Here it is Sunday 23rd July and it has been five weeks since my last post. One very good reason is that we have not been “in residence” for any weekend since then.
My favourite corner of the living room beckons, but so does a pile of paperwork and other writing projects. So I will ease myself into that by reviewing what has kept me so busy this last month.
It kicked off with a trip to Sydney. I was off to a long lunch with former work colleagues, and we stayed that night with one of them. The night before I booked into a “boutique” hotel which was the 1850s home of an early mayor of Sydney. It was either going to be a flea pit or quaint, and I am pleased to report it was the latter.
Our room contained three re-purposed wardrobes. One held the TV, one the fridge, and the other was empty. In the manuscript on which I am currently working I had just written a scene where my character was hiding in a wardrobe, and I was able to test whether that was feasible. I chose the one on the left of the cheval mirror in the below photo. It worked!
Most importantly, the hotel was perfectly positioned for a day of exploring this part of Sydney: Darlinghurst and Paddington. I was keen to walk the same streets as my characters, albeit 100 years later. It was a successful day, and twice I was invited inside houses by their current owners!
The next morning I paid a visit to Hyde Park Barracks which was built in 1818-1819 to house convicts. At a later point it was used as the female immigration depot. Single women were enticed to the colony on assisted passages, predominantly as domestic servants, and to address the gender imbalance. On arrival, they were housed in the barracks for a few days until they were hired out. Again, I was on the hunt for fodder for the manuscript.
The next weekend we headed north to the central coast. This weekend was for family birthday celebrations, but I combined it with lunch with my cousin, and handed to him my research on Lochgyle, at 1 Walker Street, Lavender Bay / North Sydney.
Today, this house is famous as the residence of the artist Brett Whiteley, or more correctly, his widow Wendy. However, to us, it is famous as our family home from the 1940s until 1960ish. My grandmother, aunt, uncle, mother, cousins and brother all lived there together. Since I tail behind in age, I have no childhood memories of the place, therefore my experience is felt vicariously through their stories. I have written before of how Wendy Whiteley transformed what was a railway wasteland in front of the house into her “secret garden“. And, by the way, my manuscript finishes with a scene from this house, although it is not precisely identified.
By the next weekend we were down the south coast, around the picturesque St George’s Basin area. Our good friend has sold his five bedroomed, rambling home on a “double block with swimming pool and four car garage” and is moving to a much smaller place. It is such a wrench to decide what to let go, and it wasn’t helped by a leg injury that had him in debilitating pain, but by the end of four days we had sectioned off a portion of the garage and displayed various “objet d’arts” for sale. As for the “men’s stuff”, well, that is a larger project, but he still has a few weeks up his sleeve. Meantime, if you are looking for tools, nuts, bolts, and screws in either metric or imperial sizes, I know where you can find them. Also fishing gear, camping gear, lengths of pipe, quad, brackets, timber and other handyman bibs and bobs. Just say the word, because we will back there again during August 🙂
Meantime, we got a call to say that my younger (half) brother, who has been living in the Barossa Valley of South Australia since last November, had been hospitalised. His mother and sister made a flying visit of a few days, but work commitments demanded her return. The hospital would not discharge him to an empty house, so Bill and I volunteered to drive “Mum” back and stay for a while to see all was in order. “Mum” is a 45kg (100 lbs) pocket rocket. She is very fit and agile, resourceful and extremely talented at improvisation, but as a woman in her early 80s there are limits to what she could do at an isolated farmhouse without a car. Besides which, there were many things she wanted to take to make his life more comfortable.
So we returned from the south coast on the Sunday after lunch, had Mum delivered to us by another friend, and after a quick unpack/wash/repack and loading of the car, we hit the road at 7am the next morning.
Red Dwarf is a nifty little hatchback with seats that can be laid down in a 70/30 combination. Mum made herself a cosy nest behind the front passenger seat. Every other hole in the boot and back seat area was packed with things she wanted to take over, as this photo taken in the dark garage just before departure illustrates.
It’s a trip of around 1300 klm or 800 miles from Wollongong to the Barossa. Bill and I drove two hours on and two off, in two shifts, with a lunch break in between. That got us to Balranald on the first night, which is still in New South Wales. We ate at a returned servicemen’s club which had a very interesting historical display outside. The next day, a three hour stint each got us to the hospital. We crossed the border into Victoria briefly, and then into South Australia, where we had to surrender our fruit for destruction. I’d forgotten to tell mum about that, and I didn’t pull up before we reached the control point, otherwise we would have stuffed ourselves on the mandarins and pears we had with us. She was not too happy as you can imagine. But we are very quarantine conscious in Australia, with good reason, as it is important to keep our fruit and vegetables disease free and restrict the havoc of fruit fly.
I am happy to report that my brother is well and will return to work this week. He has an agricultural job with a large potato growing concern, so up till now his life has been long days and empty nesting. The house he rents is part of a major Barossa Valley winery. Once upon a time the family would have lived there, and then as they move on to bigger and more modern homes, they finally get around to smicking the old house up a bit and renting it out. It’s a gorgeous (to me) bluestone house, typical of the area, with large rooms, twelve foot ceilings and fireplaces in every room. Kitchen and bathrooms are basic as they were usually additions at a later stage to the original house. If you spent a lot of money on it, it would look like this little beauty.
It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and we put the week there to good use. The enforced break, and the extra manpower, allowed my brother to scour the second-hand stores and internet selling sites, so the place is a lot more cosy than it was before he went into hospital. He is on an lime green and burnt orange kick. I suppose because he was only born in the early seventies, he didn’t get enough of it then. He even has a gorgeous Edwardian wardrobe now, instead of keeping his clothes in plastic bags 🙂 And Bill and I were able to lunch with several lots of friends who we hadn’t seen for a year. I even returned to the hairdresser who gave me a fabulous cut when we came in to Adelaide on The Ghan last year.
After a week, we left mum behind and drove back home. We made it to Narrandera for the stopover night. Oddly enough, the mayor who I referred to at the beginning of this story had large land holdings in this country town.
Narrandera is also the place which, when I worked for Ricegrowers (SunRice), I flew in to when needed at the head office in nearby Leeton. The flight was in a 32 seater SAAB or Dasch8, and the airport is like an overgrown chicken shed. On many occasions in winter the schedule was delayed because of low lying fog.
Continuing our current journey, it was my turn at the wheel just around dawn on the next day (7am) and the fog stayed with us for about three hours! Eventually Bill tried to take some photos on my mobile phone as we whizzed along at 110klm with me peering ahead for kangaroos or other cars or trucks. The photos do not adequately illustrate the situation. Puffy low lying clouds in paddocks is magical, a white-out on the road ahead is not.
The amusing part of this tale is that I handed over to Bill after three hours, and he got so settled into driving at speed while listening to an interesting radio programme that he missed the turnoff to home and we couldn’t turn around until another half hour down the road 🙂
Well, that’s enough for now. I’ve struggled a bit with WordPress formatting today . . . must be out of practice!
Hope I have more success returning to where I last left off the manuscript.