Simplicity in the City: Nielson Park

I think the key to living in Sydney is to seek out the spots where there is a connection to water. And there is so much of it, such choice.
The surf beaches are proven classics, but the harbour contains secrets- little beaches and coves nestled in parks. They feel less commercial, less about signs and shops – calmer. The occasional glimpses of the Harbour Bridge the only reminder you are in a city.

looking back at Nielson from the headland

one of the textures of Sydney- rough hewn sandstone

Nielson Park is one of the most magical. It could be the setting for a performance of “A Midsummer’s Nights Dream”– the audience following the actors round through the park, up the sandstone stairs, onto the moonlit beach. There’s light and dark here- beauty and strangeness.

a peak of the Harbour Bridge

like from a Cambodian temple

The kiosk is from 1915 and is of the style with the bulky title of Queen Anne Federation. I prefer to think of it as “Story book” architecture- it has a quaintness and whimsy that could accommodate talking rabbits… Only recently I realised there was a tunnel from the beach to some sunken dressing rooms, built in the same era.

dreamy … the Nielson Park Kiosk

posts of the shark net

The old name for Nielson was ‘Shark Beach’- and there is a shark net that contains the swimming area. More darkness in the prettiness.

the barrier between sharks and humans

During the weekends it gets very crowded- groups having BBQs, games on the beach – full of life going on. But it is at dusk and dawn that Neilson slips back into its ethereal magic – just waiting for the night curtain to rise…

Inspiration: Fast and Loose

Going through the original inspiration for the old schoolmasters house – piles of well worn pages torn from old World of Interiors, the credits and stories lost in time. Revisiting Rebecca Purcell’s book “Interior Alchemy” – unique & wonderful.
Some images turn up ideas that have already been absorbed into the house while others provoke new thoughts…

From Rebecca Purcell’s Interior Alchemy

Randomness, florals, quilts, little bird pictures, baskets… …moving fast & keeping it loose.

A strong coloured trim. Vestibules and mudrooms with a pleasing array of hats & baskets
- handmade textiles.
Rough paint samples left as layers, organic textures.

From Rebecca Purcell’s Interior Alchemy

Collections on the wall, spareness & space, utilitarian repurposed furniture.

The bed as the centre piece of the room, roughly held valances, rich fabrics against a plain background.
And botanical charts, strong coloured walls, graphic textiles and random handmade lights

Just being simple.

Inside a Potters’ Workshop

I like seeing spaces where art and craft are created. It’s seeing the garden where the flowers have come from. The paint splashes and dents and flecks make a patina that gives context. Objects and tools are arranged in pleasing utilitarian formats. These are spaces focused around beautiful quality of light and which are self contained – looking inwards not outwards.

Lino Alvarez and Kim Deacon run La Paloma pottery in Hill End. They live and work in a collection of historic buildings that includes a personal studio where Kim plays the harp and an atmospheric outdoor eating area that evokes Lino’s Mexican heritage. The workshop was built by them from hay bales, bush logs & salt encrusted windows from an old wharf in Sydney.

diffused light

outside, late afternoon

My visit coincides with pottery being taken out of the kiln & there’s something magic about seeing the batches of plates being removed and stacked. The clay comes from Gulgong, another small town in the area. In a time of exodus of manufacturing from Australia, it’s inspiring to see two people just solidly making beautiful things.
And good to see them supported by some of the most stylish restaurants in Sydney – Porteno, the Grounds among others.

sage greens

Mostly La Paloma is commissioned for their restaurant ware & large pots. The only way to obtain individual pieces is to travel to Hill End, four hours from Sydney and buy from the studio direct. A trek with rewards.


those heavy log columns

So this is what people mean when they talk about the importance of provenance. There’s life in the ceramics I buy- an earthiness and a weight. Now I don’t want to eat breakfast from any other bowl. This might be the start of a collection…

the old salt encrusted windows in the corner of the studio

A New Path

It’s a shock looking back at old photos sometimes. Change seems to happen so slowly, like the passing of a river washing pebbles smooth. And then there is the cold photographic evidence. A few years ago the kitchen looked out onto a scrappy patch of land, dirt held together by weeds. A narrow concrete path led to nowhere. Then the courtyard was built – a sheltered space for outdoor meals – morning coffee & afternoon dreaming.

the original path,  in the same location

the original path, in the same location

the ‘Old Town’ path mixed with slate from the area

Now the grapevine has started to really grow over the pergola, providing shade for those burning hot summers’ days. Late last year the addition of a path to alleviate the heavy tread of the gravel. A long time gestating – it needed to be practical, good to walk on – yet not look to ‘city’. The eventual choice, ‘Old Town’ concrete tiles from Amber that were cast to look like old stone flagging. The random pattern and the insertion of locally sourced stones to get away from a ‘fake’, Disney look. Once it was laid and walked over several times, it looked like it had always been there.

the magnificent eucalyptus tree outside the courtyard

garlic that has been in the village since the Gold Rush

Recently I came across the Spanish word – ‘sobremesa’- which is defined as the time spent around the table after lunch or dinner, talking to the people you shared the meal with; time digest and savour both food and friendship. And I realised that’s it – that’s really the purpose of this courtyard. All those many small decisions had been leading towards creating an atmosphere for sobremesa.

a perfect meal in the courtyard – anitpasta with fried bread

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”