I take pride in fact that I have grown up with a wonderfully talented uncle. A renown Australian painter whose home I relished being in, filled to capacity with mesmerising artwork, sculpture and incredible artefacts collected over the years from extrodinary global travels. At family get-togethers, I would wander around the house and marvel at their phenomenal collection. We would all sit around an unpretentious table with free flowing wine and listen, to both the enviable and fascinating stories about his life as a young artist. It was my uncle who introduced me to Brett and Wendy Whiteley.
My uncle had a great friendship with Brett Whiteley; they enjoyed each others company despite being vastly different from one another. Their friendship began in art school in Rome, they held exhibitions together in London and spent countless time in Australia creating masterpieces together… amongst other things.
Brett would often come up to the Gold Coast to have a week on a health farm. Immediately the week was over, he would check himself out, hire a car, go straight to a boozer, buy four bottles of Scotch, three cartons of cigarettes, and bring a whole swag of long play records up here. We had some JBL speakers and he’d play the records so loud he’d blow them out.
It is this indirect association that has always had me intrigued by the Whiteleys. Not only by the incredible character and immortal work of Brett, but now since turning to garden design, the discovery of the ‘Secret Garden’, the work of his wife, Wendy Whiteley.
The ‘Secret Garden’ is located in Lavender Bay, Sydney. The Whiteley’s decided to call Lavender Bay their home in 1969 after returning from living a bohemian lifestyle in London and New York. But it is only in recent years, that Wendy decided to transform the land behind her property, belonging to Transport NSW, into a beautiful, peaceful garden.
It was just this amorphous mess and I think I was looking for something positive to do… and I looked out there one day and thought I’m going to do that. I’m going to clean up that mess. So I just started at one end…
Whether legal or not, Wendy’s rebellious nature kept her moving forward with her project, with the knowledge that she was providing the people of Sydney with a beautiful public space for the community.
Now it’s kept to the stage where it’s quite settled and very peaceful really and then there’s maintenance you know, maintenance which is the big bug bearer of anything alive including oneself.
The garden is organic and free flowing with meandering paths offering several rewarding views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is textured, layered and beaming with character featuring ecletic sculptures at every turn.
It’ll never be finished. That’s the thing. Like a life is never over until you’re dead.
Wendy’s ongoing commitment to the garden is a tribute to her family. Burying the ashes of husband Brett in 1992 and only daughter Arkie in 2001 within the garden at a location that remains undisclosed.
I do have a fond spot which I don’t tell anybody about. And they have both have beautiful trees that are growing out of their spirits.
In 2009, Wendy Whiteley was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community through the establishment and maintenance of this public garden at Lavender Bay, and as a supporter of the visual arts.
Wendy’s Secret garden is a public space and a popular tourist destination. A must see, the garden is located at the bottom of Clark Park, Lavender Bay, Sydney.
A special thank you to Contributor and Photographer, Brent Wilson, who managed to capture these images which encapsulate the heart and soul of the garden perfectly.