Kylie’s hut: bushfires destroyed the writing retreat of an Aussie literary icon

Mark Hodges/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Brigid Magner, RMIT University

The Black Summer bushfires may have ended, but the cultural cost has yet to be counted.

Thousands of Aboriginal sites were likely destroyed in the 2019 bushfires. But at present, there is no clarity about the numbers of precious artefacts lost.

Though recent by comparison, relics from Australian literary heritage have also been reduced to ash. Last year’s bushfires destroyed a hut built specially for author Kylie Tennant (1912–1988) at Diamond Head, and many High Country huts associated with A.B “Banjo” Paterson’s The Man From Snowy River.

Thankfully, NSW Parks and Wildlife Service are making plans to rebuild Kylie Tennant’s hut. But after this devastating loss, it’s impossible to ever fully recreate the authentic atmosphere of Tennant’s writing retreat.

Kylie’s hut after the recent bushfires tore through.
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

The undeniable romance of Kylie’s hut

Tennant was best known for her social realist studies of working-class life from the 1930s, including her Depression novels The Battlers (1941) and Ride on Stranger (1943).

During the second world war, Tennant moved to Laurieton with her husband and their daughter Benison, and lived there until 1953. At nearby Diamond Head, she met Ernie Metcalfe, a returned serviceman from the first world war and well-known local bushman.

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Metcalfe felt Tennant had paid him too much for the land she bought from him, which was partly why he offered to build the hut. Bill Boyd, who later restored the hut, remembers

Kylie would insist on paying him […] she only paid him about 25 pounds which was a lot of money in that time.

Metcalfe was memorialised in her non-fiction book The Man on the Headland (1971). From the beginning, fire played a part in the hut’s life.

The first summer, as though Dimandead [Diamond Head] had made a sudden bid against this new invasion, a fire leapt the creek and came so close to the house that one window cracked in the heat.

Ernie fought the fire single-handed and when we arrived he was standing sooty with ash in his beard in a blackened desert with the house safe in the middle.

While appearing to be an ordinary bushman’s dwelling, “the romance” of Kylie’s Hut was “undeniable”, according to Andrew Marshall, a marine wildlife project officer in the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service. It’s fondly remembered by locals, tourists and aspiring writers who have visited since the 1980s.

Its location in a campground was unique because it quietly coexisted with holidaymakers rather than being relegated to a specially demarcated, curated space. However, this lack of protection left it exposed to the elements and the predations of climate change.

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Protecting Crowdy Bay National Park

In 1976, Tennant donated the hut and the surrounding land to Crowdy Bay National Park, partly to try to protect the environment from ongoing rutile mining.

The creation of the Crowdy Bay National Park was facilitated not only by Tennant’s gift, but also by the earlier dispossession of the Birpai peoples and the re-zoning of their land.

Kylie Tennant donated her hut to Crowdy Bay National Park.

It’s also important to acknowledge Tennant’s tendency to erase the Indigenous presence in this book. In the opening chapter, Tennant writes that Diamond Head’s “aborigines were gone, all gone, like the smoke blown from their fires”.

The erroneous belief that previous inhabitants had “disappeared”, meant the story of Tennant and Metcalfe’s friendship, symbolised by the hut, effectively obscured earlier stories of the Traditional Owners.

Restoration worthy of preservation

Local bush carpenter Bill Boyd substantially refurbished Kylie’s Hut in the early 1980s. A master of old forestry and timber working tools, Boyd used the restoration of Kylie’s Hut as a way to share his knowledge of the uses of broad-axe and adze (an axe-like tool with an arched blade).

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Aside from its association with Tennant, the hut has additional significance because it was built using “unpretentious construction techniques” and displays “a unity of form, design and scale”, according to Libby Jude, a ranger from the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service.

It was composed of “strong, natural textures” associated with the fabric of the place in which it stood. And the specialised restoration methods Boyd used are heritage practices that are themselves worthy of preservation.

Kylie’s Hut post restoration.
Benison Rodd, Author provided

Boyd also passed on his knowledge to younger carpenters while restoring many of the High Country huts, some dating back to the 1860s and associated with The Man From Snowy River. Most of these were also razed by the recent bushfires.

Members of the Kosciuszko Huts Association have expressed their desire to restore the huts, but a conversation about when and how they could be reconstructed will be well down the track.

