A Street Library Story

Our ‘chooks and books’ themed street library

A few days ago we installed our newly completed street library and I am over the moon about it! If you have ever thought about doing something similar then all I can say is, GO FOR IT. Here is my street library story… plus a few tips I picked up along the way.

Street Library in Pearl Beach NSW

I remember seeing a street library when I was on holiday last year. It was in Pearl Beach on the Central Coast of NSW. At first I was casually curious but then my imagination kicked in and I started dreaming about how wonderful it would be to install something similar in my area. The concept of a street library captures so many of my interests: community, creativity, simple living, recycling and books.

Ever since I learned to read I have had an avid interest in books and libraries. Having hundreds of books at my fingertips in my primary school library was like being in a wonderland. The freedom to read meant I could soar above my small existence, travelling widely in my imagination and meeting characters who surprised, inspired and challenged me.

What I love about libraries is that they can be as humble as a pop-up book selection for early morning commuters at the local train station or as jaw-dropping and grand as the Public Library in New York City. Most of all I love that libraries are for everyone.

A few months ago I watched The Public, a film written and directed by Emilio Estevez. The story is about a public library that had become a haven for the homeless in a large US city. The characters in the story wrestle with the various perceptions of the role that a library has in a community. The story takes a while to build but once the momentum picks up it is compelling viewing and has a great ending.

Here is a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMRfBlhMjoA

Around the same time I read the novel Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes which sparked my interest in mobile libraries. All through history and around the world there are devoted librarians who take books to communities in remote places on bicycles, donkeys, horses, trucks and mini-vans. Like many other librarians they believe that libraries serve everyone, young and old, people from all language and cultural backgrounds, city folk, country folk, rich and poor.

Inspired by the Little Free Library movement in the USA that started in 2009, Street Library Australia shares the dream of encouraging communities to read through making books easily and freely available.

This dream resonates with me and as you can tell from my long-winded introduction, many paths have led me to install our own street library. As with most ideas I have, I spend a lot of time, (often months!) mulling, researching and imagining before I get practical. With Coronavirus restrictions in place this year and local libraries shut down, I finally had the impetus to take action.

My first port of call was to peruse the official Street Library Australia website: https://streetlibrary.org.au/ It has a wealth of information about how to make street libraries a reality. I also started following Street Library Australia on Instagram to gather more ideas.

While ordering ready built street libraries via the Street Libraries Australia website is an option, I decided to keep it local and approach Blue Mountains artisan and woodworker, Peter Kabanoff, to see if he would be willingly to custom make a street library for me. He was so keen to be involved in the project and constructed exactly what I had in mind. He uses recycled materials in all his creations which also makes me really happy!

Our locally made street library – thanks to Peter Kabanoff

I have documented my personal street library process below. I imagine it will be different for everyone. Hopefully you can learn from some of my mistakes.

