Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Suburb No 43: Vaucluse

When I visited Arncliffe a while back I asked a Lebanese guy if I could take a shot of his tattoo. 
His response, "No way, go to Vaucluse if you want that sort of thing, this is Arncliffe!" 

I'm not entirely sure what he meant but I suspect he sees Vaucluse in the same way many do - 
as an elite suburb filled with wealthy white people who, if they had a tattoo, would politely 
agree to me taking a snap of it.

That was his assumption. My assumption was, are you kidding, no-one in Vaucluse would have a
tattoo. And if they did, I doubt they'd let it see the light of day let alone allow me to photograph it.

And so there it was. A handful of assumptions exchanged in a ten second chat. They weren't

entirely baseless but still. Was that really all Vaucluse was? A suburb of rich people?

Curiosity had set in and there was nothing for it but to revisit a suburb I hadn't been to for eons and 

have a sticky.

What did I discover? That yes, Vaucluse is full to the brim with smart cars and mansions. But while
most of Vaucluse belongs to the elite, its fringes, the really good bits with beaches, parks and amazing
views, belong to everyone, as do a handful of its historic buildings. As far as its people go, I searched
but found few. Instead, almost everyone I met were day trippers, relaxing in parks and on beaches,
or the hired help for some of the homes. And tattoos? One. From someone working in a cafe. 
It was such a good one I forgot to ask if she was a local.

Some history of Vaucluse before we begin. Dharug people enjoyed the peninsula setting, with its

harbour and ocean views, for most of time until the British moved in. They quickly shot up a signal
station and lighthouse to guide ships to the colony. The suburb has a handful of significant buildings,
including the present day signal station and lighthouse, Vaucluse House, Strickland House and
Greycliffe House. Plus a whole load of great parks, reserves and walks. If you're in to cemeteries,
there's a fine one at South Head; dramatic coastal location and a smattering of famous souls such
as Australia's first PM, Sir Edmund Barton.

Part 1: Vaucluse House

It's complicated but essentially it goes like this - built early 1800s, bought by William Charles
Wentworth in 1827, lived in by he, his wife and their 10 children until 1853. The Historic Houses
Trust look after it today, opening it to the likes of you and me on Fridays and weekends.

I have the vaguest memory of visiting V House, maybe 20 years ago. So I saw it with fresh eyes this
week. It may be a bit of a hodge-podge, having been added to at various stages without a master
plan, but it's so easy to lose yourself in a fantasy of 1800s life. 15 rooms, massive kitchen, servant's
quarters. And surrounded by 11 hectares of glorious green, including the Pleasure Gardens, Kitchen
Garden and a handful of ducks, geese and one goat.

house in garden :: 1

house in garden :: 2

grand entrances

Christmas trees in July

fashion shoot

the grandest room of them all

hope I don't end up on that table

black and white

keeping traditions alive

Julie the gardener

keep off the seeds

getting your hands dirty


beautiful beak


Part 2: The Signal Station

Built in the 1840s by architect Mortimer Lewis. Having let myself in the front gate I ran into Kell who
lives there, in a home adjoining the station, and Phil, one of the regular volunteers who run the
place. They were in a bit of a tizz, lightening having struck the station earlier that morning,
but they still let me up the tower for a quick squizz.

signal station

Phil the volunteer

tools of the trade

looking north and east

looking west

buildings, tall and short

the language of the sea


watching for whales

Part 3: The lighthouse

There's something so appealing about a lighthouse don't you think? The shape, the whiteness,
and the function, helping to guide the vulnerable through the cold darkness of night. 

Yet it took this week for me to appreciate this. I have driven past Macquarie Lighthouse a handful
of times over the past 20 years I guess. But until I got out of the car and wandered up to it, encircled
it, studied it, I hadn't realised how beautiful it really is.

If I'd known I was going to be struck by it so much I would've arranged to have a look inside it too.
But lobbing is more my style than organising so no pics of the interior I'm afraid. 

