In which the Intrepid & Fearless Buckbeak stands his ground against the relentless attempts at Intimidation and Harassment by Captain Arsehat. Buckbeak is in fact a boy, not a girl. Rube mistake by rank amateurs.
The first time we saw the kākā was in late Autumn of 2020. It was just on dusk post lock-down and we were wending our way down our driveway after visiting our local night market.
He was a high dark mark on the sky above us, distinguishable only by his joyous prehistoric skraarking. We jumped up and down screaming with sympathetic delight, because that is the effect kākā have when you realise they are in your suburban Auckland neighbourhood.
Kākā have been spreading out across the Auckland isthmus for a few years now, charming, charismatic winter visitors to bush-clad suburbs. The Auckland kākā belong to a flock originating from Hauturu Little Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf, who after breeding migrate further afield to forage before returning to their island haunts in early spring to breed. .
It was a few weeks until he finally arrived in our backyard, a flurry of tui in his wake. He sat in the kanuka alongside our deck, fluting and cackling, and I rang my Dad, and held the phone out towards the tree so he could hear. I was gabbling with excitement.
One morning when I was lounging in bed I saw him land on the deck outside the window to investigate some apple left out for the waxeyes. I watched him delicately grasp a piece of fruit with his zygodactyl foot. He discarded it as beneath his dignity; apparently kākā have the exalted tastebuds of Roman emperors and only a platter of persimmons and peeled grapes will suffice for these patrician parrots. There are no luxury fruits available in the bush gully behind our house though; I think the kaka are attracted by the tall old-growth kanuka and tanekaha that provide an outlook, as well as sap to suck, and grubs to winkle. Kākā are adept at bark stripping kanuka in order to fossick out food.
The first time we had a truly close-up encounter with the kākā we had christened Randolph was when he suddenly landed in the tree outside my workshop and insouciantly climbed down using his leatherman beak and feet as grappling hooks before positioning himself on a slim branch perch to investigate the tui feeder. An agitation of swirling tui whirred and clicked in dismay as Randolph grabbed their drink container and gently tilted it, releasing a steady stream of liquid, much to their consternation.
We immediately observed that Randolph was a handsome bird, khaki/brown, a silver fox slick-down of whitish-grey feathers atop his head, a blush of copper on his cheeks, a flourish of brass behind his dark eyes, and a huge hooked slate-coloured beak. His impressive scaly talons grasped the branch and the container, and we had a brief flash of his red pantaloons. We don’t actually know if Randolph is a male or a female, because we haven’t seen him side by side with another kākā of a different sex. There is some sexual dimorphism in kākā, the females are slightly smaller, and the males heads and upper beaks are considerably larger.
Kākā are ‘deep endemics’ from the family Strigopoidea, an ancient group that split off from all other parrots millions of years ago. Kākā belong to the genus Nestor, along with the kea, and two extinct kākā, the Chatham Island kākā, and the Norfolk Island kākā. They have a close relative in the kakapo. I keep reading that kākā and kea species are claimed to be ‘primitive’ on the basis of their early departure from other parrot species, but really it means they are the most basal clade of parrots, taxonomically speaking. In simple terms this means because of the break up of Gondwanaland, they are a direct descendant of a proto-parrot, without the variety of divergence you see occurring in other parrot species. They are more distinct from all the other parrots than all the other parrots are from each other. However, because kākā and their fellow NZ parrots have adapted and specialised to the unique environment of the isolated islands they inhabit over a long time period, they are unlikely to have a close resemblance to their proto-parrot ancestor. That’s enough of the dry science for now though.
I took to keeping a diary of his visits. September was a busy month for backyard kākā sightings. He came almost every day, the earliest visit at 3.09 am, on Sept. 21, when he fluted intermittently through the early hours of the morning.
As I sleep lightly, I was able to keep track of when I heard his alarm clock fluting. A diary entry from Tuesday Sept. 15 reads :
5.58am- a joyous cackling skraak, & light fluting to the South
6.08am- considerable fluting
Other diary entries describe ‘exuberant clowning in the canopy’, and yet another says ‘Yesterday he flew past the ranch slider at low altitude – let loose a loud startling skraak which caused screams of fright – 1pm.’ Saturday Sept. 19 says 5.46am- a flurry of cackling skraaks to the south followed by querulous fluting. #skraakflutetseep.