Australian literary heritage is often forgotten

Unlike the United Kingdom, where literary properties are routinely listed on maps, Australia tends not to proudly celebrate sites related to its writers.

Aside from the work done by the National Trust, literary societies and enthusiasts in regional communities mostly drive the protection of Australian literary sites.

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Ideally, there should be a more coordinated approach to our literary heritage which could identify vulnerable structures and take steps to ensure that, wherever possible, they’re not wiped out by natural and man-made disasters.

The memorialisation of Kylie’s Hut, which began in the 1980s as a response to her book The Man on the Headland, rendered black history peripheral to the central story of bushmen like Metcalfe living in the area. Nevertheless, it was an accessible literary site stimulating awareness of aspects of our cultural history, which might otherwise remain almost completely unknown.The Conversation

Brigid Magner, Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Children’s Library at the State Library of NSW

The link below is to an article reporting on the opening of The Children’s Library at the State Library of NSW (Australia) for the first time on the 12th October 2019.

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2019 NSW Premier’s History Awards Winners

The link below is to an article that takes a look at the winners of the 2019 NSW Premier’s History Awards.

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An armchair, a desk and 4000 books: the Horne family study gets a second life

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The study shared by Donald and Myfanwy Horne photographed in 2014.
Karl Schwerdtfeger Photography.

Julia Horne, University of Sydney

The Donald and Myfanwy Horne Room will open today in a gracious space in the State Library of New South Wales. One side of it is adorned with objects from the home where I lived with my family, my father Donald Horne (1921-2005), author of The Lucky Country and numerous other books, and my mother, journalist and editor Myfanwy Horne (1933-2013) who wrote as Myfanwy Gollan.

The rest of the room is set aside for study based on ideals of scholarly curiosity, imaginative inquiry and intellectual creativity. As my father wrote shortly before he died, words like curiosity and imagination help “celebrate scholarship and the marvels of the intellectual life more generally”.

Donald Horne at his desk in 1969.
Author provided

The State Library has selected certain objects from my family home to inspire their scholars and fellows program — an upholstered mid-20th century armchair, a large 19th century pedestal desk and a collection of some 4000 books.

The armchair, now upholstered in a dark green material over the original knobbly grey fabric, was acquired by my parents to furnish their first home in 1960, a small, rented two-bedroom garden flat in Sydney’s leafy Double Bay.

It was on this chair, in 1964, that my father sat “pen in hand, pad on knee”, as my mother later wrote, “to write The Lucky Country”. I was too young to remember this act of defiance, as some now see it — after all, surely a serious writer sits at a desk. The act itself was born out of necessity, and only later became symbolic (at least in my parents’ minds) when my father acquired a new string to his professional bow — a writer of books.

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In the early years of their marriage in their small flat, my parents had a choice: to turn a spare room into a dining room or into a study with a desk. A dining room it became, and instead of a desk, they purchased a mahogany dining table. Not only does this choice show the importance of the dining room in middle class Australia, but also the consequence my parents gave to the well-planned dinner party. My father even brought to his marriage several signature dishes, including a delectable petit pois dish I still cook to this day as well as Ted Moloney’s and George Molnar’s Cooking for Bachelors (1959).

The Lucky Country came out of formal quests for knowledge, but also arose out of congenially robust discussion around the dining room table. My mother acquired a new professional role, as editor of all her husband’s books and much of his other published writing. The armchair, then, marks a state of transformation in my parents’ working and personal lives and in their home, as an enduring workshop of ideas.

Myfanwy Horne at her desk in the study, 1973.
Author provided.

In 1966, we moved from our rented flat to our new house, a late 19th century two-storey terrace with room for both a dining room and a study. It remained my parents’ home for the rest of their lives and was not sold until 2015. The spacious, high-ceiling upstairs room at the front was soon furnished as a writers’ study.

Book cases graced either side of the fireplace, one with a small built-in desk for my mother to work at on her typewriter. The French doors leading on to the front verandah were shaded by heavy, satin, mustard coloured curtains. The centrepiece was the large, 19th century pedestal desk chosen by my mother. Placed in the middle of the room at a slightly raffish angle, my father savoured the room as a place to write, surrounded by bookcase-lined walls.

