On Home Au­thor Frank Moor­house on how tech­nol­ogy is bridg­ing the gap be­tween home and so­ci­ety.

Liv­ing alone while stay­ing con­nected is a choice for this pro­lific Aus­tralian writer, who of­ten draws ma­te­rial from his own life and so­cial in­ter­ac­tions.

Australian House & Garden - - CONTENTS - By Frank Moor­house

While my friends were all busy ren­o­vat­ing their homes and cre­at­ing imag­i­na­tive gar­dens, I was do­ing my own up­grade: re­search­ing and buy­ing an ex­cel­lent re­place­ment back­pack for bush­walk­ing. I quipped, with snooty, spir­i­tual su­pe­ri­or­ity, that the planet was my gar­den and the back­pack my true home.

Over the years I have spent about four years of my life, al­most al­ways alone, trekking off-track-map-and-com­pass in wilder­nesses here and around the world. And I have lived – for more than three months at a time – in about 40 houses, rooms, flats, col­leges, farms and bar­racks. For the past 14 years, I have lived alone in a Kings Cross flat, the long­est I have ever lived in any one place, in­clud­ing the home where I grew up.

One-in-four Aus­tralian house­holds is a sin­gle-per­son dwelling. That’s a lot of peo­ple liv­ing alone. This trend in­creased sharply from the 1970s, but seems to have lev­elled off. The move to liv­ing alone has been in­ter­preted in dif­fer­ent ways, of­ten as the aban­don­ment of stale mar­riages af­ter the chil­dren are raised. But for some, liv­ing alone is not al­ways their pre­ferred choice.

I have had en­rich­ing in­ti­mate do­mes­tic re­la­tion­ships which I value highly, but as I grew older I moved to the idea of an in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship in the shape of ‘liv­ing nearby and see­ing each other of­ten (or now and then)’.

My flat is five floors up (no lift – it’s my gym) and 46m2, in­volv­ing a large room half-par­ti­tioned by a waist-high, wood bench on which pot plants sit. The first half of the room is for reading, lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, TV/DVD watch­ing and for so­cial drinks; the sec­ond half is a kitchen/din­ing/larder space. At the reading end is a sleep­ing al­cove and wardrobes closed off with slid­ing doors. And a small bath­room.

The flat’s french-shut­tered win­dows give as much light and sun as I need, or they can be closed to shut out the light – and the world. I have two lori­keets who visit me for break­fast at the kitchen win­dow – Cop­pélia and Es­selle – yes, I can tell the dif­fer­ence. I live a fairly so­cial life and do not suf­fer lone­li­ness – I oc­ca­sion­ally see friends, new and old, who live in the neigh­bour­hood, in the street or su­per­mar­ket.

The in­ter­net and the mo­bile phone, emails, text mes­sag­ing and so­cial me­dia have pre­sented us with a much more con­ve­nient, nicely wo­ven, so­cial world of new and dif­fer­ent shapes. I find that emails and texts (I don’t use In­sta­gram or Face­book) en­cour­age more fre­quent mo­ments of con­nec­tion, and they can be an­swered im­me­di­ately if ur­gent or later at length. They also al­low the shar­ing of il­lus­tra­tions, ar­ti­cles and photographs.

I get much from the ‘tele­phone cock­tail hour’, when a friend and I will con­nect over the phone and talk for a sub­stan­tial time while hav­ing a drink at the end of the day. This also per­mits me to have cock­tails with a friend not liv­ing in my city. With an Amer­i­can friend, be­cause of the time dis­tance, we call it ‘mar­ti­nis talk­ing to corn­flakes’.

‘I get much from the “tele­phone cock­tail hour”, when a friend and I will con­nect over the phone while hav­ing a drink.’

Sta­tis­tics show it’s not un­usual for the older-age co­hort (over 40 years old) to check or use their mo­bile tele­phone more than 30 times a day. Th­ese in­ter­net frag­ments of con­nec­tion and in­ti­macy have, for me, re­placed the daily do­mes­tic face-to-face ex­changes of liv­ing to­gether in one shared space, and are a bet­ter-man­aged use of our so­cial time – freer of do­mes­tic fric­tion and banal­ity.

I en­joy the aes­thet­ics of both my liv­ing space and my study/of­fice; they each have their own pleas­ing ar­range­ments of fur­ni­ture and ob­jects: or­na­ments, orig­i­nal paint­ings and prints, and me­men­tos. In both spa­ces I have ar­ranged feath­ers in vases (th­ese mostly come from bush treks, although some more re­cent ones are city finds), and there are many stones col­lected from my world treks. They’re ar­ranged in aes­thet­i­cally in­tu­itive for­ma­tions – I am not quite sure what the un­der­ly­ing aes­thetic of my ar­range­ments is, but I know with ab­so­lute cer­tainty which stone be­longs where. On my work desk I have feath­ers, stones, shells and nuts found through­out my life. I sus­pect they are all part of the witch­craft of my writ­ing.

I have three li­braries. One is stored in a friend’s barn and ac­ces­si­ble, an­other is in my study/of­fice, which is lo­cated in the same build­ing as my flat and con­tains my ref­er­ence ma­te­rial. The third is a plea­sure li­brary in my flat, made up pri­mar­ily of a re­mark­able col­lec­tion of Aus­tralian short-story an­tholo­gies (about 450), some dat­ing back to the early days of pub­lish­ing in Aus­tralia. This is a very alive li­brary. I find I some­times reach out and ran­domly read a vol­ume, or pull a book to see, for ex­am­ple, what writ­ers were writ­ing about in, say, 1928.

Books do fur­nish a life (to bor­row from English writer An­thony Pow­ell’s novel, Books Do Fur­nish a Room) and I have a book­case ded­i­cated to those I have writ­ten. I find the books I have penned can at some low times jolly up van­ity, but also con­tain within them the dan­ger of self-doubt and re­gret and ghosts.

Frank Moor­house AM is a prizewin­ning nov­el­ist best known for his Edith Tril­ogy trac­ing the ca­reer of Aus­tralian Edith Camp­bell Berry, who worked for the League of Na­tions in the 1920s. He has writ­ten six non-fic­tion books, in­clud­ing Mar­tini: a Me­moir. His lat­est book,The Drover’s Wife ($34.99, Penguin), is a col­lec­tion of es­says ex­am­in­ing why Henry Law­son’s orig­i­nal short story has con­tin­ued to in­spire writ­ers and artists.

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