Unsung icons: Tree houses Recalling hideaways among the foliage
COMEDIAN DAVID SMIEDT TAKES AN IRREVERENT, BUT APPRECIATIVE, LOOK AT THE CLASSIC THINGS THAT DEFINE YOU-BEAUT AUSSIE LIFE
THERE’S A JOKE going around that housing is becoming so expensive in Australia, that kids – or more accurately, their mortgage-stung parents – have begun building tree semis as a solution. We hope they survive, whatever their incarnation, especially given that tree houses were a very cherished part of so many childhoods, where escape was sought.
Many of your bigger hardware chains, and furniture stores, still sell partially assembled versions of a tree house, but it was up in the boughs and limbs that the true wonder of these buildings lay. You could take the view that entrusting the safety of one’s progeny to a hastily built and precariously suspended enclave five metres above the ground was not the best idea. But, in fact, it was an excellent one.
Firstly, before the days of pre-fab kits, it was an exercise where parents and kids actually created something together and had the chance to learn a little bit more about one another in the process. Today, this is called “bonding”. This was especially true if you had one of those old-school dads who might have been uncomfortable verbally expressing his love for you, but inversely was rather eloquent with the medium of two-by-four, nail and hammer.
Tree houses ran the design gamut from a plank or two through to fully enclosed rooms – with windows, if you were a bit fancy – accessed via a ladder or trap door. Although your olds might have helped you build the place, they certainly didn’t frequent it, which is why it became sacred. In a home where you had to share, share, share with your siblings, the moment you had the chance to run outside into your very own hideaway became a very special time. You decided who was admitted – password mandatory, of course – and it was here that you might have confessed first crushes or stared wide-eyed at the magazine you “found” when innocently snooping in the most neglected area of your dad’s – or worse, grandad’s – shed.
The tree house also gave budding decorators one of their first tastes of independence to create their own aesthetic, via items pilfered from the main house, in the hope that mum wouldn’t notice, which she eventually, always, did and consequently gave the, “I’m not angry, just disappointed” speech. And just quietly, this was usually worth sitting through for the ambience that said item brought to the tree house. It was usually just a piece of carpet offcut, a disused rug or some surplus blankets, but lying there, in comfort, on a soft surface – with maybe a bestie and a transistor radio tuned to the top 40 – felt as sophisticated as a 14-year-old could.
For the younger habitués, the tree house was the blankest of canvases, a hot house of imagination. Depending on your predilections, it could be the inside of a super-secret spy agency, the cockpit of a plane, the cool home you were going to live in when you became a global rap superstar at 16, or the shop you were running that day. Today, it’s more likely a boardroom for your start-up.
Whatever the case, tree houses functioned as not just separate spaces but transitional ones – between being a kid who is not old enough and one who qualified; between dependence and playing at independence; between you and them (be it your little sister, aliens or aunts fond of slobbery kisses). And even if you were a bit too old, they still offered respite from the angst of teenagedom. At the very least, they were our first embrace of the indoor/outdoor lifestyle, and we all know how much we love that.
FOR A FEW precious moments EACH DAY, THE TREE HOUSE WAS YOURS AND yours alone