When home is an ashtray

Growing up without a family home means that your sense of home becomes invested in things both smaller and larger than a house.

Smaller; Mundane objects become the things that you pin your sense of home up with. Their familiarity a constant in a sea of generic suburban homes. A wicker basket that has seen better days, once a home for toys or blankets, now holding the cat food by the door. Or my mum’s ashtray, a ghastly heavy thing with monstrous heads. An ashen gargoyle which has looked over every conversation.

The mundanity of these objects mean that they leave your life without fanfare, or sometimes without notice. Selling the family home is a moment. Something you can talk about and be understood. Something people make movies about. Instead, here it’s just a silent erosion. A wave against a cliff.

There was the couch (ugly, uncomfortable and green), the TV (a victory, a prize from the club) and my mum’s blue bathrobe. They’re all gone now, and I can’t tell you when they left. Or even if I noticed straight away. There was no need to keep them. Mostly they have passed their used by date – broken and worn. Now they are gone. Words missing from the language of the home of my youth.

Larger; We never had a car when I was a teen. This combined with growing up in one of the dead ends of Sydney suburbia meant that a lot of life was spent on a bus. Snaking routes connecting the train station shaped heart of Campbelltown with the housing estates of the bland “I’m sure it’s still Sydney” dead zones. They were our only form of transport, so these trips alongside a discman, novels (endlessly reread) and a scrappy journal became the punctuation of my days – The capital letter of the morning. The full stop at the end of the day.

The last week I returned to the area. Funnily enough, I still don’t know how to drive. This is an oddity in a suburb where second hand cars seem to multiply in people’s yards. Cars waiting for the promise to be “fixed up” to finally come true. With my siblings working their day jobs, I was yet again relegated to those bus routes. They routes are longer now, the bus collecting the new families pushed out into housing estates that have suddenly sprung up on what was before an old garbage tip. The details have changed, both of me and the bus but the shape is still there; big headphones, awkward interactions, the freedom of productive boredom.

Leaving again, it feels like home, but different. Like a meal you used to have all the time, but now the taste isn’t the same. At the time, this all felt like a burden but like many weights we carry, after a while they become ours. In creating the change we want in our lives we lose ownership of the struggles that used to shape us. Or we can realise that we are carrying the weight of a struggle that, unknown to us, we left behind a long time ago.

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Beau Newham is a writer, development worker and queer activist based in Melbourne on Kulin Nation lands.

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Beau Newham

Beau Newham is a writer, development worker and queer activist based in Melbourne on Kulin Nation lands.