There is a little ballpoint pen sketch of a kaka head adorning the page.
I developed a vocabulary of kaka sounds; skraaking, fluting (light, diminishing, or querulous), tseep-tseeping, cackle-hissing, gurgle-growling, gurgle-cackling, snarl-skraaking, and the curious WEE-do, which is almost an electronic noise. I recorded his chatter obsessively, and made videos of his visits. Randolph was unperturbed by the distraction he caused, and not alarmed by our interest in him. One exciting day Randolph had a friend fly in for a chatter. I have a recording of this event in which we are heard to exclaim excitedly “There’s two of them, TWO of them!”
A diary entry on Wednesday Sept. 23 states 8.30am- a kākā flew South past the bedroom window followed immediately by two large kākā who flew from the South & then wheeled down into the gully. No skraaking- a couple of light flutes. We worry about humans imprinting on wild animals, but I think the urban kākā imprint on humans.
Often Randolph’s visits were heralded by a pertubation of tui. I would glance out my workshop window and see an agitation formenting in the tall trees outside, tui blasting in from all directions and positioning themselves like spectators in a Roman ampitheatre. More often than not he would blithely ignore them, as he perched quietly high in a tree, calmly ring-barking small branches, his presence betrayed by seeds and bits of bark dropping to the ground from his ministrations. If he hopped down to investigate the tui feeder he was rewarded by messerschmitt attacks as tui took turns to swoop at him, executing last moment swerves.
When that became tiresome he would suddenly turn tail and freewheel down the gully flashing his brilliant red underthings, and skraaaking with mirth.
Kākā are omnivorous birds, with a diet consisting of fruit, berries, flowers, nuts, seeds, nectar, and small invertebrates and their larvae. They have long slender upper beaks for tearing bark, as well as brush-tipped tongues for sap-licking and nectar extraction. Their zygodactyl feet, meaning two toes forward and two toes backward, also give them the advantage of the equivalent of two opposable thumbs on each foot which are the perfect tools for grasping and climbing.
The combination of being a powerful flier and having a varied diet is that kākā can forage afar as various foods come into season. We note that Randolph disappears as soon as the kowhai start blooming in early Spring, and I start to see posts appearing on social media of kākā enjoying the yellow blossoms all over Auckland.
On one occasion a tui thwocked into my workshop window, a very uncommon occurrence, as they are accomplished fliers, whirring and gliding over and around the house frequently. He had knocked himself out cold, so I called Simon down to tend to him. As Simon bent over the tui, Randolph plonked suddenly down onto the branch above Simon’s head, curiously craning to see what was going on. I dislike anthropomorphising, but I had observed what appeared to be a reasonably good-natured chase going on earlier, tui beak to kākā butt and vice versa tearing at speed past the house, and wondered if the tui was an inadvertent victim of the game. The tui was fine after a few minutes quiet time in a cardboard box, and I doubt parrots feel much remorse.
It’s all fun and games till someone smashes into a window pane.
From Sunday Sept. 27 there are no kākā sightings recorded in my diary, just an sad little entry that says ‘The long silence 🙁 Have the kākā returned to Little Barrier?’ They returned for a brief visit in early October, but breeding season was in full swing on their Hauraki Gulf island strongholds, so we had no expectation of seeing them till winter of 2021.
Kākā have very specific requirements with regard to a suitable breeding nest. They prefer cavities in large old forest trees, at least 5 metres above the ground which they line with wood chips. The female lays a clutch of about four eggs which she incubates solely, and the male kākā brings her food.
Kākā evolved and adapted in an environment without mammalian predators, and under those conditions, being a cavity nesting Nestor was a good solution. Unfortunately the introduction of predator species has been disastrous.
The worst indicators for kākā success are the presence of stoats and possums.