  1. Construct the library – This was the biggest hurdle for me because I am not very handy at making things. I would suggest either ordering your street library from the Street Library Australia website (a men’s shed put them together so it supports a good cause), make it yourself or find someone handy to make it like I did. If you are making it yourself, check your measurements carefully and be prepared to make the construction weatherproof. The Street Library Australia website provides detailed instructions if you decide to build it yourself.
  2. Decide on a theme – This was the fun part for me! In reality you don’t have to have a theme. You can just paint the street library however you want just as long as it is given a few coats of weather proof varnish at the end. We love our pet chickens so I decided on a chicken theme. The beloved Chiquita, Anouk, Esmerelda, Querida and Mel are now immortalised on our street library!
  3. Sketch the ideas – If your theme has a few parts to it, then definitely do some preliminary sketches and decide exactly what you want it to look like. I tossed out so many of my ideas (because I had too many!) and had to narrow things down. My daughter helpfully reminded me to keep it simple!
  4. Paint the library – I painted a base coat and then pencilled in my images once it was dry. Then I used lightfast paint (Jo Sonja paints from our local art shop) and brushes of different sizes to paint first the background and then the foreground objects. Most of the painting needed a couple of coats to achieve the coverage I wanted.
  5. Do the text next – If you include text like I did, you can either use lightfast paint and a very fine brush. You will need a steady hand! I decided to take a chance on Posca pens (also from our local art shop). The white one worked really well but the black… keep reading!
  6. Lesson 1 on varnish – Varnishing is an essential part of the process because it helps to weatherproof the street library. I used a marine strength varnish and applied two coats 24 hours apart. Here’s where things got a bit sad. My white Posca pen text looked AMAZING. My black Posca pen text ran everywhere with the application of varnish. This was even though I had used both pens in the same time frame and they had the same amount of drying time. I have no idea what went wrong but the black pen smudged. Once the damage was done, there was no way to fix it so I just had to get over the disappointment.
  7. Lesson 2 on varnish – Applying varnish is quite an art in itself. Who knew? Obviously not me. I knew to STIR the varnish thoroughly before using it (don’t shake it like paint because then air bubbles will form all over your surfaces). I also knew to use a BRUSH rather than a sponge to apply the varnish, again to avoid the dreaded air bubbles. My mistake was not to take enough care with my application. I was so excited to get it finished that I did not check carefully for spots that dribbled and needed brushing smooth. By the time I noticed these spots the varnish was dry and I couldn’t fix them. Sigh!
  8. Order an official Street Library Australia sign – This is optional of course, but I decided to join the movement! Signs can be ordered from the Street Library Australia website and do not take long to arrive in the post. I glued mine on with a strong adhesive. I narrowly missed out on gluing my fingers together… wear disposable gloves, dear people!
  9. Mount and secure the library – I needed help with this but not everyone will. The main idea is to secure the street library to its spot so it can’t be easily removed or knocked over. Pick a spot where it will be fairly visible and accessible to passers-by. Make sure it is at a good height for little ones to browse too.
  10. Fill it with books – This was by far the best part for me! I had collected a pile of books that I love. I made sure they were quality reading and in good condition. Some were donated for the cause, some were ones we had read and outgrown, some I found inexpensively in op shops. I ended up with a good range for all ages and interests. I printed flyers from the Street Library Australia website that explain how a street library works and placed a flyer in each book. I also printed out my own stickers for each book to say where they had come from just in case they ever wanted to come back.

Making my street library dream come true has been such an enjoyable process and I suspect that the joy I have experienced has been a little contagious. I hope our street library continues to bring much happiness to our community and perhaps beyond.

Mel sitting atop some of our favourite chicken themed books while Querida and Esmerelda dream of adventure!

If you think you have caught the street library bug and are local to the Blue Mountains area, Peter Kabanoff is happy to make a bespoke street library for you. Here’s where to find him:

I am still thinking about whether to register our street library. What do you think? If you also have a street library story, I would love to hear it. Post a comment or email me.

Anouk and Chiquita being bookish. We all know chooks can read.

On The Soul Side

It is always a pleasure to discover a new gem in the Blue Mountains and today delivered.

On the Soul Side is a fledgling café and espresso bar located in one of Katoomba’s most iconic hotel buildings, The Gearin.

As I stepped in the door, Dave, the café owner offered a cheery welcome and in between making coffee and serving customers he chatted generously to me about his unique vision for the new venture.

The café inhabits the old pub space and features an array of swoon-worthy vintage collectibles. The first item to catch my eye was a sensational red Chevron typewriter. What a beauty! Other pieces include a mini locomotive, a retired telephone box and handcrafted models of boats, ships, submarines and planes.

The history of the hotel is palpable and while efforts are being made to restore some of its tiles and fireplaces, there is a wonderful cosiness and charm about its ageing beauty.

The other soul component of this café is good music. Dave has the best tunes playing through the week and also a space set up for local musicians to jam on Friday nights.

On the Soul Side certainly has a whole lot of soul. As I was leaving I stopped to chat to a local artist drawing in chalk just outside the café door. There is a sense of community and creativity here that resonates with me.

I am looking forward to my next visit and watching the chapters of this café story unfold.

Find On the Soul Side on Goldsmith Place in Katoomba, just next to the train station. And on instagram: https://instagram.com/on_the_soul_side?igshid=16vp2og1zjayp

Tenebrae

tenebrae – Latin for ‘darkness’ or ‘shadows’

‘Wit’s End Bay’ by Charles Wysocki

I have been missing in action on my blog for a while. Here’s why. The past five months have been tough on our Blue Mountains community. Over the summer we confronted the most extensive bushfires in our memory. Before we could even imagine how to recover from those, the coronavirus pandemic dealt its bewildering blows. With each event we have had to hang on to daily news briefings to figure out what decisions needed to made next. I lost count of the number of times either event has been described as ‘unprecedented’.

The consequences of each event are far reaching and the fact that they happened back-to-back for the Blue Mountains has deepened the impact. We’re still reeling, as a community, but also individually. Like many others, I have been juggling family, home, work and study commitments in the midst of these extreme events. To be honest it has been challenging.

