Un­sung icons: Tree houses Re­call­ing hide­aways among the fo­liage



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

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