Seeing Land From Above

Clear thoughts happen when you’re flying places. That cliché about taking a helicopter view of your life is real. Issues that seem like insurmountable barriers from below tend to shrink and flatten when viewed from the air.

I felt this on my flight back from Tokyo; having just met with the architect Yo Shimada who I was hoping would design my Minimalist Monument to Moi. My brief conversation with Shimada-san and his colleague Konno-san had given me clarity about the type of house I wanted to build (something new, created from the ground up, not a renovation of an existing house).

During the nine-hour flight back, having watched all the available in-flight movies, I had time to think about all the available land I had seen for sale that I had looked at but rejected for one reason or another.

In particular the land I saw in Hamilton that had excited and frightened me in equal measures months ago kept reappearing in my imagination. It was an axe-shaped block, or more like tomahawk-shaped to be exact, chopped out of the side of a ravine, and set back from the frantic dual-lane, back-fire, air-brake, airport artery known as Kingsford Smith Drive. The land I had looked at was tucked conveniently away from this noisy carriageway, but still with a view of the river and through a trick of topography it had no traffic noise to speak of.

The Tomahawk Block

The Tomahawk Block

I know this for sure because I had surveyed this block of land like a stalker. I had done drive-byes in the middle of the night. I had been there early morning and late afternoon, standing on it with my ears tuned for the intrusive sounds of farting freighters and burping buses. I had heard none of that. It’s a quiet place. Surprisingly quiet considering where it sits.

So, why didn’t I buy it the first time I saw it? Well, price was an issue. Vacant land in Hamilton, actually anywhere in the inner city of Brisbane, is rare. So it attracts a premium.

The other thing that turned me off it? It was a steep block with no easy access from the street. In fact, the only temporary access it had was through the adjoining block, which was undeveloped, and also for sale. For how long, it’s hard to say.

The neighbouring block had a driveway already paved to its house site. Mine had a two-metre retaining wall and a Himalayan slope between the level house site and the street. I pictured stairs, lots of them. Then I pictured grocery bags being ferried in trips from the car. Then I pictured me having too many drinks stumbling up those stairs and resting midway, falling asleep, and then dying of exposure in the night or at the very least stopping to pee on my own geraniums because I really couldn’t make it to the top. Maybe I could design my carport like Basecamp in case I really couldn’t be bothered going all the way home.

On the flight back from Japan though, I compared the land in Hamilton to the land my Queenslander house already stood on. I stared up those rickety timber stairs in my head from the road to my verandah and I realised that there were in fact, from the garage entry, almost as many stairs to ascend. Then as sat in my allocated seat, wriggling through my DVT prevention exercises, I stared at my legs. They are skinny, agile, Sherpa-like. I decided, looking at my very capable pins, that I should back them and myself and buy that block of land. It wasn’t perfect, but then land never is. You make it perfect by designing around it.

So here it is, the block in Hamilton that the Minimalist Monument to Moi will one day stand on.

The land I landed on.

The land I landed on.

I negotiated as hard as I could on the price. I felt satisfied that I’d gotten myself a deal, that I hadn’t been too emotional about it, that I’d played some poker. I was hardly an extra from Oceans Eleven but I’m pretty sure the seller sensed that I was a fairly gung-ho (crazy) buyer prepared to build on his difficult site and that mine may be his best bid. I’m of course trying not to invoke a bout of secondthoughtitis so I’m running with that belief for now and in any case I’ve done it. He’s accepted my offer, I’ve completed the searches, there were no nasty surprises and the property has settled.

Here is the view I’ll be staring at from my finished house, while I’m eating two-minute noodles and shuffling final notices for payment.

Hello, Neighbours!

Hello, Neighbours!

And this is the view I’ll be looking at from Basecamp.

Hamilton's Himalayas

Hamilton’s Himalayas