From the time the eggs are laid till the time the chicks can fly is three to four months, which is a very long time for the female kākā to be vulnerable to predation. The high ratio of male birds to female birds is stark evidence that predator control is essential for kākā to flourish. Likewise, fledglings often fledge before they can fly or climb, so spend some time on the forest floor before being able to find safety in the treetops. This makes predator control of cats, stoats, and rats vital to ensure their survival.
Predator control has been proven to work in favour of kākā. The Pureora Forest Park in central North Island is a case in point; a fourfold increase in kākā in 20 years, from 640 in 2000 to 2600 in 2020. Even more exciting, the ratio of females to males has improved dramatically from 1:2.1 to almost 1:1! This is very promising for future population growth.
Kākā are still regarded as under threat though.
If kākā are visiting in your neighbourhood, or a suburb nearby, the most efficacious things you can do to encourage them and make their environment safe is to trap assiduously for rats, mustelids, and possums, and plant the native trees they love for food and habitat. Most areas in New Zealand have volunteer groups that trap, weed, and plant. Every effort helps, no matter how small it may seem.
Randolph and friends reappeared this year, earlier than last year, but they also departed earlier. I haven’t heard or seen a kākā since September 20 when Randolph dropped in for a raucous chat. I’m hoping they appear for one final visit, but if not, I’m confident of their return in winter of 2022.
This is a piece I made a few years ago. It was for a mapping project, and whilst I was very happy with the way my QR code worked so well, ultimately the project failed, because so few people knew what a QR code was, let alone had the means to read it with their smartphones.
It was a fraught piece to make, because I had no idea if it would work until it was finished. I was overjoyed when it did. I made it using very simple techniques. I cut out tiny pieces of metal and riveted them to a base of silver. No solder was used. I wanted to make something as low-tech as possible that linked to something very hi-tech; a smartphone app that connected the user to a website page.
The technical person who configured the mapping project is unconvinced that QR codes will work effectively to trace covid-19 contacts. It’s not sufficiently passive to succeed, as action is required at every step; you must download an app before your smartphone can read a code that the business has actively placed in their premises. There will not be QR codes every single place you go. Worst of all, the app doesn’t tell you if there is a connection between you and a person with covid-19. Not yet…
Alternately, contact tracing geo-spacially using the in-built GPS system of your smartphone would be passive, and direct.
Diagram of how contact tracing could work using GPS
We completed our perambulations of every cul-de-sac in Chatswood last week, prior to level 4 lockdown being lifted.
There were a number of culs-de-sac to take into account so we hastened to Porritt Ave in order to partake of them in a timeous fashion. Aside from this, it was becoming evident that my fellow pedestrians were tiring of lockdown restrictions, and as a consequence were blithely wombling into my path with a bubble popping insouciance that set my teeth a-grinding. I felt the urge to put this pointless endeavour to bed quickly, lest I become infected by a huffing jogger, or an out-of-control toddler on a scooter.
Regretfully, three of the remaining culs-de-sac barely rate a mention. I will say that the view from the top of Blundell is astonishing, if you are an enthusiast for icons of Auckland. Laid out before you in an ocular banquet are the Chelsea Sugarworks in faded pink, with the empty Harbour Bridge directly behind, and the Sky Tower following up the rear, clear and sharp in the smogless skies. Blundell is also distinguished by having a house on the corner of the cul-de-sac that styles itself ‘Chatswood House’. Peering down at the ground, for I had forgotten to wear my glasses again, I saw the owners had placed hand written laminated notices at regular intervals, advising strollers to not walk on the grass. These were held down with small rocks. Presumably the owners tire of blithe womblers trampling the kikuyu. I thought three carefully placed small shrubs would have been a better solution, but then I thought the owners of Chatswood House were possibly the sort of people who put 1.5 litre bottles of water on their lawn to deter defecating dogs also.
Makepiece was a terrible disappointment, and I felt I could barely rate it three leafblowers, in my churlishness.
