Lilianfels and Norman (magic pudding) Lindsay
On my last Sunday in Australia I make my way to Sydney Central train station. After an hour’s journey on a rickety old train full of graffiti, as well as hikers with rucksacks eager to get to the mountain trails and cliff walks of the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park, I get out at Springwood. I feel a rush of cold air but it’s wonderfully fresh. I am grateful for the gloves I have carried all around Australia, unused until now. Suddenly it is winter, strange in May.
No wonder so many Victorian travellers came here thinking a blast of mountain air would cure them of all manner of ailments especially Tuberculosis or consumption as it was then called. Nowadays, the place to stay is Lilianfels, a luxury spa hotel owned for a decade or so by a Japanese group but originally the home of Irish born Sir Frederick Darley, Lieutenant-Governor and Chief Justice of New South Wales (NSW). Sir Frederick and Lady Darley came here with their family in 1888, bought some land in the neighbourhood of Katoomba for “the erection and completion of a high class cottage.” They certainly achieved that, although the cottage could not deliver the hoped for cure for their beloved daughter Lillian. She died on April 21, 1889 aged 22 and the house was named in her memory with the word ‘fels’, a high rock in German, added to indicate the surrounding area. Sir Frederick sold the property in 1908 and the house went through a variety of owners after that.
Nonetheles Lilianfels, with its broad sweeping driveway so typical of hill station estates, evidently remained a popular Blue Mountains resort. According to one early 20th century advertisement it was a “charming guest house of historic interest, sunny yet sheltered. It immediately overlooks majestic cliffs and has a clear and uninterrupted vista of the Jamieson and Kanimba Valleys. Lilianfels is not modern,” the advert continues, “the site was chosen and the quaint old fashioned residence built by Chief Justice Sir Frederick Darley over a century ago and there he entertained royalty on several occasions.” Queen Mary visited in 1901 and, twenty years later, her son then Prince of Wales, later Edward 8th and later still Duke of Windsor (about whom I have spent so much time talking in Australia this month) went there. Edward came as part of his 1920 tour, intended to proclaim to the Dominions that, in spite of the recent Bolshevik massacre, the British monarchy was safe in the hands of this handsome charmer. During his brief stopover, Edward, a keen gardener, found time to present Ranger McKay with a long service medal in the grounds of Lilianfels as he admired the glorious landscaping of the park.
I long to go back here not only for some serious trekking in the valley of the Three Sisters mountain peaks but to ramble around another Springwood estate, the home of the artist and writer Norman Lindsay (1879- 1969) and his muse and wife, Rose Soady. They moved to the Blue Mountains in 1911 hoping to cure Lindsay’s presumed tuberculosis. The property where he lived and worked for nearly 60 years, called Springwood, is now owned by the National Trust of Australia and the original sandstone cottage, which Lindsay and Rose extended and embellished to suit the growing needs of their family- (daughters Jane and Honey were born in 1920 and 1922) – now houses a gallery for the permanent exhibition of his work. Several of his cement sculptures still decorate the magnificent 42 acre garden with some now cast in bronze to preserve them. Lindsay wrote his classic Australian Children’s story, The Magic Pudding, in response to a wager: he believed that children were more interested in food than in fairies and he was evidently right. The Magic Pudding may not be his most significant artistic creation but it has never been out of print.