It was around Easter when we left Belyando Avenue: Drive-In House of Nightmares, and moved 1000 kilometres south to Ravensbourne, a rural locale outside Crows Nest, the town my grandparents still lived in. The best part about this? The “we” in question did not include Dale. It was only mum, Lauren, Tommy and me.
(We did briefly consider moving to Mackay, only 270 kilometres from Moranbah. We even enlisted the services of a real estate agent to take us to look at some rental properties. But by then my hair was so long that the real estate agent addressed my mother, my sister and I collectively as “ladies”, and the subsequent embarrassment was so strong that we left Mackay immediately and never looked back. Or maybe it just made more sense to move closer to our family. Whatever, all I know is I haven’t been to Mackay since.)
I’m not sure how the local council designated where Ravensbourne began and ended, because there really were no visible borders to the place. It wasn’t a town, it had no shops. There wasn’t a school or a bank or a town hall. We lived on Post Office Road, but there was no post office. The road wasn’t even sealed. The only reason there even was an area called Ravensbourne is because it was adjacent to Ravensbourne National Park, which lies west of Esk. I guess “dirt road west of Esk” looks stupid on an envelope and would make a postman angry, so they slapped a name on the place.
The house we moved into was notable for being an A-frame house entirely built from timber, and for having a spiral staircase. Well, I guess it was more of a U-turn staircase, but it was inside the building and it made me feel super fancy. It had been some years since the snobby little boy who owned horses had been able to feel fancy. And here we were, Dale-free and with a spiral staircase. What more could we ask for?
If, at any other time in my life, you had put me in a creaky A-frame timber house nestled in the side of a hill on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, I would have been terrified. But, having just moved from the Wes Craven wet dream that was the abandoned drive-in house, it was like coming home to a warm hug.
It’s probably for the best that the house felt comparatively warm and inviting, because it creaked like a bastard. Timber A-frame houses are very…connected. Look, I’m not an architect or anything, all I know is that a sneeze upstairs at one end of the house would cause a creaking, clunking, juddering noise at the other end of the house. The house was like a physical, inhabitable science exhibit showcasing the tremendous power of the Butterfly Effect.
And yet? Not scary. Had the previous house been anything else, then this place would have been a terrifying horror shack. The dark hillside into which the house was nestled was ominous enough: deep in the bush, surrounded on all sides by the endless, suffocating tangle of lantana. The backyard was a steep slope of this dark bushland, which led down into a gully that was darker still. Even the name of the area—Ravensbourne—is mortifying. The cat refused to go outside at night and spiders were common. Sometimes the outside got so creepy that it would take me upwards of ten minutes just to empty the cat litter tray because I couldn’t bear to turn my back on the wilderness surrounding us. But despite all that…
…wait. No, wait. WAIT. The more I think about it, the more I…THIS PLACE WAS NOT A WARM HUG. IT WAS TERRIBLE!? Who am I trying to kid? I can’t sugar coat this. I can’t dress it up to ensure that the narrative flow of this blog has light and shade: two houses I lived in in a row were grim terror factories. A snake-filled pit backing onto an abandoned drive-in, and a creaking, howling timber cabin buried in the middle of what could pass for the set of a found-footage horror film. No street lights. The nearest civilisation a minimum of twenty-five minutes drive away. And the light-absorbing hellscape of the Australian wilderness on all sides.
Now, while preparing this story, an old family friend by the name of Bonnie got in touch with me. She still lives in the Darling Downs area and, knowing how patchy Google Street View can be in the rural areas, asked if I wanted her to photograph the house for me. I said yes, but only if she didn’t have to risk her life doing it. It may have been nineteen years since I was there, but I remember what a grim, inhospitable nightmare area it was. So yes, I said to Bonnie, do take photos but PLEASE go in broad daylight and if there’s even the tiniest hint of danger, RUN.
Bonnie made it back. She got the photos. Please don’t read any further if you have a weak constitution. These images may be disturbing. Remember, they were only taken a week ago. The horror you are about to see is real, and it is happening right now.
Avert your eyes.
I mean, can you believed we lived in this? It’s a wonder we any got any sleep. I mean, sure, the edge might have been taken off by the charming paint job, and the new staircase off the balcony that wasn’t there before. And that little garden at the front helps minimise the need to scream in fear I guess. And there’s been some landscaping around that big tree to help the lawn grow. And there’s that lovely flowering bush at the back now. But I mean. Look again.
Okay fine. It’s the most charmingly whimsical elven wonderland cottage I’ve ever seen. It’s like if Galadriel bought herself a holiday home in Stars Hollow. But I am telling you, it did NOT look like this when I lived there. At least, I don’t remember it looking like this. If I’m remembering it wrong, and it did look like this? Then I’m suddenly super mad that there are still 31 stories to go in this series.
Look, it was still in the middle of nowhere. Living twenty minutes out of a town (Crows Nest) which was itself thirty minutes from the nearest city (Toowoomba) did get kind of isolating. While us kids were at school, Mum coped with the loneliness by turning to crafts. She’d always been a crafter: during her time in Townsville (while I was living with my grandparents in Tin Can Bay), she’d made jewellery and sold it at the local markets. She loved cross-stitches and tapestries, made clothes, did ceramics, at one point in the early 1980s she even filled glass jars with layers of coloured sand. (Nobody said that craft had to be useful.)
To fill the time in A-Frame House of Apparent Non-Horrors, however, she opted for crochet. But not just any old crochet. She wanted to go big. She wanted to crochet a floor rug. First, she took all her fabric off-cuts and cut them down into strips, which she then tied together into one long string. Then she enlisted the help of my grandfather to make her a crochet hook as thick as a broom handle. Throughout the day and most evenings, she would do this giant crochet. Round and round she went, until the rug was too big to sit on her lap. Then she’d sit on the floor in the middle of the lounge room, where the rug was going to go, spinning it round and round.
After a few weeks, it was finished: the thickest, largest, most colourful crocheted floor rug you’d ever seen. Crafted by hand out of multi-coloured rags by a poor woman living in the mountains? It was a Dolly Parton song.
However. When it came time to leave Post Office Road, we discovered the downside to making a floor rug out of hundred and hundreds of metres of fabric in situ: You have no idea how much it weighs. That rug took three people to lift, and when we finally got it into the truck, it immediately crushed every box underneath it.
Look. Please don’t take this as a recommendation to enter a life of crime, but if you are already there: might I suggest crocheting your own blankets to wrap the bodies in? Those bastards will SINK.