There’s a street I walk down regularly that is like entering a magical mystery tour. Every time I turn off Darling St, Balmain into Datchett St it’s like entering another world. The houses are mostly weatherboard cottages, built in the 1840’s and the street quickly narrows to a stone laneway that descends towards the harbour down a steep hill. It is always quiet. A creative enclave that has views of the harbour filtered through the lush greenery. It’s in the middle of Sydney’s inner west, a densely populated, urban environment, but it always conjures up a small seaside town ambience.
Walking down this street always unleashes the creative child in me as I imagine stories and adventures that have filled these cottages. The shoes that have trodden the old and worn stones before mine. It’s a daily gift for a writer.
And that hill is steep, far more pleasurable to amble leisurely down, taking in the view, than to huff and puff upwards.
A few weeks ago, my online writing group, Write on Wednesday, set the task of sitting under a tree to write. Not only was it inspiring to be unleashed from the laptop, it was actually wonderfully calming. There was a breeze ruffling through the leaves, the sun seeping through the overhanging branches of the Moreton Bay Fig and the gentle slapping of water against the harbour’s stone wall. So, inspired by the great outdoors I’ve found 10 places that are great for writing at. Water features in all of my chosen spots, it’s hard to get away from in Sydney. Water can soothing, dramatic, lulling or noisy, but never boring .I love watching the play of light across water, the shadows of clouds skidding through the sky, the people, vessels and animal life associated with it.
I hope that where ever you are, this will encourage you to find some great outdoor venues and experiment with some al fresco writing.
I’ve written about Wendy Whitely’s garden before. It’s a magical spot, nestled into Lavender Bay. It combines great physical beauty with an artistic aesthetic. Grab a coffee from a local cafe and head into this oasis of lush quietness.
Bondi – Bronte Walk. Amazing views up and down the coastline, but you need to pick your moment here. It can be very busy with local joggers, walkers and tourists. It also hosts the Sculpture by the Sea every November, which is well worth a visit. Cafes at Bondi, Tamarama and Bronte. Also, great bar at Icebergs, Bondi!
Bible Garden is another tucked away garden, but on the Northern Beaches at Palm Beach. This is a great spot during the week, always quiet. And if you’re Muse didn’t make it through the Bilgola Bends, there’s a bible in a Tupperware container you can turn to. No amenities, but plenty in Palm Beach or Avalon.
Centennial Park is Sydney’s equivalent of Hyde Park, London or Central Park, New York. At the Woolhara end of Oxford Street, it has open parklands, ponds, a fantastic playground and kiosk/cafe. It has large playing fields for football, a horse-riding track, walking/jogging track and you can also hire a bike. It’s always busy, but there are plenty of quiet spots you can retreat to.
The Botanic Gardens, alongside the Opera House and curving around Farm Cove, are fantastic anytime of year. Also close to the Art Gallery of NSW, which happens to be one of my favourite places in Sydney. Note of warning – don’t sit under the fruit bats. They are noisy, smelly and poo on people’s heads.
Lillian Fraser Garden in Pennant Hills has only a trickle of a stream running through it, but it’s like a fairy dell. It’s small and has a quaint, English Cottage garden feel to it. Always peaceful but unfortunately, no amenities.
If you need a setting for a ghost story, Cockatoo Island could be just the place for you. Situated off Balmain, it was originally a prison. It was also the location for a children’s Reformatory and eventually became the site for shipbuilding. Apart from the seagulls, it’s quiet during the week, but weekends, particularly in summer can be very busy. And if you’re up for it, you can go camping there.
Balmain is my local community. It’s a peninsula jutting into the harbour and has plenty of foreshore parks and reserves. The houses are a mix of terraces, sandstone villas and cottages and weatherboards, lining the narrow streets and lanes. It has some great cafes and restaurants, two independent bookstores and some great shops. If you’re coming on a warm day, bring your cozzie and have a dip in the Dawn Fraser Pool, a tidal pool surrounded by a boardwalk overlooking Cockatoo Island.
Lane Cove National River Park is on Sydney’s North Shore and winds along the banks of the gentle Lane Cove River. There are parts of this park that are really quite densely bushy and other areas that are more open with grassy picnic areas. But the river gives it a different attitude from the harbour or beach, quieter, more introspective. Take a picnic and when you’ve finished writing, hire a row boat.
Nielsen Park is another of my favourite Sydney spots. I’m not a fan of big surf so this harbourside beach is perfect. It offers a rolling swell that you can float over, sand to lie on, shady trees to recover under when the sun is too fierce and a great kiosk. It’s a fantastic spot to eavesdrop on conversations. But do not attempt to go here on summer weekends, it’s as packed as a thin strip of Mediterranean sand. Weekdays are perfect and it’s pretty good in winter too.
I’d love to hear about your outdoor writing spots.
It’s been a busy week and I’m easing into an even busier weekend. Yes, it will be predictably White. There will be scarves, farmers’ markets, a moleskine notebook even some musical theatre (#77). Today, I’ve warmed up with some downward dog at yoga and summoned the creative energy whilst in Warrior 1 because there was a blog post to be written before the busy weekend. But so far, I seemed to have only tweaked a hamstring rather than opened up a flow of original and wonderfully entertaining new ideas.
So in the absence of any such ideas, I humbly offer the view from my bedroom balcony. Not into Johnny Depp’s apartment, unfortunately, but across Sydney Harbour to Barangaroo and the city skyline.
In the foreground is a rusted relic from the days when Sydney Harbour was a working port and not just about corporate Harbour cruises and doof-doof party boats with male strippers. ‘Who’d like to take him home to meet mum and dad?’ Yes, please do. Anyone. Take him away so I don’t have to hear it next Friday and Saturday nights as well.
There are rowing crews having whistles blown at them in the pre-dawn chill, liners fog-horning their departure and the regular chugging and tooting of the ferries. The Water Rats (Police) are at the end of the street, but we’re still waiting for any sign of life from there.
As night falls, the red and blue logos of skyscrapers seep across the water, blurred and diffused like one of Monet’s waterlily ponds. And of course the fireworks. Not just the New Year’s Eve extravaganza, but an almost weekly event at Darling Harbour or across at the Opera House. The snap, crackle and fizz of the red, green, silver and gold celebrations still send me to the window to ooh and aah.
It’s well-filling, inspiring and beautiful and that’s where I turned to today when my Warrior 1 failed me.