|Old Queenslander Circa 1940s...|
|Another style of Queenslander with enclosed sleep-out/verandah...not dissimilar to the one we purchased in Torwood|
|"Ruska" by Arabia|
|"Arabia - Ruska" Dinnerware|
|Similar-style rear stairs to those in the Torwood house|
Shortly after we married and while still living in our little workers’ cottage in Toowong, Randall and I purchased another house, a Queenslander in the nearby suburb of Torwood. Torwood is a very small suburb the size of a pocket handkerchief (slight exaggeration) nestled up behind Toowong. These days it’s been snaffled up by the neighbouring suburb of Auchenflower, I think. Perhaps only the “oldies” like me still refer to it as “Torwood”; but in the mid-Seventies Torwood remained true to its original name and boundaries. In the Seventies, also, it became very popular to buy and renovate “Queenslanders”. Everyone was doing it…well, not everyone…but you know what I mean!
Bought as an investment property, immediately upon settlement we placed the house on the rental market and we leased the house to a young Vietnamese couple and their two children. At the fall of Saigon they’d fled Vietnam, ending up in Australia. The husband, an eye doctor, had gained a position at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, in the suburb of Herston. They settled into the house nicely and paid the rent on time. Because they were classed as refugees they were received government assistances as well as whatever the husband earned from his position at the hospital. A new life in their new country had begun for them.
All was going along smoothly, except Sasha was still treating me with the utmost disdain, preferring the elderly cacti lady to the one person in the world who loved him the most; the one who was willing to forget and forgive him of his transgressions; but he would have none of it, or of me. It was beyond my control to alter the situation. His nose was out of joint…and he chose to keep it that way, no matter how much and how hard I tried to coax him into thinking and acting otherwise. My love for him never waned. His attitude frustrated me, but I still adored him. He was still mine no matter where he chose to live.
The renovations on our cottage in Toowong progressed at an even pace, attended to in between our day-to-day routines at our respective jobs. Regularly on Sunday mornings we’d join friends at their home, or they at ours…we took it in turns…for “Choir Practice” also known as “drinks and nibbles”. Sometimes “Choir Practice” extended onto lunch.
On one particular morning as we sat around a table on the patio at our friends’ home, enjoying refreshing beverages while solving the world’s problems their neighbour from across the street wandered over. In her hands, curled up in a little ginger ball of fur, was a little kitten.
I’m a sucker when it comes to small, furry ginger masses, particularly when they look directly into my eyes; immediately commence purring and, without encouragement, climb into my arms. I’ve never denied it.
Driving back to our home that Sunday we had an extra passenger. With one member of our family having left home to explore the world…off on his own personal odyssey into the yard over the back; and darling Smocka who’d disappeared without a trace - who hopefully had been stolen and taken into loving home….we were once again three - Ruska, a six-week old kitten came to live with Randall and me.
My new little friend, Ruska was named by me. I’m not sure how I came up with the name, but I did discover it was a Finnish word signifying autumn leaf colour. And I’ve since learned Ruska is also the name of a few villages in Slovakia. Also Rava-Ruska is a city in Ukraine and Ruska Bela, a city in Bulgaria.
Because I prefer earthy designs, colours, décor etc….rather than feminine florals, frills and flounces (Randall’s taste was similar to mine…I didn’t coerce him in anyway to my preferences)….we purchased an “Arabia” earthen-ware dinner set that was dark chocolate in colour. The colour was called “Ruska”. Whether we had the dinner set before or after Ruska entered our lives, I can’t be exact with those details. It’s a bit like “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” I’d had my eye on the dinner set for some time, knowing it was the one for us, and I was familiar with the name of the particular design….either which way, we had a dinner set and a cat with a shared name… neither of which complained.
Like we were mates of old; the best of friends - Ruska snuggled familiarly in my lap as we left Kenmore to travel back home to Toowong, a distance of around 6.4kms (four miles). Halfway home he decided he wanted to investigate his new mode of transport; and that he did as confident as a well-seasoned traveller. Giving a thumbs-up, he soon nestled back in my lap and there he remained until we drove into our yard. I carried him upstairs, closed all the exits to allow him further, safe exploration. He spotted the main bedroom immediately! He knew he was onto a good thing. He didn’t need a tour guide to show him around and point out all the benefits at his paw-tips!
I had a sneaking suspicion when Randall and I were at work during the day, Sasha paid visits. Ruska needed someone to show him the ropes, and who better to do that than Sasha? He was a born mentor, and the elder citizen!
Ruska, ginger-furred like Sasha, was very much like Smocka in personality. He was a very affectionate fellow (and, it must be said, like Sasha once was with me). Ruska was clearly my cat. He’d put his mark or claim on me from the very beginning; from the moment he’d climbed into my hands. He was a lovable cat, giving as much as he received. He loved snuggling in with his paws around my neck, showering my cheek with kisses. Ruska was a gentle, beautiful cat.; and smart cat, too, Randall and I discovered one evening.
