My Favourite Window

August 7, 2011

... Speaking of Concrete

        “I’ve got a surprise for you. Want to come for a drive tomorrow?”
Scott’s invitation.
“Er, where to?”
Anna’s caution.  She doesn’t think she has a lot in common with Scott.
“Moorpark Station. I’m cleaning out their garages”
Scott runs a wrecking yard and offers a collection service to the rural community. Anna is intrigued by his proposition; she remembers an outing to Moorpark Station as a child; remembers decayed grandeur, a tale of tragedy, and love against the odds.  Of course she says “Yes.”
Tomorrow; Anna joins Scott’s retinue of trucks and tandem trailers and heads north into the Canterbury hinterland.  Scott is keen to show Anna the existing homestead, but first he must collect a couple of classic vehicles from a neighbouring farm; there’s an old Bedford truck and an Austin Westminster, still wearing its Farina elegance.
While the men watch their winches, the nor’wester sighs in the high firs and ripens the dead sheep. Anna thinks now might be a good time to find the farmer; ask to use a loo.
“Nah, come on. We’re finished here. There’ll be a loo up at the station.” Scott is always so easy-going; so re-assuring.
They sweep through grand iron gates embossed Morton of Liverpool. They wind along tree-lined gravel.  They draw up in front of a vast stable block with colonnaded archways marching on forever.  The setting is from another world, another time, with great shade trees and elaborate water troughs evoking the village fountains of that other world.
Anna scans the shadowy depths of the cloistered stable. There is farm machinery – ancient and modern - builders’ materials, vintage motor cycles, cobwebs… no horses, no toilet door. 
“Don’t worry,” soothes Scott.  “There are toilets up at the house.  Go on up, I just want to look over the tractors I’ve bought.”
The house doesn’t look too far away.  Anna joins Mike and Chantelle for the short stroll.  Mike is Scott’s right-hand man.  Chantelle is Mike’s wife.  Like Anna she likes old houses and the whiff of history.  They linger on a bridge; peer over its strange castellated sides into deep water, rimmed with bright weed, watch the water spilling over a weir and running away through arching trees.  Scott joins them and leads them to the house – empty, unused, but not decaying yet.  It is pure gothic gingerbread.  There is stained glass and moulded plaster and carved wood. There are nooks and crannies and strange roof angles.  There are verandahs and storerooms at every turn and …”Five toilets,” says Chantelle.
‘None of them usable,’ thinks Anna, clenching her cheeks.
“Oh,” says Scott.  “Well, there’ll be one up at the shearers’ quarters. We have to go up there.”
The walk from the homestead to the shearers’ quarters is another pleasant stroll, through an elm wood. Scott drives the Terrano and trailer up. His pace is sedate out of necessity, but he’s caught the mood of the place, fancies he’s driving a coach and four.  He waves graciously, and Anna remembers when they played together every day.
If the main house was gothic gingerbread, the shearers’ quarters are functional fifties; weatherboard and corrugated iron – unremarkable.  Mike and Chantelle will take the log-burner and roofing iron since the place is due to be bulldozed into an offal pit in the next few days.  There’s a quad bike for Scott to remove as well.
Anna doesn’t quite find what she’s looking for.  There were two toilets ….
“See where they’ve removed all the plumbing.”
But Anna is looking for something else too, and wonders if her memory is playing tricks. 
“Scott, where is the castellated ruin?” Scott is baffled, fetches a photo-copied booklet from the front seat of the Terrano.  The station manager, sensing interest, has lent it for a few days to petrol-head Scott.  Anna thought Scott only read Parts catalogues. While Scott leafs through the pages, a 35 year old memory tugs Anna along a farm track and over a rise, and there it is; George Douglas’ gutted dream.  Douglas spent his fortune establishing Moorpark Station; a fortune amassed by merchant forebears smuggling salted fish and silk handkerchiefs. He guarded his wealth jealously, cocooning his daughter, Mona, in luxury, and protecting her from suitors, avaricious and otherwise. 
Scott is dazzled when Anna shows him the ruin; he’s never seen the old-world forerunners that this is modelled on.  These castellated walls and foundations are concrete; 1870s concrete.  Anna thinks of other places built when concrete must have offered so many new possibilities: Barrhill, Glenmark, the Skudder house at Ashley - plastered and engraved to resemble stone work.
Scott and Anna, Mike and Chantelle: the four of them trace the rooms together, pick out the ghostly tilings, the hypocausts and crumbled fountains … and another missing toilet!
Someone has been clearing saplings from the site and lovingly gathering up fragments of concrete, metal-work, pedestals … A huge spiked iron wheel and some smaller rings lean against a tree, looking for all the world like agricultural machinery.  Scott shows Anna the photo in the handbook, of the great stained glass window that these rings once framed. Fire destroyed this place on a day like today. They go hand-in hand like lovers, fire and the north west wind, thinks Anna. 
Everyone lingers in the conservatory, picking out the roof line, glazing bar attachments, fruit beds, dipping ponds and marvelling to find the winding mechanisms for the vents amongst the twisted iron work. No one wants to leave the site. The place has cast a spell of melancholy awe over the sightseers.
Still, Mike has a roof to strip; Scott has his vehicles to deliver to Rangiora, and a journey back here for the tractors; and Anna still wants to go to the loo.  She notices an iron shed behind the stables, very thin, with its back to the world. 
“Maybe…” says Scott, no longer feeling able to promise toilets.
“Oh please let it be a dunny.”  Anna, opens the door, grins at her brother … and steps inside.  ©

No comments: