The kangaroos add a wild element to the atmosphere of the old schoolmasters house. They usually congregate just over the back fence at the end of day, a mob of about fifty. Eating the grass, peaceably. Often a couple of young bucks boxing. Mothers with their joeys. It’s a complete world & society.
They are compelling to watch. Not sure where else in the world – perhaps in Africa, you would get such large wild animals this close to a small village. It can feel like being in a zoo enclosure with a wrap around view. They are strange and unusual creatures – completely unlike other animals. The tiny little arms. The small joey heads poking out of their mothers’ pouches. The boing boing movement so fast and powerful. And yet somehow the final result is wonderful – they are creatures of grace, not comedy.
A recent theory holds that human beings are herd animals. A herd being defined as more than five. In an era of relatively fewer family groups of this number, perhaps this is one reason why it’s fascinating and somehow satisfying to watch a herd of animals interact.
Out on a walk you can surprise a few in the bush. There’s a low humph humphing sound I’ve come to associate with them. There is interaction – basically an intense stare and forward rotating ears, often accompanied by a total freeze of posture. Suddenly, like a schoolyard game, there is a whole field of kangaroo statues. The inspiration for concrete garden ornaments becomes clear.
When they’re not there, absent to some other kangaroo grazing land- I miss them. They turn the sunset landscape into a magical world. Creatures from the Dreaming.
Making some garlands for my house out of silver foil; slowly, listening to fascinating Conversations podcasts. Always with craft I find that in the act of occupying the hands, the mind opens up and is extremely receptive to story telling & entering different worlds.
Rustic bench at the English Cottages
distant blue hills
On a break – a visit to some friends; Bill & Genevieve who run the Hill End Press. They live and work in the historic English Cottages and there is something a little other worldly about this collections of small buildings, studio and garden. A bit Alice in Wonderland. The photos should really have the soft light of dusk heading to twilight, not the burning midday sun.
home of the Hill End Press
riot of red roses
Roses run wild here, as tall as the buildings, almost covering them. A reminder that the red rose is a classic not a cliche. Away from the corny single plastic wrapped rose of supper clubs it is a strong and beautiful thing- I want to plant more in my garden.
Genevieve’s garden has an English bent but is also inspired by the plantings of Piet Oudolf with unexpected combinations like dark fennel with heritage irises. Her evergreen shrubs are clipped into sculptural rounded balls. It’s overgrown and charming with winding paths opening onto a green field with a yellow boat in the distance under the trees. If you drifted off to sleep here under the rose bushes, you could well be awakened by a late & impatient white rabbit…
The haze from the bush fires in the air. The land is burning in the Blue Mountains over 2 hours away and the disaster is present on the news and in the air. Close yet far.
Meanwhile I pick the beautiful roses from the garden – life goes on.
smoky haze on the track
the naturalist desk covered in flowers
There are four different types gathered now on the naturalist desk:soft pink roses foraged from a country lane & from the old schoolmasters garden – rosa rugosa, a rambling rose & a lovely golden pink one. All beauties; the scent, the colours unlike anything you can purchase from a city florists.
So beautiful to have around the house, brightening dark corners. A feeling of abundance. Now I get interested in what to do next. How to dry them, make pot potpourrie, sachets, rosewater. At a Lifeline book sale in the nearby country town, I find a book which holds the secrets…
Irises & roses
Spring in the garden of the old schoolmasters house. Many surprises have pushed their way up through the hard clay ground. Buds and blossoms and small unripened fruit are everywhere. The earth seems to be telling of the potential of the seasons to come.
blue buttons on the path
the echium has landed
Not even two years ago I planted an echium called “Cobalt Towers” , from a tiny little pot- a plant you could fit into the palm of your hand. Last year it got huge and shot up a beautiful blue spire the bees loved. This year it has gone further…. there are now close to fifty spires, and it is higher still. There is a strong life force emanating from it- the constant sound of bees, little shy birds hovering and drinking its nectar.
