Tag Archives: Mary Moody

Cultivating storytellers in the rural heartland

LOCAL FANS OF good writing have every reason to celebrate, with a season of literary initiatives and acclaimed broadcaster Mary Moody — coming to the New England region between October 25th and December 1st for the High Country Writers Festival. As an author and journalist who learned to use the written word at Delungra Public School, I’m thrilled to be bringing wordsmiths together in a region that has always fostered storytellers.

RURAL HEARTLAND: Waterloo Station, Glen Innes.

Writers will have a unique opportunity to prime their skills and draw inspiration at iconic Waterloo Station between Glen Innes and Inverell when the festival kicks off at the High Country Writers Retreat from October 25th to 27th. Inverell resident Virginia Eddy (the force behind Boorama, her business strategy outfit, pictured above) is partnering with The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, to assist writers in adopting a micro-business approach.

Returning to the region after four decades has been huge for Virginia. “When I left my Melbourne world, a friend told me: ‘Don’t ever forget that there is a reason you are returning. Look and listen for it’,” she says. “Even though I’ve been here for six years, every time I drive out the Yetman Road north of Inverell, I’m imbued with the deep sense that I’m going home. Our family left the region when I was ten.”

Virginia believes that being a writer and being in business can be a comfortable coexistence. “Regardless of whether writers are published independently or by traditional means, business knowledge and acumen underpins their capacity for independence,” she says. “Micro-businesses should be built on the same primary foundations and frameworks as major corporations, except scaled accordingly”.

“I urge writers to imagine they are weaving potent little miracles of business around their output. These don’t happen with templates, or overnight. They’re a lifelong practice.”

TOUCH OF LUXURY: Waterloo Station Shearers Lodgings.

Despite one of the worst droughts we’ve seen in the New England, Virginia encourages writers to share Waterloo Station as a home-away-from-home during the retreat. “Whether they’re from the bush, the city, or both, it’s a chance to pause, absorb the landscape, the built environment, the past and evolving social history,” she says. “I believe the Station’s restorations (under the stewardship of Deborah and Don Anderson) will speak for themselves; but as a writer working on one of my own manuscripts, I look forward to hearing others’ perspectives.”

Being a regional-returner myself, I know what it’s like to seek a sense of place in a rural community. Growing up on a property out of Delungra prepared me for the profound tranquility of rural life, but living and working across the world has allowed me to bring home a host of skills.

I began mentoring writers after my independently-published memoir Questionable Deeds was selected for the Brisbane Writers Festival. I was so swamped by queries about how I managed it that I wrote the process into a short, accessible guidebook. Participants at the High Country Writers Retreat will be mentored on adapting these principles to their writing and publishing practices.

But there’ll also be plenty of writing time, one-to-one sessions and inspirational experiences at Waterloo Station. Virginia is well underway with transitioning into a literary writer, and I am always up for fresh insights into business and marketing, so we’ll be attending each other’s sessions at the retreat. Come and join us!

From the heart

The High Country Writers Festival continues on Saturday November 30th and Sunday December 1st at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes, when Mary Moody, one of Australia’s most beloved and bestselling authors, launches her first book in a decade: The Accidental Tour Guide. She spoke with me about what inspired her to return to autobiography.

Mary Moody

“Memoir forces people to reflect on the events of their lives and to gain an understanding of how they reacted to those moments,” she says. “I have found that writing down difficult events somehow crystallizes them. The Accidental Tour Guide contrasts the highs of exploration and adventure against the lows of death and loss.”

Since the publication of a string of bestselling memoirs, bridging her life in rural France and regional Australia, Mary has relocated from the farm she shared with her late husband, filmmaker David Hannay.

“I now live with my youngest son and his family in the Blue Mountains. This supportive environment makes it possible for me to continue my adventure travels, knowing I have a safe haven to return to, every time,” she says.

