By Sinead Stubbins
Edited by Elizabeth Flux
On a street that doesn’t exist but does exist – not just in a ‘This Is Not A Pipe’ smug way, but in a you can send mail there and everything, way – live several families who hate each other. They hate each other for reasons that we can’t remember and reasons that sometimes they can’t remember, and for reasons that mean nothing and will never affect your life in any concrete way. It doesn’t matter anyway, because those families don’t exist either. The street is called Ramsay Street, but is also called Pin Oak Court.
The explanation for this is easy, as all the best explanations are. On the night of March 18 1985, a new universe (Ramsay Street, Erinsborough) split from the original cell (Pin Oak Court, Vermont South), forging an alternate plane of existence that runs simultaneous to its parent but doesn’t interrupt it, like two veins running trickles of blood back and forth, side-by-side. The people who existed in the parallel world didn’t realise they were new, because they already had relationships and history and old age and feuds and a nice and carefully nurtured bushel of geraniums growing in their front garden.
No matter what the residents of Ramsay Street think – do they think it’s fishy that the street is named after one of the families who live on the street? Does that mean they know that the street didn’t exist prior to 1985? Or did the Ramsays come over on the First Fleet? Are the Ramsays convicts? My dad once told me his family home in Ireland was built on ‘Stubbins Bend’ but I still don’t know if that’s true – Ramsay Street doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter that people have fought there, kissed there, entertained visiting policemen who stop by with “just a few questions” or murdered each other and hid the corpse in a rose bush there. The place where we store all these collective cultural memories of fabricated, not-true events, is Pin Oak Court. That is the real place, where real people live, because the other place never was – except that it kind of still is. See?
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The cul-de-sac of Pin Oak Court is located in the suburb of Vermont South, which back in the 1970s, was the location of the Australian Gun Club – and now is the location of the largest Bunnings Warehouse in the Southern Hemisphere. Pin Oak Court is a flat and wide street full of dignified trees that look like dense green fairy floss, the kind of trees that seem like they came here on a boat from England by request of some governor or other. The imperialist trees are spread out, making them ideal for standing behind and spying on your neighbours from while they have illicit affairs with each other.
There are only six houses on Pin Oak Court.
I read once that an Englishman who owned a private jet company had paid almost $100,000 to buy Toadie’s house.
It wasn’t even the first house on the block he owned – he had already bought The Scully’s house like a decade before. English people love Ramsay Street. Maybe it’s the trees. The houses are all positioned like they’re facing one another in conversation, their red brick faces and surprised window eyes watching each other for signs of misdeeds. I wonder if the residents of Pin Oak Court ever think about what’s happening in each other’s houses. I wonder if they feel really lucky. I wonder if they also take in lodgers and attractive siblings who are down on their luck. I wonder if they watch Home and Away.
Every day, except on weekends and public holidays, you can pay to go to Pin Oak Court for three hours for an ‘OFFICIAL RAMSAY STREET TOUR WITH STAR MEETING’. You can take photos on the street and afterwards, you’ll receive a complimentary postcard. On the Frequently Asked Question section of the website, the tour employees type as if they are already exasperated by your inane questions, even though they are posing these hypothetical questions to themselves.
“Ramsay Street is a real street where ordinary people live!” the website insists, when it asks itself if Ramsay Street is real. “There is no entry into any of the houses!”
“There is only one Neighbours actor (past or present) who will meet you on tour!” they assert, just in case, upon seeing the exterior of the house where Madge died, you experience such ecstasy and greed that you start having frenzied conniptions and demand to see Harold Bishop or ELSE.
Here are a list of things that have happened on Ramsay Street in an order that is not dictated by sense or value: Steph Scully ran down the street in her wedding dress, her veil trailing in the pristine gutter, after she found out during the vows that her sister Flick was having an affair with her fiancé, Steph Scully tried to steal Libby Kennedy’s boyfriends on at least two occasions and almost married Toadie, Steph Scully was arrested for murder, Susan slips on some milk and loses her memory, Susan finds out that Karl was having an affair with Sarah, Susan finds out Karl was having an affair with Izzy, Susan gets back together with Karl anyway, Bouncer the dog has a dream that he marries the dog next door, Harold goes missing and then turns up five years later and tells Madge that his name is ‘Ted’ before remembering that his name is Harold, there was a street-wide competition about who could cook the best sausage, Stingray dies in the middle of a block party to a Hunters and Collectors song, Scott and Charlene get engaged, Stuart Parker joins a cult called ‘Life Mechanics’, Jim Robinson takes magic mushrooms, Dee ‘returns’ from the dead, Toadie lets Lou cut his ponytail and Lily Allen promotes her latest single.
Here’s a list of things that have happened on Pin Oak Court: people arrive almost every day to take photos in front of someone else’s nature strip and pretend to slap each other, Englishmen pay thousands of dollars to own the front door that Toadfish Rebecchi sometimes stands in front of.
The only places that exist outside of Ramsay Street are London and Colac.
The rest of Erinsborough is extremely dangerous. If you go to the beach, you will probably slip on a rock and catch amnesia or drive off a cliff and accidentally kill your wife. If you go to the bush, you will get your foot stuck under a fallen log or get in a car accident and end up wandering around the bush with your newborn baby, only later to die from internal injuries. As far as I’m aware, Vermont South isn’t nearly as dangerous. I’ve never been to the Bunnings, though.
Besides the looming threat of death at every corner, Pin Oak Court and Ramsay Street have a lot in common, which is to be expected from two places that are actually the same place. People move in, live there and die there because that’s what people have done since suburban streets were invented. They settle in these pleasantly dull places and there’s a comfort in it. They build walls that look like a bunch of rocks just fell out of the sky around the perimeter of their property, but still insist on living in clusters. Inside the houses, two families live side-by-side in different realities, one solid and the other ghosts, like echoes of extremely unremarkable suburban poltergeists haunting the cul-de-sac for all eternity.
When I was growing up I lived in seven houses and out of the seven houses, I can only tell you the names of two out of a potential 14 neighbours. I think I could probably name every resident of Ramsay Street from the years between 1994 and 2002, though. These memories occupy a sleepy part of my brain that I don’t often access, because I take for granted that right now, at this moment, there are still imagined families on Ramsay Street yelling at each other for buying a pet sheep or accidentally giving their pregnant sister mushy tea, like a constant and never-ending hum in the background of normal life. Ramsay Street is a construction that nevertheless holds a real place in Melbourne’s cultural memory, even if Harold Bishop never actually lived there. It evokes the same mundane coziness that the south-eastern suburbs likewise ping in my brain; the bus stops, the quiet milk bars and the concrete footpaths decorated with dog footprints and drawings by particularly rambunctious and profane Years 7s.
Pin Oak Court is the vessel for these soothing echoes; that manicured, alarmingly clean street, which is real but still fake, filled with people who also have memories of the unreal and who continue to plant those non-native trees, willing them to grow as if they are a natural part of their surroundings, living in sets of their own making, and sweeping the streets as if leaves never fall there.