Bondi Road.

One of the prompts from Cricket’s Slice Of Life this week is first apartment.

This prompt brought back so many memories.

I was 18 when I moved into my first apartment. Mel and I were first year University students, fresh from school, girls from the burbs, thrust head on into the colourful, lively, sometimes seedy world of Bondi. We lived on Bondi Rd, the street that leads down to perhaps one of Sydney’s most famous beaches – Bondi Beach – before Bondi became fashionable.

In those days Bondi was a town high on a thriving music and arts scene, high on the surf culture, high on life. We lived in a tiny two-bedder above Rosa’s Trattoria. As well as owning the restaurant Rosa – a beaming, motherly woman who taught us that there were more types of pasta than spaghetti and macaroni – owned our apartment. She insisted on giving us jobs as waitresses –

“So I can keep an eye on you. Your mothers will thank me.”

So we went to University during the day and worked at Rosa’s at night. Serving steaming plates of cannelloni, ravioli and gnocchi with spinach and bacon; and mountains of garlic bread. Dario, Rosa’s son fancied himself as a bit of a singer and every night he would regale the crowd with O Sole Mio and Santa Lucia. Mel and I have heard those songs so many times that we can still sing them word for word today. In perfect Italian.

Our apartment was tiny but very clean with a huge gas oven that was previously the main oven in the restaurant kitchen. It was temperamental – you had to jiggle the knobs before you turned it on – and it dwarfed the kitchen, but we loved it. Sometimes when Rosa had a rush on, she would commandeer it to make her secret pasta sauce, and we would come home from Uni to find four or five stainless steel pots bubbling on the stove.

The smell of tomatoes, oregano, basil and garlic permeated every room. Sometimes if you pressed your nose against the walls you could smell the lusciousness, the beautiful tang of the sauce.

Even in the avocado green bathroom that had cracked mirrors and rusty taps as a result of the salt spray from the beach, you could smell the deep, earthy tomato scent.

We didn’t have much money so Rosa’s brother, Guido, let us have a few items from his secondhand furniture store at cost. We got an enormous green couch that sunk in the middle, a coffee table decorated with shells and a bookcase that leaned so badly to the left we could only put books on one side of it or it fell over, for a hundred dollars.

We felt independent and fabulous, sneaking empty bottles of Chianti from Rosa’s bins and placing candles in them to save on electricity. We would drink cheap cider, dress entirely in black and pretend we were languishing in a Fellini film.

Bondi was different in those days. Unencumbered by prosperity. The shops were bustling, an eclectic mix of bookshops that actually sold poetry, the best shoe shop in Sydney (Doc Martens galore) and beachwear shops where everything was tie-dyed. For about six months I thought our neighbour, Dorina, had a fatal skin disease, until I realised her hands were stained permanently purple as a result of all the sarongs she tie-dyed.

The sea was the colour of Spanish glass. You could see it from every storefront. On a clear day it seemed to join up with the sky, touching everything with its glory.

(Image via Getty – Ian Waldie.)

Bondi has changed so much. It is now the playground of the rich and famous. Two bedroom apartments like ours would now fetch over a million dollars. One of Australia’s richest men, James Packer, lives on the main drag facing the beach in a spectacular three storey apartment that in my day was a petrol station. There are Ferraris, Porsche Carreras and Lexus SUVs everywhere you look.

In my day I remember surfers balancing their boards on pushbikes and careening down Bondi Road. I could hear them in the mornings whooping with joy as the swell took them to shore. Now the surfers have custom-designed boards perched atop the latest Range Rovers. Bondi has lost its innocence, its village atmosphere at the hands of progress. Makes me think that sometimes progress is a dirty word.

Rosa’s Trattoria is gone, replaced by restaurant after restaurant serving nouvelle cuisine, but it will always hold a place in my heart. On special occasions Mel and I wheel out our favourite recipes – Bombolini di Pollo con Brodo (Chicken Balls in Broth) for Mel; and Gnocchi di Spinacce e Pancetta (Spinach and Pancetta Gnocchi,) for me, crack open a bottle of Chianti and reminisce.

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24 thoughts on “Bondi Road.

  1. How wonderful for you to have such a caring landlord. This sounds so wonderful. I can picture you and your friend living in such a charming place, with a taste of freedom and a taste of Italian sauce. Thank you for sharing such an interesting story. Cricket

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  2. Ah the carelessness of youth. When we were all so much smarter.

    What’s funny is that, in some respects, we really were!

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  3. Must have been wonderful … you may remember I visited Bondi six months back, and wondered what was so great about it? I wish I’d visited more back when!

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  4. What a great story Selma. I was savoring the scents of all those wonderful Italian treats as I read this. It also allowed me my own trip back in time, 18 and living on my own for the first time, in Toronto! Heady stuff for a hick from the Prairies LOL. 😉

    Huggs, G

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  5. Isn’t it sad how development can ruin a place? They like to call it “improvements” but I’ve yet to figure out how putting a massive home for a single family on a piece of land that once housed thousands of animals, trees and other plants is anything even remotely akin to improvement.

    The past isn’t perfect, but I think humanity might have been a bit more humble and willing to live with nature and enjoy it, rather than bury it under asphalt and concrete.

    Wonderful post, and now I’m craving manacotti…

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  6. Progress is a dirty word. Well, except for the internet of course!

    My first apartment was nowhere near such a lovely beach, it was a horrendous hole-in-the-wall sort of place too. Smelled of Thai food and cat urine.

