Friends and loved ones Home life

The new empty-nester

This is one of those posts like I used to do, with life events and observations. Little or no transport content here, so if that’s what you’re here for, you can skip this post.

We moved into my current house back in 2005.

It was what I could afford at the time. I prioritised position over size, and so it wasn’t a big house, but it’s in a good spot, near the shops and the station.

Fifteen years later I still like it here, but space has become an issue as my sons have grown older – and live here full time – not half the time as they did for many years.

Plan one

Financially it was looking like a house upgrade might be possible, so late last year I started looking for something a bit bigger; perhaps a little closer in too. (For me, rail access is a priority, but I’d also love to live back in tram land.)

There was one good prospect that I enquired about early in the year. Good size in a quiet street close to tram, train and shops. It had passed-in at auction last year, but frustratingly the agent refused to play ball. It was leased out to someone until mid-year, but the agent basically refused to arrange an inspection. Until recently it was still listed on the web sites, but seemed unlikely to sell. I don’t understand this. It doesn’t seem like a great sales strategy.

Plan two

As I kept looking, my thinking evolved. My sons are now in their twenties. They won’t be living at home forever. Does it really make sense to upsize, only to downsize within a few years when they move out? Each move costs tens of thousands of dollars. That’s like burning money.

One of my aims has long been to help my sons into home ownership themselves, would it make sense for me to stay put, but buy another, smaller place, initially to rent out to a tenant, but they could move into it down the track, in a few years, when they’re ready?

They could pay rent to help make it financially viable. We’d all get more space. And at their age it’s probably good to spend some time moving out and managing your own household.

Nearby would be nice so we could catch-up regularly. Other factors would be similar to buying anything – a good location, close to amenity including public transport – and hopefully a place that will appreciate in value nicely so down the track if we want to sell it, it works well financially.

A flat/apartment? Lowest cost but some noise and privacy issues. And the newer ones are tiny. Small bedrooms adjoining a combined living/dining/kitchen space. It might be okay for a couple living together, but I’m personally not a fan.

A house in the area we wanted was out of our budget.

A villa/unit? A bit more costly than a flat, but if we could stretch to that, better on noise and privacy, particularly if few/no shared walls.

(I wish real estate web sites could properly distinguish between units and apartments. The differences don’t seem complex to me. They all involve common land, but in my book, if different residents are above each other, it’s an apartment. Otherwise, it’s a unit.)

On the market

So then, the plan was an investment property which my sons could take over later and rent.

We lined up finance, found a villa unit in a nearby suburb and after looking at it a couple of times, I went to the auction (which at the time was permitted on-site).

The property passed-in, but I was the highest (only) bidder and got to negotiate with the vendor – with us sitting in different rooms of the unit, communicating via the agent.

On the day we couldn’t reach an agreement – not even at the top of the quoted range, which if you’re wondering, is legit – it turns out the reserve price can be set on the day of the auction to be higher than the quoted range.

But the next day we got there.

So we bought it. Brick, 1960s. Two bedrooms. A small rear courtyard. Separate kitchen and livingroom. Lock-up garage. A zone 1 suburb, just over ten minutes walk to a station and shops. (There’s even a car share pod nearby.)

Watching a couple of subsequent auctions nearby to this one, I think we paid a fair price, though we’ll need to do some repairs.

Jeez property is expensive in this town.

Hopefully the vendor is happy. I think I’m pretty happy.

Plan three

Meanwhile… COVID-19 had hit, and like many people, I began working from home all day every day.

A small house feels smaller when everybody’s there all the time. Maybe not quite 24/7, but close to it.

Having the desks and computers out in the open was a positive when the kids were younger, to keep an eye on their online activity. It’s less of a positive when trying to work all day.

What if instead of renting out the new place, my sons moved straight into it when we got the keys? I did the sums. Perfectly workable financially if they pay some rent.

The big move

The purchase was in June. My conveyancer recommended a minimum 60 day settlement, though in retrospect we could have easily pushed it down to 45 as finance had been sorted out beforehand. No matter.

We took possession last week. Ahead of that, we arranged to get in and do some measurements, and also get a building inspection done – ideally that would have happened first, but it was good to get a report highlighting issues that need urgent attention – principally some issues with the roof. (The inspectors also found a newspaper from 1964 under the unit, confirming its age.)

The boys had started accumulating goods, which is why for a while on many of my home video calls, I had whitegoods peeking out from behind me in the background! (Though looking like a vicar is just poor choice of clothing.)

After we got the keys, the boys didn’t want to to waste any time, and decided to move on Friday. (Moving house is permitted under the current restrictions.)