Randall and I were sitting in our kitchen, on stools, enjoying a few after-work drinks one evening. Ruska, as usual, was with us, at our feet, listening in, adding his tuppence worth when he felt it necessary. He was resting on the floor following a hard day’s resting.
After a while I noticed he was busy at one of his bowls…the one filled with his “munchies”…the dried food. My eyes widened. I drew Randall’s attention to what Ruska was doing. He, Ruska, was taking from his bowl one pellet at a time and placing the pellets, one by one, in a circle around the bowl! Once the circle was complete…he began eating them, one at a time until the circle of cat pellets was no longer. He then sat back and proudly surveyed his handiwork. Randall and I couldn’t believe what we’d witnessed. We put it down to Ruska giving us a hint to hurry up and fill his bowl with his dinner of freshly-diced raw meat. It was either that or he’d become bored with the subjects of our conversation, hoping we’d move on to a more cat-appropriate subject.
Another time Randall and I were sitting out in our backyard at dusk, again enjoying after-work drinks while discussing the events of our day. It was a habit of ours, and one we liked to uphold. With music playing in the background and a drink of choice in hand, it was a pleasant way to end our day. Ruska, of course, was downstairs with us, running around like a mad cat, happy for our company. Sasha, no doubt, was spying on us through the long grass in the yard yonder. Overwhelmed with joy and lost in the moment, Ruska ran, like a bat out of hell, up a tall, but rather spindly tree at the boundary fence between our cottage and the identical cottage next door. In his excitement, Ruska had scampered up the tree higher than he originally intended.
With a look on his ginger face that clearly said: “Oops! I’ve gone too far! What do I do now?”
He froze on the spot…high up in the tree…which, in fact, was a Leopard tree…one may as well keep it in the family, so to speak!
Alarmed, I jumped up and ran over to the tree; to my stranded mate who was hanging on to the tree trunk for dear life, terrified to let go. He was immobile with fear. I lifted up my arms and called to him.
What happened next shocked both Randall and me. Ruska let go of the tree. He fell down through the air into my waiting extended arms. Misty-eyed, I hugged him close. Randall and I looked at each other in amazement. Ruska trusted me so much he had no doubts I’d safely catch him. It was quite an incredible. He had no doubt that I’d catch him. He just fell into my open arms and straight away snuggled into me. Every time I think about that special moment in time I’m still in awe at the faith Ruska had in me.
A few months after we’d rented out our Torwood house to the family of four we received the shock of our lives when we discovered they’d invited all their relatives to take up residence in two-bedroom with enclosed sleep-out house! Open house for all-comers – permanent bed, breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Every adult occupant received welfare from the Australian government (tax-payers). Doing a head count we discovered, there were at least eight adults, and almost as many children.
The interior walls of the house, again as in our little worker’s cottage in Cadell Street were tongue and groove…and in almost every strip of timber were nails. The inhabitants had strung up fabric to act as screens, making separate living/sleeping areas all throughout the house. Not one room escaped being nailed. Hardly a strip of tongue and groove, if even one, escaped being nailed by many nails! It was unbelievable. The walls looked like they’d been peppered by buck-shot!
The rental fee had remained the same even though the occupancy level had risen immensely. Of course, up until that stage we weren’t aware the number had increased; or by how much.
The figure paid by the original family of two adults and two children was a very fair rental. The original tenant, the doctor would’ve been receiving good money in his position with the Health Department; on top of that he, too, was receiving welfare payments. He was probably earning much more than Randall and I were a week! Who else of the adults in the house were working as well as receiving hand-outs, I don’t know. I was reeling in the aisles. The amount of money entering that household was astronomical – mind-boggling! And we were receiving a pittance in rental, but still had a mortgage to pay.
Some may think I’m being cold-hearted as I describe what we suddenly had come face to face with, and that’s okay…but I don’t see it that way at all. It was our blood, sweat and tears that had gone into purchasing the house. At one stage, both Randall and I had worked two jobs in an effort to get ourselves ahead. We were starting a bit later than our peers. We were in our early thirties when we married, ten years later than most of others of our generation. We had a bit of catching up to do.
We’d chosen the husband, wife and their two children over and above other applicants for the house, believing in giving them “a fair go” in their new country; but they didn’t give us a fair go in return.
The day Randall gave the tenants Notice to Vacate he received a mouthful of abuse from a fellow who obviously was one of the grandfathers, and one of the extra “tenants”. The older fellow tried to make out he didn’t speak or understand English, but he sure knew how to curse. Cursing must be a universal language…not unlike “Esperanto”.
We gave the family/families a decent time to find alternative accommodation. Randall, being in real estate, even assisted them in finding other housing at reasonable rental costs. No thanks were given in return; and none were expected, to be honest.
