Category Archives: Katoomba


IMG_6407I’m in my ideal habitat. I’m sitting at the window at Varuna, the writers’ retreat in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. A crimson rosella – no, three, four, more – have just flown in to sit on the branch just there, a few feet away. All you have to do here is write and, if you’re lucky, talk to Peter Bishop. Peter Bishop is a professional encourager of other writers. The Peter Bishop Way is conducted in a nice posh voice, a knitted jumper that might have biscuit crumbs down the front and an infinite joy in reading and writing. Until March this year, he was caring for his wife, Libby, who had a degenerative disease that left her unable to do a thing, and then she passed away. After she was asleep at night, Peter would start writing. He’d often start with the phrase, “After the last light, another cold night.”  Or something like that. Last night he read out the piece he’s been working on. It starts at Libby’s graveside, goes out to tending an apple orchard in Norway as if he were
Olav Hauge, goes off down an overgrown path with Uncle Vanya and back again. It’s divided into ten sections in the manner of Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations, and each section has ten sub-sections. He just dashes them off in a noisy cafe. I’m copying the idea. I love it. Each sub-section only has to be about 350 words long. Not so daunting. Then you just keep stringing them together until you’ve finished. I’ve just dashed off a piece comparing multiplying cancer cells with multiplying rabbits.

Before I came to Varuna, Deb and I went off to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation day at Rydges Hotel near Central. A series of doctors, researchers and ordinary afflicted people gave presentations. Lots and lots of slides of breasts and breast reconstructions, nipples tattooed, nipples recreated out of spare skin, breasts made out of tummy fat. Before that, on Saturday, we walked all the way to Circular Quay, ate lunch while looking over the harbour, and then headed back towards Central. There was a refugee support march going the same way, so we joined it as far as Town Hall, where it stopped and we kept going. We did a lot of Sydney rallies and marches in the 1980s and ’90s.

It’s my birthday tomorrow. Last birthday, feeling tired and unwell, but before diagnosis, I had a Dr Who themed party complete with a large cardboard TARDIS. Half the potential attendees had to cancel their plans because of the bushfires. It’s a year later, now, and a cascade of water has gone crashing under the bridge. Things are quieter now. I feel fabulously well, and I’ve got time to reflect.

Parakeet Cafe

Parakeet Cafe, Friday, July 10, 2009
Reading sun music by Peter Sculthorpe (got it off the shelf here, will pay for it when I go) and also Randolph Stowe’s The Merry-go-round in the Sea, taken off the shelf at Varuna. I can’t believe it has taken me until now to read MGR in the S. A bit like The Wizard of Oz. It had been around forever, but I’d never actually seen it, until one night at 68 Cleveland Street Chippendale in the year 2000. (Still haven’t, by the way, seen The Sound of Music.) I’m at Varuna for the week. Been here since Monday. Leave on Sunday. Varuna, Parakeet, Mr Pickwick’s bookshop … all I need.

At about 4pm I’m due to have another chat with Peter Bishop, this time in the company of Helen Barnes-Bully. Peter said they were coming around to have an admiration session with me – admiration for The Lucky Galah, my newborn novel.

Cascade Street, Katoomba

6pm Julia’s place, Cascade Street, Katoomba. There’s a house at 40 Fifth Avenue, Katoomba, a long walk from the station, north Katoomba. It looks over the National Park [actually no, a reserve]. Bushfire risk, I guess. I spose I’d grab Prince and put him in his cat cage like Sigourney Weaver did in Alien, and run down the road. There is a back verandah looking out over the bush. I need to have it. I might put a holding deposit on it tomorrow, go into overdrive and do the whole thing. A back verandah to sit on and look out. Cold in winter but beautiful in summer.

On Julia’s fridge, stuck with a magnet, are recent LETS minutes. LETS being the barter scheme they’ve got operating here in the mountains. There, down the page, a reference to Barry and Annolies and the office equipment. So I’m sitting here in Julia’s home and have immediate access to threads from the past.