Call it writer’s block if you like but what I have learned about myself during this time is that when I am in ‘survival mode’ the Creative Writer part of me shuts down and hides in a bunker so deep and dark that I can’t find her. I feel so much disappointment and frustration about this.

Leading up to Easter I sensed she was finally, slowly emerging and I wrote this poem.

Tenebrae

No more words

Tear down lecterns
Shut off screens
Board up mouths

Give up
sighs
platitudes
consolations

Hush them all

Be still
as comforts are
snuffed out

Silent
as shadows
shroud

Let wicks
go cold

Enter the tomb
within

Be empty

Wait

©Belle Perry 2020

When I was in high school I read The Plague by Albert Camus and memories of it resurfaced over the past few weeks. Coincidentally I discovered this brilliant article by writer and philosopher, Alain de Botton: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/19/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-camus-plague.html

Bushfires and coronavirus may leave us feeling fearful, overwhelmed and exhausted. It is warranted and to be expected. It is difficult to sit with such feelings and I suspect many of us are navigating them daily.

What I take from Camus’ novel is that in the face of the absurdity of suffering, kindness to one another is the best and only answer. As Alain de Botton explains more eloquently,

“Recognizing this absurdity should lead us not to despair but to a tragicomic redemption, a softening of the heart, a turning away from judgment and moralizing to joy and gratitude.”

Let’s continue to support each other with soft and grateful hearts through these ‘tenebrae’ times.

When Emus Have a Blue Christmas

Meet my buddy, Seven. He is super cute. Recently I was helping him in art class and he painted a very blue Christmas emu and then wrote the words ‘Merry Sad Christmas’ next to it. When I asked him why the emu was sad, Seven broke into song:

‘Hello darkness my old friend…’

I helpfully joined in and sang the next line with him. Seven stamped his foot and said,

‘Hey! How do you know THAT song?’. I said (very cool like),

‘Because I heard it. Back in the 70s.’ Then I asked Seven what made his emu so sad and he stuck out his bottom lip and replied,

‘Because last Christmas his present was clothes’.

Poor emu.

Not all of us feel overly joyful at Christmas.

This is the third Sunday of Advent when we light the Joy candle. Hmmm….

The Christmas vibes in my neighbourhood have been strange this year. We have all been trying to get on with being Christmassy against an ominous backdrop of smoke and a steady stream of bushfire updates. Much of our state has gone up in flames. Homes and lives have been lost. It is an eerie, deeply unsettling feeling. Not so joyous.

Also, this year, I am hundreds and thousands of kilometres away from people who are dear to me. I am missing them terribly badly. So that adds another layer of not feeling so joyous.

What I have been thinking though, is maybe joy doesn’t always come to us consistently and comprehensively. Maybe a few snippets of joy, here and there, are enough to keep us going. Kind words, a meal, a hug, a flower, a song, a poem, an invitation, a smile, can all help. These have been the snippets of joy for me recently. And Seven. He makes me laugh so hard.

I have also been thinking that to keep joy alive, we have to keep bringing joy to others, in spite of how we feel. There’s nothing to lose, is there? As Anne Frank said,

‘No one has ever become poor by giving.’

Speaking of Australian fauna, one of my favourite Christmas books is called Wombat Divine. It’s written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Kerry Argent. My heart swells with joy every time I read it. At the very same time tears spring to my eyes. It really is something special. If you have any little ones in your life, make sure you find a copy and read it to them soon. Or just read it to yourself.

I hope you don’t have a Merry Sad Christmas but if you are feeling a little blue, think of Seven and his emu and let’s pray their presents aren’t clothes this time.

Waiting and Wonder

I remember waiting for the mail when I was in my late teens. I had a boyfriend in Canada and we wrote to each other for 2 years. Our hand written letters would take about two weeks each way. They would be several pages long and I’d read his over and over while I waited for the next letter to arrive.

These days, the idea of having to wait for anything is most unsavoury. No one likes waiting for a train or in a queue for the check out. Hardly anyone waits at home for dough to rise or for clothes to dry on the line. Advertising is littered with words like ‘instant’, ‘fast track’, ‘express’, ‘tap’, ‘click’ and ’24/7′. Around the clock we have immediate access to movies, books, music, food, messages, news and money.

But is waiting always bad for us?

“…isn’t waiting itself and longing a wonder, being played on by wind, sun, and shade?”

Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

As Annie suggests, perhaps there is something special about anticipation.

The season before Christmas is called Advent and for me Christmas isn’t completely Christmas without it. The word Advent comes from a Latin word which means ‘approaching’. It is a time of looking forward; of preparing for the celebration to come. It is also a time to reflect and remember.

Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and we mark it by decorating our home with a Christmas Tree and an Advent Wreath. Each of the four Sundays focuses on a theme starting with Hope, then Peace, then Joy, then Love. Every Sunday a candle in the Advent Wreath is lit for each theme and we take time to reflect on what the words mean to us.

Our Advent Wreath was bought from Ebony and Ivy in Glenbrook a few years ago, but you could easily make your own. You can use any pliable branches or greenery from the garden and place them in a circle on a large round tray or platter. In the middle of the wreath place four red candles (Hope, Peace, Joy and Love) and then a white candle in the centre. The white candle is called the Christ candle and is lit on Christmas day along with the other four. The Advent Wreath makes a beautiful centrepiece for any table.

We also have a homemade Advent calendar of little cardboard boxes that count down the 24 days until Christmas. I write messages for each day and leave treats as well. My children are getting older but they still enjoy it.

We like having a Christmas tree and this year we found the loveliest tree made of woven vines and branches. Local artisan Branching Out Designs makes them here in the Blue Mountains and also runs workshops to show people how to make their own.

Here are some other options for eco-friendly Christmas Trees:

  • A couple of large bare tree branches in a pot can look very chic and minimalist.
  • Stack some of your favourite books in a tree formation.
  • Make a tree shaped wall-hanging with branches and string.
  • You could also buy a real potted tree each year and then find somewhere suitable to plant it. Getting a tree native to your area would be ideal.
  • Also check out #ecochristmastree on Instagram for more ideas.

We had such fun decorating our tree today. Keeping decorations simple, spending less and being eco-friendly is important to me and thankfully my children are catching on.  Here are some ideas:

  • Instead of tinsel, make paper chains or bunting.
  • Make your own wreath or garland from items in your garden.
  • Make origami stars to hang on the tree or string some together.  
  • Felt is also an easy material for making tree ornaments.
  • When buying ornaments or decorations look for those made from wood, ceramic, fabric, metal or paper.
  • Buy local and fair trade!

One of the best decorations at Christmas is music. It sets the mood and reminds us about the Christmas stories and themes. There are many beautiful songs and compositions inspired by the Christmas season. Making a Christmas playlist is a great family activity.

Follow this link to listen to our Christmas compilation for 2019. https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4V0PSEpncXPQyUcV7Jj6tB

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and the theme is Hope. I have been listening to this beautiful song about Hope sung by Katie Noonan:

https://sonichits.com/video/Katie_Noonan_&_Tim_Freedman/Maybe_This_Christmas

What does Hope mean to you and what do you hope for?

Goldilocks at the Paint Store

Colour is our daylong obsession, joy and torment.

– Claude Monet –

I am such a Goldilocks when it comes to colour. Orange makes me feel itchy and uptight. Purple and red can be so overbearing. A small amount of yellow is cheery but too much is depressing. Muted blues and greens are usually my ‘just right’ colours. Ocean colours make me feel relaxed and peaceful.

Our painter dropped over this morning. He is about to paint the exterior of our house except I still can’t pin down the colour I want for the walls. My Goldilocks syndrome is in full swing. He encouraged me to look for houses I like in the area and go door knocking.

So later I knocked on a neighbour’s door and asked what colour they had painted their weather boards. It was Shuttle Bus (Taubmans). I bought a sample pot. I quite like it. At least I think I do.

So far I have tried: Tranquil Retreat (Dulux), Milton Moon (Dulux), Endless Dusk (Dulux), Silver Night (Haymes) and Miller Mood (Dulux). None have been quite right.

When I found the Shuttle Bus chip at the paint store my eye was also drawn to another one: Mountain Stream (Taubmans). I tried full strength and half strength. Sooooo pretty. But will it work on my weather boards?

Or is it just the name that I like?

Sometimes I daydream that my perfect job would be assigning names to colours. A bit like naming babies. When I was naming my babies I had enough reserve names for a whole army. In the end I only needed two (four if you count middle names). Naming paint colours seems like a good use for all those extra names.

