I wake, draw the curtains, and that is the view I see from my refugio window.


The curving bridge is a distant frame with the harbour winking at me in the foreground.

Good morning sunshine, it says.

My breath catches every day. The beauty of these waters is ancient and natural, but also sculpted by man, bent to the will of creators and dreamers, yet still at the mercy of the winds and the water.


Sydney is working its way into my veins. My blood races as I walk the harbour trails stroking knobbled tree trunks and tracing the layers of paperbarks. My heartbeat speeds as a fish leaps from the water, then submerges for a time, then leaps again.

I’m doing that. Flying then deepening.

I’m here for four weeks of writing. Some of it is preparation for Writers Festivals in WA – Perth, Albany and Denmark – where I’ll be giving workshops, performing a monologue and enjoying conversations. Some of it is the next book – actually, I hope a lot of it will be the next book. I’m teaching a workshop, doing a poetry walk along the harbour, and will be in conversation with one of my favourite minds. I’m also dipping my toes into the possibility of two other projects – collaborations with Sydneysiders.

All that, and yet I get distracted.

IMG_2307On my daily caminos, frangipanis fall about me like scented rain. Bougainvillea drapes itself around my shoulders, a prickling purple scarf. Hibiscus blooms flash gaudy colours at me as I try to walk past with serious intent.

“My desk,” I say to them. “My desk.”

They know they will have their way.

When eventually I get to my office, I climb nineteen carpeted stairs before my feet reach the polished wood floor. It gleams. Gleaming even brighter from the other side of the room is the vista across Rose Bay to the city. It is all blue and white and light, except when it is bisected by the roaring red strip of a seaplane.

My desk is at a sideways angle to the view so I don’t lose myself. That harbour is trying to pour itself in through the open window, and I must resist it if I am to work.


How do I resist the fecund, primal vegetation of this place?

It won’t observe boundaries. Tendrils creep over walls and through crevices. Branches burst up from concrete, and trees form sculptures, avenues from my dreamscape. They call to me to wander further, to worship their mystery and history.

Oh, Sydney, I shout. Stop!

IMG_2332Then I round another corner and my knees weaken all over again.

Rocks frame the harbour pool where I swim. They are shaped like great grey whales, but their interiors are exposed to the air, blasted open by the winds and salt, and I stroke the spines, the veins, the coarse gold curves.

Rock and water.


All this beauty. All this wonder.

The new, the other, is always inspiring. But Sydney is not new to me. I lived here many years ago. I swam in the same pool. In the intervening years, I have walked the harbour and sighed at jacaranda time. But this is different. This is a work camino, and I can’t recall when a place last fed me with such riches. If I can’t make something here, then it is nothing but my own sloth.

After walking the Camino Mozárabe, I used to wonder if such intense kindness existed in Australia. Was it simply those roads? Leonardo and Ricardo, my Capitano and Soldato, the ladies pressing food and shelter onto me – was it particular to that experience?


This office, from which I write, has been made available to me by the good grace of Monsignor Tony Doherty and his village of parishioners in Rose Bay.

“Work,” Tony says to me. “Just work.”

I’m doing my best.

The door to my refugio-with-a-view was thrown open to me by Michelle Bartley. We met for the first time when she handed me a key and told me to make myself at home. When I try to thank her, she just shrugs and laughs, and tells me that if more people offered something of themselves, the world would work better. She laughs a lot. She is fair of hair and heart, it seems to me. People speak of patrons. Michelle knew nothing of me – only that I needed space and time. And she gave.

IMG_2325I am made over by their generosity. I am trying with every breath. Their kindness demands to be met with my best; their example calls me to rise.

So here, in my eyrie, I will dream a while.

I work, and it is good – even when it isn’t! I am in safe harbour and I am grateful.

Gracias, Tony and Michelle. Gracias, Rose Bay. Gracias, Sydney.

These are days of wonder.

Sydney rock sculptures
Sydney rock sculpture

6 thoughts on “Sydney dreaming…

  1. Dear Alison

    I am deeply the other side of that bridge at which you gaze – house-sitting for friends gone on their annual pilgrimage to Melbourne! In Hunters Hill. Sandstone and tall trees. I’ve been bringing the garden back to life after the breath from Hell last week swept the plants – sucking all the moisture from the maiden-hair fern and the tree ferns. Waking up this morning wobbly-kneed with some kind of fever – all I’ve been able to do is drag in the recycling bins and recline – drifting in and out of consciousness! Unusual! Your essay reminds us to be grateful. And I am.

  2. Hi Jim,
    What a glorious spot to be in.
    I know what you mean about the breath from Hell – I arrived that day! Couldn’t believe it! Hope the fever subsides. This is not the weather in which to be internally heating up. Maybe stay inside and help get Federer through the tennis!
    Stay cool and quiet.
    And yes, grateful. It is a remarkable place, isn’t it?

  3. I love Sydney,but I haven’t been down there for about 20 years.
    It’s funny that another blogger who I’ve been following for a while did a post on Sydney as well,with one of her paintings of the Bridge at the top of her post –
    She is from Brisbane originally and I started following her blog when I asked her permission to use images of her paintings of the Story Bridge for my post I did a while back –
    I wish I had some spare cash to by a few of her beautiful paintings to put on my walls…maybe one day?
    Another sync here is that my middle name is Sydney,too.

    1. Dear Darren Sydney!
      Loved seeing those vibrant images. Aren’t they gorgeous?
      Happy Australia Day, amigo. Thanks for connecting.

  4. Dear Ailsa, Hope you both had a very happy Christmas and New year, although it does appear to be slippping away rather alarmingly again! We had a simply wonderful family wedding here last week and it did take up a bit of time hence my tardiness in replying to your post. Your superb use of the english language, together with the splendid photographs is a delight to read. I, too, love Sydney but do not get up there as often as I would like. The harbour vistas just take your breath away and the City is lucky to still have so many of their glorious historic buildings whereas we in Melbourne seem to have allowed so many to be demolished, including the once-superb verandas that used to grace so many of the shop fronts in the City and nearby suburbs. Hope you have a delightful sojourn and that it is profitable in relation to lots and lots of writing! We are not so long before vintage, and wish we could take some of that rain away from the North and spread it around this city of ours – Australia’s crazy weather seems to be a popular conversation topic at the moment. We all send our love.

    1. Dear Bertina,
      Peter is currently travelling with Reg, reading his book while I’m in Sydney. Loving it. How beautiful to have started the year with a wedding. A good sign, surely. And now vintage…hope you get the longed for rain. Sydney was awash yesterday. Unbelievable. And yes, we are all talking weather. I like it. Kind of humbling and a great reminder of our place in the scheme of things. Very small! The work is flowing like a river in flood, to use a relevant metaphor – I’m actually mildly nervous about my good fortune with it, and keep wondering if it will dry up. So I am typing as fast as I can in order to catch the words.
      Thanks so much for writing and for the reminders about Sydney architecture. I will think of you as I wander under Paddington verandahs.
      Happy picking.
      Love to Reg and all the family.
      Ailsa x

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