Urban Designer - Vernacular Architect - Maritime Planner - Owner-Builder - Servant of Piglet - Educator - Author - Revolutionary - Peacenik - Tour Guide 

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Helen's Australia Print E-mail
A poppy for Helen
Ansett had collapsed on Wednesday, grounding all Ansett planes. My global rewards frequent flyer free ticket to Australia had collapsed along with the airline.

Every tree is an art work
It had been a traumatic week for anyone thinking about flying.

On Tuesday 11 September four commercial planes had been hijacked in the USA. Two had been flown into the World Trade Centre, causing both towers to collapse. One had been flown into the Pentagon. The last had crashed while on its way to presumably fly into the White House. All flights in the USA had been grounded, causing chaos.

Ansett had collapsed on Wednesday, grounding all Ansett planes. My global rewards frequent flyer free ticket to Australia had collapsed along with the airline.

Flight Centre would not even sell a replacement Air New Zealand ticket on the assumption that this airline would also go to the wall.

In the midst of all this I had been extremely sick. Too sick to go anywhere. Even to Graduation. With even a slight improvement I knew I had to beat the downhill spiral, so I bought a ticket to Australia.

Eucalyptus art


Walter Burley Griffin chairs


Wollongong steel mill




Wollombi letter boxes


Red Belly Black snake


st Albans rock escarpment


Wisemans Ferry


Sofala rock




Helen's house Hilldale


Morris restored by John


Mumbulla Mountain
Karaka Bay - Sydney
Saturday 15 September 2001

Up at 6.30. Cleaned up. Packed. Left a message for Ruth France to say she was welcome to stay at the Bay. It seemed there was only a 50% chance that the plane would be flying, so there seemed to be no point in being too well organised. Left a stack of food for Kitty on the table.

Jeffrey was in the carpark. He had cancelled his trip to the USA to do the "Piglet" Discovery TV programme. After the destruction of the World Trade Centre he concluded that Karaka Bay was the place to be.

Left Lisa at Papatoetoe, and Clive took me on to the airport. Long queues to even get into the Departure area, as there is a full baggage security check. Everything is however running smoothly enough. Farewell to Clive over a cup of coffee. Bought a 7 day pack of 8 x 36 400 Max.

Away on Thai flight TG992 to Sydney at 1.45pm. Tom and Wailin are waiting at the gate, also heading off to Sydney, for a book launch. Managed to chat but could not arrange a seat swap to be together. The plane is almost totally full. I can only see one spare seat. An aisle seat as I had forgotten to ask for a window. The 777-300 has a very tight seat configuration. A meal.

Helen, who is very sick and coughing violently, is waiting at the airport, and is delighted to find more than one person to welcome. A taxi to Marrickville costs around $12 which is very reasonable.

The density and scale of Sydney houses are such a contrast to Auckland. Verandahs and privacy rather than Auckland boxes. Helen Sanderson's house at 4 Gordon Square is very Sydney, but has an astonishingly long thin garden out the back.

Crashed for an hour on the bed and then rather surprisingly revived and felt great. Fresh juice. A shower. A cup of tea. It was clear that a change of environment was exactly what I needed.

Off on the 428 bus to Circular Quay to experience Sydney on a Saturday night. The route in through Newtown is busy, with shops most of the way. The new glass and steel bus station close to Central. Walked out to the Opera House and mingled with the Opera and Symphony crowds. It really is a fantastic building, and feels as fresh and good as ever.

The "toaster" buildings are terrible. The covered way has gone. Found the Museum of Sydney. Listened to the sounds of the totem poles. The Rocks has changed little. Endless yuppies and endless restaurants. A late 428 bus back to Helen Sanderson's and very glad to crash.

Anzac memorial
Palm Beach
Sunday 16 September 2001

A rather lazy morning. Fresh fruit and yoghurt. Enjoying Gordon Square. Began sorting through maps and itineraries and making decisions. Glenn Murcutt has switched his phone to fax, and so has Paul Pholeros. Ric and Karen have friends coming to lunch and they invite us to join them.

By 428 bus to the centre of town and a short walk to William Street. Checked car rentals at Thrifty and Hertz. Hertz was cheaper. An extra $22 a day reduces the excess from $2350 to $350. If you pay for a full tank at 79c/litre you can return the car empty. Almost by chance they note that there is a Sydney directory in the car. In fact there is not, but they give us a new one. A charge of $40 is made for anyone stealing it, which is around the retail price. My concern at not being able to find my own copy fades. They are happy about either reducing or extending the hire time, which gives us flexibility. A turquoise Ford Laser 1.6 4 door is waiting, so off we drive.

Over the bridge. Mosman, but I decide to look for Glenn later. Spit Bridge. An idyllic site for a city. Water. Inlets. Boats. Magical light. Pittwater Road. Barrenjoey Road. Modest traffic density, but it keeps moving. The character changes as we approach Palm Beach. The ocean beach. A walk across the dunes.

A walk down the Pittwater side of Palm Beach to see the house where Helen lived for six years, and from which she left to come to New Zealand. Magic. The vernacular bach. A generous glazed verandah. A patch of grass. White sand. Five pelicans looking for lunch. A great assortment of moored boats. Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park across the water. Dinghies, relaxed people, and rails running across the sand. The perfection and rich diversity of place before the planners arrive. The fact that it has survived in Sydney is encouraging.

We talk to a neighbour, Sheila Raphael, who remembers Helen from ten years ago. She tells us that repairs to "Helen's house" are in progress so we browse in to find, quite by chance Doctor Hilde Bune, the owner. Her husband was killed in the Second World War, and then she went on to complete a medical degree. She talks about the history of the area and her family. Photographs on the wall indicate how growth has covered the dunes and houses have crept along the beach.

Beneath the perfect exterior danger lurks. The Council has imposed punitive land taxes. $25,000 for a year. Instead of protecting and respecting the integrity of place the planners are destroying it to increase their rating base and financial control. Will it survive? Will Karaka Bay survive? What is the purpose of planning?

