Friday, January 27, 2017

' I prefer gardening'

In May 1938 Eleanor drew plans for a workroom for herself in the garden.

When it was completed,  Reference  books on Australian history sat on her bookshelves. There was

"another cupboard above for cups and saucers and loaf sugar ... And a tea caddy and some biscuits, so that I can occasionally invite a specially select and favoured visitor to afternoon tea or supper. And a window box all around my bow window. And two brown boronias outside my front door. I covet a brass door-knocker, but as the one great salient point of the whole thing is that nobody is ever to knock upon pain of death, I think I shall have to do without it."

From 'Eleanor Dark: A Writer's Life', by Barbara Brooks (1998)

Eleanor and Eric Dark's house, Varuna, has been a writers residence since the early 1990s, generously gifted to Australian writers by their son Mick.  I spent a couple of weeks there in 1993, where I finished a novel, 'The Serpentine Belt'.  Not in Eleanor's workroom in the garden, but in a sunroom off the large bedroom at the top of the house which had been theirs.  I have rarely worked or slept as well. And no one was allowed to disturb those of us who worked there.

Eleanor would have approved.

But now, it is those brown boronias I'd like to ask her about, if she were still alive.  Two outside the door is a nice touch. Brown boronias have the most beautiful scent of any plant, for those of us who are able to smell them, and not everyone can. They are from Western Australia, and are notoriously difficult to grow.

Before I read this biography of Eleanor Dark recently, I had planted two brown boronias myself, on a retaining wall outside our dining room, where wide French doors open the room to the garden. They were flowering when I put them in, and have not yet been through a winter and into another flowering season. But I'm taking care with them, mulching them well and surrounding them with rocks to keep the roots cool.

And impulsively, I bought another recently, one not in flower, which is on another wall outside the kitchen window. If all goes well, heavenly scent will waft through the back of the house in spring.

I read that Eleanor hated housework, and would rather be gardening. I concur. And so I would like to ask her how the brown boronias went( they are short lived, only about five years at best), but did they thrive and flower during that time?

I met Eleanor once, when I was about 19, in 1970. She was fifty years older. It was at a meeting of the Federation of Australian Writers, in Sydney, where I went, only once, with someone I knew casually. I got up that night and read a futuristic, intense story I'd written and had published as a teenager. When I sat down, a woman sitting behind me leaned forward to introduce herself. ' Hello, I'm Eleanor Dark,' she said.

Oh. The author of The Timeless Land, I thought, overwhelmed by meeting a Famous Writer. I probably said nothing sensible. She was a formidable woman. Writer, socialist, feminist, conservationist, socially and politically aware far ahead of her times. In the 1970s, we were just catching up with the kind of ideas she put forward in her books.

Now, I might say, I am SO delighted to meet you. Now, about your brown boronias ...


  1. How nice to hear from you, Jo! Lovely post, as always. I'm setting up a little workroom for myself at the moment and I shall take inspiration from Eleanor, and you. While brown boronias are certainly out of my gardening abilities, I will be sure to crowd my tiny square of spare room with succulents and other hard-to-kill plants. But I hope your boronias thrive through winter and out the other side...