Bandmates, Room-mates, Lovers

Spaces 2: January 2014


252 Abercrombie St, Redfern. While our humble home is small in size, it’s big in love and creativity. My partner Ross and I fell into this spot by accident really. A swift move from our beloved Newtown nest was required quick smart. After only two house inspections we were totally over it and settled for this rusty gem. A smarmy real estate agent; a speedy three minute inspection and a decent rental history secured us a spot in Redfern’s finest shoebox apartment.

We were apprehensive about the move, as our previous pad was a hard act to follow, but it’s surprising how quickly one can adapt to their surroundings. All it took for us was a quick paste-up of our Johnny Cash posters and the unearthing of our favourite 70s kitsch koala vase for the place to feel instantly ‘us’; to feel like home.

Redfern is a beautiful suburb. While it can sometimes feel like a crowded concrete jungle, as the Summer sun radiates off the rows of old terraces, it’s a suburb with soul and history. We were lucky enough to find a home right on the corner of Caroline and Abercrombie Streets, just opposite the bustling Redfern Community Centre, in the area known fondly as The Block. This place has strong significance for Sydney’s inner-city Indigenous community and it was the first urban Aboriginal community housing area. While the historical houses on The Block have since been demolished, the area is still a hub for Indigenous-centred cultural events, such free outdoor film screenings, that the extended community enthusiastically take part in. It’s a real pleasure to be invited into the long living history of our First Australians and to see how it continues to thrive into the 21st Century in such an urban environment, against all odds. Redfern allows us to be part of this.

Our home is a live/work space, although sometimes it’s hard to see where the working stops and the living starts, or vice versa. Ross and I are both creative types and we find expression for this as a couple through music. After stumbling into each other while working in a record store four years ago and swapping mix tapes - an age-old indie mating ritual - we found that making music together was a pretty great thing, and thus our band, a folk-pop duo named Achoo! Bless You, was born.

Ross and I began living together two years ago and have since decided the process of renting an apartment is really all about ‘covering up’. 80s holiday-house style slat curtains? Drape a floral sheet over them! Awkward plastic fake marble bench tops? Perfect place for a doily table runner! Can’t drill hooks in the lovely cream walls? Plaster every possible space with a band poster!

Our house is furnished entirely on recycled furniture from family, friends and the back laneways of Sydney’s Inner-West. Ross and I are big believers in reusing and repurposing, not only as a tiny step in easing our environmental footprint, but also because we love the idea of inheriting objects with their own stories and history. One of my favourite items in the house is our Alexander’s Empire map. While whatever old Alex conquered has no historical relevance to me, it’s the fact that I almost tripped over it 5 years ago in dark alleyway in Newtown, that speaks to me. Or how we just couldn’t seem to walk away from the far-too-large-to-fit-in-our-car $15 North-West American print at a Goulburn Vinnies last Easter, even though there’s nowhere suitable to fit it in the apartment. 

Our decorating style seems to have unintentionally developed into an delightfully odd mish-mash of kitsch Australiana, retro Americana, vintage English picture-book charm, and Scandinavian style with a healthy does of “look what we found on the street today!” thrown in. Ross is a long-time cricket fan and is a firm believer that they just don’t play it like they used to in the 70s, a time when men were men and the bigger the moustache the better, which contributes to our combined love of the old Australia days. We might not have been there, but we sure can add to our 60s commemorative Australian spoon collection and pretend we were. 

Traveling far across the seas now stylistically, another favourite item is the Scandinavian inspired cross-stitch made lovingly by my Australian Grandmother, Betty. A family tradition urges Betty to create an individually unique cross stitch for each of her 9 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren in succession from first-born to last. As a late arrival in the clan I received my cross-stitch a couple of years ago, and I keep it displayed always as a reminder of my grandma and my travels through Scandinavia with a lovely Norwegian friend when I was 17. 

Our dreaming quarters double as our creative space quite seamlessly. By day, we push our mattress up against the wall so there’s room to jam, record demos and throw around ideas on the guitar, ukulele and keyboard. We have an endless array of percussive instruments on hand, mostly given to us or picked up somewhere along the road. 2014 will see the release of some new material for us that’s taking on a bolder, more boisterous sound, lead by our new single ‘Wild Eyes’. While we’ve only been playing together as Achoo! Bless You for a couple of years, our music has already taken us from our bedroom to some interesting places. A tour last Autumn found us warming a crowd of drunk Uni graduates in freezing cold Armidale and then popping across to Byron Bay for a chilled show by the sea just the next day. We’ve played open mic nights in tiny New York bars, and New Years Eve music festivals to a few hundred beautiful people out in the Australian bush. We’ve played alongside likes of Tim Rodgers (You Am I), Slow Club (UK) and Passenger (UK) at iconic Australian music institutions such as The Annandale Hotel. We recorded our debut EP in a beach house last year on a remote island community in NSW, where the only interruptions were from the birds, who like to start calling each other enthusiastically whenever we wanted to record. Wherever our music takes us, it’s great to know we’re in it together. Which is really helpful at 2am when the venue shuts and you’re stuck in Wollongong on a rainy night with no way to get home.

By day, I also work as a graphic designer for a boutique studio called Alphabet. We work primarily in the arts and entertainment industry, with a focus on not-for-profit cultural organisations such as Belvoir theatre and the Sydney Festival. For Ross, music is everything. From forming his first highschool angsty pop-punk band, delightfully titled ‘Fries With That’ to currently composing music for short films and TV shows, including the ABC kids program ‘Giggle and Hoot’, music is a constant in Ross’s life. He plays in a number of other Sydney bands including a punk/string/party band called Little Bastard who are constantly on tour up and down the country. Consequently, I spend a lot of time alone in this space of ours. But I really like it - I’m definitely someone who needs a lot of ‘me’ time (unlike Ross, who needs a lot of “everyone come have a beer with me” time!). I need time to unwind, recoup and recharge, and living in a creative, colourful, loving home helps me do this.

I feel like gardening is also a form of therapy for me. I love watching things grow, as I try and reduce the distance from the ground to my plate and bring a touch of the natural world into our concrete shoe box. Everything I know about gardening I’ve learnt from my Mum who has always had a green thumb and a love of eating straight from the soil. My mum lives in a little cottage nestled in a beautiful big garden in Braidwood, NSW, where flowers, veggies, herbs and apple trees are in abundance. There’s something very peaceful and healing about being in that garden, as we watch the cycles of nature play out. I try and bring a bit of that back to my inner-city Redfern apartment. While our balcony is tiny, I’ve tried utilise every space possible, positioning flower boxes over the edge of the railing and hanging baskets just to try and catch every little bit of that limited sunlight. Gardening can often feel a bit disheartening when things don’t go to plan, like the tomatoes that just won’t grow, or the slugs that keep finding the basil plant, but there’s something indescribably special when it just does. I still remember when my first snow pea arrived on my birthday last year and it pretty much made my day.

While we’ve only lived in this little apartment for just over a year, it definitely feels very safe, very inspiring and very loving to us. But I think I’m beginning to realise that it’s not the walls that make the home: it’s the stories, the collected treasures, the make-shift garden, the music, and most importantly, the people you share it with. Home is where the love is.