What I can show you, however, is lighthouse as fashion accessory: when I visited there was a fashion
shoot going on by a magazine from Singapore. I wasn't allowed any close ups but you can see enough
to know the model must have been mighty chilly.

still lighting the way

Singapore shoot :: 1

Singapore shoot :: 2

woo, models!

changing light at the lighthouse :: 1

changing light at the lighthouse :: 2

changing light at the lighthouse :: 3

Part 4: Nielsen park - The wedding party

Nielsen Park. Great park. Park where I met a freshly married couple, Alana and Adam. They'd just
got hitched at the Greek Orthodox Church in Redfern, were here having photos and off to Catalina's
in Rose Bay for the do.

married in  Redfern, shot in Vaucluse

tiny buttons :: 1


tiny buttons :: 2

flower shoes


I wandered back from the beach to see three of their wedding cars, a Roller and two Bentleys.
Peered inside one to be met with the friendly face of Ron, one of the drivers. Asked him if he was
Greek too - "Nah, Kangaroo mate!" 

Ron and the Roller

couple of Bentleys

"I'm a kangaroo!"

lovely curves

 Part 5: Nielsen Park - the day trippers

Once part of Vaucluse House estate, it passed into public hands in 1911 thanks to the forward
thinking Harbour Foreshores Vigilance Committee, formed in 1905 to lobby for the return of the
harbour foreshores to public ownership. Now part of Sydney Harbour National Park. Has gothic
Greycliffe House, a kiosk/restaurant and Shark Beach - for all to enjoy.

"to whose untiring energy is due the resumption of these and many other foreshores of Sydney Harbour"

anyone for petanque? Muz and Bobbi :: 1

anyone for petanque? Muz and Bobbi :: 2

anyone for petanque? Muz and Bobbi :: 3

Annabel of the wild mane :: 1

Annabel of the wild mane :: 2

Annabel of the wild mane :: 3

sisters - Stella and Mira :: 1

the colour of Mira's eyes

sisters - Stella and Mira :: 2

Around the bend from Nielsen Park is Parsley Bay, where I met tiny Tilly and her adoring parents,
Suzi and Chris. Of all the day trippers I met, they lived the closest - a few suburbs away in Double Bay.

bouncing baby

pink flowers

father and daughter in hats

Part 6:  Nielsen Park - the old kiosk

1914 they built the Kiosk, a lovely stone building with pretty coloured glass. It's changed hands a
number of times since then but thankfully no-one has stuffed it around and it's still small, simple
and sits in the middle of green, looking out to blue. Heritage listed, it's now a cafe/restaurant
with a take-away section on the side.

light and glass




then and now - Vaucluse House and Nielsen Park

On the way back from Nielsen Park I met a family, waiting outside their home for a taxi. Finally,
real live Vaucluseans! They had just been to a wedding and were off now to the dinner. Didn't
ask but maybe it was here - nice place to celebrate a wedding.

back from a wedding

off to dinner - Charles, Anne and Alex

Part 7: Strickland House

Once called Carrara when it was built as a grand residence for the first lord Mayor of Sydney,
John Hosking, in the 1850s. In 1915 it was renamed Strickland House when it became a convalescent
home for women. In 1994, declared an urban park for all to wander.

Although the house is empty and feels unloved compared to its neighbour, Vaucluse House, I loved
the sweeping views down to the water and all around. As do many of its visitors, including Garth
and his mates, Bondi dwellers who'd made the trek to celebrate Garth's 33rd birthday, set against
the backdrop of this historic mansion. Dress code, 'Boho Chic'.

doric columns galore

eye popping bubbles

boho chic :: 1


boho chic :: 2

boho chic :: 3

from the 1850s to Centrepoint Tower

Part 8: South Head Cemetary

Just up the road from The Gap. Such a desperate place, The Gap, right around the corner from the
lap of luxury.

all prayers appreciated

a desperate place

South Head Cemetery :: 1

South Head Cemetery :: 2

Part 9: The tattoo

Deserves a section all of its own. From a quote by the American historian, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

well said

Is there beauty in Vaucluse? Thanks to the wise men and women who campaigned for public access
way back when and those who now care for the historic buildings with respect and dedication,
yes. Vaucluse would be much poorer without them.

After the last few weeks beachside, I'm itching to go west once more. See you then.