I find later that there is apparently no tax on the property in which you are living.

A complex network of roads on the Bilgoa Plateau leads to the "touch the earth lightly" shed-house of Paul Pholeros. A timber staircase scrambles ever upwards over the rocky outcrops, winding up past the decks to enter the house from the rear. Only a stepladder leads on up to the "office-shed", perched even higher up the hill. The steel frame is braced with steel. Everything is open, but Paul could be far away. Belonging in place, like the Bluegums which also cling tenaciously to the hillside.

Explored a little to find the nearest "bay", but it becomes clear that Paul just follows the footpath from the house straight down to the water. Retraced our steps back through the very mediocre adjacent housing to Barrenjoey Road, and then around to Church Point.

Karen was right. On a Sunday parking is chaotic and impossible. Almost parked to block in a trailer, but hesitated to provoke anger. Finally tucked into the edge of the road some distance away. Ran back, but the fifteen minutes we had spent going in circles was too much. The 4.30 boat had just left, and the next one would be at 5.30. Tried to get a water taxi, but they were all busy. Spent the time buying some wine and fruit to take with us, and having a delicious vegetable pie out on the wharf. Caught the 5.30 boat.

Scotland Island is a delight. Dozens of small jetties. Only a few houses are pretentious. Most are very laid-back, as are the people. It seems as though the planners have stayed away, but that may not be true. Certainly the inspectors ignore Lovett Bay, allowing wonderful creativity to blossom.

The sun fades into colour as the day dies. Ric's boat is parked on the Lovett Bay wharf, waiting for anti-fouling. A short walk across the slipways, and as we go up the steps to the house Mallee meets us. The new house is a reincarnation of the old. A single space which remains open to the elements. Bays with storage alternate with bays with a single round window. The fireplace is wider than the 2405 module with the difference absorbed in the flexible corner. Hanging flaps can be lowered to close the windows, and hanging doors lowered to close off the front. The low eaves put the simple wooden hooks within easy reach. A low level exterior storage shelf, with boxes, runs continuously around two sides below the round windows, leaving the main space empty apart from a simple table. Mattresses are stored on a small mezzanine over the central bays of the space.

The outside kitchen tucks under the very generous 9' cantilevered verandah overhang. The lack of any posts allows for the perfect relationship with the landscape. Steel ties can be put in place to stop the roof from blowing away. Boatbuilding technology leaves everything pared down to a minimum. Wire ties strengthen the frail mezzanine. Gussets to take the load of the cantilever are glued but everything else is screwed so that the whole house can be taken apart. Ric has not used the system for any other house, although he observes that there is certainly a need for good modular housing.

A Japanese bath is out on the deck where the old one used to be. However the plank to the old long drop has gone and now there is a new ablution block. It is open to the elements. The green hardwood was bent to the form of the roof and allowed to set.

For the three children it has been a long day and Karen needs to be at work in the morning, so we make moves to depart on the last ferry at 7pm. They insist however that we stay for something to eat. The children go to bed and listen to a story.

The whole family is going to Glenorchy next week. Ric designed a table for Jane Campion and to thank him Jane suggested a week at her farm at Glenorchy. Ric feels that Glenn is now spending so much time overseas that he is losing his grip on the Australian landscape. For Ric there is no compromise.

In "Tetrascroll" Buckminster Fuller described how canoe building taught the "Austronesians" (as he called them) to build lightweight structures in tension, rather than heavy compressive structures like those of the Greco-Roman tradition. Ric, Paul and Glenn have all built tensile houses, but meanwhile their impact on the typical Australian house has been minimal. On my next trip I must find some Queensland work in the tensile tradition by Gabriel Poole.

Ric rings for a water taxi. It is at the wharf in less than ten minutes, and we are at Church Point very soon after. It is too late to go back up to Marjorie. Back down the Wakehurst Parkway, across the harbour bridge, and the Pyrmont Bridge Road takes us to Crystal Road and Addison Road. A second night at Helen Sanderson's in Gordon Square.

Ric tells us that Bill Lucas, architect, has died and the funeral will be on Thursday. Helen would like to go, but there seems to be no way we can be back in Sydney. Ric regards him as the person who taught him about architecture.

It astonishes me as we travel around to see that so many Australians seem to "shelter" from the sun behind venetians, screens and curtains in an atmosphere which I find very oppressive. In contrast most architects both embrace and celebrate the exquisite soft evening light and the superb landscape. Language is important. Ric dissolves the wall completely away and lives in the landscape.

Cynthia Haultain
Marrickville - Wollongong
Monday 17 September 2001

Packed all our gear into the car and borrowed sheets and blankets from Helen S. Helen M is really sick and constantly coughing so it seems advisable to head for the doctor at the local medical centre. We are there by 11.15 and I wait in the car while Helen gets antibiotics and some stitches removed. Time well spent, and I amuse myself people watching, wondering about their lives.

On south to Engadine to find Leo Kelly waiting on the street, outside his medical centre, confident that we would arrive at 2pm as Helen had arranged earlier by telephone. It was a miracle which brought us there on time, not good organisation. Coffee and lunch in the nearby mall, as he shares poetry, writings and thoughts. He was one of the founders of the Momota Foundation.

Took Leo home to Heathcote. His heroes decorate the wall. The little cottage reminded me of Ben Gurion's at Sede Boker.

South past the Royal National Park, and then we follow the coast road to Wollongong. From Stanwell Tops Lookout we look down to Stanwell Park. Small remote communities dwarfed by the dramatic landscape. Scarborough is where Ken Orchard used to live.

Rain and darkness overtake us. Stopped at a garage to get excellent directions to Figtree, and found that Edward Street, where Jane lives,  was almost adjacent. Called in and found everyone just going out. Gave Maddie and Sam, Helen's great-niece and great-nephew, presents on the verandah, and on our way again.

