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I Came So Far For Beauty

It’s my last day in the Clarke Cabin at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre – I’m doing the final load of washing, putting books back in the library, and packing up my gear. It’s been a varied couple of weeks for me – brights and darks – but that’s life. Someone dear to me has advanced cancer, and I felt very far away from my family at times. Yesterday, I discovered the guest books that are kept in the Aldridge Cabin. I wish I’d read though these on the first day of my stay - so many inspirational writers, so much practical advice on where to walk, where to eat, and where to go when you need to get away.

Like other writers have mentioned, it seems to take a few days to settle in. I live in regional NSW, so I’m not used to the sounds of the city. But after a few days, the noise from the planes and the traffic didn’t seem to bother me so much. Instead, the bird calls in the garden and the buzz of the bees outside my cabin seemed to intensify. I loved living amongst the garden at KSP. On sunny days, I took a blanket outside and lay under the trees, reading Tracy Farr’s novel The Lives and Loves of Lena Gaunt – marvelling at the fact that I was lying outside on a blanket, reading. Such a simple joy.

I’m currently developing a new work which explores my Dutch family background and the German Occupation of Amsterdam during WWII. During my first days at KSP, I realised that a research trip to the Netherlands was actually essential for this project and that I needed to do it sometime soon. So, I sent off an application for a residency at OBRAS Holland … and three days later I heard I was successful. This felt like a bit of ‘KSP magic’ to me. I also had some wonderful insights into my writing while I was here (and I loved writing these insights on the whiteboard in my cabin and staring at them for lengthy periods of time).

Because I’m still in the excavation phase of this new project, I’ve been working through some of the exercises in Judith Barrington’s Writing the Memoir – and I've found these exercises a useful way to generate new material, often from unexpected places.

I feel very fortunate to have been here with Cath Drake (all the way from London) and Jen Mapleson (all the way from Roleystone, 30 minutes away). We had some fun times – sharing meals in the kitchen, laughing about the cats, visiting cafes in Mundaring and Darlington Road, and talking about writing. One afternoon, we had a very special time ‘clearing the energy’ up at the house. I’ll always remember that afternoon – the smell of sage, rosemary and gum leaves, the bouquets of wildflowers, and the honesty of our intentions.

Another highlight was an impromptu garden tour with Fern Pendragon – where I heard the story of how Katharine and Hugo created the clay path which Fern is painstakingly restoring. I also enjoyed seeing the inside of Katharine’s studio, and I was impressed by the dedication of the writers I met at the Thursday Night Writers’ Group and the Nonfiction Writers’ Group.

Other delights? Cath’s ‘Sundowner’ poetry reading was enlightening, the brownies at Café Mojo in Mundaring were superb, the natural beauty of John Forrest National Park was majestical, the railway tunnel was a spooky thrill, and the dinner at the Principal Bar & Restaurant in Midland with my fellow writers and Mardi May was delicious.

To quote Leonard Cohen: ‘I came so far for beauty’ … and although it was far to come for a two-week Fellowship (with all its brights and darks) – I’m glad I experienced the beauty of KSP. I often thought of Katharine while I was in the kitchen or when I wandered down the path to my studio – of her living here for fifty years, of the tragedies she experienced, and of her creating the foundation of this writerly haven in Greenmount.

What a woman. What a gift.

Thanks to all the dedicated staff, volunteers and writers who make the KSP experience possible.

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