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Monday Musings on Australian Literature: Writers’ retreats

August 15, 2011
Eleanor Dark, c. 1945

Eleanor Dark, c1945, by Max Dupain (Presumed Public Domain, from State Library of New South Wales, via Wikipedia)

The last Monday Musings in June was on Christina Stead‘s house and the current owners’ plans to modify it in a way that would spoil some of its heritage significance. The commentary on the post included discussion of how writers’ homes can be used. One rather apposite way is as writers’ retreats.

We have a few in Australia:

  • Eleanor Dark‘s Varuna in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Varuna was the home of Australian novelist Eleanor Dark and her husband Eric, and was given to the Eleanor Dark Foundation in 1989 by their son. Varuna’s website describes the retreat as “an environment totally dedicated to writing and offers writers ideal conditions in which to concentrate on their work. The success of Varuna absolutely depends on writers respecting the needs of their fellow guests – hence a few routines & conditions of stay.” This is clearly a serious place! The site also tells us that the retreat’s library has been catalogued onto LibraryThing. It might be an old house but it certainly seems up to date in using modern technology to support its services. Writers like Kate Holden, Toni Jordan and Cate Kennedy have all used the retreat – and recommend it.
  • Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in the hills around Perth, Western Australia. Established in 1985, it is located in Prichard’s home and is explicit about its twofold purpose: “Encouraging writing related activities in the Perth Hills whilst preserving the heritage value of the former home of leading Australian writer”.  The KSP website advertises that “the ambience of the Centre is excellent for creativity and inspiration. 20-60,000 words are frequently achieved by our Writers in Residence in a four week stay, in between enjoying the interaction with local writers”. I love the promise of productivity there!
  • Olvar Wood Writers Retreat, at Eudlo in the hinterland of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Having been established in 2008, it is the newest of the of the writers’ retreats and “sort of” meets the topic of this post. The Retreat was established by two Queensland writers, Nike Bourke and Inga Simpson, who bought a property with the purpose creating “an ethical, environmentally sustainable writers’ retreat”. It is their current home and a retreat: “Run by writers, for writers” is their catchphrase. For those who haven’t heard of them (like me, for example), Nike Bourke has a few books under her belt including The bone flute, her debut novel which won a Queensland Premier’s Literary Award in 2000, and Inga Simpson won a Scarlet Stiletto award for her short story, “Operation Bluewater”.

All three retreats offer more than retreat opportunities for writers and would-be writers. They run all sorts of seminars and workshops (such as writing in specific genres/styles such as memoir, crime, short stories, screenwriting); they offer prizes; they run events such as literary dinners and author talks; they offer fellowships; and they provide practical services such as critiquing and manuscript development. I wonder if they run courses for litbloggers? I’d be there in a flash.

I suppose writers’ retreats aren’t for everyone, but if you were of mind to go, how much more inspiring would it be to be in the home of a writer. I’d love to hear about other writers’ retreats you’ve come across, particularly if they are run from writers’ homes.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2011 10:31 pm

    I really do love the idea of using a writer’s home as a writers’ retreat. Forgive me for my failing memory, but have you mentioned John Marsden in this capacity before? I remember how much I longed to go as a kid!

    • August 16, 2011 9:42 am

      Oh good one Hannah … his might be more writing courses than retreats, and it’s also a school, but it’s a great one in terms of writers offering opportunities for other writers, particularly in his case, children.

  2. August 15, 2011 11:11 pm

    Former Arts Minister Mary Delahunty donated her home Rosebank as a retreat in 2009 http://www.gracefultaylor.com.au/2009/10/former-arts-minister-launches-retreat.html

    • August 16, 2011 9:45 am

      Thanks for sharing this Lisa — not one of the writer’s home ones but a lovely offering by a significant person in Victorian politics clearly putting her money where her mouth was (is) … and it’s for people across the arts which is a nice twist on the theme too.

  3. August 16, 2011 6:06 am

    I find the Olvar Wood’s web-pages really attractive and delicate. If English was my mother tongue, and if i didn’t live on the other side of the globe …, I would definitively have applied for a place on the course they are giving in Nature Writing!

    • August 16, 2011 9:39 am

      Welcome Sigrun … Must say that the Nature Writing one attracted my attention too. Teh Sunshine Coast was my childhood holiday stamping ground. I’d love to go back and check it all out, and look at Olvar Woods at the same time.

  4. August 17, 2011 3:49 am

    Olvar Wood looks like a gorgeous place to take a vacation, forget writing! Too many walks to take, too much beautiful nature to admire.

    • August 17, 2011 9:52 am

      Haha Stefanie … maybe that’s why they don’t promise 20,000-60,000 words in a stay!

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