By Anna Horan
Edited by Elizabeth Flux
Our house was at the bottom of a sloping street. A converted cream workers’ cottage, turned into a 2-storey terrace. It had a creaky iron gate that never closed, and a reddish brown front door that required a key-jiggle in the lock to get in. Encased in a bluestone fence and too-steep stone steps out the front, was densely packed earth with a ‘garden’ we promptly killed after moving in.
We were an embarrassment to our neighbours on either side, who had perfectly manicured, thriving front gardens. Particularly, Loris who harboured a deep dislike for our household. One of the most passive-aggressive people I’ve ever met, she offered to fix up and maintain our patch of dirt, rocks and shriveled bushes. We knew we were the shame of the street, so we let her. Whoever was living in the front bedroom would often open their curtains and see Loris, right there, bent over with secateurs in hand pruning the bushes, or jacking up our water bill by using our hose willy-nilly.
We lived across the road from Sigrid Thornton, who would wave at us when we saw her. We called her ‘Siggy’ behind closed doors or while drunkenly passing her house coming home from a night out. She and her husband once called the cops on one of our parties.
Our other notable neighbour was Maria, who we always thought hated us until several years in when we went over to let her know we were having a party. We had braced ourselves for a puddle-inducing scowl and potential name calling. But when she opened the front door, she cupped my face with her hand and called me ‘lovely’. The encounter seemed to kibosh the theory that Maria had stolen the decorative white pebbles from our front garden to add to her own. Her story at the time about a ‘suspicious ute’ taking off with them had been extremely sketchy.
Inside the house, it was part ski-lodge, part unregulated ’90s DIY renovation – the upstairs bathroom opened onto a tiny balcony of which 70% of the floor was taken up by a skylight. If you risked standing on it and leaned forward, you could get a peek of Melbourne’s city skyline. The stairs inside were so steep and skinny, that there was a permanent streak of dirt on the wall from people using their hands to balance on their way up and down. If you’d been drinking, you could crawl up on all fours and remain upright. Downstairs we had floorboards that didn’t meet the skirting, exposed brick and pine walls. Upstairs was a bit fresher, with painted brick walls and greyish carpet that we were promised would be replaced but never was. Domain currently values the four-bedroom house at around the $1.6 million mark; I lived there long enough to know that if you bought it, you’d have to gut the entire place and start again.
Fiona, Chloe and Jess
Approx. 18 months
Our first household included Fiona and Chloe, two of my high school friends from Geelong, and Jess, who we’d befriended in our first year of Uni while living at the RMIT Village. We moved in to our North Melbourne abode in June of 2008, our parents all signing on as guarantors that we would keep up with the rent.
We were 19 years old and right in the thick of studying and partying four or five nights a week.
We were a combustible foursome of different temperaments, teetering between chilled hangs on beanbags on the front porch, laughter-filled pre-drinks featuring $10 goon, very cheap (too strong) vodka jelly shots, and passive aggressive notes left on the kitchen bench. Oh, to be 19 and ‘mature’. It is now that I would like to confess that to Fiona, Chloe and Jess that I hid the kettle lid during a house party, so we had to use my kettle instead. I claimed it boiled faster, and felt justified because I drank the most tea out of everyone, but it was also a bit of a dick move. Sorry pals.
Replacing: Jess, when she went backpacking
Approx. 6 months
Almost like a housemate exchange, when Jess decided to do the backpacking thing across Europe, a bubbly Bavarian named Susi moved in. She had the very admirable quality of being able to laugh at herself and not be embarrassed. While we were the same age, she was a bit of a fairy godmother to me. I still think a lot about the card Susi gave me when she returned to Germany. Everyone could do with a Susi in their lives at that age.
Approx. 12 months
Tilde was a bit of a hippie. She was over from Sweden, studying at Melbourne Uni and had brown short cropped hair and thick black glasses. She was a couple of years older than us, and seemed to have some odd interpretations of social conventions.
She once hooked up with a guy she met walking down Sydney Road. I think she met up with him on one other occasion, but after that every time she called his landline he was ‘busy’ or ‘not there’. (Meanwhile, this might have been 2009, but who was still sliding 8 digits instead of 12 then?) One Saturday afternoon in the TV room with Chloe and I, this conversation with Tilde followed:
“Where’s Sunshine?” she asked.
