Walking through the gate in the dry stone wall, I sensed the enchantment that had lured me and countless other artistic people over the years. Whenever I sight Norman Lindsay’s romantic-looking sandstone house and the first standing nude statue flanked by lavender, I feel as if I’m entering a bohemian, magical world.
Today, I wasn’t here to look at Norman’s artworks, or wander around the gardens as I did many times planning scenes for my gothic mystery, Currawong Manor. Instead I’d come with photographer Nicole Wells, her daughter Jennifer and my own daughter, Daisy, to shoot scenes inspired by Currawong Manor.
Nicole, a confirmed bibliophile, has been involved in a project photographing Australian authors dressed as their characters. When she first approached me two years ago, I instantly thought I’d like to portray feisty, flamboyant Ginger Lawson, one of the book’s ‘Flowers’ (life-models for artist Rupert Partridge). Her personality is vastly different to my more introverted character. Ginger has remained with me throughout the years. I often find myself asking in difficult situations – what would Ginger do?
Rupert – the tempestuous, notorious artist of Currawong Manor – is a synthesis of Albert Tucker, Norman Lindsay, Sydney Nolan and Arthur Boyd. My life models Ginger, Kitty and Wanda, were all inspired by Norman’s life models, especially Pearl Goldman and Rose Lindsay, his wife.
An added bonus with this shoot is that Nicole and I have daughters the same age and the right appearance to play Dolly and Shalimar from the book.
Although it took two years for Nicole and I to finally collaborate on our shared vision due to work, family and my own tree-change to the mountains, I always knew we would meet and make the ‘magic happen.’
Except – disaster first struck when my 1940s outfit, ordered from Etsy, became lost in the mail. It is apparently still heading back and forth between America and Austria (!). But the show had to go on, as Nicole had booked a family break in the mountains, so I improvised with what I could throw together.
After many dry months in the mountains, the longed-for storm-clouds arrived on the week of our meeting. A soft misty rain fell throughout the day of the shoot. The numerous statutes on the grounds watched over us as we re-created the eerie world of Currawong Manor. It felt as if the story’s pages had sprung to life.
It was a unique experience to bring a character from a world you have created into three-dimensional being, to be a small part of the fantastical world of Magic Puddings, Sirens, art and bohemia.
I watched ‘Dolly’ and ‘Shalimar’ running over the grounds, their white dresses glimpsed through the trees. The world felt tilted, as if from any moment along the bush tracks, a centaur, a fairy woman, or Norman himself would go rushing past us, hurrying to his studio.
When posing on the verandah of the house in Ginger mode, a volunteer came to watch. ‘My god, it’s like watching Rose Lindsay come to life,’ she said.
I can still smell the fragrant odours of the bush after the rain, and the velvet air of gentle sensuality and bohemian inspiration that ripples throughout the grounds. My legs ached for days with the high heels I wore, stumbling over the uneven ground of the bush where we shot the swimming pool. Some of you may recall the swimming pool from the movie Sirens. The misty rain added its own radiant light. The eucalyptus trees that laced the sky were the only witnesses to the story being re-enacted. I felt the whispers of my own characters in my ears as Ginger rose within me, with a pout, a snarl, determined to tell her story and strut her vibrant being.
Some days, from trees, leaves, and bark, we weave the magic. Some days, the sky and earth echo the timeless truth how stories matter. Art ignites, a character can change the destiny of the reader – or, the writer.
You can read more about the house and grounds of the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum HERE. Thank you to all the staff who were so helpful and friendly throughout the day.
You can see more of Nicole Well’s work HERE.