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  7. I loved this… you had a leaning bookcase of Pisa LOL! I was reading this and again holding my breath… I could almost smell the sauces and hear the bustle going on around your apartment. I would love to try your Gnocchi di Spinacce e Pancetta recipe… I am craving some good homemade Italian pasta and sauce… your story brought me back to my first apartment too where if only the smells would have been that good – it constantly smelled of some sort of curry and spices and had paper thin walls that you could hear everything going on, but hey when you are a student on a budget you take what you can… I remember eating lots of tuna and macaroni!

    I think I’m going to give Slice of Life a try this week…

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  8. Ah wonderful, this story takes me back to when my dear friend and I lived together in a tiny apartment in Harrow, outside London. Those were the days. I remember we always seemed to be eating chocolate and watching Star Trek or Queer as Folk!

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  9. I liked your memoir, reminded me about my own time as a student working in a Mexican restaurant the smells may have been different ,more cumin and chilli but the vibe was similar.

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  10. The magic of our youth. I remember the first time i moved out of home, it lasted one week and i’d barely unpacked. Needless to say it involved a needy friend who had a control freak boyfriend. He dumped her, she needed me, he came back and kicked me out, she let him, end of story. I like your story much better.

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  11. CRICKET – it was so nice to remember this time in my life. Every week I look forward to your prompts. Thank you.

    NANNA – it’s true. Sometimes it seemed we were a little smarter. Those were the days…..

    CRAFTYGREEN – it is sad when a neighbourhood loses its flavour. The beachside suburbs always seem to suffer. Bondi used to be so bohemian, now it just seems, well, a little bit plastic. Such a shame.

    ANTHONY – ah, sweet bird of youth, wherefore art thou? You are right about money and development. Bleh.

    TRAVELRAT – I’m sorry you didn’t see it 20 years ago. It was brilliant back then. Now it is so lacking in colour I can’t stand to go there anymore. The price of progress, eh?

    MELEAH – there is nothing like one’s first apartment, is there? I remember feeling so grown up, so independent. I was lucky with that landlord but some of the later ones – bloomin’ ‘orrible.

    GERALDINE – you should write about your experience in Toronto sometime. Oh, how I’d love to visit Canada. It looks so lovely. Such gorgeous scenery. It’s on my to-do list.

    KAREN – ooooh, manacotti, don’t get me going. I would eat Italian food every day if I could. I think I may even have been Italian in a previous life. When I travelled through Italy in my twenties I felt so at home it was almost uncanny. I love it there. And yes, development is not always a good thing. Sydney has changed so much in the past two decades parts of it are unrecognisable. But slowly, ever slowly, the green spaces are creeping back.

    MOMO FALI – sorry, I’m just cracking up over here about the cat urine. I lived in a place once where every room smelt of dog. It was horrible. And I agree with you about progress and the internet. How did we ever get by without it?

    TBALL – great to hear from you. I hope you do give it a try. You’ll really enjoy it. There are always a few prompts to choose from. Oh and I remember those days of tuna and macaroni!

    DAOINE – I hadn’t realised you lived in London at one stage. Wasn’t Queer As Folk a great show? I used to watch it too.

    IAIN – so nice of you to stop by. I think many of us as students did restaurant work, didn’t we? I am also a big fan of Mexican food. Delicious!

    DAVID – we were so full of pasta we couldn’t fit in any dessert although I seem to remember Rosa doing some kind of ricotta cake. It was buonissima!

    GYPSY – oh, what a shame you had to move out so quickly. Needy friends can be tricky. I know all about control freak boyfriends – there’s no reasoning with them.

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  12. This is a fantastic posting on Bondi! I grew up with regular visits there!

    I have a favour to ask! I have tagged you for a meme. Participation is totally optional, but i would be honoured if you would join in.

    Please visit my blog for details.

    Gemma

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  13. this so makes me long for the simpler kinder times,, well i guess in the eyes of people our age they weren’t nearly as simple or as kind as i remember them… but you know what i mean… just a lovely trip you have taken me on here selma…. thank you…

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  14. Hi Selma! I tried it and wrote a story about my puppy – Mica. I’m looking at some of the other prompts and maybe will try another one. One of the older prompts looks tempting…

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  15. GEMMA – am on my way to your blog. Sorry I’m a little late – have been at bit busy at work.

    LINDA – thanks for visiting. Feeling independent in youth was a good feeling indeed. I must check out this meme.

    TBALL – I will definitely come and have a look. I love stories about pups.

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  16. It really took me on the flying carpet to Bondi,thankyou.
    Funny how those small rooms and apartments didn’t feel as though they were lacking in those days. My first was an attic room four floors up, or was it five in the Baker Street,with a Landlady who told me that male visitors were forbidden. I still remember it as being wonderful even though no man got past the Aspidistra in the hall..

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  17. I remember my first walk on Bondi Beach – October 1988. It seemed far removed from the world of Sydney then. I’ve been there a few times in recent years and the city has grown around it and it seems to have become just another “you could be anywhere in the world” designer playground. Although a foreigner, I can mourn the loss of that innocence and simplicity with you.

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  18. DIAMONDS – your story sounds just like a novel – Baker Street, no gentlemen callers, even an aspidistra. I am absolutely enchanted. I would love to hear more!

    TR – you are absolutely right. It could just be anywhere in the world now. It’s such a crying shame. I am delighted you’ve been to Sydney. You certainly are a seasoned traveller. I’m sure you’ve seen the stamp of progress all over the world. It’s not always a good thing, is it?

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