How life has changed, and it seems to me it’s our backyards which reflect it the most. Not only are they smaller these days, houses are enormous and the backyard has become an outdoor room.
Now I’m all for a nice deck, a barbeque, lots of greenery and a bit of paving, but really, an outdoor room? Where is the expanse of grass? Where can the dog dig a hole? Where is the aviary or the chook pen? Where can the kids run through the sprinkler or play chasings? Where’s the mulberry tree, the passionfruit vine and the rhubarb? All disappeared to make space for the outdoor room. In my day it was a place exclusively for kids, not a group of allocated designer spaces. But alas, the backyard has gone the way of many things today ~ it’s small and compact, roughly one third of the size it was in the 1950’s. And as a result indoor and outdoor living spaces have become blurred, and the child-friendly, free spaces that once were backyards are not what they used to be.
But I’m one of the lucky ones. I grew up in the fifties, and my backyard was big and it belonged to me! There was no such thing as landscaping when I was a kid ~ our yard was filled with our life! We had a frangipani tree out the front which we were very proud of, hydrangeas along the side of the house which filled our vases with flowers, patches of freesias here and there which magically appeared, and out the back ~ paling fences covered with passionfruit, a neighbour’s overhanging fig tree laden with forbidden fruit, sunflowers which reached the sky, a veggie patch, a bush just the right size to jump over, a rotary clothes line we swung on, a proper cubby, an aviary filled with finches, budgies and canaries, a sandpit, and if like me you were lucky, smack bang in the middle of the yard there was a magic willow tree to dream under. Our backyard was a safe wonderful place where we kids played, created make-believe worlds and had a heap of fun. The backyard was ours ~ all of it!
And it was not only us kids who enjoyed our backyard ~ all of our animals did as well! Over the years we had a menagerie that lived with us ~ chickens, ducks, dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and even a lamb. Dad, a farm boy, was very comfortable with all of it, and Mum, for a city girl, managed our menagerie amazingly well. When it came to the chickens it was our job to feed them and collect the eggs, but she cleaned their pen and hatched the new chicks, and that, was an amazing experience. She brought in the eggs that were ready, put them in a large box near the warmth of the gas oven and then we waited. When the chicks and ducklings popped out the kitchen became a madhouse, especially when they escaped, but it was great fun and we delighted in the wonder and joy of it all.
As for our dogs, all of them were females, so we always had lots of puppies. One of them even had her pups on my bed! And any of our cats which were females, always managed to give birth in the wardrobes! We watched the babies being born, watched some of them die and watched with sad hearts when it came time for them to go to their new homes.
And then there was the lamb! He came to us via friends who found him wondering on the road. He occasionally snuck into the house as well, which was a riot. He stayed with us until his horns got so big that he started attacking anyone who wasn’t family … then it was time for him to go! Our backyard really was a farm yard ~ we even had a ring-in pet dog that fell in love with my baby sister and only went home for meals!
Of all the animals we had, the funniest was the flying duck. We had hilarious times watching him learn to fly ~ his take-offs were absolutely hysterical. We really loved him however, once he learned to fly, the neighbours didn’t! Come to think of it, I don’t blame them one bit ~ they were probably very sick of having to throw the rooster back over the fence every couple of days! So back to the flying duck, unbeknown to us children a decision was made that he would be fattened up for Christmas and so he was caged. Mum took pity on him a month or so later and let him out for a stroll. Freedom of course was just too tempting. He took off like a rocket and was never seen again! Secretly, I think Mum was very pleased.
So it was that our life was interwoven with our backyard. There was always something going on! It may have been very plain by today’s designer standards, but it was filled with everything you could ever want ~ fun, joy, and loads of love.
Inara Hawley © 2013