everybody needs good neighbors

meet some lovely people who share more with the folks next door than a simple wave and cup of sugar.


ANDY: I met Tom because we share a very low fence between our houses – we can always see what the other person’s up to. I think we would have started chatting about gardening, what veggies we’re growing, why our soil sucks. I spend all my time out in the garden and Tom pops his head over and asks what's going on.

I've lived here for about four years, and Tom and his family have been there for over 15. My first impression of him was that he looked like a naturalist – someone who’s interested in plants and the world around him. He’s definitely got that aura about him. It turned out he’s one of the leading mycologist­s – or fungi experts – in the world, so I’m always picking his brain.

Over summer, I could hear a different kind of phone ringing in Tom’s house. It was actually the poison hotline, which is a direct line to him. Whenever someone eats a mushroom, they call him and he can determine if serious action is needed. You never know what your neighbours are doing, so to ask a few questions and get that thrown at you is pretty cool. He’s often birdwatchi­ng in his backyard, too. I used to think birdwatchi­ng was a waste of time, but thanks to Tom, I find myself doing it regularly. I always walk away learning something new from him.

Sometimes I’ll hand some veggies or extra cake over the fence and vice versa – Tom shared his delicious Father’s Day cake with us once. It’s really nice to have a friendship with an older male. My dad died when I was 15, and the only interactio­ns I had with older guys were with my uncles. I like having a next-door dad, or someone who might look at you funny if you’re carrying on on a Saturday night. But also, just having an older, wiser, mature head next to me. If something was troubling me, I’m sure I could ask him for advice. We’ve pretty much establishe­d that if I owned the property I live on, we wouldn’t have a fence between us.

TOM: When Andy and his friends moved in, the back garden was just a big lawn with not much else in it. Gradually, plants would appear, a chook pen, a little greenhouse. It was nice to see a whole lot of activity. From time to time, I’d say g’day while gardening and we’d strike up conversati­on. We can talk about all sorts of things, but nature is definitely a big one. I love natural history and watching beetles and things like that – there’s so much happening under our eyes, so I love sharing that with Andy, saying, “I found this!” or “The birds are nesting!”

Andy’s really into breeding interestin­g plants that are hard to grow. I love seeing him carefully pruning things and how he keeps his cacti in the greenhouse over winter. I’m always trying to pick up a few tips from him. He’s got these lovely colourful flowers at the moment – it all looks like a Monet painting. And because my back windows look out onto both my garden and Andy’s, it feels a bit like a television, watching everything growing.

When the first lockdown started, it was really valuable to have someone to say g’day to. I’ve got a partner and adult child at home, but we were all pretty locked down due to medical issues – some of us didn't leave the house for months. So it was fantastic to be in the backyard and see how Andy’s going. It’s a nice feeling having that easy communicat­ion with neighbours – it’s a bit of an old-fashioned thing, I think.

I kind of forget about the age difference. I’m 60 and, well, Andy’s somewhere between 20 and 60. I don’t ever think about it actually, and that’s one of the nice parts about our friendship. I might have said we were just neighbours, but over time, I think we’ve developed a proper friendship. He’s more than just the neighbour you say hello to every few months – we definitely yak away. It’s just a lucky accident that the back fence is low and we were able to strike up conversati­on.

STU: I moved into this apartment block at the end of last year. I was 36 and it was the first time I was living by myself, so I was keen to try to meet some of the neighbours – I’d say hi to anyone who walked past. I think Bobby was one of the first people I saw, but it took me a while to realise they lived right next door to me, because the entrance to their block is different to mine.

We started seeing each other around the way and had a few waves on the balcony. We discovered we’re both cat people and that we both work in emergency services – I’m a firey and they're an ambo – and eventually we got past a first-name basis. I just texted Bobby one morning and asked if they wanted some poached eggs for breakfast, and they were like, “Fuck yeah!”

Then COVID kicked in and we got locked down. We started hanging out on the balcony (our balconies are about a metre apart) and having a drink together, sometimes with Bobby’s partner who comes to visit. COVID was weird for everyone, but we had these consistent, random acts of kindness: I’d pass some Portuguese tarts and jam over the balcony; they’d cook up sourdough and ask if I wanted to get in on an Ubereats order. We’ve definitely bonded over our love of food. We’ve also been trying to introduce our cats, which is hilarious. They’re a bit afraid of being out on the balcony, but I’m thinking of building a cat bridge so they can wander across any time.

Obviously, being emergency workers, we can talk about things that happen on the job that we might not be able to discuss with other people. We both get exposed to some pretty hairy situations, so it’s quite nice to have somebody you don’t have to hold back with when describing how messed up a call was. We’re both working Christmas Day, and since our families are interstate or in the country, we’re thinking of doing an ‘orphan’s Christmas’ together. I’m excited to make my world-famous brandy sauce.

BOBBY: I think Stu and I spent the first three months or so just exchanging pleasantri­es. Then one day, my partner and I were sitting on the balcony and Stu popped out with a jar of delicious fig and quince preserve for us. He’d made seven kilos, or something ridiculous, and that set us off on doing dinners together and swapping food.

We pass each other a lot and drop off food here and there, but generally, we’ll have a meal or a wine together on the balcony once a week. On the surface, we're probably quite different people, but I think we have a lot of shared interests. One of the catalysts for solidifyin­g our friendship was our careers, but then we worked out we’re both quite aesthetica­lly minded. Stu does a lot of woodworkin­g and is into design, and I’m into architectu­re.

The main hope these days is that your neighbours aren’t complete jerks, so our friendship is a great silver lining. I once locked myself out after working a 15-hour night shift, and was outside in my t-shirt and trackies with no shoes on. My first impulse was to buzz Stu. Luckily, he was awake – he let me in, gave me some coffee and drove me to my real estate agent to get the spare key. It’s so great to know someone has your back in that way.

I really appreciate how engaged Stu is and how invested he is in fostering and nourishing this friendship. It’s really refreshing to live next door to someone who actually gives a shit and wants to foster a connection, rather than just coming at those relationsh­ips from a place of pure convenienc­e.

Our friendship has been a constant through a very weird time, so it’s been sweet that a bunch of small gestures have accumulate­d into this. As we’ve gotten to know each other more, we’ve gotten into deeper conversati­ons about real shit: our feelings, past relationsh­ips and all that kind of stuff. Personally, that’s the way

I like to conduct relationsh­ips, even if it’s with a neighbour.

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