Today is the 13th anniversary of our bookshop, so it seems reasonable to look back on our beginnings.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it wasn’t really something we planned out carefully. Get pregnant, move to Port Fairy, set up a bookshop. It was mid-October in 2004, when we finally pulled out of our Newport driveway in Melbourne and headed down to Port Fairy, following a couple of trucks loaded with books and shelving, and our own belongings. Our car was stacked with our luggage, our three fur-kids, a fish tank with four inches of water and several goldfish bodysurfing the shallows, while in our heads swam dreams and plans as big as whales. It was a strange and exciting time for us. Dean and I had shared a lot of adventures together already – we were both scuba divers and motorcyclists – but this was by far the biggest thing we’d taken on together. Lurking in a pocket somewhere was a key to our new home.
What do the words ‘new home’ conjure up? Let me help. A house with a garden, perhaps. Maybe you think of a shiny kitchen just waiting for the entertainer in you to rustle something up for your hungry guests. Perhaps tiles, perhaps carpet. Perhaps a bathroom. Well, my friends, our new home was the old Port Fairy Masonic Hall. We’ve very recently received information that the council had one eye on demolishing this hall. But no, not us. We bravely looked that hall in its (very high, opaque) windows and said, “We can do this. We can make something of this.”
After the Masons shipped out, the hall had been taken over by a group called the New Life Church, who seemed a much more interesting group than the old-man masons. These guys built a remarkably beautiful full-size bowling alley, complete with in-laid pin markers. They built themselves a step-down baptismal font. They organised weddings, and lots of young folk made use of the space. So we inherited these things. My dreams of books and bowling were quickly shattered when we realised how noisy bowling can be. My dreams of a plunge pool were shattered when we took a closer look at the baptismal font – it was pieces of tin hammered together. (For the record, you can buy yourself a baptismal font. Here. “Having a baptistry as a permanent fixture of a church adds beauty, character, as well as convenience, allowing your church the privilege of being able baptize all throughout the year.”) We were not going to have that privilege any longer.
The New Lifers were clever and resourceful. They built a small apartment and tacked it on to the side of the hall. I’m sure it met all the required building codes of the time. In a space of what must have been less than 20 square metres, they fitted in a ‘kitchen’, a ‘lounge’, no less than three ‘bedrooms’ and a ‘bathroom/laundry’. It was indeed a miracle. However, bedrooms couldn’t have beds AND doors/cupboards. The bathroom - and to its credit it did have a half-bath - could and did hide behind an average-sized washing machine. The ‘kitchen’ was a thin strip of space which housed an old oven, and a bit of benchspace. Kitchen ‘cupboards’ were planks behind curtains at knee height. The fridge had to be conveniently kept in the ‘lounge room’. The ‘lounge’ area had enough space for a couple to watch a tiny TV, if the hum of the fridge wasn’t too off-putting. But this was our new home, and we were totally in love with it all. It was the start of a real adventure.
Have I mentioned that we moved to Port Fairy on a whim? That I was 14 weeks into our first pregnancy? We didn’t have any connections at all with the town. And apart from a couple of games of pool at the Vic, and some conversation with the beer-addled locals, we knew next to nothing about it. Something lured us here. Siren song perhaps? Or maybe it was just that our situation in Melbourne had become untenable. My husband was spending three hours of the day in a car tracking to his job and back. I’d just finished a degree in literature and criminology, and the future forward in crim looked bleak. I’d been offered a position in Corrections. (My university thesis was damning of the prison system and suggested it needed total demolition/restructuring.) We took a chance on Port Fairy. Our need for change overtook any other concerns. Or it was just the pregnancy hormones. All I know is that if we had spent too long thinking it through, we’d have never done it. We really did just close our eyes and jump. Sometimes you’ve just got to act.
I will add to our story as time goes on. Have you been thinking about relocating? What's stopping you?