“Western suburbs. Why?” I replied.
“I haven’t heard from Jimba. I was thinking of getting a cab to his house.”
“Uhh, that doesn’t sound like a very good idea.”
“Uhh, ‘cos it’s kinda weird to just show up at someone’s house and it’s quite far out. Plus, you’ve never been out that way before – you could get lost.”
“Yeah, but if I’m at his front door he has to talk to me.”
“I don’t think that’s a good move.”
“It’s worked before.”
It was then that Chloe and I learned how she’d gotten together with her ex-boyfriend back home. Over several months, Tilde had waited on her future-ex’s doorstep every day until one day when she wasn’t there, he texted her and said he missed her. Boom: they were a couple.
Seven years and counting
When Matt moved in in 2010, he had a girlfriend of ten years. When I moved out in 2015, he had a boyfriend of two years. Outside of my family, he’s the one person I’ve lived with the longest. We share the same birthday, but he was a few years older. Coming in at 6’1, with golden blonde hair that curled at the ends when it grew out, he smoked and drank like no one I’ve known. Yet, still went to the gym and drank protein shakes.
Matt introduced me into the intricacies of Survivor, and he was my favourite person to watch reality TV shows like Ladette to Lady and Snog, Marry, Avoid with. There’s nothing quite like the frailty of the human condition as seen on reality TV that can bring two people watching it closer together. I’m glad there are no records of our running commentary, particularly as neither of us could really cast stones. Matt, in nothing but his red undies, legs strewn over the armrest while also eating half a lasagne, and me clipping my toe nails (I made sure I put them in the bin, don’t judge me) while sitting on the living room bed we pretended was a couch – the irony was not lost on us. God, I miss it.
Mike (was that your name?)
Less than 3 months
The shortest period of time I’ve ever lived with someone who signed the lease. He was an Adelaide boy, who decided to ditch us for super cheap rent in a 14-person sharehouse full of other Adelaideans.
Look, his departure might have also had something to do with something I did. It was an accident, I swear. Jack, my boyfriend and I took ‘a late night shower’, and we accidentally directed the shower head onto the bathroom tiles. The tiny bathroom quickly flooded and overflowed with water, which then trickled down through to Mike’s bedroom and onto his head, waking him. We didn’t notice until he started banging on the bathroom door. My bad.
I knew I wanted Raisa to live with us as soon as I read her Gumtree email. She was into a lot of the same things I was, and her message had a good vibe (something that’s immediately identifiable because of all the fucking weirdos who can’t hide their terribleness even in written form on Gumtree). When Chloe moved out we did the sharehouse shuffle: Matt moved into the big room and I moved into Chloe’s.
One night, my boyfriend made a quick dash to the bathroom in the nude. A minute or two later I heard Raisa cackle with laughter. On his way back to my room, auto-pilot had taken over and instead of slipping back into my room, he had opened the door to Raisa meditating on the floor. The following day, recounting the story to Frida, Matt and me, Raisa high-fived me.
Replacing: Mike (Marcus? Seriously, what was your name?)
Babiche was Catalonian. She was studying architecture at RMIT, and would obsessively clean our house almost every day. It was not uncommon to come home to the strong scent of bleach.
A month or so into living with us, Babiche asked the house if her friend who was travelling could stay with us for a few days. We said: yeah, sure, of course. A month or so later, a second friend was visiting. Could she stay? Yeah, no worries, we said. Then not long after that, a third friend stayed… I’m not even sure she asked that time. Um, yeah, not cool, but ok.
I lost it when yet another friend (the fourth, the fifth? Who knows) stayed with us. An English guy stayed in our tiny TV room on our bed/couch for two full weeks and contributed zilch to the house, despite showering for 20 minutes every day and sometimes eating our food. One day, I came home from work and he informed me we had run out of toilet paper. I was ready to march down the street to get toilet paper just so I could jam it down his throat, but instead I asked him how his day was.
“I didn’t get up to much,” he said. “Mostly hung about here and watched TV.” That story checked out.
“Big day!” I said.
“I did some washing.”
Oh, did you? I thought. Probably with my washing detergent, too.
