Obituary for a back yard

There has been a death – in fact, a number of deaths.

Our wonderful former neighbour from Karratha knocked on our door last night, as he is wont to do on occasion in a friendly spirit of surprise, to share news of – among other things – the comings and goings of Karratha town, of which there are many at this time of fiscal and North West uncertainty.

And it appears our former back yard has … gone. The new owners have ripped everything out – everything except the aloe vera against the bedroom wall – from what once existed in our small patch of North West heaven. Apart from not understanding why, it makes me sad. So I thought an obituary was in order.

This back yard first came to being around 1980 and it was a modest affair. The north-west lawn substitute, lippia, was planted across a small area and it did well. The original owners embraced the domesticity of their patch, and planted three citrus trees along the side fence separating us from our neighbour: two lemons, and what Mr JB and I came to agree on as being a ‘lemonade’ variety. They provided many lemons for meals, and ants to agonise over, during our five years there.

Along the opposite side fence which separated us from a large council stretch of nothingness other than red dirt, indigenous plants, broken glass and a footpath of ill repute alongside a major side road, was a mix of melaleuca, acacia, frangipani and a few other trees which had struggled over the ensuing 20 years or so to reach two or three metres tall. They provided a buffer from cyclonic winds, drunken wanderers and (most importantly) shade over the new patio.

Now the back fence, that was a different story. It was awful when we moved there in 2002. A half-height asbestos mess, with an overgrown cotton palm just over the other side in the back neighbour’s property, which rustled not only with the wind, but the passing of rodents and cockroaches amongst its dangling dead fronds.

With a wonderful spirit of cooperation between our rear neighbour and the bobcat operator he employed, our rear fence was removed as well as the cotton palm, plus, for the fee of a carton of Midstrength, so was the sunken brick bbq/conversation pit our original owner had installed hard up against the right-hand side of the back fence. But we made sure the trees remained.

By the beginning of 2003, we had a level playing field. No bricks. No cotton palm. And we had a plan.

We bought five hedging plants favoured by locals residents and planted them against the spangly new rear fence (thanks Sean). They were fast growing and we could prune and shape them against the fence, thereby becoming additional wind breaks during cyclone season. They nicely framed what had become then-two-year-old’s play area where the extra transplanted lippia was taking hold.

We put in concrete curbing to define where the garden beds finished and the lawn started. We pulled out weeds. We raked. We mulched. And, by God, by the end of it, it was good.

So by the time we had our old patio replaced in 2004, we had a shaded little patch of green comfort, with the original foxtail palm standing sentinel in the centre. It always had 11 fronds, no matter what stage of growth or death it was in; extraordinary.

In a town that’s only pushing 40 years old, every year of growth had the capacity to make an impact – either aesthetically or practically. I think our back yard was an honourable mix of the old and the new, the native and introduced, after 24 years, and we had laboured hard to make it so.

When I get my laptop back, I’ll post some photos and you will see what is now missing from a little patch of earth at the end of a quiet little cul-de-sac in the middle of a strangle little town in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

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