Some lessons I learnt from all this:

  • Refinancing can mean substantial monetary savings over time, but it seemed harder this time round in terms of paperwork – perhaps thanks to COVID-19 meaning I couldn’t see the mortgage broker in person so they could just flick through the documents and get me to sign in the appropriate places.
  • If you originally had a fixed interest rate term, make sure it’s actually finished. Unexpected break fees are not fun.๐Ÿ˜
  • When they say you have unconditional finance, don’t believe them. Until the money is handed over, there are always conditions, even if it’s just Yet More Paperwork.
  • If you gift your old couch to your kids, be aware the replacement may take some time to be delivered – especially if it’s being manufactured – especially during a pandemic. (Supporting local manufacturing has its pros and cons!)

The next phase

I’ve got mixed feelings. I’ll miss having my sons around. But it’s exciting for them to be branching out on their own, and I’ll have more space, and the freedom to play music that they hate around the house more often!

You always hope you’ll do things well. Parenting especially. There are some things I’d do differently a second time around, but the main thing is hopefully I got them off to a good start.

For everyone, this will be a year to remember. But for me, even more so. August marks a landmark birthday (no party due to the pandemic), the tenth year since my Dad died, and my kids moving out.

My family is lucky to be in a position to have these types of options. There are people out there suffering financially from the pandemic. There are people struggling under the weight of working from home plus home education, in smaller homes than mine.

But it marks the end of an era for me. A new phase. Exciting times ahead.

Update 19/8/2020:

Update 6/9/2020:

Friends and loved ones

Vale Uncle Frank

In the past week, I’ve flown to Brisbane and back twice.

My Uncle Frank got very sick. My sister, my cousin and I are his closest relatives, and we all live interstate. Thankfully we were able to go and see him.

He passed away on Sunday morning. It was peaceful in the end, but it was still a shock.

After helping to organise things, I flew home, then back for the funeral, which was on Friday: a service at the Funeral Director’s chapel.

After the service was a burial in the family plot at Lutwyche Cemetery, then we had a meal at a nearby restaurant to chat with relatives, neighbours and friends, to reminisce. It was good.

To the end, Frank was sharp and loved to chat. In the past few years I’d ring him up and he’d love to talk about politics, family, and especially family history, which he knew I was interested in.

And transport sometimes came up as a topic, interwoven into our conversations.

He told me he’d done national service in 1951. He used to go to army training on the tram… carrying his rifle… with a bayonet. He reckoned you probably couldn’t do it nowadays!

Uncle Ken passed away in 1996. Dad in 2010. Frank was the last of that generation in that part of my family.

Sometimes when you’re living a long way away from your relatives as you grow up, you can end up a little unaware of some of the things that make you the person you are. Chats on the phone with Frank helped to fill some of those gaps for me.

RIP Uncle Frank, 1933-2019. Sadly missed.

Culture Friends and loved ones Toxic Custard newsletter TV

Where are you really from?

I found SBS’s “Where Are You Really From” to be compelling viewing.

If you don’t look ethnic, you won’t know the experience of people asking where you’re from — and not taking “Sydney” for an answer.

They don’t want to know where you’re from. They want to know where your family originated.

The whole series had some powerful stories, but it was the first episode that particularly struck a chord, as host Michael Hing visited the Chinese community in Bendigo.

Not that I have any connections to Bendigo. But as with the people interviewed, I get my half-Chinese looks from family who came to Australia before Federation — farther back than many white Australians.

I grew up somewhat isolated from any cousins or uncles/aunts or grandparents, and in those circumstances you can easily assume that your family’s background story is unique. It’s not. Suddenly seeing a group of people who have shared many of the same experiences was not just eye-opening, it was quite emotional.

My jaw dropped when I realised just how common it was for Chinese immigrants in the 1800s to have their names messed up by officials.

My grandfather’s name ended up back to front. This happened all the time. (Rather than try and fight it, he just went along with it. Only one of my uncles bothered to change it back.)

Walking across country to either avoid Chinese-specific taxes, or just because you’d landed at the wrong place and didn’t have any money, was also apparently commonplace, and something that some of my ancestors experienced.

We ended up watching the episode again in a family group, with some verbal dissection afterwards.

While the first episode really struck a chord, the others were worth watching too – in fact watching the second, I felt the situation reversed somewhat, with my usual assumptions about Sikhs in turbans flipped as soon as you heard their Australian accents.

Whatever your family background, this is well worth a look.

Friends and loved ones


I didn’t know him — I think I only met once, when we were kids — but know his brother and mother quite well.

I was greatly saddened to hear that this week we lost my cousin to depression.

RIP Derek, 1980-2014.

Lifeline: 13 11 14.
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636.

Consumerism Friends and loved ones News and events transport

Christmas wrap-up

Christmas Day was largely spent with family, eating too much, playing with a giant cushion-like water balloon (which burst when, tragically, nobody was watching/filming) and swapping presents.

Our haul this time around included a Wii U, which should be fun, and for my own personal stash I got some great movies on Blu-ray (Help, and The World’s End), a rather nice framed original artwork, an excellent big book (The Beatles — All The Songs — great for dipping into and reading about the origins of their songs, something which has interested me greatly recently), and a voucher for MTC theatre tickets.