looking up to the gravel garden
It’s such a beautiful process to bring in cut flowers from the garden. The combinations of flowers dictated by the seasons. They always seem to have a random lusciousness. A reward for all those many hours spent weeding and watering…
blossoms in the bedroom
at Cafe Hernandez
Recently on Pinterest I started a board called Cafes to Linger In
. I look for pictures of relaxed, informal spaces. Ones that are welcoming and cosy. Places to unwind, have some time out. A communal space apart from work and home.
a corner in Cafe Hernandez
the distinctive red awning of Cafe Hernandez
Spending a morning in Elizabeth Bay I come across a few cafes to linger in: old favourites and new discoveries. Cafe Hernandez is one of the original bohemian cafes of Sydney. Open 24 hours, 7 days a week, the chances are high you will see a taxi driver taking coffee here. The atmosphere is European with the original oil paintings, the piano in the corner & the copper coffee roasting machine out the back. If there was a pictorial map of Kings Cross, Cafe Hernandez would be featured on it. Meeting there always has the feeling of a rendezvous.
Coffee Tea and Me
Further up in Potts Point there’s the cute as a button Coffee Tea and Me- so tiny, yet so welcoming with its timber cladding & patterned yellow curtains spilling onto the ground. It has a couple of stools made from stacks of magazines and a cushion where you can watch all the sailors streaming down the hill to the naval base. Just round the corner is Gypsy Espresso, one of the best simple lunch spots in Sydney.
at the Bird and Bear Boathouse
Down on the water on the marina in Elizabeth Bay park is the Bird and Bear Boathouse cafe. First time here, and there’s a freshness to it. A place I’d bring visitors to Sydney straight off the plane, so they could have jetlagged lunch among the boats – looking out to the little islands on the harbour and adjusting to the brighter light. When waterfront cafes work – they can make you feel like you’re on holidays…
my art wall
This week making a spice rack, inspired by a magnificent magnetic one I’d seen in the kitchen of Indira Naidoo of the blog The Saucy Onion
. Not your standard, vaguely 80′s looking pine spice rack, Indira’s creation was a magnetic whiteboard with adorned with little round tins of various spices. Her installation claimed an important role for spices in the kitchen: suddenly they were front and centre, the colourful pots like art supplies to be played with.
star anise, bay leaves & cloves
So off to recreate it; firstly the magnetic tins in packs of three found at Ikea. The sheet of metal harder- not something you can find in an ordinary hardware store, it became a trip to a specialist metal cutter, sourcing an off cut of the right dimensions. Perhaps the smallest sale this company had ever made. The final touch a dymo labeller from an office supply company- for washable plastic printed labels.
flannel flowers in season
After it has been attached to the wall with strong double sided tape, the pots snapped on – the fragrant scent of the spices lingers in the air & the kitchen seems changed. Although primarily a practical measure, the spice rack brings a sense of fun and potential. It holds the promise of luscious spice filled meals. I love design that celebrate the ordinary rituals of daily life – beautiful utilitarianism.
the finished spice rack
at the home of Matt Ward of the vintage store Drunk on the Moon
An afternoon in Newtown, starting with tea at the back of Matt Ward’s vintage wares shop ‘Drunk on the Moon
‘. I like real things and Matt sells them. Out the back of the shop the light falls golden on his eclectic collections. He breaks up the flat planes of the walls with unusual objects: pressed tin, an oil painting found off its frame at the tip, house numbers & animal skulls.
the kitchen with the salvaged oil painting
St Stephens graveyard in Newtown
The gothic strain of Newtown runs deep: from the atmospheric cemetery of St Stephens, large & sprawling with tumbled down headstones and enormous fig trees – to the grungy edge of King St. There’s a nineties flavour to street style here- although hard to tell whether a fashion revival or just the perennial Sydney Uni activist look.
