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Ali Clarke: Castles made of sand

Opinion

The pace of urban infill in Adelaide means it can be impossible to raise the drawbridge on what should be the sanctuary of your own home, as Ali Clarke has discovered.

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Thanks to a general rule accepted in the early 1500s which was then written into The Institutes of the Laws of England over 100 years later, the saying has always been “an Englishman’s home is his castle”.

The whole idea behind it was that a man can consider his or her home a place of refuge where they can do what they want and exclude whomever they want.

Updating this to 2022 and including women in the idea, it’s still clear the good folks of 16th and 17th Century England never had to live next door to a modern-day renovation project.

Yes, our neighbours have been replaced by trucks, tradies and terrible music and our days are a consistent juggling to deal with other people’s actions.

We’ve had supplies and materials loaded outside our garage blocking our access, we’ve had energy drink cans and cigarette butts tossed over the fence and even concrete dust caking the few plants I’ve managed to keep alive which, when watered, has meant their exact growth is now captured in sculptured perpetuity.

Then there was the time they asked to put scaffolding on our side of the fence and, not wanting to be seen as painful neighbours, we acquiesced only to come home to find it not only blocking our back door so we couldn’t get in and out of our house, but it was also anchored onto our home.

The swearing, the abuse from subbies who have been asked to move and early Saturday starts has been a trial but, without doubt, my personal favourite was when our eldest daughter came into our bedroom around 1:30 one morning and woke us with: “Hey mum and dad, why is there water all through our kitchen and loungeroom?”

Yep, you guessed it, in the first of those downpours a few months ago, the house they’d built right on our boundary – as is allowed by council – had created a perfect storm within that perfect storm and funnelled all the water over our waterproofing and into our laundry.

Now, I’m not sure the last time you were up at 1:30 in the morning but suffice to say, if it doesn’t involve a kebab or stargazing, it’s not really a fun time.

Certainly, sweeping out water while leaving messages for sleeping builders and neighbours should never be on one’s list of ‘must-dos.’

To be fair, in the initial stages of panic (when they woke up) the builders were helpful, immediately put the drainage in that one might have suggested should have been there in the first place and, in the subsequent rain falls, the issue has been alleviated.

But after us doing the cleaning, sitting on hold to insurers, having to throw out possessions, buy new ones and then put up with our own set of builders as walls, skirtings and cabinetry had to be fixed and replaced, it was honestly tough not to be overwhelmed by frustration.

It was also incredibly disheartening to see attitudes switch once insurers got involved – from being helpful to the washing of hands – as ‘official’ admittance of fault would have meant potential liability.

The promises to pay whatever we needed whenever we needed it dried up faster than our loungeroom rug and instead we now sit with an insurance excess in the midst of a fight between our insurers and theirs.

And for what? Having the misfortune of living next to a block big enough to be subdivided as councils and governments agree that putting more people into the same suburbs is smart for finances, resources and revitalisation of an area?

Look, I get that urban infill exists because there’s a need and desire to optimise what we’ve got instead of opening up new tracts of land, and, to many, the positives of boosting a neighbourhood’s economy, utilising existing facilities all whilst getting people closer to city centres is a no-brainer.

But that doesn’t help me when I’m copping abuse from a burly scaffolder after I’ve asked him to move his truck so I can get into my home, and it certainly doesn’t help me when I’m having to explain to the kids why people over the fence can say the F-word but it’s not a great idea to repeat it to Miss G at school whilst she’s helping you with your maths.

As someone who has done a few renovations in the past, I now have an overwhelming desire to hug every neighbour we may have inconvenienced and, by God, I hope our builders offered them every hospitality and looked after their concerns as we had asked them to.

A massive shout out to the builders who keep trying to do the right thing, but clearly this conflict is not going away when laws exist that can see someone demand reasonable access to your land. The average homeowner – and this was me before this episode – doesn’t really know what they’re getting into when a neighbour sells up to someone who decides they need to put two, four or six little boxes on their land.

While they’re doing the right thing by law, it can be such a traumatic process if you’re on the other side of the fence. Sometimes, it’s impossible to feel like it’s not a gross invasion of privacy and a violation of the one place you should be able to hide away from the stresses of the world.

Perhaps the new saying should follow the lines of the great wordsmith and chief of police from the movie Jaws, Martin Brody: “If our home is supposed to be your castle then we’re gonna need a bigger moat.”

Ali Clarke presents the breakfast show on Mix 102.3. She is a regular columnist for InDaily.

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