Grace Hall

Grace Hall is a queer, crip writer and editor based in Naarm (Melbourne). Her writing explores the joys and pitfalls of growing up queer in rural Victoria. She is fueled (almost) entirely by potato and existential dread and currently reads a lot of non-fiction. Grace’s work has been published by Bramble JournalArcher magazine, Enby Journal, Writers Victoria and elsewhere. Grace was a participant in Toolkits Lite: Non-Fiction program in 2022 and is 2024 Writeability fellow.


Red brick linoleum palace

The first house is Red Brick

It’s 2005. I’m freckled, tall for my age and perpetually worried. My primary school’s oval has been transformed into a fete; there are craft stalls scattered across the quadrangle where squeal pitched conversations between mothers conjugate. The teachers are volunteers – behind stands, barbeques, holding skipping ropes and flipping sausages onto their bellies. It’s weird to see them casually dressed, all in the one place.

I’m on the playground. I can’t skip two bars on the monkey bars, but I watch some girls in my class do it. Their checked dresses flutter. I squat, pick up tanbark and let it fall through my fingers. When Jordy, a new friend, steals me away from the tanbark to play soccer, I’m relieved. I adjust the elastic around my navy-blue shorts so that they’re long like the boy’s shorts and become so immersed in the kicking, receiving – the sweet smell of unearthed turf that my need to pee, urgently, comes as a surprise. Behind the paint-stripped goal posts are two portable toilets. Jordy’s mum notices me with my legs in a tangle, and points in the direction of them. I shake my head and she cocks hers slightly, the way a dog does when you ask it a question. 

I might fall in, I tell her. 

Mum drifts over in her floral short-sleeved dress, and she looks like an angel. They’re on the boundary line but I can hear Jordy’s mum. She’s sharing my response with mum, who giggles mildly and calls me over to her. I tell her that I need to go home. Gentle, and practiced, in loving me she doesn’t ask why. 

I run under the red brick alcove of our house and nod to the fly screen held to the wall by a door stopper (last week it shaved white layers off my right heel). My fibres relax as I stare at the newspaper article of my parents saving beached whales. It’s blue-tacced to the back of the toilet door. 

I flush. The relief I feel is intoxicating and it’s enough to propel me towards my sister who’s stripped off in the loungeroom, dancing across the glossy floorboards. I don’t usually like dancing, but I toss my hands to my shoulders and shuck my hips the way the purple wiggle does. Crisp, orange light streams through the windows, filtered through a flowering gum. We retire at track four on her ABC kids CD because that song is scratched and slip into our cotton pjs. Before bed, we push our two single bed frames together so that we’re close enough to hear each other dream. 


Brown house with carpeted stairs 

Mum is sick of the suburbs. Other mums always drop-in with gossip on their tongues and tell her stories about the houses on our street with cheating husbands. The news spreads like wildfire. One lady whispers to my mum, who’s nursing a milky tea, ‘it could happen to any of us’. 

My parents decide it’s time for a sea change. They want bodies of water – to be bodies of movement. 

You guys can run amok:   mow grass    plant natives    sit around bonfires.  

I don’t know what a sea change is. 

‘Everyone’s doing it’, Dad says from behind the steering wheel, and I wonder who everyone is. We move into a rental with vomit coloured carpet stairs and a-frame ceilings. I decide it’s not a suburb because there are more wineries than houses. My sister gawks cheerily at the spiders in ceiling, but I’m all out of whack. On the first night in the brown house with carpeted stairs, I wake up Dad because I can’t find the light-switch for my room even though it glows in the dark, the white rectangle next to my door frame. I count the deep swirls on the pine board ceiling which makes me feel light and itchy. I creep across the cold checked tiles and inhale the stale cinnamon air that reminds me of op shops. 

I skate from ‘I won’t be happy here’ to: ‘I’m sorry for waking you up, Dad’. 

The next day, having sensed my disoriented state, Mum reminds that a house is just a house. She tells me, it’s the people inside that make it a home. I repeat this to myself while brushing my teeth, wondering where the elderly couple that lived here before us are now, and if they miss their old house like I miss mine.


This log cabin could be an air bnb

The next house is a log cabin on acres full of Cyprus pine. This one we own, a lie I don’t yet know much about. I call it ugly because it’s a word I’ve started to hear at school and because all my friends live in white walled houses. There’s a few gum trees but the Cyprus pines are taller. They’ve beaten the gums to the sun. At night you can hear the koalas roar. Dad tells me this is their mating sound which makes my tummy twist. 

