In 1978, the year our son was born, my father bought us a house in Sunnybank for $25,000. Four years later we sold it for $43,500 in exchange for 30 acres of farmland in Goomboorian; an unfenced cow paddock with a large concrete tank. My father died a year later.
We bought a forestry barracks for $12,000 and lived in tents until it was brought on the back of a truck from the other side of Gympie. It had only three sides, and one of our kids got whooping cough in 1983 or 1984. It’s so long ago. In 1989 we were raided by Social Security and ordered to sell up and return to Brisbane. We sold the farm for about $70,000. Upon our return to Brisbane we repaid my mother the $25,000 my father had paid for the Sunnybank house. It didn’t occur to us to use Lew’s temporary status as an employee to obtain a housing loan; our sole focus was to live in McGregor so our kids could attend the best state schools.
Over the next few years we rented one house after another, rarely staying anywhere longer than a couple of years. When the marriage ended in 1996 and I became ill, our housing became even more precarious. My mother, bless her, did not understand any of the issues faced by Forgotten Australian families. She didn’t understand that Lew was too impaired by multiple traumas to be a provider. It would be a few years before government inquiries established what we knew already; institutional child abuse can render one unemployable as an adult.
My youngest child and I moved roughly every six months until her elder sister returned from her job in Canberra, where she’d been ‘poached’ from Treasury by Henry Ergas, to work for his economics consultancy. She obtained a housing loan for the place where her sister and I would live for the next five years, whereupon we returned it to her.
At that point we turned to my mother, now in her 90s and a self-funded retiree, and put it to her that I could make repayments if she were to loan me the money for a house. She had always said: But we gave you a house. Of course she was referring to the house in Sunnybank from 1978 to 1982; the one my husband persuaded me to let go, along with my career and family. In the end, it took an entreaty to the Minister of the church she attended. She finally agreed to lend what would represent my share of her estate, so I could buy a house for my disabled child and myself. It was 2005. I fell in with a shonky mortgage broker. He nevertheless got us the house of our dreams, or so we thought.
The dream lasted a year; of course we couldn’t pay the high interest lo doc loan repayments on top of paying my mother back $1000 a month. We had the foresight to purchase a second house around the corner, another loan that wouldn’t have been approved any other time. When we lost the first house, we still had a mortgage on the cheaper house. We moved there in 2006. Soon after that I began planning a granny flat for my daughter. She and I require our own separate living areas to remain sane. It was never going to be an option for her and me to share a kitchen and bathroom, so the granny flat was always being planned in one way or another.
At first, the ‘granny flat’ was a demountable on wheels which was so unpleasant it didn’t last long. In 2011 my daughter went to stay in the country for a couple of years. During that time she was very ill and was cared for by her sister and father. My mother had passed in 2009. In 2010 while her estate was being settled I was facing eviction over arrears in the mortgage. I was still paying unreasonably high interest rates on a lo doc loan and making constant complaints to the financial ombudsman. I managed to get one year’s relief, but at some point I knew I would lose the house. With the money from my mother’s estate I continued to employ a builder to construct the cottage/granny flat, whilst renting out rooms to up to five people between 2011 and the present.
I was always worried that my Pension would be affected by the income from the room tenants. So one day I called the ATO. I explained my situation and that I was paying an interest only loan. They gave me a Private Ruling. This Ruling has authority over Centrelink and says that the income from the room rentals is being used to pay interest on my mortgage. Therefore it has no impact on the amount I receive in my Age Pension.
I’ve written this blog today sitting in the lower part of the granny flat/cottage. My daughter lives upstairs in her own self-contained flat. It’s pretty basic in many ways, and we still owe a huge mortgage to the bank, but we’re trying to think of a way to put the original house on a separate deed so it could be sold. At the very least, I’d like to put the room rentals in the share house in the hands of an agent. We’ve been here 15 years now. We rely on relative strangers (room tenants who rarely stay more than a year) to pay the mortgage, but we keep the rents really low, and I try to maintain the property to the highest possible standards.
Just thought I would share this journey with any readers who’ve tried to find a forever home. May you find one soon.