THE older settled areas of Wonthaggi have a veritable treasure trove, a maze of back lanes. These narrow lanes flanking our back yards hold a wealth of stories, beckon us to explore.
Even more important was the visit of the night cart man. He brought his delivery of an empty phenyled dunny can down the back lane, stopped at the dunny, opened the hatch (after giving a warning grunt), extracted the full can and deposited the empty one. The full one was loaded on the vehicle, or in our case where we had a no-through lane, he hoisted it onto his shoulder and trudged out to the cart. If a little of the full can slopped over, no matter, he wore hessian bags around the shoulders and a cap!
Now these wonderful slender buildings are no more, but their sites are often marked – by dipogon (or, as it was known, dunny creeper), a mauve pea flower creeper which festooned and beautified the dunny. This pesky vine is even now producing seedlings, covering fences and flowering – I saw it in purple splendour today in a back lane.
The back lane was a means of egress into neighbours’ yards to visit and play with other kids. North-south lanes were much more sheltered, so were thoroughfares for travelling to school. I well remember one lad being embarrassed by our singing of hymns on the way home from Sunday School – so he used the lane, bolting over the cross roads so he wouldn’t be identified with us. The Headless Horseman also frequented the lanes, so Cubs, Brownies, Scouts and Guides ran faster across laneway openings as they bolted home in the dark.
One of our greatest joys was to watch the games of bocce being played on gravel in backyards, the Italian miners reclining under the shade of grape vines, all enjoying their vino. Huge vegetable gardens, mini orchards, browsing fowls and ducks, cages of pigeons and the occasional house cow or goat were familiar features. To produce your own food was important in our town where one strike lasted five months.
Back lanes also gave access to overhanging fruit tree branches and blackberry canes. Every kid knew where the best nectarines, apples, pears and passionfruit grew. Lanes were great for hooning along on your bike or billycart, for playing Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians or the latest serial on at the Saturday flicks at the Union Theatre. They were places for long meandering walks or for short cuts.
But that was then, this is now. What about today?
I still enjoy walking the back lanes which are sheltered and a source of windfalls in season. They provide insight into the inhabitants of our town. Backyards reveal all from the back lane. Some are manicured lawns, neat shrubbery, sheds and garages with burgeoning vegie gardens and contented chooks. Others are dead car cemeteries, overgrown and derelict. Dogs greet you joyfully at some places, but others snarl and howl. Some lanes are immaculate, gutters clean, no litter or weeds - others harbour stray tyres, choked gutters, litter, weeds, electrical goods throughout. Some lanes even have bluestone gutters, a heritage feature. I like the archaeological profiles: clay, red metal, concrete lumps, blue metal.
Fencing is another feature of note: palings, battered tin, brick, teatree sticks, shadecloth, corrugated iron – some impregnable, some ready to collapse at a touch. Many sport falls of dunny creeper, festoons of blackberries, thickets of mirror bush.
Once you viewed the house from the rear of the quarter acre block – room to move andfor kids to play, shade trees, flower gardens, pets, chooks, the rotary clothesline, sheds of junk, a garage. Now many have two or three units, hemmed in by concrete, without shade. Native birds which revelled in lush gardens have been replaced by flocks of Indian mynas, spotted turtle doves, black birds and starlings. We’ve gone from sheltered lush greenery to concrete jungle.
We need to value our back lanes – keep them tidy, use them as access so that front nature strips aren’t clogged with cars. Perhaps the Council could initiate a program (or competition?) to value these great places.
Get out, walk a back lane, enjoy the experience. But be careful, you could get hooked!