Our timing was perfect for Dave & Glenys, who lead busy lives. Shared a meal they were about to dish up. Dave took Tess to Judo and went on to choir. Tom went to scouts. I went with Glenys to pick Tess up from judo, and then we did a tour of the perimeter of the steelworks, passing the largest Buddhist centre in Australia on the way. Talked late into the night and collapsed in the guest suite, which was conveniently empty.

Fire hydrant and hose in bushfire
Wollongong - Batemans Bay
Tuesday 18 September 2001

A family breakfast. Dave takes a late start for work, and we farewell him around 8.30am. Then we follow Glenys who takes Tess to school. Looked at her Uluru project. Great work, deserving its A+ grade. Looked at other work, and the work of other students. How does all this creativity manage to disappear before anyone reaches the Planning Department? Met Tess's teacher. Left as everyone gathered for the school assembly to begin the day.

Glenys leads us on to Mailer Avenue, and goes on to give a tutorial at the University at 9.30. Tom goes with her as he has a headache and does not want to go to school.

Quadriplegic John and paraplegic Akiko are an inspiration. He has a didgeridoo on a stand which makes it possible for him to play from his wheelchair. His arms are useless to him, but with his mouth he turns over the album pages to show photos of their trip around Japan. They took their own van with them, as Japan could only offer a much more expensive alternative. The paintings are done with his mouth, and friends have helped him restore the Morris Commercial truck which sits proudly in the carport. Akiko zips around in her wheelchair and makes us a cup of coffee.

Akiko originally came to Australia for a holiday after winning compensation from Ciba-Geigy, met John, and Helen was bridesmaid at their wedding. She gives Helen "no one's perfect" by H Ototake, a Japanese born with no arms or legs, who went on to play basketball and graduate from Waseda University.

A helper arrives to take Akiko shopping, while another stays with John as he cannot help himself if he goes into spasm.

We go on to tour the steel mill perimeter in daylight, looking at the laboratory where Dave works and enjoying the industrial architecture around the port. The coastal route to Shellharbour, and a pause at Kiama to look at the blowhole out on the headland. By good coincidence the Information Centre tells us about the Boyd Centre.

The Nowra Information Office is helpful, ringing through to the Boyd Education Centre to arrange for us to visit. It takes a little persuading but we insist as the Centre is supposed to be open to visitors on Tuesdays. They will allow us to come if we are gone before 1.30pm. It is already close to 1pm. The last section of the access road is indeed one way and fairly rough. We are welcomed graciously and left to explore. Later we learn that they are preparing for a crisis meeting tomorrow with folks coming up from Sydney. No financial arrangements are ever as simple as they seem.

The site is exquisite, poised above a bend in the Shoalhaven River. Three old houses screen the new building as you approach. You park, walk up to the verandah of the house above, pass beneath the magnolia and suddenly all is revealed. The scale is smaller than I expected, and the large courtyard separating the houses from the welcoming canopy make it seem even smaller. This is a monastery. A place of pilgrimage. I think of La Tourette and Ronchamp.

The axis of the accommodation is at a slight angle to the community space, with the relationship absorbed by a classic Murcutt gutter. Every detail is minimal. There are no door frames. Options exist for layers of screening. The accommodation windows can be completely opened, swinging out to lie alongside the fins, or small "Dutch door" inserts can be opened to give insect screened ventilation. The bold scale of the stair fins at the southern end contrast with the lightness of the northern canopy. Each aspect of the building has its own relationship to place.

Peace. Silence. Tranquillity. The goanna which welcomed us at the bridge is still there when we return.

Back to the Nowra Information Centre to thank them. They direct us on the Orient Bay, some 20km away, out on the coast. Here we find lazy lagoons, mangroves, and an exquisite and complex coastal edge. It is not so easy finding Seagull Street, but eventually with the help of locals, the shop, and an aboriginal community, we make it.

The house looks closed and deserted, but to our surprise Rosalie answers the door. Almost before the coffee is poured and the biscuits presented by Jennifer they have discovered that we hope to get as far as Batemans Bay tonight, and ring ahead to Donald, who offers a bed for the night. Talk of family and friends.

Back to Nowra, as they assured us we would get lost trying to follow the coast, and then south to Batemans Bay. Darkness overtakes us, but there is little to see on this inland road, and we will revisit the interesting southern end in the morning.

Denhams Beach is 7km beyond the township of Batemans Bay, but still on the Bay itself. With directions carefully noted and checked we have little difficulty finding Donald's, around 8.15pm. Amazing hospitality. Donald is a chef as well as an architect and has cooked a casserole for supper. Wine from the upper Hunter Valley. We talk about his career and the roller coaster ride of surviving slumps as well as the boom times. He has been retired for some years now, and works producing cryptic crosswords. He is more than a year ahead of deadlines for the Sydney Morning Herald, has a new contract in Brisbane, and produces around three books a year. Oh to be so well organised.

Maria is a Hungarian Jew, fiery and not forgiving of trees which shed leaves. Everyone in life should be passionate. We settle back to talk about relatives.

Our upstairs guest suite is en-suite, luxurious and very comfortable.

Cotehele 1878
Batemans Bay - Tathra
Wednesday 19 September 2001

An exotic breakfast with freshly brewed coffee. Next door a site is being prepared for building. In Australia that usually means cutting all the trees down.

Walked down to Denhams Beach, past a very large retirement home. White sand. High enclosing headlands. Astonishing to find dolphins frolicking in the Bay, quite close to the shore. The brochures were right. Don comes around by car to pick us up and we all head off to Murramarang National Park. Cabins nestle among the trees, and a pool-restaurant complex has the atmosphere of a seedy South American resort. Strange. I enjoy a coffee, the others a fruit juice. Kangaroos are everywhere, lolling about in the sun. At first it seems bizarre to see Joey feet hanging out of a pouch and nothing more. A contrast with "head only" expectations. After a while it becomes clear that anything goes. Don once saw a kangaroo on the beach with its feet in the water, and it is the hope of a repeat performance which led Donald to bring us here. There are no "swimming kangaroos" today.

Back in town we stop for oysters and king prawns, and back at the house Donald prepares an exotic lunch. A few oyster mornay, mostly absolutely fresh. As good as any I have tasted.