It had been a long day and all I wanted to do was mindlessly watch some TV, even if it meant keeping up the chit chat with this guy. As it turned out, later I would be grateful for this conversation, because I found out that, actually, he didn’t really know Babiche that well. He had known her only a few months and they met in a backpackers IN AUSTRALIA. Matt and I confronted Babiche and informed her we were not a halfway house for backpackers and could she please stop offering our home to complete randoms to stay. Thankfully, she did stop. Until…
When Babiche moved back to Spain after less than a year, she convinced us to let her friend stay in her room for the remaining two weeks’ of the month’s rent. He was a bit odd, didn’t speak much English and kept to himself. When Raisa’s sister Nish moved into the room shortly after he left, she started to clear out the room of the things Babiche had left behind and accidentally knocked over a teacup of urine left beside the mattress on the floor. Please note: the bedroom shared a wall with the downstairs bathroom.
Replacing: Raisa (2 months) and Babiche (6 months)
Nish, Raisa’s sister, is some kind of high-powered project manager for big banks. She stayed with us twice – a few months before moving overseas – and a few months before she bought her own apartment. She has lived everywhere you wish you have, and ticked off most major cities, including London, New York and Amsterdam. I think she’s in Paris right now. Nish always invited me to stand-up comedy nights at the Lithuanian Club. I did not attend even once. I still feel a bit guilty about that.
Approx 18 months
Frida was a friend of Raisa’s from school. When she came into the house, it meant our household was made of a Jew (Frida), a Muslim (Raisa), a Catholic (me) and a gay atheist man (Matt) all living together, in what I think was the most harmonious mix of people our house had ever seen. Frida had recently broken up with a long-term boyfriend, and was giving herself a year of fun to try new things like gymnastics and surfing, and meet new people. Little did she know she would meet her now-fiance – also named Jack – within a matter of months. When they started dating, sometimes house convos would get confusing. Matt joked we should refer to them as Jack 1 and Jack 2 to help differentiate the two. This evolved into calling them both Jack 2 for LOLs, or even better Jack 3, so they would always wonder who the third Jack was.
Jack 2 and Frida now split their time between Indonesia and Australia, being cute and running a small business together.
Replacing: Frida (temporarily)
Max was a smart guy. He had a VPN before I knew about VPNs and they were the only way you could watch Netflix. We decided to watch Cabin in the Woods one Saturday night as a house. When he was setting up his laptop and the projector, we caught a glimpse of what he’d been browsing on the internet. It wasn’t porn, but it was the Wikipedia page on Quantum Mechanics.
Approx 18 months
Ilya was Frida’s little brother. When he moved in, his room was directly below mine. Our walls and floors were so thin (between the top and ground floor there were only floorboards and threadbare carpet) sometimes I would reach for my phone before I realised it was his phone vibrating and not mine.
Approx 10 months
My soulmate. I don’t know what else to say except she’s lived with me, worked with me (twice!) and still wants to be my friend – for which I am eternally grateful. I hope we’ll be sneaking beers into Hoyts on a Saturday night to watch Gone Girl until we’re old biddies.
Sam was a Kiwi, doing Honours in history. One morning, I visited the bathroom and discovered someone had left a small, smooth poo on the corner of the bathmat. I refused to deal with another person’s literal shit. Surely whoever deposited it there would see it, be mortified and clean up after themselves. No one mentioned it. No one owned up to it. The shit remained there for four days.
To be clear, I’m 100% certain it wasn’t Sam, but I think the poop was the limit for her. We both moved out shortly thereafter. I bought myself a new bathmat.
In 2015, I had to move back to Geelong to live with my parents. I’d been made redundant and was burning through my savings fast. I’d called that North Melbourne house my home for seven years. When I left, I almost expected a gold watch and a plaque installed in my honour. But of course, it was nothing so ceremonious. I was out within a month, and replaced by a Greens activist. I didn’t event take my kettle with me in the end.
Now I live alone in my own one-bedroom in Carlton North. My friend Brodie described it best when she moved into her one-bedder: “It’s great! No one is EVER home.” Even so, a little piece of my heart will always fondly look back on that house – teacup urine and all.
A year ago, Matt told me Loris had invited everyone at the house to Christmas drinks. “I wonder if she’s had these every year and we were just never invited,” he joked. After the drinks, Matt messaged me: “OMG. Loris just admitted to stealing our rocks.”