I wonder why paint colour names grab me more than the colours themselves? Here are some I totally dig:

  • Washington Cherry (Porter’s)
  • Library Red (Porter’s)
  • Twig Basket (Behr)
  • Blessing (Behr)
  • Poet (Berger)
  • Skin Deep (Berger)
  • Tiptoes (Dulux)
  • Sea Drifter (Dulux)
  • Water Music (Dulux)
  • Seachange (Dulux)
  • Equanimity (Dulux)
  • Flooded Gum (Dulux)
  • Sealock (Haymes)
  • Bali Garden (Haymes)
  • Wavelet (Haymes)
  • Cool Jazz (Haymes)
  • Sea Salt (Benjamin Moore)
  • Wild Blue Yonder (Benjamin Moore)
  • Picnic (Sherwin Williams)
  • Julep (Sherwin Williams)
  • Raindrop (Sherwin Williams)
  • Indigo Batik (Sherwin Williams)

About seven years ago we had the interior walls of our house painted. We still laugh over the name of the colour in our lounge room. It is a lovely neutral called Self Destruct (Dulux). We went for half strength. We like the colour but what a funny name!

Here are some other amusing names for paint colours:

  • Roman Holiday (Porter’s)
  • Possum Breath (Porter’s)
  • Thousand Drums (Porter’s)
  • Dear John (Behr)
  • On Vacation (Behr)
  • Soul Search (Behr)
  • Stuck on You (Berger)
  • Almost Time (Berger)
  • Press Release (Berger)
  • Mexican Standoff (Dulux)
  • Scallywag (Dulux)
  • Wiggle (Dulux)
  • Cheesey Grin (Dulux)
  • Sneezy (Dulux)
  • Cuddle (Dulux)
  • Snoop (Dulux)
  • Foxy Lady (Haymes)
  • Pitty Pat (Haymes)
  • Emotional (Sherwin Williams)
  • At Ease Soldier (Sherwin Williams)
  • Proposal (Benjamin Moore)
  • Fancy Pants (Benjamin Moore)

If you are on a paint colour quest for your home and you feel a bit queasy about it, here are a few tips I have learned so far:

Looking at paint colours online is almost a futile exercise. They don’t look anything like they do in the light of day plus if you have a blue light filter on your glasses or phone, then everything will look more yellow than it is.

Having said that, there was a silver lining to my hunt for paint colour. I discovered a fabulous website called Encycolorpedia. They have the low down on every paint colour you can imagine. https://encycolorpedia.com/

Better yet, go to the local paint store and peruse the paint chips. Get a feel for the colours that you like. Narrow it down to two or three colours and buy some sample pots. Find pieces of cardboard A3 size or bigger to paint. Start with a white primer and then two coats of each colour. Allow 2 hours to dry. Look at these over a few days and in different lights.

Do consider how a colour makes you feel. And try not to get too distracted (like I do) by its name.

If you are still bamboozled (as I was!) talk to a colour consultant. They are amazing people who can help you work out what to do with your colour dilemmas. The consultants at Thornton & Blake are wonderful! You can find them here: https://thorntonandblake.com.au/ and here: https://www.instagram.com/thorntonandblake/

The staff at Paint Right in Springwood are awesome too: https://paintrightspringwood.com.au/

Or go door knocking.

That is all I have for now.

Thank goodness for patient painters. I recommend ours: https://www.bluemountainspainting.com.au/ https://www.instagram.com/bluemountainspainting/

What are your favourite paint colours?

Lewers Gallery

At the foot of the Blue Mountains, Lewers Gallery also known as Penrith Regional Gallery is one of my favourite places to visit. There is so much to love. First of all, the regular exhibitions are FREE. There are three main exhibition spaces and a small gift shop.

Secondly, there is a gorgeous garden to explore: a variety of trees, exotic plants, all kinds of flowers, a mini bamboo forest, a veggie patch and an old water tower. Also throughout the garden are a number of sculptures. Look out for birds too. They love the garden!

Thirdly: the heritage house! I love historic architecture and this little house is dreamy. Everything has been beautifully restored and maintained: stunning floor to ceiling windows, original fireplaces and floorboards, plenty of vintage details, ornate chimney stacks and a wrap around verandah.

Fourthly, Lewers Café is a winner. Art and food are a magic combination and Lewers Café offers a delicious menu and friendly service. The café overlooks the garden and there are outdoor as well as under cover options for seating.

To top everything off, Lewers Gallery takes art education seriously and offers a range of engaging workshops for students of all ages as well as professional development opportunities for art educators. Check these out on the website: https://www.penrithregionalgallery.com.au/whats-on/

The house and studio spaces at 86 River Road, Emu Plains were bought by artists Gerald and Margo Lewers in the 1940s and a number of their art works can still be seen around the property. The Lewers were leaders in the Australian modernist art movement and their home became a hub for other artists during that time.

