As far back as I can remember, I’ve been enticed by wilderness, of a primal urge for the undiscovered hidden spaces.

These spaces might take the form of an abandoned house and garden, or the empty plot of land, or the kink in the road that creates a kink in the footpath that creates an odd-shaped space on someone’s land and home. And, not knowing what to do with it- they let it run a little wild, for the plants, and the insects.

When I was little, the places I loved were the enclosed narrow spaces found in every home- the one between the house or the shed- and the neighbours’ fence, with tall grasses up to my waist, spiders on the fence, blue tongue lizards and at one time- a wild rabbit.

And another space under the overgrown tea trees out the back, dry and cosy where I could play hide and seek, peeking out at the garden, or I’d curl up with a storybook and read.

But as I grew older, my favourite hidden spaces were the laneways.

Some were closed off at the ends,

others led to different streets,

or ran alongside railway tracks or became watercourses between the houses.

Lanes allowed for rear access to the properties. They were created from volcanic bluestone dug from quarries at inner suburbs like Clifton Hill, Brunswick and Coburg.

In the early days before proper plumbing, they were the domain of the ‘Night Cart Man’- who, with horse and cart, performed the essential public service of the weekly collection of human waste from the back of outside toilets.

As a teenager, I moved into share houses with friends while we were all still students, and being mostly poor, we were always on the lookout for cheap ways to have fun,

so we explored the local streets and lanes across Malvern and Prahran by foot and by bike.

And during those long hot summers, we’d go ‘lane-ing’, and took advantage of the ripe fruits from trees that grew from the backyards and gardens.

The fruit would fall onto the bluestones, and in the heat, the aroma of fermenting plums, figs, apricots,

and apples would beckon to us.

We’d place the largest bike against the fence, help a friend climb up to balance on the saddle,

then hold them for safety while they picked the fruit.

One friend knew a lot about heritage apples, the kinds you couldn’t buy at the shops, and would identify them on the trees, and teach us the names.

For me, just getting my mouth to say: Cox’s Orange Pippin, Akane, Gravenstein and Bramley’s was seductive and exotic.

One friend knew a lot about heritage apples, the kinds you couldn’t buy at the shops, and would identify them on the trees, and teach us the names.

For me, just getting my mouth to say: Cox’s Orange Pippin, Akane, Gravenstein and Bramley’s was seductive and exotic.

There were fruits we’d never tasted before; like the egg-shaped feijoas with the lime-green skin,

and guavas with their citrus flavour and pear-like granular feel in the mouth.

When I went alone to the lanes, I would stand very still and, for a brief moment, I’d forget the outside world.

At first, I’d hear nothing, but then

I’d feel my heart beating in my chest, the pulse of my blood in my throat or hands, the wind as it rustled the trees or a gentle breeze as it caressed my face, the creak of the fence, and birdsong…

and other sounds, of kids playing in their gardens, or the distant bells from rail crossings.

Lane-ing kindled my lifelong love for foraging, and recycling, and best of all…

–the visceral thrill in discovering the wilderness of the lanes…and hidden spaces

 

(This article was presented by the author at Melbourne Jewish Book Week’s Open Mike Session)

 

Article by Author/s
Di Erlichman
Di Erlichman
Di Erlichman is a Boon Wurrung/Woi Wurrung-based (Melbourne) writer, editor, mixed-media, and performance artist; currently studying Fine Arts at Monash University. Di has a strong interest in exploring social issues and belief systems through personal stories, memory, and trace. She experiments in diverse mediums including video, photography, collage, acrylic, pigment and shellac, encaustic, photo transfer, and assemblage.

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