South. Lilli Pilli. Petrol at Matua Bay. Below Broulee (or was it Rosedale?) the forest is a unique art work, with eucalypts sloping every which way, as though Toyo Ito had designed them. Alongside the river to Moruya. Tempted to go to Tuross Head, but concluded it was only a built up tourist trap. You look across the lakes from the main road. Wagonga Inlet. Narooma. We stop at a Lake Corunna which could easily have been one of the lakes driving down the West Coast. Exquisite estuary. A pelican fishing.

Turned off to Central Tilba, a village protected by the Historic Places Trust. Timber architecture. Verandahs. Rather too touristy, but interesting. Bought cheese, mustard and honey for presents. Unfortunately Jeannie McIntosh is not at home and the indications are that she has been away for some days. Later we will discover she was at an Aboriginal festival at Uluru. Helen leaves a note.

The loop goes on to Tilba Tilba and back to the main road. Cook named Gulaga Dromedary Mountain.

The Umbarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre is only a short distance down the road to Bermagui, and we are lucky to arrive just before it closes at 5pm. They focus on taking groups around Wallaga Lake and up Mumbulla Mountain and Gulaga, but also have craft demonstrations and a small exhibition centre. There are photographs by Wes Stacey of Gubbo Ted Thomas, who took Helen up Mumbulla Mountain and showed her all the sacred sites. So many stories begin to fall into place.

Wallaga Lake. There are log cabins at $44 and I am tempted by the thought of waking up to birds in the bush, but Helen is keen to press on. Camel Rock is only a short distance off the road. We stop to watch the purples and reds shimmering on the estuary. A photographer is also catching the moment. "Are you Wes Stacey?" "No, but I know him." We get directions for finding Wes, but it seems he is out of town at the moment. Philip Cox has a "retreat" here, with ample space for guests, and Wes has a caravan parked just off Philip's drive. I remember that Wes did the photographs for a book by Philip. The gate is just before you go down the very steep hill to the river, just south of Bermagui.

Back in New Zealand I discover that Phil Evans has three books by Philip Cox for which Wes Stacey did the photographs. "Rude Australian Building", "Australian Homesteads", and "Historic Towns of Australia".

We can only find revolting brick veneer units in Bermagui, so we press on. Darkness overtakes us and the seal ends. A kangaroo runs along the side of the road and disappears. Aragunnu. 3km down through Mimosa Rocks National Park, but there are only a few places to camp in the bush. Retraced our steps. We reach Tathra to find an endless caravan park stretching along the shore. The Tathra Beach Tourist Park. For $40 we get a cabin with a double bed and four bunks. "One of the last." An en-suite would have been $93. Our code lifts the barrier and we have a home. It is a little before 8pm, when the office closes. They suggest that finding a meal will be difficult but 100 yards away we home in on an excellent wood-fired pizza restaurant. Helen has fish. I settle for a kangaroo and beetroot pizza. By 10pm we are in bed, listening to the roar of the waves crashing onto the beach just in front of our cabin.

Tathra - Canberra
Thursday 20 September 2001

Helen has a swim. I settle for a hot shower. We could have gone on south to see Alan's development at Eden, but Helen is happy to turn inland. Bega is a small provincial centre. Helen visits a bank. The lookout focuses on the valley. It would have been a long drive to get up Mumbulla Mountain so we photograph it from a distance.

The road climbs up through the rainforests of South East Forests Park to Piper's Lookout on Brown's Mountain. Fred Piper drove his bus through here every day for 28 years, and collapsed one day when shovelling snow to clear the road. There are composting toilets. Later we will discover a programme to install composting toilets at all lay-bys throughout NSW.

The Monaro Highlands are a high plateau, rather like the McKenzie country. Tussock.

Nimmitabel is famous for pies, so we stop to try "the world's best" at the local bakery. A fine old pub across the road.

The Snowy River Information Centre in Cooma was much more interesting than I had expected. Indeed we almost did not stop. A 17 minute video, put on just for us, reminded me that this was really an irrigation scheme to be paid for by the bonus of power production. It was certainly a time of great belief in the future. 20 years of astonishing engineering achievement, not to mention all the immigrants who made it possible. Helen discovers Batlow, where she used to go to her grandparent's apple orchard as a child.

An easy run up to Canberra. We turn off to try and find Norma Donaldson, but end up hopelessly lost. Stopping to ask directions only compounds the problem as Helen somehow loses her map. Planners produce cities which look great on paper, but lack logic. Finally we decided to give up the hunt and go to the Museum of Australia.

Parking is easy and free. Entry is free. The rotating introduction and then a quick look right through the exhibits, but somehow managed to miss the one which explains the design of the museum. It is a strange building, but more successful than I had expected. The scale was more comfortable than the slides Howard had shown us would have suggested. A endearing send up. The shed which is a camera obscura. The palm tree taking off modern architecture. The flood indicator giving the depth of the pond in the Garden of Memories.

It closes at 5pm. The Floriad flower display for Helen. Tulips. The drive to the information centre takes forever, and it was closed when we arrived, with no map on show. Hopeless. Helen rings Gary Lewis. The phone connection is bad and the possibility of miscommunication very high. He agrees to drive in and lead us to his house. I had not realised this meant coming more than 20km. We pass the floodlit War Memorial, and the airport. With the collapse of Ansett and the grounding of all planes in USA airports have a rather eerie feeling of well-lit locked doors.

The house is just across the border, and it also seems to be architecturally just across the South American border. Lida is from Peru. The large glazed floor tiles are at ground level so the space flows easily in and out. The tall doors allow the house to become a single space. Candles flicker. In no time we are breaking bread and savouring delicious soup. Gary has published three books on co-operatives and is writing another. We talk about how we might move from confrontational planning to co-operative planning.

Emily is away for the night so we are able to sleep in her room, surrounded by images, silk, memories and dreams.