In 1979 the historic house, garden and art works were generously donated by the Lewers family to become a regional gallery. From 7 September to 17 November 2019 there will be a special exhibition at the Lewers Gallery to celebrate 40 years since that generous donation was made. The exhibition is aptly named ‘Gifting’.

Can’t wait to see it!

Pilgrim Inn

peregrine – Medieval Latin ‘peregrinus’ – traveller, pilgrim

Perhaps I should have been an archaeologist; I have a fascination with the ruins of old buildings. I like to imagine who constructed the buildings and who lived in them. I love the mystery!

The other day was I reading up on some Blue Mountains’ history and found out about the ruins of Pilgrim Inn at Blaxland. I was keen to see the ruins and I was surprised to learn that they were in a car park behind a fast food outlet in Blaxland (corner of Layton Avenue and Great Western Highway).

Next time I was driving past I pulled in to the car park to have a look. Sure enough, there was what remained of Pilgrim Inn; three crumbling stone walls propped up with metal brackets and the site surrounded by a fence.

The building seemed quite small but apparently it was originally part of a bigger complex. Seeing the ruins only intensified my curiosity so I went looking for more information and discovered quite a story.

This is what I found:

Pilgrim Inn was constructed on one of the first land grants in the Blue Mountains. In 1825 a 320 hectare site at Blaxland followed by an additional 640 hectare site at Glenbrook was granted to a man named Barnett Levey (1798-1837) who was New South Wales’ first Jewish free immigrant. He named his land Mount Sion Estate.

The dwelling and out buildings that later became Pilgrim Inn were built on Barnett Levey’s estate some time between 1825 and 1828 but it was not long before he became bankrupt. The site was sold to the sheriff, John Wood who subsequently leased it to James Evans. Pilgrim Inn was issued its first licence in 1830. It was the first inn west of Penrith in the Blue Mountains.

Pilgrim Inn was later bought by John Wascoe in 1857 and in 1869 it closed as an inn. The William Deane family bought the site in 1873 living there until a bushfire destroyed the buildings in 1968.

Even though Barnett Levey lived in the Blue Mountains for only a few years, he made a lasting mark on the Glenbrook area where his Mount Sion Estate was located. After he had bought the estate, John Wood made the following comments in a letter,

“The proposed new road cuts the waters of the Brook Kedron from the main body of the land. The road destroys or occupies the principal part of the good land in the Valley of Jehosophat through which it runs. The names seem ridiculous, but they were the names given by Mr. Barnett Levey before I purchased same.”

https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/100972025

Although I can’t find any trace of the Valley of Jehosophat on current maps, many street names in the Glenbrook area such as Levy, Barnet, David, Tabor, Kedron, Carmel, Benjamin, Olivet, as well as Mount Sion Park are testament to Barnett Levey’s Jewish heritage and his brief time in the Blue Mountains.

Barnett Levey was an interesting man with a varied career and big dreams. He was a merchant, an auctioneer and later a jeweller, watchmaker and realtor. He is credited with opening the first lending library in New South Wales and he has been referred to as the ‘Father of Australian Theatre’. He bought a warehouse on the site of the current Dymocks Building in George Street, Sydney and lobbied Governor Darling to build a commercial theatre. In those days, the Governor’s consent was required for such ventures. Governor Darling was not keen. In the meantime Barnett Levey turned part of the warehouse into The Royal Hotel, a business to fund his theatre which he began building behind the hotel.

In 1832 Barnett Levey was granted the first theatre licence in the colony by Governor Darling’s replacement, Governor Bourke. In early October 1833, Barnett Levey finally opened his Theatre Royal and on Boxing Day that year, he organised the first professional performance of Shakespeare in Australia – a production of Richard III.

Unfortunately, Barnett Levey was not a great businessman and faced many challenges with his theatre.

Sick, tired and worn out by his efforts to make the theatre pay, Barnett Levey died on 2 October 1837, leaving a widow and four small children in poverty. Acknowledging his bold idealism, The Sydney Times, 21 October 1837, stated that:
‘to his spirit and perseverance are the public indebted for the introduction of theatricals into New South Wales’.

https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/stories/australian-jewish-community-and-culture/arts-culture-barnett-levey

Unlike Pilgrim Inn, no ruins remain of Barnett Levey’s Theatre Royal. It was destroyed in a fire in 1840 and subsequently other buildings were constructed on the site.

Next time you are enjoying a stage play, spare a thought for our performing arts enthusiast, Barnett Levey, who fought so hard to bring theatre to the new colony. When you are driving around Glenbrook look for those street names harking back to his brief time in The Blue Mountains. If you feel a hankering for fast food at Blaxland, take a moment in the carpark to see the remains of Pilgrim Inn. Perhaps you will wonder like I did about all the stories those stones could tell.

