Sharehouse: A retrospective
I was twenty-two when the time came for me to finally eject myself from the comfort zone of my parent’s backyard bungalow. I suppose the concept of bills, rent and cleaning was a persuasive inhibitor for my lazy student-musician arse. But then, a lot of people from my generation were staying on a bit at home, no doubt because life away from the comfort zone looked pretty raw under the barest of scrutiny. This, I learned from the vicarious experience of my eager mates’ first communal abode.
It was known to all as ‘Stonehaven,’ a tawdry, busted-ass dude shack, its lounge dank and dim-lit by stolen strip lighting, its sofas acquired from dumpsters, reeking of mystery cheese and bong. The state of the kitchen was rank. Plastic bags of green bread grew on the yellow fridge; pizza boxes were stacked in ceiling high cardboard pillars. The outdoor toilet was a pastiche of paint flakes and pornography, with a door that could be locked from the outside. In the overgrown backyard, a metal hearth was used for bonfires, wherein anything that appeared flammable – and not – was burned. Bedrooms were a generous size, though a body-length carpet patch in the master boudoir was more than a little off-putting, and thought to be the spot where the previous owner had perished.
Despite all this, I did finally move out, and my own nascent sharehouse moment was thankfully somewhat more savoury. I’d taken a room in the upstairs quarters of a circa-1950s brick veneer Coin Laundromat. Writ large, the sign by the rusted side entrance gate: ‘Coin Laundrette: Open 7 Days’. We called it ‘The Drette’.
You never quite get used to the hum and rumble of your neighbourhood’s filthy laundry being pummelled beneath your head day and night (murderously so during Sunday hangovers). Still, the drette had character. Its showpiece: a vast rumpus room fitted out like a mid-80s European ski lodge, replete with diagonal wood panelling and cocktail bar. It was a giant sauna waiting to happen. Bedroom quarters muddled the Scandinavian aesthetic with carpet reminiscent of a budget Chinese restaurant, while our tiny, brown-tiled kitchen sported a back breaking sink area, fitted, with the olive-shit tiles, for a 4ft tall Italian Nonna sometime after the war. Summer afternoons were lazy affairs, typically spent out on the concrete patio grilling meat in tube form, and hurling water bombs at the heads of local children.
It was a fine year, but the world was calling. I decided to shake life up a bit and went backpacking around Europe. Assuming the drette had prepared me adequately for independent life abroad, my fresh European adventures would indicate otherwise. After shacking up in a melange of international backpacker hostels, I encountered shared living at its most extreme. Hostels appeared to be human zoos, rife with deviants and munters from every nook on the planet, and with each passing month, the thought of living with just four people (regardless of living standards) seemed a decadent alternative to the prospect of bunking-on with a dormitory full of malodorous randoms.
Domestic life transformed yet again when I returned home. A few old pals and I secured the lease to a sweet joint in a vibrant inner suburb of Melbourne: a pink, two-story terrace house that we christened ‘Slam Palace’. Worn enough to feel lived-in, the Palace was the first truly great sharehouse, breeding ground of great times and exceptional rapport. Traditions began: sit down lunches, themed bashes, dinners and drink nights; we cooked meals and ate together, with a fresh list of recipes perfected, over time becoming illustrious culinary staples. We were a world away from the cheese-bong-mould aesthetic of Stonehaven. Slam Palace was a revelation, a sharehouse revolution. It didn’t have to be so gnarly after all!
All good things come to an end, of course, and when the Slam Palace lease expired, I moved on – serendipitously, to a 150-year old Victorian terrace share house in a suburb nearby. Derived from the heritage moniker engraved on the exterior parapet, we named it ‘Prince Albert Mansion.’ It was worn old joint with high ceilings and stained glass, and though an unsettling quantity of mirrors and red light fittings alluded to some sort of freaky history, we knew it was a rare catch. Its plaster walls were crumbly, its carpet dank and porridge-coloured; it was freezing in winter and we had mice. Despite it all, the Mansion became a worthy torchbearer for my fresh, less gnarly dynasty of Slam Palace-inspired sharehouse living.
Epicurean traditions conceived at Slam Palace were built upon – more group dinners, potlucks, wine nights, regular get-togethers. The Prince Albert kitchen became the house ganglion, a huddling point for chilly winter nights, where we let loose over steaming pots of mulled wine, hearty roasts and mussel cook ups. The kitchen was where everything went down, where our busy, young lives spilled over into each others, as we slurped and laughed over delicious food and drink. Faces came and went; traditions transformed and grew. The best times were always the ones shared.
Hon and I met at the Prince Albert. I’d been living there a few years when she moved in. It took six months or so until we realised we liked each other, chatting about astrology and aliens one night over red wine on the pink Queen Anne couch upstairs on the front balcony. It got cold in Melbourne that winter. We hung out, ‘watched movies’, got to know each other, fell in love.
The twilight years of the Prince Albert Mansion were some of the best. Hon and I shared mutual passions for food, cooking for each other, fusing our culinary mores and building on the traditions of our respective sharehouse histories.
We’ve since exported our lives to Berlin, Germany, and have already, in this antipodean life, been members of another sharehouse, a lively gaff with housemates: Cormac, the genteel Irishman, and Scottish-German Heiner, who owned the bar beneath our bedroom. You might say it was one of the best.
Most of us have, at some point, encountered the ‘Stonehavens’ of the world. Far less celebrated are the ‘Slam Palaces’, the ‘Prince Alberts’, the ‘gaffs of Weserstrasse, Berlin’. While tipping our hats, tongue-in-cheek, to the earlier, grittier share house days, we uphold shared living with emphasis on the ‘good’—while we honour the ‘Haven’, we uphold the ‘Mansion’.
It’s just us in our own place now, but we continue to keep our culinary roots alive. Through Sharehouse Kitchen, we champion and resurrect the meals, the camaraderie, the shared moments of the past with old friends, creating new traditions everywhere we travel.
Indulge in our humble recipes. Use them as a springboard for your own traditions—this goes for those living in sharehouses, and those who don’t and never will. The point of this project is to bring more of us together and to celebrate good things.
Living alone? Call some friends, whip up our meals and play host to a night of tasty shared food and drink. For those who do live in sharehouses, may our romanticised memories of sharehouse living, and memories in the making, inspire new generations of palatial-quality shared domiciles, while never compromising the carry on and loose times that every great sharehouse experience rests upon.