I had been saving Holyoake till last. I presumed this cul-de-sac was named for the illustrious Kiwi Keith, Sir Keith Holyoake, Prime Minister of New Zealand in the years 1960-1972. There is nothing to suggest otherwise. We entered on the left-hand side of the cul-de-sac, noting with some pleasure the grove of mature oak trees planted on a generous island in the center of the street. I hadn’t consulted a map prior to visiting Holyoake, so was surprised to see it take a dog leg turn to the right. Immediately I was enchanted. It looked like a proper neighbourhood. The cul-de-sac sweeps down, and is backed by a bush vista thanks to the generous plantings in the Chelsea Heritage Park. I spotted a house which I thought was likely an original cottage from the late nineteenth century. It stood out amongst the undistinguished other residences of the cul-de-sac.
I noted a couple enjoying a beverage on their second-storey balcony as they surveyed the street; a man waved a cheery greeting. At the bottom of the cul-de-sac there were bad poems chalked by children on the road, and a woman perched on a stool in the middle of the footpath engaging in a spot of plein-air doodling. I couldn’t ascertain the exact subject of her ministrations, but I presumed it was the imposing double-storey brick and tile with moorish arches, mullioned windows, faux half-timbering, and fancy wrought iron balcony railings she was attempting to render. As I watched a young tui enjoying himself in a bottlebrush, an adult tui swooped in and hit the young-un with a THWOCK that made me wince.
Leaving Holyoake I felt suffused with a warm glow that saving Holyoake till last meant I could finish on a high and award the final cul-de-sac a solid five leaf-blowers. To celebrate, we decided to take the long way home, browsing the oddities of Porritt and Chelsea View along the way, because we will probably never walk these streets again. We looped up Porritt and swerved left into Chelsea View. I was puzzled to see a tidy wooden fence with nails driven into the top, and thin string strung tightly from nail to nail. I wondered aloud if it was some sort of string line for building, as I am far too acquainted with such things, but then Simon pointed out that it was in fact an unkind way of stopping small birds from sitting on the fence. This had obviously caught on around the neighbourhood, as flushed with the success of sparrow thwarting, the originator of this dastardly design had shared it with his other similarly anally retentive neighbours. What is more unattractive, the occasional splash of bird faeces, or trip wires on top of your fence?
We came to my favourite part of the walk, which is a rock garden containing a carefully placed herd of plastic cows, sheep, deer, and goats. I don’t know if this is a permanent garden feature, or just an antidote to the endless windows filled with stuffed bears. The owner of the property is obviously a cautious and consistent gardener because their garden contains only red toned plants. The plastic animal diorama is pleasing enough that I chose to illustrate part 4 of Every Cul-de-sac in Chatswood with a considered snap of the rock garden.
Plastic animal diorama in Chatswood.
Continuing on Chelsea View we passed Portsea; to my astonishment I noted that outside the house on the corner, the man was still avidly waterblasting his shrubbery, ignoring all warnings from the council to not waste water on frivolous activities. I also noticed the burgeoning mounds of dog-shit infesting Chatswood, much of it smeared into skidmarks by joggers and scooterlings. Dodging the increasing crowds of strollers littering the footpaths whilst gabbling into their phones and simultaneously failing to social distance to my exacting needs we raced for the comparative safety of home. My house-painting neighbour now seems to have a double bubble comprised of tradespeople and other people’s children, but I really can’t care. Mission accomplished.
May we never live through such uninteresting times again.
Geographically-challenged Flaneur of Chatswood Culs-de-sac.
Before I regale you with my latest flaneuring exploits, I have to make an astonishing confession.
Portsea and Fitzpatrick are culs-de-sac off ChelseaView, not Porritt. Unbeknownst to me, Porritt circles back on itself, running from Mokoia to loop around and re-appear near the top of ChelseaView. I discovered this when I looked at a map, for the necessary purpose of setting firm boundaries for my culs-de-sacking project. I feel a little foolish, but I felt I needed to clarify, in case any of you thought ‘Hang on a mo’, this doesn’t ring true!’, and took it upon yourselves to doublecheck, and reveal me to be mendacious, or at very least loose with the truth. I shall be wearing my compass watch on future rambles, so as not to make any further cartographic slip-ups.
