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.