Glenn Murcutt
Canberra - Orange
Friday 21 September 2001

The water tank is large, but it is almost empty. Perhaps there is enough for another two weeks. We conserve, but wonder how they will survive the summer, which almost certainly is going to be long and dry. Gary jokes about their calculations being careful and accurate. It was just that the rain did not follow the calculations. The small pond below the house would only be a token in a bushfire.

Lida leaves for work. I help her negotiate her way around a car which seems to have broken down in the drive. We breakfast on the outside terrace. Fruit, yoghurt, toast. Birds. Gums. We walk down the dry slopes to the tiny moist valley Gary had created where the micro-climate leaves flourishing ferns and soft green leaves. The sunlight sparkles on bleeding red gum. The wire worms turn every tree into a work of art. The Australian landscape provides a rich palette for architects.

Photographs. Gary gave us a copy of "An Illustrated History of the Riverina Rice Industry", written by Gary in 1994. For him this is the "popular" book. The academic one remains unpublished.

He also gives me two Accord (Australian Centre for Co-operative Research and Development) papers, which proved to be extremely interesting. One on Arranmore Island, off the West Coast of Ireland, where a Co-op attracted funding, mostly from EU, and developed projects which allowed the island to reverse its fortunes and take control of its own affairs instead of giving the power to a Council. The other on Valencia in Spain, where a supportive legislative context has enabled both second-tier and social co-ops to develop.

The two handles of the kete are on either side of the ceremonial Anzac Parade which leads up to the War Memorial. They are much further apart than I had expected, and it takes a little time to adjust. On one side the paving was designed by Daisy Nadjungdanga, an aboriginal from Arnhem Land, and beneath a rock is buried soil from Lone Pine. On the other side the paving is by Toi Te Rito Maihi and Allen Wihongi from Norhtland, and beneath this rock is buried soil from Chunuk Bair. The sculpture was inaugurated by Helen Clark and John Howard on the eve of Anzac Day this year.

The kete now marks the entrance to Anzac Parade, and as you move towards the War Memorial there is a procession of sculptures up either side. They vary widely from bronze heroes to the exquisite glass of the Nurses' memorial.

The new extension to the War Memorial has just been opened. The carved sculptural form sits easily with the old building and is linked only by a tensile glazed corridor. Solid granite. Knife edge corners. A dimly lit interior and we watch the story of the Japanese submarines which entered Sydney Harbour during World War Two and sank a ship before they were destroyed.

In a colonnade on the upper level of the memorial area of the old building the names of those who died in wars are cast in bronze. In 1943 the HMS Centaur, a white hospital ship with green band and red cross, was steaming up the coast off Moreton Bay. Brightly lit it was an easy target for the Japanese who were not concerned that it was "protected by the Geneva Convention". It was torpedoed and most of the nurses and doctors on board lost their lives.

One of those nurses was Helen Cynthia Haultain, after whom Helen was named. Helen buys some red poppies, I borrow some steps from the bookstore, and we leave the poppies beside her name.

A coffee in the nearby cafe and on to the National Art Gallery. Predictable, safe, acceptable work, with a hint of the erotic emerging out of sardine cans. The adjacent High Court, seeming less monumental than I remembered. They are not sitting so it is possible to see through the three courtrooms. The lack of security during sitting times surprises me. There is no appeal to the Privy Council from Australia.

Past the old Parliament House and up to the new. Free easy parking beneath the building. The usual tour, and a walk up the grass to survey Canberra.

I admire those who give their energy to public life, and along the way need to see idealism suffer from the impact of greed, selfishness, and the lust for power. These are easy times and yet all times have a hard edge.

A second look at the National Museum. We could have set out to find Norma and other friends, but Helen decides to move on, leaving behind reasons to return.

North to Yass, but we bypass the town and go a short distance along the Hume Highway before turning north again to Boorowa and Cowra. The Hume Highway is "the road to Gundagai", encouraging us to sing about "a track winding back to an old fashioned shack, on the road to Gundagai".

The Lachlan river goes off lazily to become the Darling. There is no sense of crossing in Australia. The divide is almost imperceptible. Fields of yellow rape seed. Gums like sculptures. Gentle landscape.

During the Second World War Japanese were interned at Cowra. Today there is a memorial and a cemetery, in the grounds where the camps once stood. An extensive Japanese garden is now a tourist attraction, with everything from sushi to dolls associated with it. When we arrive it is already dusk and everything is closed.

Darkness overtakes us as we reach Carcoar, an historic town with many well preserved buildings. Tempted to stay in the big old pub. Blayney and on to Orange.

A local garage gives us a town map and some directions, which is really helpful. Meg has also given Helen very good directions, and so we have little difficulty finding her place. She is not there, but is obviously not far away. Tomorrow we will learn that they are in town celebrating Janey's birthday.

Back into Orange. A great "roast of the day" dinner at the "Fare Dinkum" the Australian equivalent of Hungry Horse. Quick service, good food, and we were lucky to catch them before they closed.

By now it is late and we need to find somewhere to stay. Orange does not seem to have any old romantic pubs. Helen looks at a house and decides it is a B&B. To my astonishment she is right. In no time she has done a deal, and I am standing with my back to a log fire sipping tea from bone china while admiring the prints of hounds chasing foxes. This is "Cotehele", the Magistrate's House, built in 1878.

Our room is the old kitchen which opens to a central courtyard which links the house to the stables.

Glenn Murcutt
Orange - Bathurst
Saturday 22 September 2001

Slept in and then a lavish cooked breakfast with three other couples doing the B&B tourist circuit. Another world of affluence. The house is a real find and in excellent shape. The solid Flemish bond brick is as good as new.

A repeat of Helen's antibiotics as her severe cough still has not cleared. Terry and Annette Coulthard are just down the road.

Back out to Meg's and she is waiting for us. The house began as a large shed. Now the living space occupies one end, and the pantry and darkroom divides this off from the garage/ storage/ workspace. Another adjacent shed has a master bedroom above and another below. A third shed accommodates a composting toilet and ablutions. Some distance away yet another shed was supposed to have been for the tractor, but somehow it seems to have become a workshop for woodworking, and even contains a wood-burning combustion stove. So the process goes on. Paul Pholeros would love it.