I’m leaving Newtown. I have loved Newtown from the bottom of my heart. That Neighbourhood Centre. I’ve gone through those doors for so many different reasons. Bob’s showing of The Lone Gunman Theory (in which the gunman assassinates Pauline Hanson), a forum on pornography with Beatrice Faust and Anne Delaney with me as the third speaker, organised by Green Left. On any given Wednesday night, all sorts of things going on, women’s kickboxing, Socialist ? (mental blank – state cap people). I’ve sold Green Left at the railway station opposite, smiling at homecoming city workers, selling heaps and heaps of papers because I was in such a damn good mood, the sunset dazzling me from behind The Hub erotic cinema.

I want to go to Katoomba

8.30am, bedroom, Cleveland Street, at my fabbo big old desk.

Now what can I say? I want to go to Katoomba, live in a pink cottage with galah, volkswagen and palm tree motifs in stained glass throughout. To fund this life, I want to be a freelance writer with a super-duper computer.

I love Newtown to pieces but I think I’ve done Newtown. Katoomba is very colonised by alternative lifestylers and I want to be one. I need to go up to Katoomba, up to the galahs.

Just went and discussed this latest idea with Lisa. We gabbled about how we both have a storng feeling of needing to move on.

PMT art exhibition in just a few days’ time. I took my hands right off it, and it has flourished. Funny that.

I saw a cat at the pet shop yesterday in a cafe. She miaowed at me, talking directly to me: “Hey! You! Get me out of this cafe! Take me home!” I had an instant connection with her. One of those dark brown/black cats with flecks of ginger and gold all over. I really wanted her. Have to be loyal to Prince. Prince and I have a good relationship at the moment, since I came back from Katoomba and felt very happy to see him.

Buying a minute’s peace from Prince

Out the back, courtyard, 68 Cleveland Street. Ten to five in the evening, fading light, unseasonally warm. Someone next door is hacking something with a saw. Thrum – shush – of cars on Cleveland Street. Buying a minute from Prince – a minute’s peace – by doling out a drop of my tea milk. I poured it into his light blue plastic bowl. I have just bought him a royal purple collar and bell. “That’s going to drive you nuts,” I said. But 20 minutes into the experience he’s not all that perturbed. I’m very happy to see him. He looks very fat. He has a lot of people feeding him. Laneway Richard, who I haven’t met, knows Prince. Now we are sitting side by side on the outdoor furniture.

First stop Blues Cafe and there’s Julia in a corner. We tore ourselves from the instant D&M (that’s Deep and Meaningful) to watch the Winter Magic parade from time to time from the doorway of the cafe. Promenading up adn down the main drag, stalls, hippie clothing … I’ll know how to dress next year. Met up with Julia’s friend Ray in his 1970s nylon suit, met up with Michelle who announced her name is now Tyswan. Later in the evening, soup back at Julia’s. Before that, The Godmen. I took a photo of the pink-clad lead singer. I danced, Julia sat it out to one side on a milk crate. Drumming in the evening, African drumming, costumes, dance, all by middle-class white people. Julia and I danced and danced to the drummers along with everyone else including small children on fathers’ shoulders. Met up with Bob and Billy for a moment.

Cold at Julia’s overnight. The quilt slid off overnight.

Back to Blues again for breakfast. Bacon and eggs, huge meal. Capuccino. That’s two capuccinos over that weekend, a real violation of my no-coffee rule.

Then a walk down to 11 Sherman Street to A and M’s place. A walk to the landslide. Julia had bought one dollar Disney bubbles from teh two dollar shop. She blew them all the way on the walk. Bubbles against blue sky. Bubbles floating down to be burst on leaves and twigs. Bubbles against picture-postcard views of mountains. Bubbles to greet other bushwalkers, some delighted, some slightly irritated by the invasion. Back up those stairs. Really, really hard work. Falling behind. Tea and freshly made bread and Shiva the cat back at the house. We read Neruda aloud. We’d say: “Anudder Neruda.” A poem about cats, about a panther, about socks (my fave) and watermelon.

To bed early.

Silence. Deep, deep, deep utter silence. Itchy from being so sweaty and dirty, hadn’t had a shower. Took all my clothes off, hoping this would be less itchy. Trying to sleep in the absolute dark and silence. It was like being suspended in outer space, no reference points. Hard to sleep without the city thrum. Like it must be in a floatation tank. Brought right up against oneself. Too much. Could I live in Katoomba and go to bed in such blackness and silence?