Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A revisit to the past.

Was it really 2007? 25 + 82 equals 107. Must have been. While there was nothing he could he do, I've not forgotten Tony's kind offer of assistance as Dame M lay dying where he worked.

Dame M was our friend and also a rich widow who lived on St Kilda hill in Charnwood Road. She drank, smoked and gambled and we thought she would last forever. Alas she died at the age of 82, a few years ago now. We still miss her.

Her boarder, a gay man, had lived with her for around thirty years and looked after her. She left around a quarter of her estate to him, but after her horrid extended family and step sons contested her will, he received much less, much much less.

After a party there, and there were many, The Boarder asked if we could help him with the vacuuming the next day. Of course. We did not know it entailed moving monster Persian carpets and heavy furniture but we had a good laugh and it was a novelty to use a built in vacuum cleaner system. My, Dame M, what a long hose you have. She was a little prudish at times, but for someone born in 1925, not excessively so. We used to joke about her getting a Brazilian but she said she was too saggy for that to work.

Her house, which comprised her large residence and three flats sold for $1.9 million when her estate was realised. To our surprise, it was not demolished but renovated, still remaining as her residence and the three flats it seems. Two of the flats are up for rent and from the estate agents site and me taking a visit, here are a few photos. I'll see if I can connect up the interior and exterior photos.

The building next door to Dame M's was a rent by the hour St Kilda motel. Dame M fought the re-development of the site using solicitors. She won and while the building changed, it was not enlarged by much.


Dame M chose the name of the property. The window at the top belongs to a flat. At the bottom the front window was an alcove off the dining room, which she used for her painting and her easel was set up there. The next two windows along the side belong to the dining room. I think it was originally a single house, but because of the changes over the years, it would be unrecognisable to what it was originally. Dame M joked that it was owned by a Rabbi and his five ugly daughters.


This is from the inside looking out at the same corner. Dame M's original light fittings remain, hopefully cleaned of smoke stains. The dining room was full of heavy Victorian furniture.The front alcove was where her painting easel was set up.


Here a look further down the same side of the house. Where the exhaust fan protrudes was the guest bathroom, the 'back door' from the kitchen, followed by her bedroom and ensuite. The back air con unit was for her ensuite. The front one was in the dining room, only installed a few months before she died. Another old style model sat above her front door on the other side of the house. There was a fence across here at some point. On a Melbourne Cup Day we sat outside the kitchen door and listened to the races and ate prepared food, and drank of course.


This is her kitchen. Most of the workings were on the other side of the room, with a pinkish mirror tiled wall where the kitchen set up is. You have to remember the house was last renovated in the early seventies and never touched since.


This was Dame M's bedroom and ensuite. I was only in there once. She was a shadow of her former self. Bowls of uneaten food prepared by The Boarder were lined up. Holding back our own tears, not terribly successfully, she cried as we told her she simply had to go to hospital. I think it was early in the week and on the Thursday The Boarder and I got her into my car and we took her to Cabrini Hospital. After extracting $250 from her, the hospital nurse put a device on her finger and said, well, you've really slipped through the cracks. Dame M had self diagnosed and knew she was dying from cancer and probably correctly assumed that treatment was futile. She wanted to live out her last days in her home with The Boarder. Clearly he knew more than he ever told us, but no doubt Dame M asked him not to tell us anything. The rapacious family from Queensland descended the next day. By the Sunday she was dead.


A builder guest at a party told her this fireplace was worth a lot of money. In my memory it had a small electric radiator built into it. Later I mentioned the value fireplace to her, and I don't know if it is worth anything. She replied, that straight redneck bloke. I am forced to have straight men in my house if I want things done, but he will be the last straight male guest ever to cross my doorway. She was at times given to making melodramatic diva like statements. The alcove used to have a couple of divans in it. At R's and his visiting niece from England's 21st birthday, with Mother and the late Step Father, Ex Sis in Law and Hippie Niece attending Hippy Niece, just a kid then, fell asleep on one of divans. More of Dame M's light fittings can be seen, with their dangling crystals, but minus the shades. It may sound hideous to you, but Dame M was a night person, not rising from bed until 11am and she hated going out in the daylight. Her house was always darkly lit and full of seating, objet d'art, fabrics and artwork. It was cluttered and cosy and such a comfortable space.