If we can analogise the western suburbs of the inner North Shore to a corporeal being, and I think we can, Beachaven and Birkdale are best described as the roiling guts, whilst Chatswood is the skull. Porritt is the looping dura mater of the brain, and the many culs-de-sac within are the neural pathways. Unfortunately there is only one functioning synapse between the culs-de-sac, a modest public cut-through that set me on my initial path, to visit and report on every cul-de-sac in Chatswood. Today we are not heading into the brain of Chatswood, however, we are visiting two of the culs-de-sac on the western side of Porritt.
We head up to the top of our long and winding right-of-way. The first interesting thing I see is a handsome tabby sporting a white fur pinafore sitting a foot from me on the retaining wall pretending to be invisible. I don’t really see him till I’ve passed a foot or so by him, so I turn and stare into his horrified golden eyes and say ‘Hello!’, which prompts him to lauch skywards off the wall and sprint for the nearby safety of the underside of someone’s stationary car. I guess I broke his bubble.. To my relief, I note my house-painting neighbour is no longer wallowing in Fleetwood Mac, as Tom Petty has taken over as music du jour. I approve.
We turn left, and head towards Mokoia, and after trotting up Mokoia, turn left again into ChelseaView, veer into Porritt, and head down into Barlow, the first cul-de-sac. In order to be as unobtrusive as possible, I’ve made a rule that we perambulate around the cul-de-sac, glancing furtively at the houses on the opposite side of the street, so as not to rouse the ire of the inhabitants. I have to keep hissing at Simon to keep him on track with the rules. He has a tendency to stop, wave his arms about expansively, pointing out frightful features with laser precision. He sulks for two seconds, and then exclaims loudly at a pair of fancy gates with an inset of off-the-peg wrought iron pretend heraldry picked out in some class of ormolu.
The most curious architectural feature I spot immediately is red Decramastic tiles unwisely used as external wall cladding, paired with fancy plaster renderings painted a fleshy terracotta pink. I can’t quite put my finger on the culture this has been egregiously misappropriated from; I think it’s sort of Grexican, or maybe Mexalian. Many of the houses in this cul-de-sac are hidden behind tall fences or exactingly manicured hedging, for privacy, or out of shame. We can only speculate. All that is visible in most cases is an endless sea of of low-slung tiling, often decramastic, occasionally authentic. I have to reiterate my no peeking over fences rule to Simon, AGAIN. At any rate, it turns my attention to the other sort of house in the cul-de-sac, the late 1960’s weatherboard bungalow, with large street-facing windows, a pleasing two-plane iron roof, with the occasional splash of an amber beer-bottle-base patterned glass feature window adjacent to the welcoming front door. What’s not to like?
Well, let me tell you. Regretfully these once modest bungalows have been pimped, primped, and preened to within an inch of their former lives. They are the width and depth of the sections they sit on , bar the requisite space for a lap pool at the landscaped rear, and an acre of concrete out front. ‘Semi-permeable’ is not part of the vocabulary. They’ve been face-lifted, trimmed, and tucked so high they now sport neck-beards.
It’s time to move on to Heaton, the next cul-de-sac. I feel we’ve maybe spent too much time in Barlow, as I broke my dress-code rule, and accidentally wore an attention-attracting bright yellow t-shirt. All some neighbourhood nark needs to do is describe a scuttling woman dressed as a wasp, and I’m screwed. Heaton echoes Barlow, but yet again proves my theory that the best house in the sac is found at the cul. There is a real charmer at the end, dark, hunkered down subtly into it’s west-sloping lawn, with the second storey deck bleeding perfectly into the street-facing front lawn. It’s so delicious I briefly permit myself the fantasy of living there, imagining basking in the afternoon sun, like a leathered saurian, consider not negotiating the long and winding right-of-way with it’s unfriendly cats… But no. I can’t award 5 leafblowers on the basis of this one house. Common-sense dictates a generous 3 and ½..