As he later wrote, “sitting at the desk Myfanwy had chosen for me became one of our essential ceremonies” of intellectual life together. “My writing came from a joint workshop of which she was a part. Not only the dinners and lunch parties that helped keep things going: without her emotional support and intellectual support I don’t know that I would have ‘become a writer’.”

Books and the green armchair in the Donald and Myfanwy Horne Room.
Photo courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales.

Books that influenced my father’s writing and thinking are now displayed in beautiful glass cabinetry in the State Library. You can peruse the spines for a quick trip through 20th century ideas, global politics and history, its revolutions, art, political philosophy, sociology. Well-thumbed copies include A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by the 18th century advocate of women’s rights, Mary Wollstonecraft, and The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies by the 20th century cultural theorist, Roland Barthes, for its critique of bourgeois culture.

Many of the books include his annotations — paper clips, discrete dots, vertical lines and squiggles — making it possible to trace some of what inspired his own social and political critique. The English translations of the writings of the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, for instance, were marked up for his favourite passages on hegemony, “common sense” and the idea that we are all intellectuals. They represent, in many ways, his scholarly footnotes.

“I’ll just go to the study to look it up,” is a refrain I often heard from my parents. Rather than reconstruct their study, the artefacts in the State Library’s Donald and Myfanwy Horne Room have been chosen to continue the intellectual pursuit of conversation and ideas.

The ConversationYou can work at the desk, sit in the green armchair and — by application to the librarian — peruse the books and decipher the scrawls left by my father. These objects are not only tokens of two productive writing lives, but an inspiration to future generations who believe that books and ideas matter.

Julia Horne, University Historian and Principal Research Fellow, History, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Reading for moral self-improvement or therapy can occasionally feel a little grim

Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia

This week’s Sydney Writers’ Festival not only celebrates the art of writing, but the art of reading. Of course, it is difficult not to worry that this might be because the art of reading – that is, deep, critical, transformative reading – has been so radically transformed in the age of big data and Internet skimming that – along with ink and paper – it might be considered to be endangered, too.

Much of the program seems focused on the special kind of paying attention that reading demands – and its pay off in intangible commodities such as curiosity, wonder and awe. It features events that are dedicated not just to the new, but to the enduring influence of the old, in which writers have been asked to talk less about their own work, and more about the works of others that inspired them.

Deborah Adelaide talks about The Women’s Pages (2015), but also about her lifelong fascination with Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights that inspired it. Frank Moorhouse talks about reading that Victorian marvel George Eliot, and the debt that his own capacious volumes featuring Edith Campbell Berry might owe to it.

Gail Jones talks about the strange excitement of reading Nabokov. Don Watson, in conversation Delia Falconer, discusses the wondrous works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Tegan Bennett Daylight brings the spotlight to bear on the wry, self-deprecating humour of the mid-twentieth century American short-form author JS Perelmen, who may well be new to festival audiences. Jonathan Franzen, in conversation with Daylight, not only talks about Purity (2015), his latest book, but also his vociferous reading life, encompassing the works of obscure and dazzling authors who are seldom read today, including, no doubt, Franzen’s long-standing infatuation with the scathing social satires of the early twentieth-century Austrian writer, Karl Kraus.

There are many different kinds of reading. The festival concentrates on the sort that brings art and life together. Artistic Director Jemma Birrell says, “A good festival, like a good book, should bring real-life benefits.“ Consequently, the program bristles with panels on the Books that Made Me, the Books that Changed Me, and the Books that Saved Me. It features a Literary Healing Room tended by bibliotherapists – that is, book doctors – who administer small doses of book buying as remedy and solace in an alienated world. (You can find these curious doctors at the School of Life in Sydney, Melbourne, and London, where they can be consulted in person or via Skype, at all hours.)

Marcel Proust, with his unsparing insight into human passions and illusions, recognised that there are “pathological circumstances” in which reading can become a sort of “curative discipline”.

But there’s something a little disquieting in the therapeutic cure. I find it odd, for example, that you can also purchase a “philosopher’s jumper” made of trendy black wool from the School of Life’s online shop – a touch overpriced at A$258.94 – in the hope that it will bestow wisdom or insight whenever you wear it. (It’s advertised as modelled on one that belonged to Martin Heidegger, which also seems an odd choice, given Heidegger was a Nazi.)

