by Kim Kelly
I love old, decaying tin sheds, which is just as well since there are plenty of them around where I live, in rural New South Wales. This shed here lives just at the end of my lane, in a neighbour’s paddock.
Of course, there’s a certain beauty to things of metal and wood slowly, almost imperceptibly returning to the earth, by rust, by mites, so that their demise seems more transformation than death.
But they’re deceptively rich little troves of story, too, these long-abandoned huts. With hawthorn growing through their roofs and up their chimneys, panels blown away who knows how many years past by the bitter wind that belts across the ridge tops here winter after winter, windows empty, doorways agape, it’s easy to forget that these places were once dwellings.
People lived and loved, laughed and lost here, hoped most among it all. When? I don’t know. Sometime before I was born. Perhaps 1960. Perhaps 1860. The design of these homes possibly didn’t change much across that century. Hundreds, maybe thousands of these prefabricated abodes were shipped across the Pacific from San Francisco during gold-rush days, sent over the Blue Mountains on bullock drays, with the bolt holes drilled and fixings provided, so that you only needed a hammer and wrench to whack one up in your paddock of choice.
Someone built the chimney from bricks kilned nearby. Someone made the curtains from bright remnants to keep out the flies. Someone cooked a mutton stew above the fire. Someone put the children to bed in a loft built into the rafters. Times have changed; we don’t live like this anymore.
Don’t we? This house was the original flat pack – cheap and temporary. I can hear whoever made this one swearing across time that they haven’t been supplied the right bloody screws and that the bolt holes are all wrong. Rip-roaring row between man and wife ensues.
We forget too easily these echoes and continuities. We think we do things so differently now. We think our challenges have never been faced before.
We forget that the mistakes we make have all been made before.
I take a photograph of a little tin shed in a neighbour’s paddock and pray to a deaf god for a wounded child in faraway Syria, his world rent apart by a war my country has played its part in causing, and wonder what I can do to stop this history repeating and repeating.
All I can do is tell this story.