Leaving Barlow we follow the loop of Porritt up to Mokoia. The residents of one house have clearly been hoarding garlic corms, and they are sauteing them in lashings of butter with no consideration for people who are experiencing garlic shortages. The smell exudes into the street, and I yet again have to curb my resentment, whilst simultaneously salivating like a canine creature in a cruel Pavlovian experiment. Heading westwards down Mokoia in a homewards direction we note a man sporting a bristly white cock-duster atop his upper lip at the wheel of a red alfa-romeo 4c. I surmise he is going to the supermarket, but then he returns, and returns yet again, passing us three times within a few minutes. I guess he got tired of sitting in his garaged vehicle making brrrm brrrm noises. His other car is shit too, a Fiat 124 spider abarth; I’ve seen him tooling around the suburb in freer times. He should get an MX5, like a real hairdresser.
As the other well-known 4c driver would say; happy days.
The sky above our underworld at the bottom of the long and winding right-of-way looks as if it’s about to spill it’s innards, so armed with raincoats we head upwards to the Overworld of beckoning culs-de-sac. I’m altering my misguided spelling of the plural to the correct French plural. One cul-de-sac, many culs-de-sac. On the way up, we greet our neighbour who is spending his lockdown time painting his house, after cunningly panic-buying paint at the last possible moment. I note he is listening to Fleetwood Mac, which I hope is not a harbinger of daytime drinking to come. When we reach the top of the driveway, to my chagrin, I see that the sun is shining, and I will have to lug my raincoat around, which is partly why today only encompasses two and a half culs-de-sac.
Kauri trees in Chatswood.
We turn left at the top of the right-of-way, and head up towards the main road, because I want to take the most direct route to my culs-de-sac of choice. There are bubbles of exercise-seekers littering the footpath, with no recourse to the roads, because unlike yesterday, the stream of cars is unrelenting. I’m assuming they are all heading New World-wards, to stand in a queue outside the supermarket, because that is what one does when the supermarket has been closed for an entire 24 hours over Easter Friday, even in a time of pandemic. Maybe there is a promise of flour and garlic corms no-one has alerted me to? I can’t be bothered speculating.
We turn right off Mokoia Rd. into Porritt, which is not a cul-de-sac. It is a feeder of culs-de-sac, a mutually parasitic road system. Even though it doesn’t occur in the environs of a cul-de-sac, I feel compelled to mention the tui we encountered. I am interested by tui song, because the tui who make my small patch of bush their territory have been sharing a song based on woofs and clicks. They’ve mimicked each other, so you can hear them woofing and clicking the same tune back and forth across the gully. Porritt appears to have a tui who is mimicking a learner clarinet player. There are a few breathy notes that sound as if they are being strained through a woodwind reed, and then a cascade of conventional tui wheezes. I’m sufficiently enchanted to stand and listen for a few minutes, till I realise that this could be misinterpreted as staring imprudently into mullioned windows, and promptly desist.
Trotting onwards, we pass a smug couple wearing homemade plastic face visors, then hang an abrupt left into Fitzpatrick, the first cul-de-sac on my agenda. I can best describe Fitzpatrick as a revelation! I’ll not lie; there are wry nods to the mock-Tudor in this flatlands cul-de-sac, but the established plantings soften the brutalism of fancy plasterwork and fake half-timbering, and as we venture cautiously deeper into the cul-de-sac, skirting the center of road island planting, I spot a nineteen-seventies piece of fabulosity, dark-brown stained cedar, looming out of it’s forest situation, a steeply pitched roof, with a bank of clerestory windows facing street-wards, allowing west-facing light to stream in unimpeded by dormers, shutters, arches, and tiles, or cupolas. It is reminiscent of Group architecture, and reaffirms my faith in humanity to not feel compelled to dwell in mock-Tudor monstrosities or neo-colonial travesties just because the rest of your suburb is. To top it off, I suddenly realise that there is a veritable forest of young kauri on this property, and spreading outwards up the cul-de-sac. It’s a heart-warming sight, and I immediately want to award Fitzpatrick 5 leafblowers, but I exercise self-control and prudence, because Portsea is yet to come.
