Wattleup in Perth’s southern suburbs is only half an hour’s drive from the CBD, but a world away from the city, with market gardens, turf farms, a variety of light industrial businesses and a series of streets where all the houses have been demolished. .
Jim Cukrov’s parents moved to Wattleup in the 1950s after emigrating from Yugoslavia, built a house and established a market garden on 5 acres of land.
Jim remembers a close-knit community with many neighbors also from Europe and a life that revolved around the house and market gardens.
“Here, there were only gardens,” he says, standing outside his family’s former home at 20 Dalison Avenue, which faces the now empty blocks where his neighbors’ homes once stood.
“There were mostly 5-7 acre blocks or market gardens. Our cousins lived up the road.
But in 1997, the peace of the people of Wattleup was shattered by a government report saying their homes had been built too close to the Kwinana industrial area, in what was supposed to have been a buffer zone.
The state government decided that the properties should be taken over and the land used only for industrial purposes in the future.
Dubbed the Latitude 32 Industrial Area, the plan was officially adopted by the state government in 2000.
“Dad passed away in 1999,” Jim says.
“People were dating 18, 19, 20 years ago. They were selling, and so it’s all now owned by WA Development.”
But Jim’s mother, Yolanda, was determined not to leave. As the houses around her were bought up and demolished, she was left with another family on the road.
“Mum still had friends here. When they left, mum was alone. Mrs. Rokich was still alive and when she died I said, ‘Mum, what do you want to do?’ She said, “I’m staying.”
“Mom didn’t want to leave. We had a few assessments when mom was alive and mom was like, ‘No, I’m not going anywhere’.”
For the last 20 years of his life, Jim lived with his mother, caring for her until her death last year at home at the age of 94.
The family eventually sold the house to the Western Australian Land Authority for demolition in September 2021.
Then they received a surprising phone call.
Artist Ian Strange wanted to create a large-scale work of art with the house before it was bulldozed.
Famous for his large-scale installation artworks in abandoned or “held up” homes around the world, Strange has planned “an installation and art project with the house in its final days” in December 2021 .
The plan was to set up a 27-meter-wide LED light screen as the backdrop for the projections and to light up the house for a unique 20-minute performance, complete with a score by American musician Trevor Powers.
The work was filmed and photographed for future exhibitions, with the only live performance of the work being shown to a group of around 40 former residents, including the Cukrovs.
“Jim was really supportive of the project,” Strange says.
“We had some tearful conversations about what happened at home and memories of his mother and father working in a market garden out back and the large Yugoslav community that was here and the way which they, as a family, watched as this area sort of grow and then slowly fade away too.”
Through the lights and patterns projected onto and behind the house, Strange has created an installation that chronicles 20 Dalison Avenue and the community that surrounds it.
“A lot of it tells the story of this house and the family, and this neighborhood,” he says.
“When you see the house, it’s such a beautiful, simple, almost childish drawing of a house, it’s really quite an iconic silhouette.
“And I think Recalcitrant Houses around the world are always compelling stories.”
For Jim, the light and music show was a moving celebration of his former family home.
“It’s unreal. Just precious. The music is perfect, the color is perfect. I can’t really describe it. It’s just beautiful,” he says.
Although he is philosophical about the need for the house to disappear and has moved to a new house near Yangebup, he is delighted that the house has received such a send-off.
“I wonder what mom and dad would say looking down, ‘What’s going on here?'”
Dalison will be screened and exhibited in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.