Mary will also hold her popular ‘Writing from the Heart’ workshop at The Makers Shed during the festival. “I never cease to be amazed and delighted at the stories people tell me of their amazing lives. It’s just knowing where to start and how to keep those stories flowing. Often people want to write the stories of their parents or grandparents and these are equally as inspiring. I believe we will never tire of reading about other people’s lives. It helps us to make sense of our own.”

The tussle between nesting and migrating is a constant theme in Mary’s work, giving insights into the fortunes of regional communities in many countries. “It’s always the people that create a community, and it makes me sad to see regions where failing economics makes it impossible for people to live where they were born,” she says. “We need to encourage more young families to live in rural areas – the benefits of this lifestyle are many and varied.”

Described as Eat, Pray, Love meets The Year of Magical Thinking, Mary’s new memoir is an inner and outer journey through uncharted territory. “I’m really looking forward to touring with this new book. I particularly love small independent bookshops and places where there are active and enthusiastic book clubs. Australians are great readers – they devour good books and it’s wonderful to know that here we have such a vibrant and viable publishing industry. At the end of the day I just love meeting people and talking.”

The High Country Writers Festival is an initiative of The Makers Shed. This article was first published in New England Living magazine.

The huge heart of horrible Hannay

HANNAY'S WAY David Hannay and Mary Moody.
HANNAY’S WAY David Hannay and Mary Moody.

A Writer remembers a great man.

The Hannay-Moodys first came into my family’s life because of human caring.

Our mum was an old-school nurse who ‘specialed’ Mary Moody and David Hannay’s youngest son Ethan at Katoomba Hospital when he was a very sick baby one night.

Soon after, mum was invited to their rambling home in Victoria Street, Leura, for a party, which she enthused about later as a wild thrill.

Mary was dressed as Dame Edna and there had been a cake in the shape of a funnel-web spider!

We were a family in the wake of divorce, which had left us a bit shamed in a country town, and the multi-generational, blended Hannay-Moody clan was a throng of fun and acceptance. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Blue Mountains was replete with such families, and usually one or both parents was a practising artist.

David was often away working, but in the mid-1980s he brought his filmmaking juggernaut to the Blue Mountains, which served as a backdrop for two period films.

I recall one afternoon when word got around about a film crew in an old house down the road in Wentworth Falls, and there was a film star in town.

We all got on our bikes and raced around to see what we could see. The crew was not remote or high-and-mighty. They let a bunch of enthusiastic local kids glimpse a bit of magic on our doorstep.

The film was one of Hannay’s rarely-seen classics, Emma’s War, and the star was about as Hollywood as it gets – Lee Remick – who our generation had all seen in the first Omen movie, rented from the brand new video shop in town.

040718050006_lWe didn’t get to see her, but we saw Hannay on the set, and we were sure that if we were standing in the wrong place he’d just start booming at us. Then, he waved. That was Hannay.

I went off to NIDA and trained in production design, and at the end of my third year I needed to find myself an internship. There were two films being shot in Sydney in late 1991. Strictly Ballroom already had a whole costume rack of design department interns, so I wrote to Hannay and asked if I could help on the crew of Shotgun Wedding.

It was no easy gig for me to land. I needed to apply for an interview with the production designer, state my case for inclusion, and wait for the call.

I didn’t see Hannay until we were on location in Warriewood in Sydney’s north, and he came by the production design office on the afternoon I was tasked with bottling and labelling crates of 1970s beer bottles for the shoot.

Seeing me hard at work on solid production detail, Hannay nodded, got on with his job, and left me to mine.

At the end of my first week, I was surprised to receive a pay cheque, which happened at the end of every week I was on the film. Payment wasn’t part of the deal, but I felt very valued by that gesture. That was Hannay.

Barely more than a month later our mum died at home in her own bed, as Hannay did this week. The Hannay-Moodys made good on their promise to her that they would bring a slab of beer to her wake.

I was sitting on the sidelines, in a state of shock, but the ripple of warmth and reality that arrived with that gesture was truly life enlarging.

