Cremorne Court. These words were emblazoned in green concrete letters across the front wall of the red brick block of flats where I spent the first six years of my life. There were eight flats in the block which was situated at 389 Punt Road, Richmond, opposite Gosch’s Paddock. We lived with my great aunt on the first floor in a two-bedroom flat. A flight of concrete stairs led to the front door, used only by visitors, and at the back there was a flight of grimy black wooden stairs.
I still have vivid memories of my life in this flat. I remember running wildly around the small lounge room with a green cushion over my eyes and tripping over a little one-bar electric heater. As there was no safety grid, I burned my leg quite badly. I certainly screamed with pain but later, when it had healed, I remember being quite proud of the scar.
Another of my earliest memories is of my mother in a chartreuse silk dressing gown carrying a kettle of boiling water down the back stairs. It was night time and I had possibly been woken by the commotion. There had been a car accident on Punt Road and my mother went to help.
There were plenty of children to play with and we would run or ride bikes and scooters round and round the concrete path which surrounded the building. Behind the block there was a communal laundry and a tiny caretaker’s bungalow. Mr Robertshaw was the caretaker, an elderly man with whiskers is my only memory but I know my father was friendly with him and I later discovered the reason. Charles Emerson Robertshaw was a writer who had written short stories about the Australian bush for The Leader newspaper under the nom de plume 'Coolibah'. Sixteen of the stories were collected and published in a book entitled Wirragoona Romance of Australian Station Life. On the cover page is written my name, then 'Love and kisses from the author'.
I vaguely remember my father suggesting that, for one reason or another, Robertshaw had fallen on hard times and that's why he lived in the caretaker’s bungalow. I have always felt there was something special about the book as it was given to me by the author but have never read it maybe fearing that it would never live up to my expectations.
Living in the flats proved to be a health hazard. Whilst recovering from measles when I was five, I slipped and scratched my ankle on the back steps. A week later, I had a high fever and was eventually diagnosed with osteomyelitis, a disease often found in slum areas. After an operation and ten stitches in my leg, I had to wear an iron splint for eight months and missed school for a year. However I still managed to ride my scooter around. When the splint was finally removed, I was so excited. I went to our neighbours’ place and announced that I was going to take off my shoes. My friend’s mother was very surprised when I showed her I was no longer wearing a splint and I experienced a moment of sheer pleasure at being free of the calliper.