How the COVID-19 lockdown transformed Australian front yards into a much-needed refuge of life and colour.
Since I can remember, people have labelled certain neighbours as being a bit strange. Some neighbours are defined by rivalry and antagonism. Some are labelled because of overhanging vegetation, house extensions or boastful barbecues. And some are characterised by the items they place in their front yards.
Last month I added rock pools to my list of things to do during a lockdown. This week I have drawn an arc radius of 10 kilometres and five kilometres (because I’m not sure which one applies to me) via Google maps around my home address to find where I can and can’t walk.
And as we enter week eight (or is it week nine?) of our COVID lockdown, I find myself and my dog, Kirby, wandering the neighbourhood streets peering into front yards. The stranger the front yard, the better.
The huge face of Pan Gu with eyes closed and a slight smile, emanates a calm over me. To the far corner of the front yard is a giant hand sticking up out of the ground surrounded by bamboo. A buddha’s head is attached to the front gate post, and on the front verandah is a large box with John, Paul, George and Ringo painted on it.
Some would say this front yard is “quite bizarre”, but for me it gives the neighbourhood a bit of character. Owner of the yard, Alistair Davis, ex University of Wollongong (UOW) Creative Arts Lighting Technician, says he never set out to create an eccentric front yard, it just happened.
“All the items in my front yard have a story. They have been collected over decades of working in theatres and shows around Australia. Pan Gu, that’s what I call him, is from an Opera House Christmas show back in 1994. The hand over there is part of a giant Jack in the Box, and the massive Beatles cube is from a UOW musical a few years ago.”
As I wander the delightful streets of my suburb, peering over fences, I see front yards that seem to show off the sordid truths of Australian domestic circumstances.
Humans have always been social creatures, that was until COVID-19 placed us all under house arrest. Only then did it become markedly apparent, how much we require even trivial chit-chat and brief connection with others in our community.
As I walk the streets with Kirby at my side, I notice lounge chairs have sprouted up in front yards and driveways like propagating gum trees, and it seems that many of us have migrated from the lounge room or backyards to front verandas and lawns.
We wander past yards with an array of garden tools that make up a front fence, a life-size lioness, a surfboard letterbox, a penguin made of metal and a batman figurine hanging from a frangipani tree.
Alistair Davis has the last word. “Call it strange, call it weird, but if my front yard helps brighten people’s days and gives local residents a smile, then I’m happy.”