The Royal Hall

“The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there…” so holds the famous opening of The Go- Between. But in small old Gold Rush towns the past seems closer, the borders that define the countries are blurred…

the lower photograph of the famous Holtermann

elegant leg

In the dusty sunlight shards penetrating The Royal Hall in Hill End time frames intersect. Built in 1900 it is endearingly small, a pocket town hall, more the proportions of a barn. There’s something I find inspiring in the decoration- it’s strong and graphic, enhanced with beautiful patinas. The floor of narrow timber boards is scuffed and worn. The dado that wraps around is a rich oxblood. A piano stands in the corner.

A wonderful picture hang runs along the two long walls. Stern Victorian photos mostly, some ornately designed certificates. Oval frames break up the rectangles. A Surry Hills wine bar would be delighted to purchase the wall whole. But here it’s authentic, not a stylised version of the past. The photos date back to the Gold Rush, including one of Holtermann who found the famous large Gold Nugget. There are descendants of these long ago portraits living in the town still.

Recently the local school – with its total of 5 kids, held their end of year presentation & play on this stage, appropriately framed by the red velvet curtain.

Seeing the magnificent & magical Chanel show set in a Dallas barn this week , Karl Lagerfeld’s mesmerising dream of the Wild West, I wonder how the natural theatrics of this space could be taken further. Perhaps a hoe- down – straw scattered on the floor, hay bales about and a caller for the square dance moves. Or the curtain rising on a country trio singing bluegrass songs, the hall lit by candles – followed by something electronic/instrumental
that raises the ghosts of the gold miners past…

Kangaroo Dreaming

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.

Flower Vignettes

Bringing flowers in from the garden this week. Somehow a colour palette has developed in the garden; golden yellow/orange, purpley blue with touches of red. Colours that hold the warmth of the sun.

Some artichokes popping up too- now searching through recipe books to work out how to cook them…

Down the Rabbit Hole

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 Hard Work

It’s easy to idealise the country. Make it into a better version of life; slower & simpler. Flowers from the garden, the sound of animals in the distance & neighbours dropping round for scones and cream. All of it true- and yet… real life is here too. And creating the country idyll takes a lot of hard work.

making furrows & planting the produce patch

noting the seeds planted in the garden journal

Long days in the garden, intense physical labour. Meticulous planning to get materials up from the nearest town which is an hour away. This week planting out a vegetable garden. Hoeing up the clay based soil, mixing in some gypsum to break it down. Planting some seeds ordered off the internet in a rush of enthusiasm with a slightly sinking feeling that it might be too much of an ask for such hard soil. Perhaps seedlings would have had more of a chance. Then the sugar cane mulch topping in the hope that it will deter the tough country super weeds. The last touch a sandstone column left behind by the previous owner- a minimal sculptural scare crow to watch over and protect.

roses along the fence

a little help getting the monolith in…

There is something about having the freedom of to create a dream in the country. The “Lavender Walk” may at the moment be a scraped out path in the centre of the garden with some very small wilting lavenders deposited alongside, but in my minds eye I am walking through bountiful mauve tipped bushes. Who cares about the hot sun when the concept of growing and cooking fresh vegetables is hovering somewhere in the future. Vague ideas can become shimmering oasis to work towards. And all the days of hard work and planning the steps to walk towards them.

twilight kangaroos

looking down the “Lavender Walk”

Roses, bushfires

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…

Spring Schoolmaster’s Garden

Irises & roses

King Parrot

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…

rambling roses

blossoms in the bedroom

Cafes to Linger In

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

Elizabeth Bay

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

waterfront seats

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…

Tea & Spices

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

little pots