HISTORY,HERITAGE AND A secret garden
Deep in the tranquil gardens overlooking Lavender Bay and the home of the Whiteley family, the ashes of Brett and Arkie Whiteley lay.
It's a place of remembrance but there’s a sense that such beauty could never mask the deep and lasting heartbreak for Wendy of losing a husband and cherished daughter.
Growing and nurturing 'the secret garden' has been a passionate commitment for Wendy Whiteley since 1992. After the sudden death of Arkie in 2001 however, it took on new meaning and significance. What had begun on an area of disused railway land adjacent to the house, which had been derelict for many years, slowly began a greater transformation.It had previously been used to dump broken railway carriages, abandoned refrigerators, and rotting mattresses, and was an area used by the homeless seeking refuge.
The area - which is still owned by Rail Corporation – is licensed to North Sydney Council by the state government.
The garden has a multitude of secluded spots and secret winding paths and has become a focal point for locals and tourists, many of whom have heard about its beauty or just chanced upon it.
The views of Sydney Harbour are spectacular and, over the past 15 years, wildlife and birds have flocked to the area. Although it's affectionately known as ’Wendy‘s Secret Garden‘, it’s always been accessible.
North Sydney mayor Jilly Gibson says it’s one of her favourite places in the area.
“Every year we see a vast improvement in the garden," Mayor Gibson tells North Shore Living. “There's so much love and attention put into the garden. My daughter was married there last year, so it's very special to our family.
“The devotion is present - it has this wonderful feeling of tranquilty and it's held in enormous affection by residents."
She says when Wendy originally started the garden; it was a huge project, with Wendy using all her own financial resources.
Over the years, she has received assistance from the council and a local Lavender Bay gardening group who help with the huge maintenance once a month.
North Sydney’s director of Environmental Services and Open Spaces, Robert Emerson, says Wendy still does the majority of the work in the garden.
"We always try and assist her when we can with landscaping.
It’s a massive area to maintain and it’s been a long process to get it to where it is today," he tells North Shore Living.
"It's one of the hidden gems in North Sydney. The garden is fantastic - everyone should go and see it.” Mr Emerson says North Sydney Council has just re-negotiated the licence for the Railcorp land from one year to five, which means the garden will be safe for at least another four years.
“We are still hoping the state government will dedicate the land in perpetuity," he says.
In a further move designed to save the garden, the council has brought forward a plan to the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage to have the Whiteley home at 1 Walker Street, Lavender Bay, heritage listed.
The building was converted to two flats in about 1929 and then altered and converted back to a single dwelling by the Whiteleys when they purchased it in 1974.
A tower was added, and enclosed verandas opened up. The view across Sydney Harbour was to be the subject of many of Brett Whiteley‘s iconic paintings.
“The house and its environs are a rare representation of Brett's life and work," the council says in its heritage submission.
"They are likely to be of state significance by providing evidence of an important historical period in the Australian Arts.”
Wendy says she loves the fact that Arkie took part in establishing the garden before her death.
"The garden, the studio, friendships, are all those things that keep you going. Sometimes I realise I’m talking to her or Brett or anybody else in my life as though they are still alive. And in a way, they still are. Arkie and Brett will always be there as a part of me,” Wendy reflects.