They didn’t stop at that. I was booked on a flight to England to take up a scholarship at film school, but I had a burning secret: having taken two months to care for mum at home, I didn’t have quite enough money to go.

Mary and David went into action with a bunch of other locals and produced a fundraiser at Katoomba’s Clarendon Theatre, which served two purposes. Firstly, it raised me enough funds to complete the course, but it also provided a focus for a grieving community.

Hannay oversaw the night’s auction, the most memorable moment of which came when he held up a pair of white y-fronts and shook them around like an old-time music hall emcee, announcing they had been worn by Aden Young, “The New Mel Gibson!”.

Many of the guests choked on their dessert. That was Hannay.

By the time I got back to Australia, years later, I got to know Hannay as an adult.

Who can ever forget a conversation with the greatest raconteur who ever walked amongst us? All who survived one of his name-dropping, Hemingway-styled rants came away with new ideas walloped like capsules of truth into our consciousness.

He was a rabid conversationalist, David Hannay, and he knew his stuff.

A few weeks ago I spoke to him for what was to be the last time, and I was amazed at the robustness of his voice after months of chemotherapy, and told him so.

This, of course, led to all manner of topics, from his enduring bitter hatred of Whitlam over the Balibo Five (how on earth did we get onto that… that was Hannay!) to the state of the nation under Abbott. Then came a Hannayesque moment like no other.

He paused, and thanked me, open-heartedly, for speaking with him on the phone for so long. “You have made my day,” he said. I scoffed. “No, you really have. Here I was, feeling like shit, and you’ve come along and helped me forget my troubles.”

In the light of his very public, courage-redefining attempt to beat back death, this floored me, and I told him how glad I was to find a way to repay his emotional presence in my life.

When I was a kid, everyone seemed frightened of dads who boomed and railed, but, having escaped a sullen and remote father of my own, ‘horrible Hannay’ and his thundering presence was an education in how conversations are give and take. Despite all his bravado, he wanted us to answer back.

Injustice got Hannay’s attention, every time. It’s the thread which runs through his work. Years after one of your life’s unfair turns, Hannay would remind you he was still feeling the rage with you.

When I think about how much his heart was put to use on others’ behalf, it’s amazing that it kept him going for so long.

The silence, now, is going to be profound.

Thanks to Mary, Miriam, Tony, Aaron, Ethan, and all Hannay’s family for sharing him with the rest of us.

He will be impossible to forget. We’re just going to have to keep the conversation going regardless.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved. 

Mary Moody – growing like Topsy

MARY'S Mary Moody with some of Glenray Park's geese.
MARY’S WAY Mary Moody with some of Glenray Park’s geese.

Another encounter with a great gardener.

MARY Moody told her friends she’d never dig another perennial garden bed.

After a decade presenting the ABC’s popular Gardening Australia series, the penning of respected gardening titles, and with horticultural credentials ranking amongst the country’s greenest, it seemed as though Mary didn’t have time to garden anymore.

Geography had a lot to do with it.

Mary had fallen in love with the way of life in south-west France, and relocated there for a good portion of every year.

Her family also moved its Australian base from the Blue Mountains to Yetholme (nestled in the ranges east of Bathurst) and took-on the degraded Glenray Park farm.

But, it seems, you can’t keep a good gardener down … this article was published in Blue Mountains Life (Sep-Jan 2012).

The constant gardener

Mary Moody’s been letting her garden grow … again.

“The garden in Leura had become a millstone around my neck,” Mary remembers. “I’d created what I’d call a collector’s garden, and I was absolutely besotted with alpine perennials. It was a constant job just keeping on top of everything, not to mention expensive.”

Glenray Park attracted Mary with its century-old homestead, complete with great bones for a classic Australian home yard, but, on moving in, Mary’s love of gardening had to be left fallow. With her writing expanding into best-selling memoirs; her media appearances focussing more on Mary’s life than her gardening pursuits; and time in France and Nepal leading tour groups, the verdant lawns of Glenray Park got mown, and veggies were grown, but that was about it.