Photographs of Pilgrim Inn before and after the 1968 bushfires can be found in the Blue Mountains City Library: https://www.flickr.com/photos/blue_mountains_library_-_local_studies/27091383856/in/photostream/

You can also see another photo here: http://collectionsearch.nma.gov.au/object/129969

I found all my information about Pilgrim Inn and Barnett Levey from these websites:

https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/100972025

https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/barnett_leveys_theatre_royal

https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/stories/australian-jewish-community-and-culture/arts-culture-barnett-levey

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/levey-barnett-2352

https://www.bluemts.com.au/info/about/history/historic-blaxland/

https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/blaxland-20070815-gdkpyk.html

Confessions of a Rhubarb Queen

I have had a long love affair with rhubarb.

Legend has it that when I was a very little girl I went to an afternoon tea party and when asked what I would like to eat I replied, “Rhubarb please!”

That amusing incident earned me the title ‘Rhubarb Queen’ in my family.

Last summer I was walking along the street with my friend and I noticed a bucket of free rhubarb. It was outside a house with a well-tended garden. I had often stopped there to admire the dahlias. Delighted, I took a bunch of rhubarb home and stewed it later that day.

My tastebuds were dancing the cha cha, the jitterbug and everything in between! It was unbelievably good. Just enough tartness and just enough sweetness. Paired with vanilla ice cream, it was a simple but completely satisfying dessert.

Following this I had a New Year epiphany. I decided that my only resolution this year would be to plant some rhubarb in my garden. I did some research and was a little disappointed to find out that I couldn’t plant it straight away. I had to wait.

A couple of weeks ago I decided it was time! No more waiting. I scoped out Springwood Growers Market and found a healthy looking rhubarb plant at the awesome Patio Plants stall. You can find Patio Plants Pty Ltd on Facebook. They are regulars at both the Blackheath Growers Market (2nd Sunday of the month) and Springwood Growers Market (4th Sunday of the month).

I chose a sunny well-drained spot in the garden and planted it with lots of love and care. Hopefully there will be something delicious to harvest in the next year or so. Looks like the ‘Rhubarb Queen’ will have to be patient some more. It will be worth it though.

Thankfully, unlike growing rhubarb, stewing rhubarb is quick (and easy)!

Stewed Rhubarb

  • 6 – 8 stalks of rhubarb
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (adjust to taste)
  • 1/ 4 cup water
  • Remove and discard the leaves (they are rather toxic, so don’t feed them to your chickens!)
  • Wash the stalks and chop them into 2 cm chunks.
  • Place them in a saucepan with water and sugar.
  • Stew gently for 5-10 minutes or until the stalks are tender.
  • Serve hot over vanilla ice cream.
  • Cold with muesli and yogurt works too.
  • You could also stew the rhubarb with 4 or 5 apples (peeled and sliced). A great combo for a crumble dessert!

Glenbrook Rotary Markets

It was a gorgeous sunny day for the Handmade and General Market in Glenbrook last weekend. What a huge variety of stalls there were. I have taken a few snaps of the highlights:

I was so glad to see Pretty Frocking Vintage there because I have been admiring their lovely range of vintage clothing and accessories on instagram for a while. Fun to see for real their gorgeous frocks, coats, scarves, hats and even brollies! Check out the cool hat in the pic! More on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/prettyfrockingvintage/ and also an etsy store: https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/PrettyFrockVintage

I love Blackbird Soy Candles‘ rustic sign! All their beautiful candles are locally handcrafted and smell divine! More on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/blackbird_soy_candles/?hl=en

This busking duo, Jerrah and Friends were really rocking the market! Great tunes and rhythms! I think they are regulars so if you get to the next market, make sure you check them out.

