A People's Retreat
People often see a retreat as getting away from people, escaping into your own world and disappearing from sight for a period of time. In actual fact, I came to discover my retreat to be the opposite - it was ALL about people.
With the introduction to new friends, in a new place, fresh ideas germinated. It was invigorating to mix with the ‘write’ people; those who see, and know that, for the visitor, the need to express themselves through words is as natural as the act of breathing. Apart from the wonderful people I met during my stay - Lisa, Shannon, Fern, Laurie and my co-Fellows Sue and Janice (plus all of the wonderful writers that revolve the KSP community), I also came face-to-face with another person whilst there - myself. Writing is necessarily a solitary pursuit and it is really I who can transcribe what I think and feel. The retreat helped me to find that person, believe in them and trust them.
After arriving at my beautiful cabin in Perth’s Darling Ranges, I felt astounded at the appointments of my suite. Inside, I found everything I could ever need for my retreat. I set up my laptop in the large work desk and read the comments in the ‘Visitor’s Book.’ One comment leapt off the page: “… the energy – you cannot not write in this place.” Strangely, I could also feel this energy already. I felt safe and comfortable in my cabin. This was further reinforced by the tree-sized Prickly Pear (that managed to elude the Cactoblastis moth) standing sentry to the doorway of the Aldridge Cabin - my space for the next two weeks.
(Giant Prickly Pear)
Over the next few days, whilst I worked, I could feel the spirits of those who had come before me inscribed in the walls. It was giddying to feel in the midst of giants and, amongst the names of the KSP alumni, I could see some impressive individuals. At times, I felt cradled in Katharine’s arms and when I looked through my window, I could almost see her: transparent, wandering the gardens. The breeze of her spirit rustling the leaves of the Darling Range ghost gums outside. In the evening, I had a view through those same ghost gums to the lights of the Perth skyline.
On the first weekend I was here, I enjoyed a mini-mentor session with Laurie Steed. His feedback was constructive and useful. His support and suggestions will be something I reflect on when further polishing my manuscript.
I also enjoyed the Sundowner Session with Laurie (hosted by Holden Sheppard) where he discussed his latest book You Belong Here. The following day was a luncheon with my co-Fellows at the The Principal in Midland.
(Laurie Steed - right)
(Principal Bar and Restaurant - Sue, Ashleigh and Janice)
Sometimes, I was roused from my work by the calls of magpies in the trees outside or a distant diesel-chug as a truck climbed Greenmount or the distant ‘god-of-thunder’ rumble of a jet. These sounds that reminded me I was still part of a real world while, at the same time, protected from it. It was at these times I’d take opportunity to make a coffee and gaze to the horizon where new inspiration lifted me. On occasion, I stepped away from the desk and went for walk. I visited the Blackboy Hill Commemorative Site through which my grandfather passed on his way to war. In that place, I felt connected to him as the trees that witnessed his passage, also saw mine.
I visited the abandoned Swan View Railway tunnel and I know the many passing trains of the past had carried countless stories through it.
(Swan View Tunnel)
I’d heard there were chances to spot some native birds so I bought my Field Guide to Australian Birds. I was lucky enough to spot a rare Red-tailed Black Cockatoo and admire flocks of Twenty-eights as they passed by chattering with their sharp ‘teu-wit teoo’ call (or ‘twenty-eight’) and impressing with their speed and agility. I wrote of these birds in my children’s picture book Dancing Charli where Charli and Gordon “… did the twist in Perth/Near the end of their trip/With some green Twenty-eights/Who chirped chip-chip, chip-chip.” It was great to see these birds on a daily basis.
(Twist In Perth)
Winter is glorious for me and I recall as a ten-year-old child reading in cosy, closed-in verandah at the rear of a weatherboard house in the Bickley Valley. I loved the sound of heavy rain bombarding the corrugated-iron roof overhead. It is remarkable to think that, at some stage in the future, the same person would one day arrive a few kilometres along the range to write the words others read.
Throughout my retreat, I found it incredible to have the luxury of a dedicated writing space; a ‘room of one’s own; an Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole; a mission-brown TARDIS where time was lost but words found. A world far from reality but, at the same time, so near.
At last my time was up and, although there was a twinge of sadness to be leaving, I nevertheless felt ecstatic when I looked ahead to the next phase of my writing journey. In moving forward, know the spirit of KSP will be looking over my shoulder to inspire and guide me.
(Katharine Mosaic - right)
Morcombe, M 2004 Field Guide to Australian Birds Steve Parrish Publishing p. 198.
Wood, A 2016 Dancing Charli envirobook