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A little girl who loved wattle blossom
Memories of Henry Handel Richardson
The front veranda at "Lakeview."
Admirers of the great novelist meet for a
party on her birthday. Joan Palmer reports
On a warm summer night in
January last year i heard a ghost. The ghost of a girl who lived in a house by a lake in an old Victorian mining town 100 years ago.
She was a thin, dark, lively child who used to run through the french windows of a hot brick cottage out on to the veranda where it was always cool. There she would bounce her ball endlessly against the walls and make up stories at the top of her voice.
Her imagination was later to bring her fame, for the child was Henry Handel Richardson, christened Ethel Florence Lindesay (though her maiden surname was Richardson), who lived at "Lakeview," Chiltern, with her parents and younger
sister when she was five.
She was to become one of the greats of
Now, in a season of rising fame for Australian films, work has begun on a film based on Henry Handel Richardson's book "The Getting of Wisdom," which reflects her school days in Melbourne. Susannah Fowle has been cast as the schoolgirl from
the country, and Barry Humphries as the
It was at "Lakeview" that the girl Henry
Handel Richardson first realized that her
father was degenerating ? the father about whom she wrote so movingly in the trilogy "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony."
She must have sensed her mother's
disillusionment and apprehension about the future as she saw her cutting down and re-sewing curtains and carpets.
Years later Henry Handel Richardson was to write of her mother in "Myself When Young": "Her talents were purely practical; and there was little she could not do with her large, capable hands. As a child I have stood by and watched her whitewash the walls or repair or upholster
Another trial for Mrs Richardson was
that the kitchen was well away from the house. But this delighted the children, as the maid was often out of earshot and they could do much as they pleased.
Ethel loved the bush. Years later, living in England, she wrote: ". .. for the first
time I saw and smelt wattles in bloom. It
was an unforgettable experience. To this day, I have only to catch a whiff of mimosa in a dingy London street and I am once more a small girl, sitting on a fallen tree under the bluest of skies, with all around me those golden, almost stupefyingly sweet
masses of blossom."
The cottage has been restored and
Some of the old home's furniture.
lovingly furnished in the style of the 1870s by the National Trust of Victoria, who have classified it B ? highly significant ? to be preserved. And rightly so, as to all
lovers of "Ultima Thüle" ? the final book
of the trilogy and generally acclaimed as the greatest ? the house is very much alive after being described so accurately through the eyes of the small boy, Cuffy.
"It had nothing but doors, which spelt
freedom: even the windows were doors.
There were no stairs. A passage went right down the middle, with a door at each end which always stood open, and three
room-doors on each side. You could run
out of any of the windows and tear round
the veranda ..."
The piano is played to commemorate Henry Handel Richardson's birthday each year. For on January 3, or the nearest Saturday to that date, her dedicated admirers gather at "Lakeview" for a party.
Last year the air was so still it barely fluttered the candles which glowed on the long tables covered with damask cloths. We ate roast goose, pressed tongues, trifles and fruit salad, just as the Richardsons might have done 100 years ago.
After dinner we sat on the lawn
drinking wine cup while a young man read extracts from her writings.
It was then I heard the sound of running feet and a childish voice talking to herself as she bounced a ball regularly against the old brick walls. Cj