Without family who are you?

Without family who are you?
Rhonda Dredge

Your childhood home has a special place in your heart even if it’s a Victorian mansion now reputed to be worth around $20 million.

Peter Kurg used to live in Halloween at 99 Hotham St in the late ‘70s and still thinks of it as home.

His mum Jenny died during the lockdown, aged 84, and he’s been back to the suburb to reminisce.

“The suburb was rough and tumble,” he said, of growing up in the ‘60s with his mates Mark, Stevie and Marco.

“It was wild. The cops used to pull us over. There were heaps of kids. It was as rough as Richmond and Collingwood. There were a lot of boarding houses.”

Peter was due to meet up with his old mates at Darling Square to spark childhood memories but the latest lockdown stopped that like many things in the city.

“We used to play football there,” Peter said. “The ‘No Ball Games’ sign was one goal post and a lamppost the other. The police would come while we were playing. The mums would come out and give the cops an earful.”

He said that “each of us is a child of our generation” and luckily his mental map of childhood in East Melbourne is still recognisable even though the houses have been tarted up.

Peter’s first home was at 50 and 52 Gipps St. His mum bought two small cottages and joined them together. They’re still standing albeit with the addition of a “Victorian” verandah.

Mark Schaller, well-known Roar artist, was a mate and his childhood house is still standing in Simpson St, as is the cottage of another mate Stuart Stevens.

“We used to cut through the lane beside the block of flats and go on our bikes to the river,” Peter said. “We used the lanes as highways. Bikes were more rugged then.”

They caught yabbies in the Fitzroy Gardens and got jobs selling footy records at the MCG for the local newsagent.

Peter is emotional about his childhood adventures and his mum’s eye for an opportunity. She bought Halloween in 1979 for $250,000 when no one else was interested.

Peter remembers the auction. His mum was dressed like a hippy and a family friend made the winning bid for her. “It was still a lot for the time.”

There were illustrious neighbours, including Sir Robert Helpmann across the road in Gipps St and Joe Dolce of Shaddap Your Face fame in Hotham St.

But it was the “foul-mouthed cockatoo” at Carlton House in Simpson St that really stuck in his mind and the fire that burnt down the Hotham St church in the ‘80s.

“I know the person who burnt it down. Dominic Ryan, an artist. He was living there. I think it was an electrical mishap,” he said.

Peter is the great grandson of John Wren, the Collingwood entrepreneur immortalised in Frank Hardy’s brilliant novel Power Without Glory, and he is open about the family’s troubles, including the suicide of his grandfather and uncle, but believes these made his mum strong in the face of adversity.

“Her father committed suicide when she was 12 and her brother when she was 17. She had a tragic life, the burden she carried.”

Yet she carried on, had three children, two partners and two homes in East Melbourne. Jenny Kurg was known for supporting the arts, asylum seekers and homeless people.

“She had a good idea about how things worked. She had a kind and generous disposition. She loved the people here. Without family who are you?” •

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