04 September 2011

An open letter to Mr Greg Miller of Dillon Bay...

Yesterday afternoon whilst driving in the car with my girls, at some indeterminate point between our local shopping centre and Bunnings, my youngest daughter piped up randomly from the back seat, "Mum, do you remember when we went to Dillon Bay?  That was FUN!  Can we go there again?"  At which point, it was my cheerless duty to explain to her that no, we wouldn't be able to go there again, because Nanny and Poppop didn't have that house anymore...

Nanny and Poppop - my mum and dad - paid a good sum for that house over 20 years ago.  Unfortunately it was the house that they paid for, not the land.  That didn't really matter though, because there was an agreement with your ever gentlemanly father - affectionately known to all as Pop Miller, with his gently bandy legs and ready smile and wave.  An agreement that was effectively "rent" plus a little bit towards power too.  An agreement that, upon the sad passing of your father a good number of years ago now, continued amiably, with a letter from you to my folks stating something along the lines that you "saw no reason why the arrangement couldn't continue".

Sadly, not long after, it would appear that you found a reason.  A reason to take all those houses from the people who owned them, including at least one permanent resident who would then have to find somewhere else to put down roots at 70+ years of age, along with finding homes for all of the abandoned animals that she cared for out of the goodness of her own heart.

I don't profess to know anything about the legal ins and outs of the situation, except that there were legal ins and outs that spanned over a number of years and culminated earlier this year in a decision that you were legally entitled to do what you were doing - to remove the dwellings from the land and from the people who had enjoyed them for decades.

To be honest, I'm not concerned with the legalities of the situation.  What concerns me is that the future generations of our family will not be able to enjoy holidays in that house as these last two generations have.

And I use "house" in the loosest possible sense of the word.  Mismatched face bricks are the first thing to greet you as you pass the big old gate.  Once inside, the carpet is almost worn away from years of beach sand being tracked in by any number of feet, past the map on the wall showing where our little patch of paradise was, complete with the tiny hand drawn image of Poppop in his fishing boat, just off the coast.

That same room houses the table that is always bigger in my reminiscences than in real life, but still big enough to hold a large assortment of random and contrasting chairs, which at any given point in any given holiday would be holding a random assortment of people, sometimes eating a pre-fishing breakfast, sometimes enjoying a post-fishing feast of beer battered fish and home made chips.  Sometimes reading, sometimes playing a board game or doing a crossword, often having a holiday drink and a bloody good chat with whoever happened to be inhabiting the other chairs, but always relaxed and in "Dillon mode".

The old wood burning stove in the kitchen, for many years heated the water to the house and also provided a hot cuppa at any time of day or night and the tap to the right of the sink brought rainwater into the house from the big tank outside.

The lounge room shelves held an assortment of magazines and Reader's Digests spanning years - some came with the house itself and some were taken down on holidays and left there, the crosswords completed over the course of several visits.  The big couches were perfect to curl up with a cuppa, or to sleep a tired body or two when the holidaying group was large and the beds ran out.

The old curtains in the bedrooms were held together with pegs, to allow them to meet in the middles of the bent and rusty curtain rods and prevent a pre-dawn rising of the non-fishing folk.  The cupboards sent forth an aroma of mothballs with each opening so that the blankets within weren't feasted upon in the times between visits.

We showered in bore water - blissfully hot and perfect - after long days spent at the beach, bush walking, taking a run "into town", sometimes all of the above.  I can still conjure up the taste and smell of one of those holiday showers and will probably always be able to.

Beyond the house, the backyard was enormous, and for a number of years, was "mowed" by the sheep from next door in between visits.  Down the very back, we could peek through into the sanctuary over the fence, which at any point in time housed a variety of different sized kangaroos, most of which had been found as joeys when their mothers had been hit by cars and brought to Margaret to be cared for.  She also looked after a dancing parrot and a potty-mouthed bird among her other "children" and was always up for a chat.  There was almost always a joey in residence at each visit, and the kids delighted in being able to give them a bottle and a snuggle when Margaret wandered over at the late afternoon feed time.

The backyard has also been a camp site at different times, when the couches had run out along with the beds.  One memorable trip being immediately after I had completed my final year of school and both my brother and myself each took along a tribe of friends.  My mates - "the boys" - pitched a tent in the backyard and were happy with their little set up until the afternoon that Jack - Margaret's late husband - spied a snake in his yard and took a shot at it.  He missed.  That night, the boys were sharing the yard with what was likely one highly pissed off snake, so slept with the tent very tightly zipped if memory serves...

That year was also the year of the impromptu volleyball tournament on the beach - me and my mates vs. my brother and his.  I'm pretty sure there is still photographic evidence somewhere at mum and dad's of the high five that signified the victory of the little sister's team...

Ahhh the beach - a five minute drive that scratched the bejeesus out of one's duco, or a twenty minute walk past farm fences and through grey/black sand that didn't give away a single hint about what lay ahead.  Kilometres of baby-powder-esque sand as far as you could see and beyond.  Sand that rippled perfectly in the overnight wind in the dunes and squeaked when you walked on the wet bits.  Sand that led you down to the amazingly clear and beautiful water - water that at any time of year was frigid and straight off the Antarctic and made your ears hurt to swim in it.  But swim in it we did, except when dark shapes chased the salmon.  Those times I was happy to spectate...

The beach where my girls "learned to drive" in Poppop's 4WD.  Hannah studiously keeping the wheels in the existing tracks of past vehicles during her turn and Sophie looking everywhere but forwards and threatening to drive us into the ocean at several points during hers.

Yes, we have memories, and by crikey we have photos, but what we no longer have is the house that provided them all, and this is where the law concerns me much less than a little bit of heart and a whole lot of good old fashioned Aussie good-blokedness.  Neither of which seem to reside in decent amounts in you, Mr Miller.  More than anything, this makes me feel sorry for you.

But I'll get over it and we will find somewhere else to have holidays and you will do whatever it is that you plan to do with that stretch of land between the red dirt road and the heavenly coastline.   The red dirt road that appears like magic in the paddocks on the right after the last long stretch of Bremer Bay Road and the heavenly coastline that materialises when you stop at the top of the hill on that red dirt road - bright and blue on a clear day and barely distinguishable from the sky on an overcast one, but always there, promising to provide one heck of a great holiday and always, always delivering.

As I sit here on a Sunday evening, prompted to write this by the surprise but solemn questioning of  my almost five year old, I am fairly safe in the knowledge that you are unlikely to ever actually read this.  There is however,  just a tiny part of me that is also vaguely hopeful that you might...