January 30, 2011

Life on a building site

Tags: Memories

I grew up on a building site. Not literally, but effectively. For a decade of my youth a building site was always just a short walk or bike ride away. We were one of the first families to move into the suburb of Leeming in Perth, which developed from just a few houses to several thousand over the years we were there.

In the late 1970’s Perth expanded into several new suburbs that had previously been farmland or bush. One of these was Leeming. Ours must have been within the first dozen houses built in the suburb. When we moved in, the house next door was under construction - every other side was bush. There were a few houses around the corner and several on Gracechurch Crescent, although most of those were display houses. Over time the land was cleared, blocks marked out and buildings would rise. The bush over the road was turned into a park. The foreign cliche is that Australians have kangaroos jumping down their streets. It is virtually never true, Australia is a very urbanised country and kangaroos generally don’t like cities. I never saw kangaroos on the street, but there were some in the bush over the road as well as small goannas, snakes and spiders. I remember a goanna eating the strawberries in our front garden. Apart from the spiders (which were everywhere), these animals slowly disappeared.

The building sites that replaced the bush were much more fun for play. All the local kids knew the rhythm of a new build. We could run around the original sparse bush, but when the land was cleared and flattened the games were paused. Then a concrete pad was laid to act as a foundation for the house which offered a few minutes of interest. We returned to the site while the walls (2 layers of brick with a small air gap between them) were erected. This was the best time on site. We could run round the rooms, hide behind half built walls in games of chase or something more violent (cops & robbers, throwing tennis balls at each other). Also there would be bits of metal or broken bricks to investigate or throw around. Normally there was a large pile of yellow sand for the cement mixer that was useful for making sand castles and the like. A few kids liked making tunnels in the piles of sand using detritus from the build as supports. I help make some of these, but never went inside, I was a little too claustrophobic. I heard a few kids around Perth died when such tunnels collapsed, but there was never a collapse in our area (that I knew about). When the walls were complete the roof went on. The sand would disappear to be replaced by piles of tiles. I can only assume the builders knew a few would be broken after school hours. Once the roof was finished, the windows and doors quickly went in. That was the end of the site for play. No one I knew broke the windows or into a house - it always seemed easier just to move onto the site next door. Lastly someone would move in and we would see if any new kids were around. A couple of times we went and knocked on the door and asked if there were any children who wanted to play.

As time passed the distance to new sites grew ever larger, corresponding with lessening interest in playing on them. A few years into school I had to travel to the other end of Leeming to find a site (there were some big ones over there - retail buildings, schools, a large road). I didn’t do this often. Although I remember one friend, Stephen, who had just moved to the area and like to explore the sites, so I kept my hand in. By the mid 80’s we moved out of the area and I haven’t played on a building site since.