Delicious descriptions from Down Under: Marjorie Barnard on the sun and heat

Marjorie Barnard

Marjorie Barnard (Courtesy: State Library of New South Wales, via Wikipedia)

My first Delicious descriptions post was from Barbara Hanrahan on the sun in Adelaide, so I thought we might travel to Sydney for this one. As it’s still in summer in our neck of the woods, here is Marjorie Barnard in The persimmon tree and other stories (1943), also on the sun – and its enervating effect:

In the wealthy suburbs of the North Shore and Vaucluse a change had taken place too. It was as if the earth had been squeezed so that all the fine houses that had nestled so comfortably in the contours and in the greenery, were forced up to the light. They bulged out, exposed, and the sun tore at them. The gardens that had embowered them were perished. Tinder dry, fire had been through many of them, scorching walls and blistering away any paint that remained. Most of these houses were empty or inhabited as if they were caves, by people who had come in from the stricken country. The owners had fled, not so much from present hardship, as from the nebulous threat of the future, the sense of being trapped in a doomed city. The shores of the harbour were lion-coloured or drab grey. Sandhills showed a vivid whiteness. Only the water was alive and brilliant. And it was salt. (from “Dry spell”)

I like her point that nature doesn’t discriminate (even though we know that, in reality, the well-off do often have the wherewithal to avoid its worst effects). And I love the last sentence – the short finality of it.


  1. I have been at the coast this week, and so scheduled my first two Delicious Descriptions for this time. I promise I won’t be bombarding you bi-weekly with these. (The dictionaries are confused! I looked up “bi-weekly” and it can mean both “twice a week”, as I mean here, of course, and “every two weeks”. How silly is that! Anyhow, perhaps “semiweekly” is the preferable term.)
  2. And Sarah (you Devoted Reader you), this one’s for you. May you experience no more such heat in Sydney this summer.

14 thoughts on “Delicious descriptions from Down Under: Marjorie Barnard on the sun and heat

  1. I am a huge fan of this [what I call] poetic style of writing. Knowing precisely where to place the ‘and it was salt’ sentence is almost an artform in itself.
    Lovely site. I’m pleased I dropped by.

      • “And it was salt” is killer. I don’t have all my Steads here, but I do have Seven Poor Men of Sydney, and she writes about dryness and bushfires a little —

        “Last night the storms gathered round the moon and the wind blew whirling cones of sand and dust about. Over Middle Head was the pale rosy light of the bushfires. The trees raged in the park, which is always turning back to wilderness; they lifted their arms and tossed in the darkness of the under-cliff. The souls of trees are freed in storms, they struggle, arise, and commingle in the lower air. Wild flutings, reedy laments and cries of inhuman passions fill the ear. The gale trumpets in the distance, and they tremble as if before the trampling of the sabaoth. Let the wind-buffeted man run past with his overcoat squatting on his back; he is out of his elements. The children of the storm strain and howl, taking no notice of him and oblivious of his world in their recital of lugubrious mysteries, earthy deeps, lost rivers and subterranean caverns.”

  2. Funnily enough, something about the tone of this passage reminds me of the eerie atmosphere and colours of the day of the Canberran bushfires. Gives me the shivers, a litt.e

  3. This is the sort of decryption of heat that stops me in my tracks and makes me rather glad as look out of my study window for the dull, grey and chilly day we are experiencing in the UK today. It might even reconcile me to the forecast of a wet weekend. There’s heat and then there is heat!

    • LOL Annie … I guess that’s what makes you English and me Australian. Of course, the extremes are unpleasant for both of us I presume … I’ve heard that there’s suggestion that we are in for 30 years of wet weather so I may start coming to you for advice on how to enjoy a wet weekend forecast!

  4. 1) i love this idea. as you wrote in the earlier post, i am always finding quotes that don’t really fit in a review i’m writing, but that i want to hold onto. sometimes i do force the quotes in, to be honest, but this is such a great idea to highlight your favorite passages.

    2) i love this line: “The owners had fled, not so much from present hardship, as from the nebulous threat of the future, the sense of being trapped in a doomed city.”

    3) i wish it were summer here!

    and 4) thanks also for bringing my attention to some australian authors. i’m not sure that i’ve ever read anything by an australian – what a huge gap in my reading.

    • Why thank you Ellen. I hope this results in your picking up an Australian author some time. We Antipodeans think it is a shame that so few of our authors make it across the seas … or, that when they do they are not promoted enough for all you keen readers to discover them!

      BTW I’m glad it is summer here but it is receding far too quickly!

  5. HI WhisperingGums, wondering about Marjorie Barnard’s writing beyond this small book of spectacular stories. Did she write any novels or other books of short stories?

    • I thought you’d like thise!

      I’m thinking of doing a Monday musings on “the triumvirate”: Marjorie Barnard, Flora Eldershaw and Frank Dalby Davison. Barnard wrote quite a lot – novels, non-fiction books, essays. Her novels are collaborations with Flora Eldershaw – using the name M. Barnard Eldershaw. They won an award with The house is built, and their Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow was pretty controversial. These are their best known.

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