We walk over the 25 acres, with Meg loving every inch of the land. She accepts the termites and ants. A kangaroo looks at us and bounds off into the bush. Orchids and other wildflowers. Meg understands sustainability and relating to the land. A high fox proof fence encloses the garden, which is flourishing. John Hoskin arrives with grand-daughter Else to collect his rotary hoe to do a job elsewhere. Janey returns from her walk and prepares three salads for lunch. We sit on the deck looking out over the endless landscape.

Meanwhile I have been exploring their photovoltaic system, as the house is completely autonomous. They began with six panels, but then added an extra eight. There is a small wind generator up on the roof. A solar oven cooks casseroles and stews. The LPG frig works well. They adjust their routine to the weather and find no problems. What they have achieved in inspirational.

Back into Orange to visit Meg's mother, Aunty Grace Donaldson, who at 92 still looks after herself in a retirement home. Able to take some video footage which is shared as we travel along.

Down the Mitchell Highway to Bathurst. A map as we enter town shows that we are very close to Casey Circuit, and Delma and Alan show little surprise as we drive in.

A meal and a tour of the office, above the adjacent garages. Computer simulations of traffic accidents. I wonder why we cannot do the same with urban design. CAD drawings of subdivisions. A photograph of a crocodile on the wall with its belly cut open to reveal the body parts of the victim it has just eaten. Photographs of traffic accidents.

Andrew watches basketball. We talk into the night. Development costs for a subdivision such as that at Eden are around $50,000. The raw land is worth around $5000. The developer hopes to clear around $20,000 profit. Thus the beginning price to live down the coast begins at around $75,000. It is nonsense to talk about "affordable housing". It is not an option in our current planning environment.

Glenn Murcutt
Bathhurst - Maitland
Sunday 23 September 2001

Sunday breakfast. Alan takes us down to Miss Trail's house, where Andrew's wife Wendy is helping to run an open day. We are almost consumed by enthusiastic docents. Alan comes back to rescue us, and then takes us on a tour of Bathurst. Many streets of architectural integrity. The original Government House, down by the river. A magnificent entrance to the jail. A drive around the race track, at Mount Panorama, which in normal times is a road. You wonder what it feels like to come out your front gate every day to be confronted by a line of "Firestone" signs. Then perhaps needing to literally race off to get the milk. The local campus. Big Catholic schools.

Alan shows me his "morgue". A garden shed with sisalation insulation to the roof, but nothing more. Files in boxes and rolls of drawings on shelves. Chemical control of bugs, beetles and silverfish. He is very happy with the system. I feel encouraged.

Farewells and photographs as we move on yet again. Our own brief tour of Bathurst to get some photographs and then north to Sofala. We pass one of Alan's subdivisions on our way out of Bathurst. The Council is also doing subdivisions which raises interesting conflict of interest questions.

In a remote area a strange animal is about to cross the road. I stop to convince it that this is not a safe thing to do. Apparently it was a skink. Leathery amadillo protective skin, with a wide flat tail.

Sofala is a laid back forgotten piece of history, with a very folksy approach to tourism. Today the town has been taken over by several hundred motorbikes from the Penrith area, out for a day's riding. The juxtaposition of shining Harley Davidsons, verandahs, leather jackets, and bronze plaques makes everything seem more like a film set.

A gravel road leads to the West and on to Hill End, and we have it all to ourselves. Dramatic rock formations. Tepid rivers. Gums. The road directly up from Bathurst is 4WD and to be avoided even by 4WD.

Hill End is now like a mouth with the odd tooth left, where once there had been a gleaming row. Buildings sitting in the landscape. The whole town is protected by the Historic Places Trust.

The road north again is mostly gravel with a few people seeking alternative lifestyles on the outskirts of town, some sheep, and then just great landscape.

At Mudgee Museum Helen attempts to find family photographs. We were lucky to get there ten minutes before 5pm closing. Filled up with petrol to see us on to Maitland. Jan Donaldson, another cousin, and sister of Meg, lives on a grassy sward running down to the river. She talks about walking the Inca Trail, and recently cycled all the way to Maitland.

Darkness falls as we go through to Denman and Singleton. The Hunter Valley. I had imagined sunlight glinting on hills covered with vineyards. Instead it is dark, industrial and the hills are being dug up to extract coal. It would have not been a long loop to the North to go through Muswellbrook where Helen was born, but in the dark there would be little to see. Helen assures me it is a boring little town.

Helen gives me a tour of Maitland on our way through to Barry and Val's. They are expecting us, as Helen rang ahead. A welcome light supper. Superb photographs of their 4WD trips through the Australian outback. Explorers. Wills and Burke. Coopers Creek.

A beautifully appointed en-suite guest suite. The house which has everything.

Glenn Murcutt
Maitland & Hilldale
Monday 24 September 2001

A gracious breakfast, with more photographs and maps to pour over. Barry assures me that Kempsey is little more than rolling farmland of little interest. If Glenn is not there is seems better to leave it for another time, when we could go much further north. I have become addicted to rural roads and great landscape, and lost my taste for heavy traffic on major routes. At best we could extend the car for four or five days and that would run me into school holidays as well as the very uncertain flight situation.

Around to meet Marian and Frank Kentish. On this beautiful sunny day they are sheltering behind venetian blinds. We catch up briefly on their Broken Hill trip, and getting photos processed to be delivered on-line or on CD. More tonight.

Off to Morpeth, which is delightful. The streetscape is complete and continuous. Across the Hunter. The corner store and garage at Woodville. A wayside fruit and vegetable stall close by where Helen buys while I yarn.

Up to Hilldale. Little more than a station, where Helen sometimes slept before going up to the land. Turned into Parish Road.

The entrance to Helen's land has been changed, which is confusing. However this leads us to drive past and we find Colin Parish standing on the side of the road looking for his lost glasses. A warm greeting. He has not seen Helen for four years. News of locals. His move away from dairy farming. Fences which have been repaired and some best left unrepaired.

