The two-time winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award left the city of romance and found love in Melbourne’s Brunswick.
Paris to Port Melbourne
I was renting a small flat on the sixth floor of an old apartment block on rue Saint-Dominique in the 7th arrondissement.
It was the beginning of winter in 1974 and I’d been living in Paris almost a year, writing my second book and attending the Alliance every weekday morning for French lessons. I’d made good friends in Paris and was happy there. I was living on the money I’d made from the sale of my farm in NSW and had no need to work.
Each morning I walked to the Alliance. And in the afternoons I sat at a desk by the window of my small sitting room overlooking the courtyard and worked on my novel. In the evenings I went to bars and to the theatre with my lover, Ann, an Australian who was studying French literature at the Sorbonne. On weekends, when it was fine, she and I went to the countryside. It was a very good life I had in Paris. I had no thought of changing it.
The people who owned my flat, Madame and Monsieur Lémieux, a retired couple, lived on the floor below me. Madame Lémieux often brought me a share of their evening meal. They liked me and wanted me to stay and had asked me to buy the flat from them. They would keep it vacant for me, they said, while I returned to Melbourne and sold my house. In 1974, the exchange rate was about eight francs to the dollar, which placed the flat well within my reach.
Ann came to Charles de Gaulle Airport to see me off. We held hands across the table and drank coffee and talked of my return in a couple of months. When it was time to board my flight to Melbourne, we embraced and said, “Till soon! Till very soon!” I looked back at the gate and she raised a hand to her lips and blew a final kiss.
My house in Port Melbourne, an unfashionable suburb in those days, stubbornly refused to sell. The agent said it was a difficult house. I was eating into my capital and, after three months, I decided to get a job.
As an arts graduate, teaching was the obvious choice.
I began work at Brunswick Tech on a fine February morning at the end of the long summer school vacation. Walking up the stairs, a flight ahead of me, in the school’s main building that morning was a young woman.
She was wearing green slacks, cork sandals and a top in bright Indian cotton. She turned and looked back, her dark eyes challenging me. My heart contracted, as if a strong fist had gripped the deep muscles of my very being. I knew at once that she was the woman whose love and companionship would complete my life. How I knew all this, how I read it in that one glance,
I can’t say but it turned out that she had felt as I had.
It took us six weeks to find the courage to speak to each other. Her name was Stephanie. Forty-three years later, we’re still on our journey together to the end of time. ￼
Top image: John Tsiavis