Art, Death and Secret Gardens

Hello, October is my birthday month, and in Australia, Spring is carolling the senses. I love the transitional times of nature seasons and Spring always feels optimistic and burgeoning with new possibilities and change.   My family spent a garden-filled school holidays exploring not-so Secret Gardens in Sydney and the Blue Mountains. A SECRET GARDEN     SEcret garden   We have just introduced our daughter to the book and film of The Secret Garden, and we were looking for inspiration for our own Secret Garden.

Art-deco building at Lavender Bay

Art-deco building at Lavender Bay


image of Wendy by Graham Jepson

image of Wendy by Graham Jepson

We finally had a family day out at Wendy Whiteley’s magical garden at Lavender Bay. Wendy, grieving the tragic death of her only daughter Arkie, began landscaping the neglected plot of land in front of her Lavender Bay terrace.

Arkie Whiteley with her grandmother

Arkie Whiteley with her grandmother

TheAge_2001Dec21_p4 In the process of working through her grief, Wendy created a tranquil sanctuary enjoyed by many today. IMG_8857 The land which ran alongside the railway track and owned by the NSW Railway Corporation had been overlooked despite its jawdropping harbour views and proximity to Sydney’s Luna Park. IMG_8849   In an early and inspiring example of guerrilla gardening, Wendy began the transformative process of creating an oasis where office-workers and families could recharge. IMG_8885 IMG_8854 A place with so much green energy that the screams from Luna Park doesn’t diminish its nurturing effect. New birdlife now visits the area thanks to the garden. Palm and fig trees jut out from a steep cliff which has been landscaped beautifully with rocks. IMG_8838 There’s a special energy to this garden where it’s easy to imagine nature devas and fairies frolicking. IMG_8883 IMG_8851   IMG_8804 With its superb views, and magical touches in the form of bells, hidden bird-feeders and Asian statues, it’s a serene spot to contemplate life, enjoy loved ones  and soak up the best of Sydney. IMG_8877 IMG_8839   The ashes of Wendy’s husband, well-known artist Brett Whiteley, who died of a heroin overdose in 1992 and also the ashes of their daughter Arkie, are buried in the garden in a secret spot.

Brett Whiteley

Brett Whiteley

PAINTING BRETT WHITELEY The garden has come to mean a lot to Sydneysiders. Wendy was a promising art student who later became famous as her husband’s muse, but her creativity and vision with her garden will make a lasting difference to the city of Sydney.

Arkie under the shower painting by Brett Whiteley

Arkie under the shower painting by Brett Whiteley

ARKIE I’ve long been fascinated by Arkie Whiteley, who was beautiful, talented and spoken of very highly by everyone who connected with her. Only recently David and I watched her in Gallowglass, a Barbara Vine psychological thriller and thought how strong her performance was. GALLOWGLASS

The Whiteley Family

The Whiteley Family

ART QUOTE BRETT WHITELEY   The other gardens I enjoyed visiting were at Leura in the Blue Mountains for the town’s annual garden festival. Which I shall continue in Part Two of this post.Thank you for visiting me. If you would like to keep up with me on social media, I am on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. And please share this post if you know of anyone would enjoy it or my writing. Love and Light, Josephine xx

The garden, the studio, friendships, somebody’s life, are all those things that keep you going. I don’t feel any great urge to actually paint again. I want to just go and be the mad old bag lady in the garden. I love the fact that Arkie participated in it a bit and loved it. Sometimes I suddenly realise I’m talking about her or Brett or anybody else in my life as though they’re still alive. And in a way they still are. And then you realise that they’re not there anymore, except in your memory. Or in your bones. In Arkie’s case, she’ll always be there. And in Brett’s case, he’ll always be there in part of me. You know? But in her case particularly.’ Wendy Whiteley on Australia Story IMG_8806

You can read more about Wendy Whiteley’s Lavender Bay garden on the following links below:

Wendy Whiteley transcript from Australia Story HERE

Interview with Peter Wilmot – Bohemian Rhapsody HERE

Arkie Whiteley’s obituary notice from the Sydney Herald HERE

Fifties Fair

Designed by Harry Seidler for his parents, Rose and Max, Rose Seidler house in the 1950s must have looked as if it came from outer space. Positioned at the edge of the bush, its cube-like form was a sensation to a Sydney emerging from the depression and two world wars. But the decade’s optimism was impacting all the arts – including  the housing industry. Harry Seidler was like all the modernists, looking to the future in his design. His vision excited the public as he overthrew all previous conventions concerning Australian architecture.


Even finding a builder prepared to work on such an innovative house was a challenge, not to mention that building materials were in short supply after World War II. But following a lengthy construction; the Seidlers moved into their new home in late 1950.

Over 17 years, Rose built rockeries, stone walls and she added plants and flowers, fruit trees and vegetable gardens. The vegetable garden produced copious amounts of vegetables which she pressed generously upon friends including Max Dupain, who would go home with great boxes full of fresh vegetables.

Today, Rose Seidler House is owned by the Historic Houses Trust and annually hosts the Fifties Fair which my family attended today with a friend.



We travelled to the fair in true vintage style via a genuine 1950s bus.



I loved marvelling over all the vintage frocks. Here are some photos from the parade. 

collage Fair

Daisy and I entered the family group section.


But as soon as we spotted our competition – this amazing looking family – we knew we had lost this year. Hats off the mother of this family who spent weeks hand sewing their outfits.


Some of the frocks being judged.


Here’s the beautiful winner of the Ladies section.



Of course the Fifties Fair wouldn’t be complete without some great music. Here are the lads from Rusty Pinto’s Shotdown from Sugartown.


And some swing and jive cats and kittens.


And there’s always the cars too ooh and aah over.


Too soon, the Fifties Fair was over for another year.

Sorry Daisy, that’s not our car.


But here comes the bus to take us home.


And so we departed Rose Seidler House leaving that unique house in its isolated spectacular setting of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

When they occupied Rose Seidler House, the Seidlers had to endure uninvited visitors who would queue outside to peer through the glass walls, awed by the house. It’s hard to imagine what they would have thought if they had a time capsule and could have seen what would be the destiny of their son’s design.


You can read more about Rose Seidler House and the Fifties Fair HERE.


An early morning walk through our local park. My partner, David has gone diving with platypuses in Queensland – a most magical sounding pursuit.



I walk down the early morning city streets where fog has gifted an enchanted hush to the area.

My daughter has been taken by a friend to her netball game for the day. I have an entire day to write. But first, I have to see the fog.



In our local park, familiar paths fork into mysterious avenues.



Other walkers, cameras ready, are awed into silence as we encounter each other on the bush tracks. Sydney Park holds us in a spell.



The simple moments often bring the most joy.



I have time to contemplate the new book I am beginning.


It’s always a disconcerting feeling when starting a new project and you’re stepping into the unknown.



Characters have already formed; the book hovers, as haunting as as the early-morning city fog. An idea that has simmered for years, now beginning to evolve.



Life – a matter of focus: on my right side, swans and ducks glide with knowing beauty through the serene atmosphere.


And on my left side, the rubbish bins amongst the mud.



On Sunday, my daughter goes to her NIDA class and I write in my notebook. Yes, the old-school way of pen to paper and photographs for visual inspiration.



I am now in the 1950s in Tasmania and a doorway to a new world has opened for me. Characters are introducing themselves. The book has the working title of Sweetwater.



One step in front of the other. You never where the path will take you, but it is the act itself, the process that is the enchantment. One step towards the book and more is revealed. Another step and it’s waiting for me, calling me through the fog. One more step.


Spring is coming to Sydney. I can smell the jasmine on the city streets.