So many two-way streets become one-way streets….
The block of land the house sat upon was steep, situated two doors down from the crest of the hill. Looking at the house from the street, on the right, the main bedroom was ground level, whereas on the opposite side, to the left, the sunroom/sleep-out that wrapped around the left side of the house was high above the ground; high enough to park our car underneath the house with metres of head space to spare above.
The land fell away at the back of the property. We could only park one car under the house; the other had to be left parked out front on the kerb. Most times I parked my car, half on the footpath and half in the gutter in front of our house…facing downhill…the wrong way because Payne Street, Torwood was/is a narrow street. Illogically, I received a parking ticket and fine one Sunday for illegal parking…another story…for another time.
The rather expansive back yard of our property after the tenants (and I use that word loosely) vacated was littered with rubbish. It looked similar to the city tip! Egg cartons, milk cartons, bottles, paper; all forms of garbage had been thrown out the kitchen window or, perhaps to make it more interesting, to break up the monotony, they stood at the back door and just tossed the rubbish out, willy-nilly, not giving a damn. I kid you not…it was disgraceful.
As described above the land at the rear of the house fell way rather steeply. The street below…was way below as were the yards of the houses in that particular street - “Annie Street”; which, considering the mess in our yard was a good thing.
Randall hired two men who did that particular kind of work to clean up the yard, but after about an hour or so they walked off the job refusing to tackle it any further. And one couldn’t blame them! I do not exaggerate.
Upstairs, the interior was an equally sorry sight. It wasn’t only all the nails, but the kitchen looked like something out of a horror show. The fridge was ours; it was in the house when we bought it. The fridge, in good condition, came with the purchase, and as we had our own fridge we left it in the house as part of the rental.
The tenants had switched off the fridge before vacating, but they’d not bothered to empty or clean it out. It was full of stinking, rotting food, prawn shells included!
The vinyl on the kitchen floor, which, to be honest, wasn’t new, but it had been in relatively good condition when we bought the house – it had been almost destroyed…somehow…I don’t know how. Maybe they’d practised “Riverdance” steps in the kitchen. Who would know? Underneath the vinyl was an even more surprising, disgusting discovery. Obviously, the whole supply of Woolworths Toowong’s soy sauce had been purchased and spilled over the kitchen floor, and not cleaned up. Beneath the vinyl was a stinking, sticky black mess! I think the creature from the Black Lagoon lived under the floor-covering.
There was nothing left to do but clean it up ourselves. Randall again took time off from his work to get stuck into it. I remained at my job, but helped out in other ways where and when I could. We hired a skip and trailer…and became good friends with our local rubbish dump/tip. Some of the waste we burned.
We made the decision that if we were going to put in all the work that needed to be done to the house and yard to get it back up to scratch, we’d move into it, and make it our principle home, working on it as we went. We rented out our cottage; the one we were living in, in Cadell Street. It was the logical thing to do; so that is what we did.
Sasha remained stand-offish with me. I hated having to leave him, even though he was still living in the street behind Cadell Street; still calling the greenhouse belonging to the elderly lady, home. There really was no other choice. Randall, because his work premises were nearby regularly went to check that he was doing okay. I didn’t do it as often because it broke my heart whenever I did.
Before we moved to the house in Torwood I said a very tearful goodbye to Sasha. I wasn’t moving very far away, physically, but emotionally he and I were worlds apart. The situation tore me apart. Sasha’s glaring at me and his ducking away from me when I reached out to him were almost too much to bear.
A suitable tenant was found for the cottage and up to the Torwood house Randall, Ruska and I went (as I described…up on the crest of a hill).
I’m sure Ruska and Sasha compared notes and said their farewells when we weren’t at home.
Randall and I again donned our renovators’ overalls, tool belts and studied paint charts. But before we could even think about painting the interior we had to remove a thousand nails from the walls!
After a brief inspection Ruska approved of his new surroundings, but as long as he was with us, all was well in his world. The enclosed sunroom with a view to the city skyline beyond received his tick of approval soon after he moved in. He loved seeing the bright city lights in the distance, but he had no intentions of becoming part of the nightclubbing set.
The rear stairs with a small landing midway through the descent, breaking up and steering the decline in a different direction onwards to the ground became his morning meditation-yoga spot where he uttered his mantras.
One morning having finished his uplifting cleansing he yawned widely. A sparrow flew by just at the very moment his mouth was at its widest. Much to his and the bird’s surprise, accidentally and freakishly the sparrow got caught in Ruska’s mouth. I’m not sure who received the biggest shock, Ruska or the bird.
I think Ruska received top points because he quickly spluttered, wondering what the hell had happened; and the bird, counting his lucky stars, flew away, shaking its tail feathers with a tale that was to be passed down forever more in his family tree.
True story…it did happen!