This is the same corner from the outside. Dame M's front door can be seen down the side of the building, then further down was The Boarder's flat, a huge area full of bolts of fabrics and sewing machines, which had been Dame M's business.


This is one of the upstairs flats, I think the one that our dyke friend rented for a short time.


There are a couple of modernised bathrooms like this now.


Dame M's backyard area was pretty untidy and overgrown. I can't really remember it well. Nice to see it tidy now.


The small angled widow under the external stairs lit the the bar, complete with a bartop with bar stools, a fridge and a sink, right on the edge of the lounge room. How convenient. The old and ugly tall Besser brick style fence has been demolished, but I am not sure this replacement is appropriate. Dame M's tenants were nearly always gay men. Even after they moved on, if the parting was on good terms, she kept in touch with them.


A couple of minutes walk down the St Kilda Road hill after pre dinner drinks at Dame M's, we would visit Jane's Chinese restaurant. Dame M had been going there for decades and knew Jane and her family well. Jane started sending  Dame M her favourite Chinese food when she became unwell. We last saw Jane at Dame M's funeral and how different she looked out of Chinese clothing and in a smart suit. Jane was quite chuffed when I printed out photos of her building when it was once a hotel. Soon after, the restaurant closed and it looks like the building will be demolished and apartments built.


As I was filing the above photos away, I came across a few photos taken after the house was emptied of furniture and the carpets pulled up, and also a floor plan. I had forgotten about them.


Off the kitchen was the door to her bedroom.


It is very bright in this photo. It never was. The arch is where The Boarder, aka Jasmine, used to perform.


20 comments:

  1. Hello Andrew,

    We have been totally captivated by all this talk of Dame M, her house, The Boarder and the money grabbing family. It sounds like the plot of a television series and how fascinating that you were a part of it all.

    We are sure that Dame M would have been our kind of woman and can easily imagine the fun that you had with her. The house is positively huge and, yes, we should steal the fireplace given half a chance. It is fabulous!

    Somebody once said to us....."where there is a will, there is a family" .... Never a truer word was spoken!

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    1. JayLa, she was very much your sort of person, well educated and with a wide range of interests and also very witty. She is still missed very much by us. There is a photo of her here, obviously older than the post, probably 2005.

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  2. Me thinks all gay men have a dame in their lives
    If they don't
    They are not truly gay!

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    1. Well fed, John. 'There is nothing like a dame...'.

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  3. Lovely big rooms in those older style flats.

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    1. They are Victor. We once had one and the rooms were large.

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  4. What a great place oh the fun to live there.
    Sad your friend didn't get all that was left to him, as he was the one caring for her the family should respect her wishes but often don't.
    Merle.........

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    1. Merle, I get very annoyed about the way people's wishes are not followed. The Boarder could have fought it in court, but everyone loses.

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  5. I loved this wander down memory lane. Thank you. Do you still see the boarder?

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    1. Thanks EC. He occasionally joins us for dinner out somewhere. He suffered terribly from grief after she died.

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  6. Andrew, what a great house. I love the white kitchen looks amazing. At my country white furniture in the kitchen are not very popular. This house is very well designed.

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    1. Gosia, also warm and friendly inside.

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  7. what a fabulous, fabulous, home! The alcoves, the chandeliers, the polished floors, they're all wonderful.

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    1. River, we all liked the house. The boards are new as it had thick carpets with Persian carpets over the top.

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  8. An interesting story about an interesting lady. Her house is a beauty and hard to imagine how you describe it was before. It is sad that the boarder, who cared for didn't,t receive her reward.

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    1. Diane, it just looks so different. I must see if I have some photos of the inside before it was stripped out.

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  9. Dame M sounds like she was a wonderful friend Andrew and quite the character! In some cases distant family should remain distant.. only they never do if there's a sniff of money around!

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    1. Grace, yes they come out of the woodwork when there is money. She had already been generous to them, even though she didn't like them.

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  10. I forgot to comment on this. What a magnificent building.

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    1. It was Fen, but it is the memories of times there that are so really special.

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