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Around The Sun: From Mansions To Mobile Homes

Steve Harrison finds himself living in a campter van.

Your house is your larger body. It grows in the sun and sleeps in the stillness of the night; and it is not dreamless. Does not your house dream? And dreaming, leave the city for grove or hilltop? Would that I could gather your houses into my hand, and like a sower scatter them in forest and meadow. Would the valleys were your streets, and the green paths your alleys, that you might seek one another through vineyards, and come with the fragrance of the earth in your garments.

Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain? Tell me, have you these in your houses?

Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and becomes a host, and then a master? Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires. Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron.

Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral. But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed. Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast. It shall not be a glistening film that covers a wound, but an eyelid that guards the eye. You shall not fold your wings that you may pass through doors, nor bend your heads that they strike not against a ceiling, nor fear to breathe lest walls should crack and fall down. You shall not dwell in tombs made by the dead for the living. And though of magnificence and splendour, your house shall not hold your secret nor shelter your longing. For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and the silences of night – The Prophet Kahil Gibran.

A house is not a home and a home is not a house until there is someone there who cares.

When I first moved out of the house in which I had lived with my wife I moved in with friends. It was comfortable enough, but it was way off the beaten track in Bayview, about as far north of Sydney on the northern peninsula as you can get. Mark and Helen were very hospitable. But it wasn’t my home. I hated driving out there.

I got caught up in wandering aimlessly from one friend’s house to the next. I was under the illusion that soon the court case would be settled and I would get my old house back. But days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. I had no fixed abode. I had no regular income. I was too proud to sign on for unemployment benefit.

For three months I lived in a friend's garage. I got a contract to produce a book on orchids. The job paid well, and it led to me producing a magazine on orchids, a subject I knew nothing about. The publishing company was small, operating out of a private house in the Northern Beaches. I was allowed to sleep on the premises.

Several months passed, then I bought a restored Volkswagen Kombi van. A young surfer kid had made it look like new. At last I had privacy, and a new home for myself. I fixed up some curtains and installed a double mattress.

Some evenings I parked the van in Sydney's best suburbs: Vaulcluse, Paddington, Mosman, Cremorne, North Sydney, Bondi Beach, Balmoral Beach... I even slept parked up in the rocks. I discovered the best parks with toilets and wash rooms. I felt free and liberated, no longer dependant on the charity of friends. I could come and go as I wanted. I could park outside the door of a pub, drink as much as I wanted, then sleep it off in the Kombi.

One particular evening, though very drunk, I decided to go for a drive around town. I was on the Anzac Bridge, heading towards Glebe. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a blue and red flashing light ahead. Cars were braking and slowing down. I stopped the van, got out and walked. Sure enough at the end of the bridge was the famous booze bus. The police were breathalysing drivers. I went back to the van, pulled off the road, drew the curtains and went to sleep.

My best friend Corrina bought me John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charlie”. This was the right book for me. Steinbeck had bought a camper can and driven across America, with his dog Charlie as a companion. This book was the log of his journey. I identified with the book, poring over every page.

I travelled all over in that van, choosing a different sleeping spot each night. I went north to Newcastle, west to Katoomba and south to Wollongong. The only limit as to where I went was my own imagination.

The van gave me freedom, but it also brought sorrow. After years of hard work I was reduced to living in a campter van. I had gone from a mansion in Erskineville to a mobile home. Where next?


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