“How are you?” his warm voice with its unmistakably Aussie accent was mellow on the phone.
“Gee, that’s nice!” he replied.
“Yep,” I said, “I read it in a book.”
It is not only Smiley’s voice which has mellowed over the years. He is getting a bit soft in his senior years. He was ringing to organise a family get-together, and wanted to go back and check out Lavender Bay, the place where he, his brothers, and my brother spent their childhood. I was a part of it also, although given I was only six months when we moved, it’s fair to say I don’t have a strong first hand memory.
But this place comes with a unique history, and it was my mother who first drew it to my attention. I had been doing family history, and had discovered her grandmother had been a Whitley. So when Mum was on about Whiteleys living in our former home at Lavender Bay I dismissed what she had to say as dementia talking. I was wrong. The home had indeed come into the ownership of the Australian artist Brett Whiteley and his family, and in the forty or fifty years they have owned it, it has been transformed from a run down, albeit waterfront home, into something very chic and trendy.
Brett Whiteley died tragically in 1992. Less than ten years later, his daughter also died, aged only thirty-five. Wendy Whiteley, wife and mother, sought solace in creating a garden from derelict railway waste land in front of the house, next to Clark Park. It is called Wendy’s Secret Garden. The garden is a credit to her passion and artistry, and is open to the enjoyment of any who chance there. It includes sculptures, seating, nature paths, plantings selected for height, colour and texture, as well as the fabulous Sydney signature, Moreton Bay fig trees.
My photos of the garden do not do it credit. I had forgotten my camera and was happy snapping on the iPad. Grand-daughter TR had been playing with it the week before, so of course any of the settings I was familiar with had miraculously disappeared, and I didn’t know how to keep the sun out of dazzling the lens. By chance, we stumbled across a professional photographer in the grounds, so there is more to be heard about this garden in the coming months.
Our nostalgia day included a further walk around Lavender Bay, with the guys checking out another park, Watt Park, which contains a sandstone rock face with a natural pool, which in the day, was their favourite tadpoling spot. This park also contains some massive old trees, and in the base of one, we found a possum curled up in the roots. Very unusual. It was definitely breathing, but we were most perplexed to find it at ground level. We left it alone, and can only hope that it was okay.
Sydney turned on a spectacular day for us, even though we were only a few days off the shortest day of the year, and it is winter here. As you can see from the photos, it wasn’t a bad place to grow up, even if they didn’t have a shilling between them. Three generations in the one house, a park at the front, harbour beyond, a boat slip nearby, Luna Park amusement park around the corner, and the harbour bridge just beyond. Of course, the Sydney skyline was much lower then, and all the high-rise around Lavender Bay did not exist, nor did the Opera House. Not that you can see that exactly from the house, but a short walk down to the water’s edge brings it into view.