I once went to a sort of gathering in Portsea; a friend lived in a dysfunctional flat in this cul-de-sac, a few years ago. It was an awkward gathering because you could infer by the general lack of bonhomie that all the flatmates loathed and despised each others company. As I recall, we speed-drank our supplies gobbled down some food, and fled back to our long and winding right-of-way. There may have been sausages and salad on offer. On reflection, I think Simon may have attempted to ingratiate himself by manning the BBQ, though it was ultimately futile.
But I digress. The first thing I notice as we round the corner into Portsea is a man water-blasting his shrubbery with simian avidity. This strikes me as odd, so I briefly give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume it may be his spindly fence that the lacerating barbs of water are aimed at. But no, he is shredding his shrubs with fierce concentration, and it is not for me to question why.
I’ll not dwell on Portsea, except to say; there is no port, there is no sea, just the relentless cancer of mock-Tudorism, brick and tile, and a monolithic clad house that plays Escher-like tricks on your eyes, because a sloping, jutting, triangular-shaped walled deck makes it appear the entire house is on an improbable slope. I espy an octagonal porthole on one house, a colourful diamond patterned leadlight window, and a real estate agent’s sign promises me ‘Paradise on Portsea’, but I’m dubious. Portsea drags down the 5 leafblower enthusiasm I had for Fitzpatrick, and I feel I can’t justifiably award more than 4, regretfully.
We stride purposefully up Harper, not a cul-de-sac, and head to the right down Onetaunga, the former street of Muldoon. I desperately wish to know where Sir Robert lived. I feel there should be a brass plaque, or somesuch, to note his lag in Chatswood. We veer briefly into the cul-de-sac of Radiata, but I quickly determine that Radiata is an outlier, and does not fit into the parameters of my brief. It cannot be a part of my every cul-de-sac in Chatswood project. Lines must be drawn.
As we approach our long and winding right-of-way, a replica silver Porsche 356 containing our house-painting neighbour and two children who are not the fruits of his loins turns abruptly in down the driveway, and speeds towards his partially painted house. Is he popping bubbles? Is this caused by excessive listening to Fleetwood Mac? I don’t know, and I can’t care.
Every cul-de-sac in Chatswood, or, doing the hard yards so you don’t have to.
Despite my initial assertions that the cul-de-sacs of Chatswood were off-bounds for the lockdown duration, I’ve decided to relax my embargo, and embark on a project to walk every cul-de-sac in Chatswood. The rules must be developed as we trudge the leafy streets; no loud conversation, no making a spectacle of oneself by staring imprudently into mullioned windows, and absolutely no straying into shared driveways, or peeping over fences. I think if these restrictions are observed we can probably avoid unwanted police attention during lockdown. Should a curtain twitcher call the law on me, I’m sufficiently inculcated into the middle classes to feign polite regret, even if my inner bogan is threatening to release itself.
We start by turning right at the top of our long and winding right-of-way, and head in the direction of the naval base. I’m not about to debate the wisdom of locating a munitions dump in suburban North Shore, but I have it on good authority from a retired naval officer that our house is not in the blast zone, though the primary school is. At any rate, there are some very fine cul-de-sacs to be explored at the top of Chatswood on the right hand side of Onetaunga Rd., just past the naval base, so it’s in this direction we head.
The roads are empty of cars, but full of pedestrians as it’s Good Friday, and there is nowhere for people to drive to, unless it’s to their job at the hospital. I find the wide-ranging pedestrians all over the road a bit stressful, so it’s a relief to enter the salubrious confines of Bragato. And salubrious it is! The entire cul-de-sac is paved in dull red hexagonal paving stones, which immediately marks it out as superior to the lesser cul-de-sacs which are merely sealed with asphalt. It feels exclusionary, but I gird my loins and stride forth anyway.
