When Winter Comes Early

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Although it’s still officially autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, winter has already struck in many rural parts of New South Wales. In my town it’s a truism that winter starts on ANZAC Day and finishes in September. This year we’ve already had several overnight minimums below zero and a series of damaging frosts. Fortunately my trees seem to be in a hardy mood and have survived intact so far, even the new orchard of apple saplings planted between the house and the creek.

Here are some pictures I took last week of the autumn colours. It might not be as spectacular as ‘fall’ in New England but it’s still rather beautiful.

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This gorgeous birdhouse was made for me by the same friend, who painted the Santa gourd in my Christmas article and stitched the wall-hanging. What a talented lady she is. 

DOB Autumn 26Deborah O'Brien

May, 2013


fbook icon 60The Victorian Art of Scrapbooking

 

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Paper scraps have always fascinated me – not the kind you throw into the recycle bin, but the little decorative cut-outs I was fond of collecting and swapping with my friends when I was a child. We used to call them ‘swaps’. They came in sheets of embossed images joined by paper tabs. As far as I can recall, we didn't glue them into books - we just kept them in tins, ready to be traded with our school mates. 

JNorris Scrapbook 37The word ‘scrapbook’ dates back to the Victorian era when it was considered a genteel pastime for ladies to collect ‘scraps’ and paste them into blank books, together with such items as greeting cards, advertising ephemera and pictures cut from calendars, magazines and leaflets.

JNorris Scrapbook 45I’m privileged to have been able to borrow a scrapbook dating back to the 1890s, which belongs to my friend and has been passed down from one generation of her family to the next. Not surprisingly considering its age, the book isn’t in the best shape – its embossed linen and cardboard cover is hanging by a thread and there’s foxing on the pages. But the pictures themselves are in excellent condition. Today we photographed all the pages so that, even if the book eventually falls to pieces, there will always be a digital version.

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Scrapbooks play a part in my forthcoming novel, THE JADE WIDOW (September 2013). Suffice it to say that the making of a scrapbook provides comfort for a mother, whose son has gone off to war and a young woman longing for his return.

Here are some more images from my friend’s treasured scrapbook.

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Many thanks to Jan for lending me her family heirloom and to my husband for photographing the scrapbook.

Deborah O’Brien

April 20, 2013


In Search of the Emporium


 

On a recent trip to Beechworth and Myrtleford, we passed through the delightful little town of Yackandandah. Like my fictional Millbrooke, it boasts a lively Gold Rush past. I even found a building which could easily pass for Mr Chen’s Emporium. The signage says ‘Café’, but it’s now serving as the hairdressing salon. Here it is. What do you think?


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Deborah O’Brien

April, 2013



fbook icon 60Elegant Architecture


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Ever since I was a very little girl, I’ve loved beautiful old houses. The very first one I fell in love with was my grandparent’s Victorian ‘boom-time’ villa in Ashfield. When they bought it, the place was in a bad way – rising damp, dry rot, peeling paint. My grandfather, a builder and carpenter, set to work on the renovations. Afterwards my grandmother, a dressmaker and milliner, decorated the interior with great flair.

The front façade was perfectly symmetrical with a tesselated tile verandah and iron lace. Inside, there were Italian marble fireplaces and twelve-foot ceilings. Sadly, the house was demolished in the Seventies to make way for a block of home units. Those units have, in turn, met the same fate, only to be replaced by a newer, flashier apartment building.

But I’m digressing. The real purpose of this article is to tell you about a very special house, which has not only managed to escape demolition but has also been restored to its former glory. When I was a child living in southern Sydney, the highlight of any trip to the city was catching a glimpse of an elegant Georgian villa on the banks of the Cooks River near Tempe. Not that you could see much of the house behind a dense screen of trees and shrubbery. All the same, I used to dream of seeing inside it one day.

Well, today the dream has become reality! There was an open day at Tempe House as part of Heritage Week. I missed last year’s because I was in the country, so I couldn't let this chance pass me by.

The house was designed by one of my favourite nineteenth century architects, John Verge, famous for the stunning Elizabeth Bay House and Tusculum. Although the Tempe House site is partly flanked by apartment buildings, the grounds remain largely intact, with vast lawns facing the water, as well as manicured gardens on either side, and it’s easy to imagine how it would have looked in its heyday.  


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Classical design has always been my preference – I suppose it’s because I’m a Libran, drawn to balance and symmetry. Tempe House is a perfect example of neo-classical architecture, gently understated yet meticulously detailed. Though it’s not a huge house, its rooms are spacious. If I could choose one feature I particularly liked, it would have to be the vaulted arch in the hallway with its cedar-framed fanlight.

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This weekend, the walls were specially hung with etchings and paintings by renowned Australian artist, Pamela Griffith. I’ve been an admirer of her work for years. Her evocations of Australian landscapes, flora and fauna are breathtaking.

Next to the house is St Magdalen’s Chapel with its exquisite stained glass windows. You can see some of the windows here.


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Deborah O’Brien

April 14, 2013



 

fbook icon 60A Country Sunday

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There’s nothing better than waking up on a crisp country morning to the distant pealing of church bells and a view of green hillsides dotted with newly shorn sheep. This past week we’ve had almost 100mm of rain, just under a sixth of our annual rainfall and the paddocks look as though they’ve been painted in Chrome Green Light. (As an artist who writes - or a writer, who happens to paint - I tend to see the world in terms of paint colours!)

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Here’s a picture of my morning view, complete with Monterey pines on the left. A kookaburra sometimes takes up position on one of the dead pine branches, where he scans the ground for movement. Whenever he spots a plump worm emerging from its hole, he swoops on his prey with alarming speed. Then he returns to his perch, awaiting further breakfast treats.

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At the bottom of the garden a slow-moving creek is home to our platypus. I use the word ‘our’ loosely because a platypus is the most independent of creatures, living its own life, except, of course, at mating time. In the mornings the platypus will most likely be found in the deepest parts of the creek, diving for yabbies and worms. Because the creature has extremely poor eyesight, it uses its bill to detect movement by way of electric impulses. A kind of platypus’s Morse code. I wonder what delicacies it’s foraged for breakfast today.

Speaking of breakfast ... I’m off to town now to have mushrooms on polenta with shaved parmesan and a cup of Lady Grey tea.

Deborah O’Brien

Sunday, March 3, 2013