Before Mum and Dad buy the log cabin, they go for the house next door. At the auction, my brother is in tow of my father, clinging onto his baby blue sleeve. The numbers start and the real estate agent’s voice booms. He’s loud, so I don’t understand why he needs a megaphone. My brother senses that we’re losing. 

He tries to whisper, ‘Daddy, do something’, but everyone can hear him. Dad looks at the gravel. I watch him intently because for the first time I really don’t know what he will do next. 

We don’t get that house, but we get the one next to it a few months later. Mum says it’s meant to be because it is. I understand it as: a new house is a new experience; a new house is a new mortgage and under it is a family.  

The pine walls last six months. Their disappearance is gradual. Mum and Grandpa lather each beam antique white. At night, I set up an elaborate game with barbie dolls. Between them are affairs, marriages, children growing up and moving away. Some of them buy mansions with laundry chutes and pearl shaped pools. My favourite doll is a blonde teenage boy who wears denim shorts and a basketball top. When he turns eighteen, he leaves his family – even though they own the mansion – to live with his girlfriend. She has hazelnut eyes and a floral mini skirt, so I understand why he left. 


Linoleum palace 

I’m twenty-one and the share house I live in is a linoleum palace. My housemates are vastly different from one another, but all come from a cluster of free dress schools in the Northern suburbs. One of them takes me under their wing because I am a country girl in a big city. I don’t realise it at the time, but I am only the country girl by comparison. When the clean and orderly housemate is away for the weekend my other house mate, who is messy – like me, try on multiple outfits in the living room. We take photos in the full-length mirror; the mission brown background makes us look older than we are. She cuts my hair and tells me stories of couch surfing in her early teens. When she finishes shaping my bob, holding my curls and then releasing them, she tells me I look like a queer dream. I don’t know what she means exactly, but I believe her because I can’t stop thinking about my housemate’s girlfriend, and the volume in her smirk when she greets me.

In this linoleum palace, one of my bedroom walls isn’t a wall, it’s just sliding doors, but it doesn’t matter because I’m a deep sleeper. The vinyl floors are peeling, we’re constantly chasing dust and newspaper, but it doesn’t matter because I have found my people. For some reason, though, I have to leave once a fortnight, home to the log cabin. 

I’m like a yoyo, tightening and loosening. 

One day, as I’m walking down Melville Road on the phone to my mum, she tells me that they’re renovating the tiny bathroom with no windows. She describes it: they’ll peel the logs off the side of the house and put a window in there, fix the water pressure, and populate it with the fake-plants from Kmart so she can’t kill them.  That sounds nice I tell her. The shower in that bathroom was good to me – there was just enough room to sit at the bottom of it in the foetal position and let the tea-coloured tank water rain onto you. 

‘Do you remember when you were so scared of drop toilets?’ She asks me. You’ve come so far, she laughs. 

I do, I say. Of course I do. 

Two of my housemates have a falling out. The third housemate is falling in love. The foundations of my chosen family unravel, and no one wants to use the kitchen anymore. Small decorative items that we each planted around the place begin to disappear: a vintage orange lamp, an Elvis clock and pastel-coloured clay vulvas. We try to blame it on each other – discretely – some of us cite the good times we had here. The brick BBQ crumbles. The door handles squeal. We burn sage but it doesn’t work. We all move out a month later, and I go back to the log cabin before I go anywhere else. 


Stain glass means you’ve made it       

I move into a colonial style farmhouse, deep in West Footscray. It’s the nicest house I’ve lived in. There’s a spa bath and his and hers basins and a room for my house mate’s keyboard to have its own room. There’s a chocolate-coloured fireplace in my bedroom that’s prohibited from use and the front door has stain glassed windows, apple tinted squares that frame a hearth. 

I walk a lot. Down aisles, down Barkly Street, past dumpling houses and Ethiopian restaurants and commit to the idea of going there. I imagine sitting there with the woman I’m sort-of-dating, pouring her green tea, while my eyes dance across the road to colours of the market. But she’s in America visiting Stonewall, wearing the suit I leant her, unearthing the shades of her queerness. 

When I pull up outside the colonial farmhouse (not the driveway because it’s always occupied), I sit and rehearse the anecdotes I’ll tell my housemates, because I haven’t yet worked out how to talk to them. I pat the car seat and phone people; I phone a voice, one of my favourite voices, but he’s distraught. 