My first impression is of a next level top tier cul-de-sac. There is an overwhelming sense of well-fed well-being in Bragato. I’m confident that the kitchens of these 1970’s faux-colonials and mock- Tudors have baking station pull out bins full of high-grade flour, and plaited ropes of garlic festooning the half- Spanish white painted walls. I choke back my resentment in the interests of observation, and keep strolling nonchalantly, past large double-storey Tudor style monstrosities, and the substantial neo-colonials. All the houses are white, with contrasting fake shutters, and/or pretend half-timbering. I note the tiled rooves are authentic, as opposed to Decramastic, so I’m obliged to award extra points for that.
Mock-Tudor in Chatswood.
I’m confronted with an astounding sight as we stroll towards the bottom of the cul-de-sac where a pedestrian cut-through to our next cul-de-sac, Murano, awaits us. We are perfectly reflected in a huge mullioned mirror glass feature window plonked incongruously into the back wall of an over-sized manse at the turning end of the street. I say the back wall, because the views from these cul-de-sacs are very desirable, looking out over the Chatswood reserve, and towards the city. I’m confident the designer of this vast excrescence chose to face the front of the house in this direction. It serves to remind me that a bright red t-shirt is not the best garment of choice for low-profile cul-de-sac skulking, and that I should wear a lower-key colour in future.
But I digress. Skirting down the fence-line into Murano, I initially note more of the same, but with a proliferation of dark clinker brick. Top house of note is an early eighties flat-roofed plaster-clad dwelling sporting an ill-considered bay window that I imagine leaks like a bastard. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tubbs and Crockett were relaxing Miami Vice style out the back by the pool, wiping their perforated septums on the backs of their hands and knocking back wine coolers.
Temporarily breaking free of the cul-de-sac oubliette, we turn right into ChelseaView Drive, and cut across into Ravenstone, a cul-de-sac I’ve been eagerly anticipating. I’m not disappointed, but I suspect the developers of this gem amongst cul-de-sacs initially gave the would-be purchasers a choice between two styles of home, unsurprisingly, the mock Tudor, or alternately, the neo colonial. To set them apart from other lesser cul-de-sacs, they are built at twice the square meterage, which means a vista of tiled roofs as far as you can see. Some have diamond-shaped mullioned windows, and there is one extraordinary example of a grandiose mock Tudor at the bottom of the cul-de-sac, which has black-stained brackets tacked onto the soffits of the ground floor that we are expected to believe are beams holding up the floor of the top storey. They don’t. It also sports a double height dormer, diamond mullioned, with a sharply pointed copper roofline. What goes on in Elizabethan England should stay in Elizabethan England. The smartest home renovation move I can apprehend in this cul-de-sac- of dreams goes to the canny home-owner who has disguised the mock-Tudorness of his castle by painting it entirely brown, thereby tricking the eye into no longer fixating on the fake half-timbering. It’s a masterful stroke. Even the birds in this street are predominantly English, a smattering of slimmed-down sparrows fending for themselves now all the cafes are closed, and a female blackbird. A lone fantail hightails it, much like us.
Neo-colonial in Chatswood.
We backtrack up ChelseaView, taking in a couple of flatlands cul-de-sacs as we wend our way homeward. Mosman and Homewood are lesser cul-de-sacs, Homewood notable for having a desultory reserve on the corner, sloped, so no good for sporting activities, and mainly treeless, so inadequate for teenage drinking and trysts. Altogether a disappointment, though I liked the brown clinker brick bollards linked with chains that one house sports as a barrier between cul-de-sac and lawn. Net curtains proliferate in these cul-de-sacs, behind mullioned windows, which I find anxiety-inducing. I have a sense of being watched. As we race up Chelsea View I note a house I had observed as previously using vehicles as barriers to unwanted visitors have now strung bits of tape back and forth across their driveway as a nod to a more formal exclusion. I suspect it is the innards of the Fleetwood Mac tape they were listening to the other day, when I wandered past, and noticed some evidence of mid-week day-time drinking, and a stuffed bear, face down on the driveway. I assumed the bear had been drop-kicked off the balcony. An over-sized stuffed bat is now the stuffed toy du jour, leering down at small children from above.
As I have chosen a rating system of leaf blowers, I am awarding a solid 4 and ½ leaf blowers to these cul-de-sacs, based on an average across all the cul-de-sacs visited.