I get so excited when I see upcycled vintage cutlery! Gitane Jewellery are locals and their stunning jewellery is expertly handcrafted. They also make super cute markers for the garden. More on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/GitaneJewellery/ and etsy: https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/GitaneJewellery

I adore flowers (you may have guessed?) and had to stop and admire Lily of the Valley’s sweet blooms. Aren’t they so pretty? More on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lilyofthevalleyfloristry/

Next stop was Yvonne’s Handmade Pottery. I love pottery and seeing Yvonne’s work was wonderful. We had such an interesting chat about the unique patterns and designs she has developed in her pieces. Yvonne is a regular to Glenbrook Markets so look out for her there but also on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/yvonneshandmadepottery/?hl=en

Final stop was Modimade, a fairtrade venture that partners with women in Cambodia to handcraft a range of beautiful products. Soft toys, clothing and colourful mobiles but also nifty nappy changing kits designed by Modimade’s inspiring founder, Anna. Look out for more on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/modimade/

Handmade and General Market is on the 3rd Saturday each month at 10 Ross Street, Glenbrook. There is also a Grow, Bake and Make Market at the same venue on the 1st Saturday of the month. Stay updated via instagram: https://www.instagram.com/glenbrookrotarymarkets/

A World of Stories

World Refugee Day 20 June Refugee Week 16 -22 June 2019

In 2014, I went to a launch in Wentworth Falls for a book called A Country Too Far. It is a compilation of stories about asylum seekers edited by Rosie Scott and Tom Keneally, published in 2013 by Penguin Group. Tom Keneally is famous for his novel Schindler’s Ark that won the Booker Prize in 1982 and was later made into the Academy Award winning film, Schindler’s List.

In his opening address at the launch, Tom Keneally observed that after travelling all over Australia promoting the book, he found the Blue Mountains community to be by far the most compassionate and supportive of refugees. This was very heartening.

The Blue Mountains community has been concerned about refugees for some time. In 2001 The Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group Inc (BMRSG) formed, never imagining that they would still be needed almost two decades later. They describe themselves thus:

… a diverse group of ordinary Australians from all sides of politics. The organisation has no specific affiliations. We are united by the vision of an openhearted Australia where people seeking refuge and asylum are treated with justice and compassion.

BMRSG is a registered charity and all its members are volunteers. They support asylum seekers and refugees in a variety of ways that are outlined on their website: https://www.bmrsg.org.au/

Also, in 2004 the City of Blue Mountains declared itself to be a ‘Refugee Welcome Zone’ indicating a commitment in spirit to welcome refugees into the community.

The theme for Refugee Week 2019 is ‘A World of Stories’. The refugee experience can be difficult to imagine but stories are powerful in overcoming this. The following books may be helpful:

  • In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda, published in 2010 by Baldini Castoldi Dalai Editore
  • No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani, published in 2018 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd
  • Room on Our Rock by Kate and Jol Temple, published in 2018 by Scholastic Australia
  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan, published in 2006 by Hodder Children’s Books
  • The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do, published in 2010 by Allen & Unwin
  • The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman, published in 2008 by Insight Publications
  • Walking Free by Dr Munjed Al Muderis, published in 2014 by Allen & Unwin
  • Ziba Came on a Boat by Liz Lofthouse, published in 2007 by Kane/Miller Book Publishers

My own involvement with refugees began in 2007. It began with kindness from a stranger and then learning about their story of seeking refuge. This led to a firm and life-changing friendship between us. Ever since then my life has been enriched with more such stories and friendships. I am so grateful.

Unfortunately, the situation for asylum seekers and refugees both in Australia and worldwide remains dire. The stats are here: https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/figures-at-a-glance.html

So much is needed: workable solutions, effective teamwork, more understanding, compassion and justice.

I was quietly thrilled after the formalities of the book launch in Wentworth Falls to meet Tom Keneally. We had a warm chat and then he signed my book: ‘In hope, Tom Keneally 2014‘.

I also write this in hope.

#WithRefugees

Lyttleton Stores

What a treasure trove of creativity, community and sustainable living I discovered when I visited Lyttleton Stores! It is worth taking the time to appreciate all the generosity, skill and innovation that goes into this unique venture.

Lyttleton Stores is a not for profit cooperative that operates an Atelier (for local handmade art and crafts), a Preserve (workshop space), a Pantree (for organic fresh produce), a Kitchen (for homemade products) and a Garden (organic, of course).

The Lyttleton Stores website http://www.lyttletonstores.com.au/ is a also feast of information:

  • there is a Garden Blog with loads of helpful tips
  • interesting interviews with artists and artisans
  • recipes!
  • a range of workshops to book that include: life drawing, seed propagation, spoon carving, sour dough baking, fermentation and preserving, arm knitting and bee keeping!

I am super impressed with all that Lyttleton Stores has to offer and especially because it ticks my big three: Creativity, Community and Simple Living!

You can also get a taste of Lyttleton Stores by visiting their stall at Magpie Markets in Lawson on the third Sunday of each month. There is also instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lyttletonstores/?hl=en

Lyttleton Stores is easy to find at 1 Badgery Crescent, Lawson and there is plenty of parking nearby.