Why “Amore North”?

This isn’t the first time.

This is Amore.

See the “Amore” sign on the gatepost? It’s not the only one.

It didn’t always look like this. There was a brief time when it looked like this from the front:

And this from the back:

That was the last time we did this.

This is what I can remember from that story. My memory has deleted a great deal too traumatic to keep.

In New South Wales, the bulk of houses are sold via auction. In the case of this house, it was auctioned as one of maybe a dozen lots over the course of an evening in a hotel more famous for the autoerotic asphyxiation of Michael Hutchence than the auction of my house (temporarily, no doubt). On a road trip, eight hours out of Sydney, foot flat to the floor all day, we arrived after the start of the auction but before the house came up.

The hammer came down. My mother, bless her, turned to me and said: “Thank goodness you didn’t buy that hovel.”

Actually, Mum, I just did.

This is Elke Prill.

Elke built Amore.

Elke’s dad was a great friend and collaborator of my father. Peter Prill. Builder. Legend. Elke is a great friend and collaborator of me. A qualified and experienced carpenter, apprenticed at the feet of Peter, she agreed to collaborate with us on this house project.

When we bought the house, it came with plans for renovation. So, no problem there then. We had plans. That the plans were drawn up by a drunken draftsman who had misplaced his ruler would become apparent only later.

One the first day of the job, Marcus, an unemployed friend who had taken a job as a labourer with us, fell through the ceiling and broke his ankle.

Marcus, in the only role he was fit to perform post-day 1 on the job.

Then it started to rain. Like, really rained as it can only rain in Sydney. Work stopped. For a month. We were renting a studio flat up the road while the work was being done, two toddler boys. And here we were, one month and several thousand dollars in, with not a brick out of place.

Then, worse. They started work. And found asbestos.

Site shutdown while demolition costs are reassessed logarithmically upwards.

This is Mario.

Mario. Understanding and insightful.

Mario rented heavy duty construction equipment, and men to operate them.

He is standing next to a conveyor belt. He rented us that in addition to two diggers big enough to dig big holes, but small enough to fit down the side passage. The diggers went into the backyard, dug big holes, then put the dugout stuff onto the conveyor belt which conveyed it up the side passage into the back of a truck which drove it out to the tip. $400 per trip. 10,000 trips. Or something. It was a $150,000 hole.

One day, I was called to the site urgently.

Mario and Elke were standing nose to nose, shouting. Cost overruns had come to a head. Elke had queried a few line items on the invoice. One: the cost of Mario’s rental equipment was exactly five times the equivalent of that up the road at a rental place. Two: Mario had employed one small truck to go to the tip, an hour away. He and his men would fill it, then sit around for two hours while the truck went to the tip, smoking and scratching their balls at however many dollars an hour. Repeat.

My objective for the meeting was to ensure that the builder was not murdered. The rental equipment guy, not so fussed.

“You know what I see here?” Snarled Mario. “I see kids who have bitten off way more than they can chew.” Insightful chap.

They dug the $150, 000 hole, and then had to build a new house in that hole, stitching it into the old house. That’s what the plans said.

Before they could build it, they needed to shore up the foundations of the old house. But they couldn’t find the foundations. Because there weren’t any. So, house, built on sand, 90 years old, slipping backwards.

Lots of engineers sucking teeth. Each one had a different, more elaborate and expensive way of fixing this problem. The one thing they agreed on was that if the rain came back, we’d be screwed. My dad called in one of his old mates from his days in construction — building office towers. Conclusion: we needed 25 metre concrete piers injected under the house. It was not going to be cheap. Five figures, at least.

Enter Peter Prill. And shovel. Never mind the five figure holes, get your shovel and dig. And brickie, look sharp to get the bricks underneath before the house falls on you.

Peter Prill and shovel.
Brickie. Can’t remember his name, only that I couldn’t understand a word he said his Ocker accent was so strong.

Foundations sorted.

They built a new house on the back, and stitched it to the old one.

Only problem: the old house wasn’t the same size as the new house. The floors didn’t match up. The plans weren’t accurate, apparently. The floor of the new house was, like 25 cm higher than the floor of the old one. Oops!

How to solve this one? One cockamamie suggestion was to jack up the old house, with big jacks. as if we were fixing a tyre. Like it wouldn’t crumble into bits and fall down.

Instead, we built a step.

Stitched up.

On top of this frankenstein building, they were to build a second floor. But before they could do that, they had to build the floor to the second story. On steel, because there was a concrete roof on the new house.

The shape of the problem was this: The steel, manufactured to engineer’s specifications, is delivered to the property. On the street. But it is needed out the back, for the roof of the back extension. You can’t schlep it down the back passage. It’s too heavy. You’ll drop it and crush someone’s foot or get stuck. You could hire a crane and that would be really sensible and safe and quick. And pricey at $5,000 a day. No crane.

So, we have to carry it over the top of the house, obvs.

Elke and Trevor and Marcus position the genie hoists that will lift the steel.

Once on the roof, roll the steel on skateboards to the other side of the house, and place gently back on the handle-winched forklift.

If the steel falls, it is on their heads.
Just let it down right about…here.

Job done.

Relieved, much?

Steel in place, build a house on top.

We never did manage to avoid that crane rental charge altogether.

When we moved in, two toddlers in tow, there were front and back doors, with locks. No bathrooms, kitchens, only walls upstairs. It took us five years to finish the job, the final lick of paint slapped on just two weeks before we moved to Europe.

We love that house. It was where we raised the boys, had the girl, countless barbeques and parties, friends and neighbours in and out and all the chaos of a young family.

Claire’s mum gave us a stone plaque.

So now, Amore North. What do you have in store for us?

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