy and hard-hearted in Victoria.
A blow up Crows doll? Out!
Oh, OK, so Love Chunks brought the appliances back in, but I won the argument about 'losing' my ill-fated efforts at painting sub-realistic sealions and Aboriginal art and we're still debating whether the blue canoe will make an attractive garden feature or feature in a Trading Post 'for sale' advertisement.
With most of the main gear (ie beds, food and basic bathroom supplies) unpacked, Sapphire and I explored our surroundings whilst Love Chunks started work. We live in the triangular-shaped area of Flemington with two main roads carrying the trams, taxis and scooters and the third ending up at the oval connected to the enormous housing commission buildings that cast dark shadows over the entrance to City Link. As such, the ambient background noise is the ding-ding of public transport, the burrp-burrrp-burping zooms of motorbikes, low-flying helicopters and the smell of cigarette smoke wafting over from the flats next door. Quite a departure from the lawn-mowers, leaf-blowers and blow-in bogan hoons doing burn-outs in Trinity Gardens and only eighty-five year old neighbour Jack sneaking one solitary smoke during his morning walk around the block.
Here is our local deli, or 'shop' in the next street. It needs a paint job and inside it's about as big as our bathroom with the fridge only stocking three 600ml cartons of Big M iced coffee*, half a dozen coke zeros and some butter from the Golden era of Gough Whitlam. Still, it also sells The Age and a decent range of chocolate bars, so life could be worse.
Our local strip, Racecourse Road, is a small-but-busy hub of Vietnamese, North African, Italian, Greek, Lebanese, Japanese, Malaysian, Chinese, Irish and Aussie cuisines interspersed with the unavoidable KFC, Maccas, Subway and St Vincent dePauls. We lunched at a noodle bar and saw a chap park his black Porsche and sit at the table next to us, alongside a gaggle of African-speaking taxi drivers on their break. Afterwards, we took Milly to Debney Park where she delighted in sniffing out several dead birds, too many smashed beer bottles and take-away cartons - a pooch's paradise but one where Sapphire pursed her lips and commented on the amount of graffiti and litter. "Why do they do it, Mum?"
As for Milly, she delights in any opportunities to go for a walk, but when she comes back 'home' she is puzzled beyond her usual furry-faced limits of comprehension. Her family is here, her bed is here, our belongings are here, but what is this place? What are the noises, sounds, smells, odours and sights? Should she issue a few tough "Ooofs" to let the neighbours know that there's a killer Jorgi behind the fence, or relax and sun herself on the tile-sized patch of lawn? Whatever the answer to her questions, she is always keeping a beady eye on the comings and goings of her human housemates, never daring to let one venture further than three metres out of her sight or smell.
Love Chunks has kept his swearing to a minimum as he's been figuring out how to cram in a double garage's worth of stuff into a potting shed, how to put up pictures on weatherboard-veneer walls and, most importantly, how to get the telly back on. He's put in a champion effort at lifting and shifting everything from double wardrobes, weights benches and dryers and also managed to get his beloved Gaggia coffee machine up and running on the first day.
I've learned that having a driveway or access to an old Poo Cart Lane is a sign of wealth and privilege; hunky young firemen do their fitness training at Sapphire's new school on weekends ("Hey Sweetie, shouldn't we go for a walk around your new school so that you get familiar with it?") and there's chocolate-makers and devoted cafes out here I'm only just becoming aware of. Oh, and that I feel happy and just a teensy bit excited, like, you know when it's your birthday and even though you're on the bus and no-one there would know or care about it and you haven't told anyone, you feel sort of special..... Yeah, kind of like that.
* Stay tuned for a future anti-Big M rant......