Matt Ward’s living room
the cat ‘Lebowski’ of Drunk on the Moon
Then there are some favourite spots- the Dendy Cinema, Afghan Interiors, the adorable Belljar cafe, – so sweet and retro- like Frankie magazine come to life. Berkelouw Books, where the Socrates Cafe holds philosophy nights. It’s true, as Peter Carey wrote, that in the summertime the Newtown pavement’s so hot that it sticks to the souls of your shoes. But then this is one of the few suburbs that tries to counter Sydneys reputation as a glossy vacuous city.
flying ducks & plates at the Belljar cafe
Newtown’s one of the jigsaw pieces of Sydney. It’s not the tourist first stop, the eye-catching Opera House, or the natural beauty of Bondi Beach but it’s a tart, tangy piece – part of the city’s interesting complexity. You’d miss it if it was gone.
the fake brick wall paper at Belljar some how works
the bar at Belljar
Time of Gifts is the title of a wonderful travel book by Patrick Leigh Fermor who walked across Europe in the 1930s- from Holland to Constantinople, age 18. By going on the journey, taking the leap into the unknown, he finds adventure and his soul is invigorated. He gives the book its title as he meets along the way, with much greater kindness than expected.
educational poster from my Aunt
bend in the morning road
The journey of the old schoolmasters house: buying the rundown cottage on the desolate block, doing it up & starting a garden has been hard & challenging but also in its own way invigorating. And like for Patrick Leigh Fermor it has been a time of gifts.
dark misty morning
the early 19th home school desk
Literally that is – I have received some lovely presents all themed around the old schoolmasters house. An antique desk set from some dear friends in America- “The Chautauqua Industrial Art Desk’. The wood has a beautiful scent – I imagine it to be sandal wood. When you turn the wooden knobs different school exercises scroll by- for the child to practice with their “Home Teacher”. From my Aunt some vintage educational posters that she salvaged from a school throw out. And from an artist friend, a box filled like a Christmas stocking with little things: an old postcard, school inkwells and chalk, lead toy soldiers, a compass
from an artist friend, gifts including a Chinese trivet – referring to the Chinese heritage from the Gold Rush
These gifts are so touching to me. They become part of the fabric of the story of the old schoolmasters house.
From Inside/Out magazine
Looking through images from pulled magazines and pinned on Pinterest
– common threads starting to emerge, new inspirations make themselves known.
from Country Style magazine
The tension between spare and authentic versus soft and pretty.
Eating out doors, dashes of soft pink, walls covered in random flea market finds…
Flowers bought in from the garden, generous beds of lovely linen, topped with canopies, faded florals and mysterious garden paths…
the country dream all there to be reinterpreted come spring in the old schoolmasters house.
Sometimes when I’m in the city I hear the cries of a flock of black cockatoos flying overhead. They’re different to the sounds of other birds in the city- looser and wilder. They live up in Centennial Park in the eucalypt forest near the aqueduct where you can walk dogs off the leash.
In the Paperbark Swamp
… feels prehistoric
Barry Humphries once said that when he was growing up he hated Centennial Park so much he dreamed of breaking in at night and ring barking the trees. I’m not sure where this animosity came from, perhaps a rebellion against the Victorian principles of order that dominate the majority of the planting. But there are wild parts too, zones you can discover when you go off piste. Like the Paperbark Swamp: a sludgy atmospheric swamp at the heart of the park, dominated by the smell of methane gas from the coppery waters and the colony of bats that have made it their home. The site of Australia’s last duel- it’s a complete world, the universe of an Australian Tim Burton.
looking up at the bats hanging
The swamp stands in contrast to the order of the rose garden and the little islands of canna lilies and palms that surround it. Yet some how the current gardeners have modernised this concept, mixing in succulents with herbaceous borders. I often get inspiration for my own garden here, in the unexpected contrasts of the texture and colour.
Carnival Studio shoot, styling by Ingrid Weir and
photography by Mark Rogers
There’s regular filming going on the Park – you never know who you might come across. I’ve worked here myself- creating a night time Lord of the Rings sketch and a 1930s Carnival.
Sometimes when I’m walking near the Duck Pond, I remember a very touching overheard conversation. A severely disabled young boy, his body twisted in a wheelchair suddenly burst into floods of tears. His carer, so gently, said ‘ Come on, it’s alright- do you want to go and see the ducks” When he heard that the boy stopped crying and a huge smile broke out. And to me that’s the beauty of Centennial Park, a chance to immerse yourself in the healing force of nature.