One time, when I lived in a windswept salt drenched Bondi flat, I bought some cheap flower punnets to liven up the weed filled dirt patch out the front. Despite my ignorance, some small flowers grew & I realized how much I enjoyed messing around in the dirt. I started to want to know more about gardening & found a book by the British film director Derek Jarman. In the 80s he had bought a black tarred fisherman’s cottage on a bleak stretch of coastline in Dungeness, Kent. He started planting in a random way- sea kale, dog roses in between structures of salvaged driftwood and twisted pieces of metal. Slowly, his garden became a poem, a living sculpture- a valiant attempt at beauty in defiance of the nuclear power plant on the horizon & the ravages of his illness. His book inspired me to a different way of thinking. Gardening had seemed a mysterious complex process that involved knowing a lot about soil – now it held the potential for creativity.
Many years later I stand outside a house on a neglected one acre block deep in the Australian countryside- the old school masters residence in a 19th century gold rush town… it’s for sale . The owner, an artist & stonecarver, is keen to sell & the price is low. Propelled by some strange instinct -I scrape together my savings, and take the plunge.
A city girl in a remote country town- like being on a ship at sea, sailing high up in the Australian bush. The town, once cosmopolitan, with pubs, businesses, an oyster bar & an opium den, feels enigmatic, out of time. Appearing at the end of the road through an avenue of trees, like Brigadoon. But what it does have is that rare thing- authenticity. No tourist prettification, no advertising signs. Barely 200 residents, many of them artists. The house itself run down, kind of unloved, sitting primly upright on a large bare block . Not romantic like the other miners shacks that seem as though they have grown out of the landscape. A solid double brick home ordered up by the education board and dropped in a country town a hundred years ago. The house is a blank canvas- a challenge. Like Jarman did, so far away & so long ago, I want to create my own world of beauty and simplicity.
This is the chronicle of the transformation of the old schoolmaster’s house & a rediscovery of the Australian countryside.