I was pondering if the video game console manufacturers beef up their online servers at Christmas to handle millions of consoles needing software updates, and lots of people signing up for the first time. Perhaps they don’t beef them up enough — Nintendo had problems over the Christmas period, and had to partially shut down their eShop service.

It wasn’t all good news in our house, either: our Christmas tree fell over on Christmas Day, and will need replacing. We already knew the lights were going to need replacing. Maybe they can be procured at a discount during the post-Christmas sales period?
Christmas tree fallen over

After Christmas festivities were over for the afternoon, I went on a PT joyride. Services were free, and unlike the UK where virtually the whole system shuts down, runs a normal Sunday timetable. There were quite a few people touching-on/off their Myki cards — hopefully they were charged nothing, as advertised… obviously not advertised widely enough. But wouldn’t it be good customer service to open all the fare gates? Most at Caulfield were closed.
Christmas Day at Caulfield station
(Of course, the biggest problem preventing more people using the system on Christmas Day is lack of services. Trains and trams were okay, but with most buses only hourly, it’s very self-limiting, even with free rides.)

On Boxing Day I went farming, where I helped to count sheep, and didn’t fall asleep once.

I also learnt to speak sheep. “Baaaaaaaa!” (Thanks Kate for the photo.)
Daniel tries speaking sheep. "Baaaa!"

I also managed to bang one of my toes on a metal chair leg, leaving me with a big bruise and pain when I walked, until both thankfully faded away about a day later. Here’s the bruise in its small, early stages. Scary colour to see on one of your toes.
Toe bruise

In Euroa we spotted this Stump People Nativity scene — very rural!
Stump people nativity scene, Euroa

Saw the second Hobbit movie on Saturday. Very good. Watched it in Gold Class at Southland — parked by the non-existent railway station.
Parked at Southland, next to the railway station

Hope you all had a good Christmas.

Friends and loved ones News and events


The whole idea of state-sanctioned racism, treating non-whites as second-class citizens by law, seems ludicrous now, yet it lasted into the 1990s in South Africa.

It was always a ludicrous concept, of course. No wonder The Goodies parodied it as “Apart-Height” in one of their episodes.

As a kid growing up, there had often been news from South Africa, of violence in the townships.

Some of my (white) English relatives actually lived there for a time, and in 1984 my mother visited them. While it appeared my relatives treated people well, my mother came back with amazing photos of Whites Only signs in public places, and stories of the segregation of whites and others, entrenched by an inherently racist rule of law.

Nelson Mandela
(Pic from: South Africa The Good News, published on Flickr.)

I’ve had to look up the date — 11th February 1990 — but I remember it was a Sunday night in Australia. I was 19, and I stayed up watching television. On-screen for an awfully long time was a shot of a driveway outside the prison where Nelson Mandela was being held. Those present, and the many of us watching on television, were waiting for him to walk out to his freedom.

The ABC was taking a feed from the South African Broadcasting Corporation. When the SABC went to a commercial break, the camera man would take his camera off his shoulder and point it at the ground, or swing it around randomly. The commentators noted that he obviously hadn’t been told his shots were being relayed around the world.

Eventually, Nelson Mandela appeared, in a suit, walking out into the world, to the cheers of onlookers.

Over the years, as South Africa has transformed, I’ve often thought of that night in 1990, and I did so again on Friday when news of Mandela’s death came through. That night was just one remarkable moment in a wholly remarkable life.

And who remembers this song — the iconic Free Nelson Mandela by The Specials?

And this one, not nearly so iconic: Sun City by just about everyone (even Peter Garrett’s in there somewhere)…

Friends and loved ones Retrospectives

VCE exams – good luck everybody

I was 25 when I first had kids. One outcome of this is that my eldest son’s education is running 25 years after mine.

The dates don’t match up completely — the main event, the English exam, for me was on 7th November 1988. For this year’s VCE, it’s today.

Daniel's VCE, 1988

Good luck Isaac, and all of the other 43,000 students sitting the VCE English exam today.

(Though if any of you are reading this before the exam, I’d question your priorities!)

Friends and loved ones

A glorious day, and a country wedding

It was a glorious weekend in Rutherglen, where I had the privilege of attending a family wedding. Here’s one shot the official photographer didn’t get…

The wedding, Rutherglen

Congratulations, Adrian and Donna.

Friends and loved ones

The fuzz!!

From my sister’s “Best of British” birthday party in October. I used to love The Bill (before it went all soapie), so I thought I’d go for it. I didn’t know until we were had all arrived that my cousin Justin and his girlfriend Valerie had the same idea.

Officers Daniel and Justin

We’ve had the toy helmet sitting around for years. The top was a $7 safety vest I decorated with a home-made stencil and spray paint. The truncheon (actually a bubble blower) and handcuffs were Valerie’s!

Friends and loved ones

RIP Michael

Marita’s dad Michael was the nicest bloke you could meet.

Tragically he died in a farming accident on Wednesday afternoon.


RIP Michael 1941-2012