Saying goodbye to a neighbour
When we first moved into this tiny little heritage listed cottage in 2005 we encountered a very grumpy next door neighbour. She wasn’t happy with the noise that our two teenage boys made. She didn’t like the fence that we installed or the constant tradie parade as we renovated the cottage. But it wasn’t just us that annoyed her. Living close to Suncorp Stadium, she weathered the relentless steady flow of sporting events that sent intoxicated punters will full bladders to urinate on her verandah by turning the hose on the offending pissers regardless of the hour. As we eventually learned, over the years, she was as formidable as she was generous and kind. And her influence over our street was supreme.
She would have been stunningly pretty as a young woman, with a strong clever face and clear laughing blue eyes with hands that were never idle and a heart as big as our entire city.
A tall, beautiful beast of a man, her husband, a veteran of several wars and a survivor of several major illnesses, was extremely quiet and spent the majority of his time either sitting on the deck or drinking up at Hotel LA.
Together, Norm and Pam, were the grandparents of the street — the eyes, ears, heart and soul of our little community.
Most mornings, a group of neighbours would gather in front of the deck and chat with her about what was happening in the street. She knew everyone and everything. If there was a robbery, or any type of crime (we live in inner city ok?), or someone lost power, or there was a break in at the school, a street party coming up, a lost pet, a neighbourhood needed a ladder or a drill or someone in the street struggling with illness and needed help with groceries etc, Pam would alert the whole street so that we were all armed with the information we needed for the community wellbeing and safety.
The builder of our cottage in 1880 was Pam’s great grandmother, Mary Ann Grigson. The Grigson family ended up owning all three cottages on our side of the street between 1880 and 2021. As such, as a family, their story was inextricably etched in the history of our neighbourhood. Over the years, Pam had divulged a lot of her family history to me so that I understood the history of not only our house but the street and the entire suburb. She had lived in that one house for her entire life. Can you imagine?
She horrified me with tales of the violence of Petrie Terrace when she was a child and it wasn’t safe to walk down the street in broad daylight. Tales of wives heading to Caxton Street at sunset to stand outside, bang on saucepans and yell for their husbands to get out of the pub and come home for dinner. The bustling old farmer markets at the top of our street that brought food from the farms into the city. The large family homes that were sub divided by the Qld State Government subsequently losing their enormous backyards. The fierce local protests of the 1970s when Joh Bjelke bulldozed dozens of historical homes in Petrie Terrace to make way for Hale Street. The emergence of the punk scene in Brisbane with the Stranglers rehearsing in Udale’s old shop at the top of our street. The unearthing of the old cemetery to build Suncorp Stadium and strange deaths that happened on the worksite.
She had hundreds of stories.
There is nothing about our neighbourhood that Pam did not know about.
Both Norm and Pam also dedicated decades to volunteering at the Albert Park Flex School helping hundreds of kids along the way. They stepped in as unofficial grandparents for countless struggling young people over the years. Pam took the time to chat with everyone. She made every single person feel welcome and she would stop everything just to talk. They also ran the local community garden looking after the rescue chooks and creating a wonderful space for the local community for years until it morphed into the Sound Garden in 2013.
When we brought our cat Milo over to live with us, he immediately adopted both of them and effectively lived with them only coming home for a bonus feed.
Lockdown was hard with Norm in and out of hospital. When he finally went into care in early 2021, I watched as Pam got slower and more frail as the months went on. We all pitched in to get her groceries or help out where needed. But by late September, she was well and truly done. Unable to walk up our steep hill, she became a prisoner in her own home. She was taken by ambulance to hospital one night and simply never returned.
For months, we neighbours had no idea what had happened to her. One morning at 5am I heard someone in her home, so I raced over and found her son cleaning up. He explained that both houses were now to be sold and that Pam would never return.
My heart sank. How could I miss a neighbour this much? With the houses now belonging to someone else, Pam’s energy is still ever present. Each day I glance over to the deck in the hope that she is standing there holding court. And then I remember. We neighbours all miss her still. When we get together on the street to chat, Pam is still at the centre of our conversations.
What a privilege it was to enjoy this slice of time with this remarkable human?
When I checked out Google Earth today, what do I find? Norm sitting out on the deck, like he always did,for so many decades. Sadly Norm passed away three weeks ago but what a way to be forever remembered.
The legacy of these two souls will impact the lives of hundreds of people in our local community for a long time to come.