The Leaving of Preston Towers

Last Wednesday, my flat in Preston St, Jamisontown is passed into the hands of another owner.

With the end comes a beginning – with the beginning there was an end. Six years ago I bought a flat. It was a terrifying and horrible time for me. I had no idea about financial things – I was a first home purchaser at the age of 37 and I really hated the world of loans, solicitors and real estate agents. They all scared me. They were the people who used to look disdainfully at people like me – renters / tenants / near bottom of the food chain. Worst were the property managers who were tough on tenants about the cleanliness of a home – a bit of grease on an oven was my greatest sin in my previous life.

There I was, though, with a flat. I owned something. Morelike, the bank owned something and I was to spend 30 years paying them back for it. It wasn’t much of a place. Two bedrooms, anonymous, 30 years old. But it was a forced saving I had to make while in my life I was wanting to make wild decisions. In that sense, the little flat was to be one of my saving points, something keeping me from walking away from everything. It was to be a new beginning.

It was a new beginning in terms of how I saw the world around me. Having grown up in a comfortable middle class place, to be here amongst those on welfare and working class people determined to work their way up the ladder, it was an eye opener. One of my fondest memories were the conversations I had were with fellow residents of the building. Living above me was a milk factory worker – one of the other owners, who had an immense degree of pride in his flat and made it as pleasant as possible. Then there was the couple who owned a landscaping business who were determined to improve the garden around the apartment block. Then there was the neighbour who lived in the flat next to me who was there as a part of the Cumberland scheme – public housing spread amongst the flats of Penrith. She was there because poor health had interfered with her ability to work.

I wished while I was there that I would have appreciated the place more. When I was there, I saw it as small, as dingy, as a cave. Anything but a home to be filled with happiness and security. When I left it, though, to live in the Mountains once more, I was left with the choice of selling it or having it rented. I decided to not sell it because I couldn’t be bothered with selling it and paying a real estate agent a commission. This was no sound financial decision – it was laziness.

It turned out to be very financially advantageous, especially as prices even in Penrith have shot up. But it has also become something else – it’s become a home for a family these past four years. A family of Indian background who have filled it with love and joy, forced to downsize after the birth of their first child. As it turns out, the purchaser isn’t a first home owner – it’s been purchased with boomer investment cash, so the tenants can continue to live on in the flat and have their lives as I move on.

I didn’t sell the flat because I was necessarily after cash. I have needed to move on emotionally from my Penrith days, my connection to a place where I never felt at home as a teenager, and never did as a resident.  I have now purchased a more modern, flashy freestanding medium density house in Casey, one of the new suburbs of Canberra. Canberra’s a place that contains more positive memories for me – I always enjoy going there and it strikes me that a new house that isn’t all that far from the city centre might be popular after the suburb becomes fully established.

The question is, though, what of Preston Towers? After all, I built an entire social media account and presence around the name of the street on which its built, which in some way was just as much not me as the flat was. There was always a sense of rhetorical flourish in naming something after a place that vaguely revolted me at the time. In the same way, I became a Westie Warrior whilst not being entirely westie at all.  My daughter has suggested that I should walk away from the name. Maybe she’s right.

As I move on from the purchase, however, I realise that living in Preston Towers was a significant part of my life and maybe it wasn’t all that bad after all. Or maybe I’ve matured a bit and stopped being revolted by those days.  I have moved on emotionally and socially from those days, but they are a part of me, for better or worse. So I may as well keep the name as a memory of what has been and a way to continue to campaign for those people in the outer suburbs with small voices in a large chamber.

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