The Man in the Arena


It’s a time of making things and planting things….

Greatly inspired this week by hearing the Man in Arena quote, Theodore Roosevelt, paraphrased here by Brene Brown-

“It is not the critic who counts, it is not the man who sits and points out how the doer of deeds could have done things better and how he falls and stumbles. The credit goes to the man in the arena, whose face is marred with dust and blood, and sweat. But when he is in the arena, at best he wins and at worst he loses, but when he fails, when he loses, he does so daring greatly.”

driving through the country, the car loaded up with plants

– ready to plant in hedges around the house


I take this as a call to get out there, get busy, start doing things, – even if it ultimately fails and doesn’t work out.

Roses starting to come out in the garden

a neighbours front porch

Not that my efforts have the scale and grandeur of the gladiatorial arena… not at all.
Decidedly on the humble end, I’m referring to planting a vegie patch and doing a small embroidery!

Starting an embroidered wall hanging…

the finished piece

The planting is helped by the responsiveness of the garden. It’s high spring and little surprises are coming up all over the place. The orchard is holding fast, my inexpert pruning seems to have worked.

from one day-

– to the next; the same iris

The most wonderful thing are the irises. I planted them all along the path at Easter mixing in some lime to help make the soil better. A full basketload of bulbs, a gift from the owner of the Southern Highlands home featured in the blog Bumble at Home. It wasn’t known what colours they would turn out to be – a mystery. But now it is revealed; a magnificent deep purple, somehow Victorian era, and a delicate, iridescent gold.

Driving off the Highway into a Movie


Heading down the freeway, traveling from the city to the old schoolmasters house- I take a detour to explore the Wolgan Valley. I’d seen just one photo of it and it was startling; a landscape straight out of the Wild West, John Ford territory.

Past the Power Plant, along a country road, a sign for a steep & winding descent. Down and down and down till you reach the valley floor. The road becomes a dirt track, the cliffs loom above, their rocky red tops like ancient temples.

In the 1830s Charles Darwin spent the night in the Valley

– he wrote of its monumental scale in his diary


Only the odd car passes in a cloud of dust, adding another layer of haze to the already blue mountains. It makes you realize what a huge, under populated country Australia is. In the US this would be a much celebrated landscape; country and western songs would have been written about it, films would have been shot here. You’d be able to google images of iconic movie stars riding across the screen in panoramic technicolour.

Apparently monitor lizards run up the neared vertical when they feel defensive- glad I wasn’t standing any closer!


About half an hour down the dirt road, past a luxury spa with a helipad for flying guests in and out, a sign for the town of Newnes. Underneath the name Newnes someone has attached a handwritten addition – ‘All that money can’t buy’.

the old bar now a cafe

strange objects hang from the ceiling


The town of Newnes is now a former pub and surrounding holiday cabins. It’s the set from the film that was never made here- Crocodile Dundee meets the Coen Brothers. If for some weird reason the zombie apocalypse did happen- it would start in Newnes.

lyrebird feathers festoon the pendant lights

a platypus dives off the wall

unnamed rock on a shelf


The Jack Nicholson like German owner shows me round; the randomness of the decoration is fascinating. Rocks from the former Commonwealth Oil Corporation shale mine form the basis of a museum. They are joined by school kids’ drawings, tattered historical posters, birds nests, old tools. The dilapidated pub a great example of early 19th century Australian architecture.

chickens outside the Newnes hotel

back at the old schoolmasters house- filming

Time to be heading off- no chance to look in on the Glow Worm Tunnel, or the Industrial Ruins. Back onto the highway, overtaking some large delivery trucks – it feels like I have emerged from another dimension. Up to the old schoolmasters now- & the first shoot in the house, a music clip for my brother…

Putting together a Naturalist’s desk

the new desk area in the sunroom


This week I created a naturalist’s desk in the old schoolmasters house to display rocks and mossy twigs gathered on country walks. A place to keep the fragments of nineteenth century crockery found in the garden along with a series of pinecones in different stages of their wooden flowering.

an unusual evening sky

pieces of china found in the garden


This is the start of dressing the bare walls, giving them some character. Bringing the outside in, furthering the connection between the house and the surrounding countryside. I see this wall growing organically, layers being added over time.


Shelving becomes the frame around the natural objects, showcasing their beauty. The start of a collection, how a group of things takes on a different character to just one item- you see the basic similarity but also, like snowflakes- how every one is unique.

along the road

the United Victuallers Association


Also a good area for an odd bod collection of op shop paintings- choosing the ones with parchment tones and goldy pinky highlights. I love putting old photos on art walls. Found a group shot of the NSW United Victuallers Association from the 30s – a collection of men in oval shapes, all looking pretty stern. I wonder what they would make of being placed next to an unscientific rock and pinecone collection some 80 years later…

out on a walk, collecting things

Charles Darwin’s study – the new inspiration


Only after I had put it all together did I hear about Charles Darwin’s study at Down House. Found some wonderful black and white photos on the internet. Now a new inspiration – and certainly a lofty one for what is basically a styling exercise!

orchard blossoms from the roadside

from the spring garden; apple blossom, roses, salvia


Yet strangely starting this nook, going out on walks now with an eye to finding things, has made me realize how little I know about basic geology. These strange rock formations pushing up out of the ground, collapsing in shards around the centre thrust like a lost city. It makes me want to know more…

Visiting a Magical Country House

Bumble and Bella

the old milking shed at the bottom of the garden


This week a massive dose of inspiration – a visit to a beautiful country house and garden. A whole world; grounds filled with flowers, dry stone walls, a chook pen, fruit trees, vegetable garden and various little out building. Archways in hedges lead the eye to vistas over the valleys. The house is at the bottom of a gently driveway, nestled in among some trees.

Sitting ensconced in the living room after a long drive, browsing through Ben Pentreath’s excellent new book on English style – I look up and see what he describes all around me; a house filled with comfy chairs, stacks of books and magazines, fresh flowers from the garden, and adorable dogs. A feeling of ease, you can really settle in here.

the most beautiful wallpaper in this bathroom

love this rustic/Chinese nook


The house is full of real design ideas. Some exquisite wallpaper used throughout, the owner/designer says that she thinks that wallpaper works especially well in country bedrooms. I know what she means- it can make them both cozy and fresh.

the original house- now the guest cottage

what a chook!


The garden is a series of different spaces, one flowing into the other. A dreamy cumulative effect is created by moving through the it- you pass through layers, discovering plants, views, and sometimes animals.

herbs drying in the potting shed

the shell table in the old milking shed


The out house buildings are almost my favorite spots. The potting shed filled with baskets, drying herbs and large glass bottles, with a view looking out over the curve of the valley. The old milking shed surrounded by large vibrant flowering perennials, a white wisteria vine starting to come out. Inside a magnificent table, covered in shells and mossy twigs. A project by the owner, accomplished with a large collection of oyster shells and a hot glue gun!

tree peonies beside my bed

after lunch in the sun room- great stripey floor


Bumble and Adorabella, the two Shih Tzus, love the chance to come exploring in the garden. Bumble is the star player- if a dog could be called charismatic, she would be. She even has her own blog Bumble at Home, her perspective of life on the farm. I think that these two might have the best dog life going.

the trellis wallpaper encloses a little eating area


Heading home, stimulated by the trip, lots of ideas sparked for the old schoolmasters house. The power of human energy to transform a bare block into something like this. How replenishing a weekend of good company in a beautiful country house can be. It is like being given a gift.

a china cabbage

view from the shed