Also at the festival, philosopher Damon Young talks about the “ethics of reading” and the “virtues” that he claims reading engenders. In an era of clickbate, when articles have transformed into listicles, in which many of us struggle to read a text more than 140 characters long – and more are happy to outsource our critical capacities to a data algorithm known as Google – reading a book certainly demands something that is increasingly harder to find.

According to Young, reading has the capacity to teach us curiosity, patience, courage, pride, temperance and justice, to gloss the chapters of his recent book, The Art of Reading (2016).

In Young’s model of reading, it is not the book but the reader who bring these virtues into being. He argues – as, indeed, literary scholars have argued for several decades – that it may not be the reader who writes the book, but it is the reader who completes its meaning.

It is the imagination of the reader that brings the book into existence. Without a reader, a book is just a strange pattern of black marks on a page.

It is not that Young confuses art and life. He argues,

Ordinary life has a hazy atmosphere to it, whereas language illuminates brightly and sharply.

Life, in short, is much harder to navigate.

Young’s model of reading for moral self-improvement, like the bibliotherapists’ model of reading for therapy, or the current Sydney festival’s model of reading for life, can occasionally feel a little grim and prescriptive, because they skip over the idea of reading for pleasure or plain fun.

It is often a mistake to go straight for what is said, ignoring how it is said. However tempting it may be to feel that novels contain a world complete, novelistic characters are, as Samuel Beckett unkindly said of Balzac, mere “clockwork cabbages” in comparison to real people.

Books bring solace because they provide meaning when life does not. They do this because they are aesthetically patterned in a way that the real world is not.

Sometimes it is just the happy syntax of a sentence – the way it unwinds and surprises and satisfies. In this, books can also be deceptive. The fact is, how something is said is more often than not the thing that makes the reader feel what they do.

The Conversation

Camilla Nelson, Senior Lecturer in Writing, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia: NSW – The Mitchell Library

The link below is to an article that takes a look at the history and future of the Mitchell Library in NSW, Australia.

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Article: Lance Armstrong Books Moved to Fiction

Australians like to tell it as it is and in that spirit a library in Sydney has moved its Lance Armstrong books to the fiction section.

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‘The Fatal Shore,’ by Robert Hughes

This is not the usual book review I guess, as I haven’t yet read the entire book. I have however started to read this book, which I think is now regarded as a must read on early Australian history. I have read the first 5 chapters or the first 157 pages – it is a 688 page work.

‘The Fatal Shore’ is by Robert Hughes and was first published in Great Britain by Collins Harvill in 1987. My edition is the paperback edition of 1996, published by The Harvill Press in London.

‘The Fatal Shore’ is the story of convict settlement in Australia, from the early history of transportation from England to Australia, including the steps that led to it. It describes in straight forward, matter of fact way, the plight of English convicts being sent to Botany Bay in all of its brutal reality. The reality of the picture painted by Robert Hughes removes any lingering thoughts of pioneering adventure with which the convicts may have been involved in. It is a harsh world, where the punishment dished out far exceeded the crimes involved in many, many cases.

There are individual accounts of convicts and their crimes, with detailed descriptions of the horrors they endured on a voyage to New South Wales or one of the other colonies as they were established around Australia.

It is not just a story of the convicts, it is a story of invasion, as Aboriginal Australia gave way before the steady push of colonial endeavour by the English invaders. It is the story of the red coats, of the sailors, of the governors, etc. In short, it is a history of the convict era in Australia and all that it brought with it.

I am enjoying this account of early Australian history and would recommend it to anyone who has not yet read it – especially those living in Australia. It seems to me to be a more honest account of Australia’s early history than that which we may hear about in school – if we hear much about it at all. A must read.

Changing the World: November 12 – Compiling a Directory

Today’s suggestion for changing the world was to create a directory of local community events/groups. This suggestion is something that intrigues me a little. Why? Well, it would be interesting to know just how many groups are operating in and around Tea Gardens in New South Wales, Australia.

I can think of quite a number just off the top of my head – so a directory for Tea Gardens would be quite large. It is certainly something I could do – but it could be quite time consuming to do properly. One never knows, I may do this in the future at some point.

But not today.