He has to move out of his rental because last week his girlfriend said, ‘I’m leaving’, without saying goodbye and without paying rent and without packing up their clothes. 

‘I can’t sit in this house any longer’, he says to me, and I realise that a house can make you sick. 


The house with cracks                                                                 

The house that my girlfriend and I move into needs work. I convince her though, that it’s the house for us because real estate agents don’t like disabled people. I envision the faulty house as a god send, as though me and it have something shared in our dysfunction.

 It needs painting, cracks need filling, garden needs weeding. The labour is looped, the cracks come back and the gaps under the doors welcome dust back in quicker than it leaves.  The rooms need light and laughter, and consoling, but I don’t do the work because pain is trying to swallow me and sometimes I let it. 

I watch my tired, beautiful girlfriend swish sugar soap onto the walls and work putty into cracks and ask myself: are we playing house or is this house playing us?

‘We don’t own this place, remember’, I say to her because after a few months I find that labouring is hard to watch. 

I leave the house for the first time in months which teaches me that it’s warmer outside where the winter sun waves from behind cloud. A new friend lends me a book, The Shape of Sound by Fiona Murphy. In the prelude, Murphy writes that the meaning of atrium, in ancient roman times, is the heart of the house. It’s the first time I’ve read the body as close to a building and I feel unexpectedly consoled. We must find the heart of the house, becomes my new mantra when I unlock the front door.

It’s my girlfriend’s birthday and we’re out for the first time in months. We’re filling up on beer before a gig. The pub aesthetic is retro house; there are green velvet couches, orange cushions are stationed casually across armchairs. Otis Redding is playing. A beer is slid in front of me; and a smile from my girlfriend’s best-friend. I down it, feel it fizzing as it meets my medication. I am light and sleepy, but I promise myself I’ll make it to the next venue. I push the pain down. When I see the fifteen-flight staircase at the gig venue, I wish I had drunk another beer. I google their website with a shaky thumb. Under frequently asked questions is there’s an accessible toilet downstairs. 

The math is quick but confusing. The music is upstairs. I wonder if other disabled patrons visiting this place have drunk less so that they pee less. I decide that that’s what I’ll do. There’s a chair-lift that runs along the flight of stairs it’s new and expensive, but I don’t want to use it. I can’t stand out like that. I want to call it inaccessibility, but I feel like I’m not allowed to. I use my walking stick to ascend the stairs. I’m visibly avoiding access. 

Upstairs, the red curtains bellow behind the man on the stage who is shirtless and sweaty. The audience is following him, pulsing in and out, and his gruffy drunk voice is loving it. I need a chair, and there’s plenty of chairs. My girlfriend pulls one out for me. She looks at me which is her way of asking, are you okay? I nod. I’m on the outskirts of the mosh, until someone pulls up a chair next to me and speaks a sentence I don’t remember because really, it’s so nice to have someone on my level. 

I can’t hold my pee any longer, so we book an uber that we can’t afford. The rain glinted road shines as we journy down Sydney Road. I’m thinking of bricks because like bricks, the weight of inaccessible buildings accumulates until it becomes a feeling: your heart dropping to the pit of your stomach. The uber pulls up in front our house, and I realise she’s been holding my hand the whole way home. 


I don’t know when the house with cracks became a home. Maybe it happened in the mornings, accumulative, when the percolator bubbled over for the 100th time, and croaky good mornings grew into a kiss; or, when the cat chose a sunspot under the square window in the furthest room from the street. As soon as the dust settled, and the spinach in the garden was ready to harvest, the owner texted to say


Thank you for your work 


My sons want to move in 

Dad tells me we’re better off buying something. Pick mortgage over rent. Play rock, paper, scissors. The winner is rent. 

He’s seen the ques on channel nine, how the desperation stretches all the way down the street.

Under scorching summer sun, I join the ques and try to drag my mind away from the heat in my legs, they’re molten in broad daylight. By staring at my calendar of house inspections I hang onto hope. We have a family dinner to celebrate the fact that we found a place to rent, against the odds, in the wake of eight weeks. 

‘I feel sorry for your generation,’ my uncle says while he shovels pork crackle that snaps like a wishbone, into his mouth. ‘You’ll never own a house’. He pauses, sympathetically, or so that I can let the sentiment sink in, the reality of doom, but really, I’m upset because he just took the last piece of crackle.