My daughter H is building a gingerbread house with a difference. For starters, the biscuit mixture is sans spice, much to the horror perhaps of traditionalists. It turns out, my family simply prefers gingerbread without the ginger. But that is where the simplicity ends. This is much more than a house. It is a castle! She has built it on a Lego base, with turrets, arched windows and even a drawbridge.
H baked the walls yesterday, carefully measuring them to fit the base using a template made from a cocoa pops box. One of the walls was damaged overnight. Not sure how … boys and pets plead innocence. But clearly some form of enemy was abroad, because this morning, a side wall lay in three pieces. H wasn’t fazed. “It’s an authentic ruined castle,” she said, and calmly mortared it back together with icing.
And now it’s done! A work of art, I’m sure you’ll all agree. Lego archers, swordsmen and knights on horseback, defend their castle from a fearsome fire-breathing dragon perched on a biscuit battlement. Brilliant H. Absolutely brilliant. And a merry Christmas to all!
Common Fringe Lilies (thysonatus tuberosus) are flowering now at the edges of Pilyara’s shady messmate gullies. Their botanical name tuberosus comes from their edible root. These lilies should be given a new everyday name though, as there is nothing common about them. They are wildflowers of exquisite charm.
Fringe Lilies grow on low stalks, that bear a few slender, basal leaves. The flowers appear at the end of short branchlets. Each purple petal is edged with a delicate, feathery fringe, highlighting the bloom with a halo effect. In between each petal is a sepal of deeper mauve, like a narrow satin ribbon. Their perfection is ephemeral – each flower lasts just one day. So lovely, yet so fleeting. The plant itself flowers for several weeks though, so there is plenty of time to catch the beauty of a new bloom.
This watercolour painting of a Fringe Lily is part of the Ducie Collection of First Fleet Art. The artist’s name is George Raper. He was a naval officer and talented illustrator. Unfortunately he was only twenty eight years old when he died. (1769-1797) The image is courtesy of The National Library of Australia. It proves this lovely little lily was one of the very first native flowers to attract international acclaim. How fortunate am I to be able to see them flowering in the wild, just metres from my house!
Varuna – The Writers’ House, is a wonderful asset to Australian authors. Established in 1991, Varuna is a unique environment in the Blue Mountains, designed especially for writers. The house itself was a gift to Australian literature in memory of the novelist Eleanor Dark. Eleanor, who died in 1985, published ten novels, including ‘The Timeless Land.” This was a best-seller in Australia and the United States, and was made into a popular television series.
Eleanor Dark was one of the first Australian novelists to defy the ‘cultural cringe.’ Her writings were sometimes experimental, often controversial and always unashamedly Australian. Considering her works were published between 1932 and 1959, this was remarkably innovative and brave. Eleanor was an advocate for social justice, education, women’s rights and Aboriginal reconciliation – a voice far ahead of her time. Manning Clark said of Eleanor Dark that ‘… she made a major contribution to the intellectual and spiritual life of all Australians. She helped us understand who we are. She taught us that we could stand alone.’
Varuna is now recognised, nationally and internationally, as a special place for new, emerging and established writers of all genres. It offers a community of support. It enables writers to develop their work, to find their voice. Varuna works closely with publishers such as Penguin and Harper Collins, and it supports promising work through its pathways to publication programs.
I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy two stints at Varuna – completing a professional development residency with the inimitable Peter Bishop, and as a writer in residence during a regional writers week. At Varuna there is no television or radio. All mobile phones are switched off between the hours of nine and six. During this quiet time writers work privately, except for individual consultations with their mentors and/or editors. Writers are provided with nothing more than a room, work space, dictionary and thesaurus. Catered dinners are accompanied by readings, lively discussions and bottles of wine. Writers have been known to produce up to 50,000 words during a ten day residency. That’s what an environment totally dedicated to writing can do for you. It is quite simply heaven.