The Brisbane Series: Part II

Words by Jack Vening

Published on August 11, 2011

In the lead-up to the launch of our first journal, Home is where, we will each be sharing a piece of writing anchored around our first experiences of Brisbane. This piece comes from Jack, who moved to Brisbane from Canberra in 2008.


That first summer we lived with two photography students in a rickety old Queenslander in the hills of Auchenflower and there was a hills-hoist in the sloping back yard and spiders big as paper plates hanging in curtains from the pistachio tree at the bottom of the hill. I’d never seen anything like it — that many spiders that big so close to a house before. We made dashes into the trench at the bottom of the yard where the pistachios had fallen but the tree was old and the nuts were small and mostly rotten and I’d heard stories of spiders in the Amazon that would drop down on anything that made too much noise, anything at all. Out of that back door you could see for ages across the trees of Toowong and Taringa and The Gap. In the warm, rainy mornings you could make yourself think, looking out the bathroom window to the clouds banked over the hills in the west, that we still lived in a colony, and you was a young colonist from the south, and that past those hills the world stopped.

Unsurprisingly, I had sex only once in those first five or so months.

In Brisbane we didn’t have a car so soon I got strong calf muscles from walking up and down the hills to the shops. Canberra is mostly flat, we drove everywhere then. When I went home, my old boss told me that I had lost my jowls, which I didn’t know I had, and now fear will afflict me in the coming years. During those walking days we had two parties, both were themed, and soon after the first, on the day after St. Patrick’s day, I broke it off with my girlfriend back in Canberra over the phone, and laid on the hill in the back yard looking out at the bats waking up all over the city and thought, “Brisbane”.

A couple weeks before my birthday there was a storm rougher than any I’d experienced. The wind running under the house blew up through the thick gaps in the floorboards. For fifteen minutes I ran around putting heavy things on all the loose papers and negatives and spools of film lying around the place. I was the only one home, and as I sat on my bed eating a cherry ripe and listening to a song called “Storm” I thought about whether I was on the cusp of adulthood and, if so, where was I going wrong?

One of the photography girls left for Scotland and we moved out to live with my brother in Highgate Hill. We had more parties (none of them themed) and listened to the trains nearby and the man next door arguing with his wife about seeds and the garbage truck come rolling up our narrow street some dim mornings. If you’d never been to New York City you could convince yourself, half asleep, that that is where you were. And I’d never been to New York City.

The reason it was so loud at night was because there were wasps living along the edge of my bedroom window and their being there meant I couldn’t close it. I tried telling our agent a few times but soon I forgot them. They weren’t any real problem, not really, as long as I kept the screen closed. The winters aren’t bad, and so I lived that second year in that second house with the window open to the world and that dust-storm and that noise of the Irish boys on the corner doing burnouts on the wet road and arguing and then going to sleep. When it stormed I whispered to the wasps, “Fuck you”, but it was hard to find anything to hold against them, and they, the two dozen of them, looked too cold, too cold, to care.