The house on York Street

December 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

The thing in Martin Place happened. You read enough about that already.

Then a day or so later I received this email from my dad:

Hello Frank and others,
We are feeling quite famous this evening, for the wrong reason.
The TV news flash showed the house in Sydney where Man-Haron-Monis, the Martin Place terrorist lived. The house looked familiar, so I researched it and confirmed it on Street view on Google Earth.
It is definitely Helen’s old family home at 14 York Street Belmore NSW where she lived all her younger years until we married.

Here’s the article.

I’ve been in that house. My mother grew up in that house. She stood on the steps of that house in her wedding gown more than fifty years ago. When my grandparents died and the McNally family home was sold off my aunt prised the house’s name from where it had been bolted to the right of the portico, and nicked off with it. I think my mother is still shitty about that.

The house on York Street didn’t always have so bleak a frontage of concrete, grass and chain link fence. My mother says her father (who’d come rolling home shouty and drunk after a week working on the railway) grew roses all along the front fence. When my mother was naughty, my grandmother chased her around a tree in the backyard with a broomstick, shouting ‘COME HERE YOU LITTLE BUGGER!’. When she read Peter Pan and tried to fly, it was from the porch that she launched herself, and onto the driveway that her arm landed, and broke. Little bugger.

But beneath the secrets of the house that police are now trying to unravel are layers of older ones. Like how fifty, sixty years ago there was holy water in every room, so you could bless yourself going in or coming out. How my mother’s aunt, a nun, would come for lunch on Sundays, except nuns couldn’t travel alone so two nuns came. They’d catch the train and then walk up York Street to the house and my grandmother would feed her sister (Sister Monica) and the chaperone. But nuns couldn’t eat in front of other people, so it was my mother’s job to bring their plates of food to a room where they could eat behind closed doors. When they were finished, they’d knock on the door and my mother would go in and fetch the empty plates, wondering what on earth was underneath their head coverings and floor-length black garments.

Of course, in one generation, all that has changed. Where once Belmore was a white, working class, Irish Catholic sort of place, it’s now, well, less so. I don’t know if the people who typified Belmore back then have moved east or moved west or become extinct.

But then someone pointed out to me that the house on York Street has simply swapped one brand of religious extremism for another, peeled off the habit and put on the hijab. On hearing this profound but blasphemous suggestion, I felt a sudden need to bless myself, right here in this room. But I haven’t got any goddamn holy water.







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