Back to the new entrance and up to Helen's land. Parked our car on the land in the shade of some gums. Only a fallen tree makes it impossible to go the final distance to the hut. The number of fallen trees suggests that the wind must really whip through here.

Helen cleans up the cottage, after we crawl in through a window. I discover a nest in a drawer and it seems to have a rat in the middle of it. Covered the drawer and took the lot outside. With spade at the ready to kill the rat I was surprised instead to find a mysterious marsupial, with four or five young clinging to its body. Big brown eyes. A tail like a feather. It runs to get back inside, but we have blocked its customary hole. It hides under the hut, and we replace the drawer, complete with the nest.

Helen later gets a book from the Sydney Zoo, and we conclude it must have been a brush tailed Phascogale, which is one of the dasyurids.

Walked the boundary of the 42 acre block. Mostly trees. Some grassland. Two rock stream beds, with only a pool of water here and there. Photographs of shadows falling on the rock.

Cleared gums and lantana away from the hut to reduce risk in a bushfire. It is difficult to know if the building would survive, and even more difficult to know if it would be better to be there to fight the fire or safely far away.

On to Dungog. The information centre. Filled with petrol, when we really should have only topped it up. Followed the pipeline going up to Chichester Dam. Turned off to Salisbury and then to Barrington Tops National Park. This is a World Heritage Area and the trees are dramatic. Each one an individual rather than a species. Williams River, with deep pools. The old guest house now has new lodges on the adjacent hillside.

Tried to ring Marian on Leo's cellphone, but it kept cutting out. Retraced our steps to Salisbury and turned off to Eccleston. By the time we get back to Maitland we are half an hour late for dinner with Marion and Frank. Being Marian the turkey chops were ready right on time, although we were not. A great meal. Stories of their trip to Broken Hill.

Back to Val and Barry's for the night.

Glenn Murcutt
Maitland - Sydney
Tuesday 25 September 2001

Barry heads off early to a meeting in Newcastle. He rings me from a cellphone to bid me farewell. There is a pause as a cop passes by. It is illegal to use a hand-held cell phone in a car in NSW.

A leisurely breakfast. Fresh fruit. Cereal. Toast. Maps to plot a route for the day. We could have phoned Thai and Hertz and headed north to Kempsey. It felt as though there would be a lot of driving amidst heavy traffic on boring main roads to end up nowhere in particular. Different if there had been the prospect of staying with Glenn Murcutt. Different if more than four days had been available. I settle for reading about early explorers in Australia.

Farewells and photographs in the garden. Felt I needed to emulate a Greek statue. Everything is perfect. The grass has arrived as ready-to-lay turf.

Around the corner to Marian and Frank to thank them for the dinner last night and to get some photos in daylight.  The Broken Hill photos are back and already mounted in albums.

To the house at 28 Lindesay Street , built by Helen's father and grandfather. Mews, which is unexpected. Almost opposite the jail, which displays a "tourist destination" sign.

The Liquor Store does nothing to promote the Hunter Valley. "Only 2% of Australia's wine are produced in the valley" he tells us, and we have difficulty finding a single bottle in the store.

A large information centre. Looked over maps while enjoying a cup of coffee on the verandah.

Downtown. The Town Hall. The Hunter River.

Kurri Kurri, Cessnock. Once these were mining areas, but now they seem to be forgotten. Small houses on small lots. Vernacular character. Maintained, but only just. The pubs are big two storey buildings. There are many wineries just to the north.

It was just to the north of Wollombi, on the road to Singleton, in the Broken Back Range, where Phil and Pauline built their house at the end of an access road. After it was totally destroyed in a bush fire they moved to New Zealand. Now there are fires burning on the hillside as back burning suggests the fear of a long hot summer. Followed signs to a winery a kilometre down the Paynes Crossing Road, but it was closed.

Photographs of a magnificent line of letterboxes, and explored a few kilometres down the Yango Creek Road to see if there might be houses to match. None that we could find. Alpacas and horse riding hint at increasing affluence.

A large "red belly black" snake basks in the sun on the shoulder of the road. Photographed it from the safety of the car. Apparently they are both fast and poisonous.

An observatory which seems to be little more than a collection of huts. Great views across the Yengo National Park.

Turned off at Bucketty to follow the descending gravel road through to St Albans. Not another car to be seen as we relish rocks and bush. A very large goanna scampers into the bush. High escarpments around the MacDonald River. Ancient country. A pelican.

Across the river just below Webb's Creek a settlement clusters along the waters edge, with extensive retaining work. Uncomfortably affluent.

Wiseman's Ferry is drawn across the river on twin wire rope cables. It is free and shuttles continuously, taking six cars.

Turned off at Maroota and then through the Galston Gorge. Astonishing. Hair pin bends much tighter than anything you might find in Europe. Helen rings to find that Marjorie has just arrived home, but is too sick to entertain visitors. We head south down past Pymble on the Pacific Highway. Black clouds have been building up and now they unleash a torrent, flooding the road in many places. Sorrow that such a wonderful trip is coming to an end.

Into the correct lane for "Bridge & Western Suburbs" but then the signs change and a $2.20 toll later I find myself in the tunnel, emerging at Woolloomooloo, outside the Finger Wharf I had been hoping to see. Minimal changes to the structure, creating a wonderful central atrium. Candles flicker among the expensive restaurant. Beyond the hotel are apartments. Restaurants and bars look across the wharf to a marina of conspicuous consumption and the Botanical Gardens beyond. Highly successful if you forget about the privatisation of public space.

It is already dark and our attempts to head south are constantly thwarted by "no right turn" signs. Eventually found our way back from Kings Cross to Oxford Street and on to Marrickville.

Helen and Leo are waiting, as is soup, rainbow trout and salad. Exotic. Stories of adventures to swap. Then Helen Sanderson goes around to stay at Leo's so that we can have the house to ourselves. Cleaned the car as best we could. Sorted gear, which seemed to take forever. Packed all the books and maps into my backpack. Well after midnight before we finally tried to get some sleep.