When asked if there was a tipping-point that got her back into her ‘nice’ gardening gloves, Mary laughs: “It was insidious. I created a small garden bed off our verandah, for a few of my favourite plants, and they just started to self-seed. It grew like topsy, and eventually I needed to create wider beds to accommodate everything”.

“I have to admit that nothing I’ve done since in the garden was very difficult – it just can’t be. I mulched the beds very deeply to keep the weeds down while I was away, and when I came home I returned to my weeding duties quite naturally.”

THE GROWING KIND Gardener and writer Mary Moody with some of her grandkids.
THE GROWING KIND Gardener and writer Mary Moody with some of her grandkids.

In the lead-up to Bathurst’s annual Spring Spectacular, a weekend of the district’s finest show gardens, Mary leads me though the gate near her now much-expanded ‘new’ garden.

Covered by the fallen pink petals of a flowering cherry, the plantings occupy a sunny strip between the house replete with euphorbias, cat mint, bulbs and classic country favourites like pansies and Dutch irises, and plenty of dominant roses.

“I did have a moment when I thought ‘you are mad, you’re going to have 1000 people look at your gardening mess’.

“But there’s nothing like a deadline. My son Ethan has been helping me one day a week, and we’re almost ready,” Mary says.

Mary’s ‘new’ garden is a natural extension of the house itself, with a beautiful, uncomplicated structure, and everywhere you look you’re reminded that Glenray Park is a working farm.

Fences and gates give way to fields and enclosures for chickens, goats, geese and alpaca, meaning that Mary’s garden is a home yard indeed – if it extended any further most of it would end up as feed for the animals.

A new project – a classic potager – has been developed with garden designer Nicole Clout and is situated behind a sturdy fence in sight of the chickens. Mary is hosting gardening workshops for kids this weekend, and her garden has already been tested by regular visits from her swag of grandchildren.

This part of her ‘new’ garden is a clue to what got Mary into gardening in the first place – creating organic produce for the family table. It’s been just over three decades since Mary and her filmmaker husband David Hannay took their young family away from the city, enough time for her gardening fame to bury the basic truth that gardening was always a means to a gourmet end for Mary.

GREAT GARDEN BONES Glenray Park, Yetholme, a home yard with garden potential.
GREAT GARDEN BONES Glenray Park, Yetholme, a home yard with garden potential.

But at Glenray Park, Mary has plans reaching way beyond her farm garden.

“I’m starting to plan something we’re calling ‘Sustainable Bathurst’ as a working title,” Mary reveals.

“This region was one of the first food producing districts in modern Australia, but over time crop  and stock production has become predominant. We are hoping to bring the market gardens back.”

And Mary’s decade in France has inspired the creation of a network of ferme auberge (‘farm restaurants’). “The whole idea of eating local food in season, grown here and prepared in the home, is very inspiring. I recently had a go at making sheep milk brie and goat feta.”

With a network of four other local farms already on board, the gourmet potential of Glenray Park seems about to burst. But this new direction has been built on solid organic principles, and not just in the garden.

“When we arrived, the farm was overgrown. After years of stock getting into the waterways, everything was fairly degraded. Ethan’s worked hard on the environmental farm management of Glenray Park, with the creation of a wildlife corridor and contained stock fields. He’s my back-up for the farm.

“Our creek is called Frying Pan Creek, because travellers from Lithgow would stop here for the night where a frying pan was literally nailed to a tree for everyone to use. Over time willows were planted, and they sucked the creek dry, but we have removed it all. There were once platypus here and we hope to have them back one day.

“Ethan reminds me that the ornamental garden must not enroach on the natural environment beyond the fence,” Mary says. “As long as the plants don’t jump the fence, everything will be in balance.”

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.