Museum of Australia
Sydney - Karaka Bay
Wednesday 26 September 2001

It should have been four hours of sleep, but somehow you cannot set your body clock as easily as your watch. I get up at 2am to stretch. Rolled over at 4.15am and Helen leaps out of bed. Showered, packed the car and it is still dark when we set out in our Hertz car for the airport. Helen has checked that the flight is leaving on time.

Foiled from time to time by "no right turn" signs it is not difficult to find the airport. However as we twist and turn I worry that Helen may not be able to find her way back to Marrickville. You need a navigator and a good book of maps to find your way around in Sydney.

The airport is almost deserted and just waking up at 5.20am., more that two hours before my 7.25 flight. Parking is very expensive. $6 for the first half hour. It is actually cheaper to take a taxi. Checked in and then back to the carpark to farewell Helen and our faithful vehicle. She will return it to Hertz before 1pm., on schedule with our original presumption. Amazing.

A coffee. Through emigration an hour before the flight. I had asked for a window seat, but none were available. An announcement is made and they have given me a window seat behind the bulkhead, probably the best seat in a 777-300 as there is leg room. A half hour delay is announced. The plane was late arriving, and is still being cleaned.

Around 8am we take off to the East, straight over Botany Bay, with only a distant view of the city. Fluffy clouds over the Tasman. A lavish breakfast. Too tired to do more than just enjoy the flight.

The Kaipara appears in the distance. Piha, Karekare and Whatipu. Magnificent coastline. Straight in over the Manukau Heads and a perfect landing. A light East wind. Home. It feels good with the uncertainty and turmoil which is sweeping the world. Air NZ is still flying. A United plane is at one of the gates. Only time will tell whether I should, or could, have delayed my return for a few more days, but the plane is full so I doubt that any seat would have become available. War and economic collapse are impossible to predict, and in a few hours the whole world can change. The only certainty is knowing that if something does go dramatically wrong then Karaka Bay is the place to be.

The airport is a tangle, with long queues and impossible delays. The sniffer dog twice identifies my small pack as worth investigating, and so I twice end up unpacking everything to have it inspected. Bought enough duty free film to see me through a long summer. Clive is waiting faithfully, wondering what has happened to me.

He takes me to Papatoetoe, and I drive Lisa on to Karaka Bay. Along the way a coffee with Tony at the bakery, and a pie and bread to keep me going. Two bags of bread for Piglet. Update on the local body elections. Milk. Two trucks delivering something for Jeffrey. I meet him and Leila as I come down the hill and they welcome me home.

The house is deserted and everything is perfect, snug and dry, as though I have never been away. A note of thanks from Ruth. Unfortunately she did not discover how to turn the water on. Craig is coming in from sailing, and he is staying home to feed the cats, so that is not an issue. I feel I could easily have been away for another week without problems.

The Herald. The same news, which really is no news at all. The Government may rescue Air NZ.

Rang Helen Sanderson to thank her for the trout meal and the use of her house. Helen has not yet turned up, but did get back to Gordon Square with the car. In bed soon after 8pm.

Front cover

The National Museum of Australia, Playful forms to cheer up a rather dour Canberra.

The Boyd Education Centre, overlooking a bend in the Shoalhaven River. Monastic in form, detail and setting.

Back cover

Chairs by Walter Burley Griffen, in National Art Gallery, Canberra, reveal the source of inspiration for my Lippincott chairs.

They make it right here. Classic corrugated iron industrial vernacular.
The BHP Steel Mill in Wollongong.

Inside front cover

Wireworm art and bleeding gum on the trunks of two Gary Lewis' gum trees.

Old and new. Bikies from Penrith stop for a drink at the Sofala Hotel.

Helen Cynthia leaves a poppy for Helen Cynthia Haultain at the War Memorial, Canberra.

Inside back cover - top

The letterboxes at Yango Creek Road, Wollombi, are as varied as the people they belong to.

A Red Belly Black snake enjoys the warmth of the Wollombi Roadside.

Backburning in preparation for bushfires in the summer.
The smoke haze and heat at Wollombi make it seem that summer is already here.

Wiseman's Ferry shuttles back and forth, and, unlike the Hokianga Ferry, is free.

Inside back cover - bottom

The cottage on Helen's land at Hilldale.

The Magistrate's house in Orange, "Cotehele", is now an elegant B&B.

Sheep and dust. As close as we got to the outback, just north of Hill End.

A Goanna at Hilldale just wanted to be photographed.

    I forgot to mention....

North to Yass, but we bypass the town and go a short distance along the Hume Highway before turning north again to Boorowa and Cowra. The Hume Highway is "the road to Gundagai", encouraging us to sing about "a track winding back to an old fashioned shack, on the road to Gundagai".

The Lachlan river goes off lazily to become the Darling. There is no sense of crossing in Australia. The divide is almost imperceptible. Fields of yellow rape seed. Gums like sculptures. Gentle landscape.

During the Second World War Japanese were interned at Cowra. Today there is a memorial and a cemetery, in the grounds where the camps once stood. An extensive Japanese garden is now a tourist attraction, with everything from sushi to dolls associated with it. When we arrive it is already dusk and everything is closed.

Darkness overtakes us as we reach Carcoar.

Notes extracted out of diary....

1)  Some Australians have difficulty relating to the natural environment. Others embrace it with love and enthusiasm.

2)  I had noted the submarines entering Sydney Harbour in 1941, but this does not seem right. Pearl Harbour was 1941.

3)  Buckminster Fuller tensile comment (relating to Ric's house) from Cross Section September 2001.

Museum of Australia


Meg and John


Meg's composting toilet


Meg's solar battery bank


Meg's solar oven


Meg and John out of Orange


John Hoskin


Leo Kelly






Tess O'Brien


Marian Kentish


Gary Lewis


Frank Kentish


Val Guy


Jan Donaldson




Terry & Annette Coulthard


Grace Donaldson

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