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.


  1. Amazing pic Louise. One of my first jobs was at the Nielson Park restaurant.

    Love the photos of the young kids- amazing colour eyes.

  2. Well Louise, I am assuming you are a well behaved woman, but making history you are!!
    Vaucluse shots = awesome.
    Faves this week:
    Vivid - love the moss
    Changing light @ lighthouse 2
    Tiny Buttons 1
    Flower shoes
    Stella and Mira. That's a stunning shot!!

    Thanks again Louise.
    Di x

  3. A shiver down my spine when I got to The Gap.

  4. Beautiful juxtapositioning of images, yet again. Thanks to Julia G, we redheads are flavour of the month ! Mira and Annabel, two beautiful redheads.Stella, you are lovely too. Simply exquisite wedding dress worn by Alana, as timeless as Vaucluse. Look forward think to next week. Louise. x

  5. Louise just love your vision, so inspiring. Tiny buttons, the it. Edgeing ever closer to number 52. What am I going to do then??

  6. Hi Louise,
    Neilsen Park is where you will find me most weekends in summer snorkeling!
    Did you hear the story about the soil that was imported from Ireland to banish snakes from Vaucluse House? The logic being that St Patrick had banished all the snakes from Ireland therefore the soil must have magical properties that will prevent snakes. So a trench was dug around the perimeter of the property and filled with the magical soil of course it didn't work. I knew a girl that was a gardener there and she was digging a hole to plant some plants and low and behold she found different coloured soil in a trench told the other gardeners there and one of the old blokes told her about the story about snake soil.
    I loved the shot TINY BUTTONS #1
    The really spooky thing is that the plant in that shot is called Melianthus major, in South Africa it is know as Kruidjie-roer-my-nie, which translates as Touch-me-not herb!

    Cheers Brent.

  7. Totally awesome!! I live a few burbs up from Vaucluse but know it very well - you've done a magnificent job here! Thank you!

  8. Inspiring Louise!

  9. beautiful Louise
    if you dont put this blog into book form I think I will cry. Love your unique 'couplings'.

  10. Louise,
    Great meeting you last week and I made the final cut, with no dirt on my face. I think what you are doing is awesome, what a mammoth undertaking and so stunning!!! I look forward to the book and exhibition.

  11. Dear all of you fabulous people - thank you for your lovely comments and so thrilled you enjoyed your trip to Vaucluse.

    And to Julie, the gardener, yes, you made the cut and with no dirt on face! Thanks again for being so helpful.

    Louise x

  12. love your matching of green and tiny buttons 1-wow
    great collection and beautiful presentation
    keep up the great work

    Support the above book idea

  13. Photos are very nice!!!some whale photos...

  14. another truely beautiful suburb and pics great pics of the house i catn beleive the sioil story i read thats so crazy funny magic soil and i dont beleive lightning struck the lighthouse as the sky is clear blue in the pics well we do live in a crazy climate dont we ten more suburgs to go hope u keep the blog and put stuff up soemtiems

  15. As ever always a treat to visit this blog... love being surprised by these localities... the humanity you reveal ... no mater where you go!

  16. Great pics - how do get them so clear

  17. My fav shot this time is tiny buttons. Love that wedding dress. You inspire me to see the beauty in my fav city. You also conjur up images and memories of experiences in many of the places you've photographed. Would love to see a book or exhibition. X

  18. Hi Louise, I only just happened on this blog after being sent the link by a colleague. I think a suburb you should definitely do is Rookwood. The entire 'suburb' is a cemetery, and it has its own postcode: it's the most densely occupied postcode in Australia (even if none of its residents could be said to live there). It's a bit of a trek though to Auburn, and not sure exactly how interesting the newer parts are, but crumbling tombstones and the many families that visit on the weekend should offer quite a lot of photo opportunities, especially on Orthodox holidays. Just a thought.

  19. Thanks to you all and even though I'm soooooo weary after so many late nights editing, your comments always re-inspire and energise me.

    Just to say, for those who don't know, there most definitely will be a book (UNSW Press) and an exhibition planned at the Museum of Sydney - both mid-next year.

    And to Ellen's comment about keeping the blog going even when the 52 Suburbs are done, yes, I will continue blogging - I can't imagine stopping plus I will need everyone's help as I'll be choosing images for the book - I'd love people's thoughts. It's going to be tricky, choosing around 1500 images out of the thousands posted on the blog.

    Louise x

  20. Hi Louise!! How fantastic re: the book and exhibition!! You must be completely stoked and you should be very, very proud. I sent the Vaucluse link to a Vaucluse-ian living in London. Turns out a) she used to work at Neilsen Park, b) she went to school with the girl heading out to dinner, c) her best mate is a friend of the father and daughter in hats and d) you managed to get a shot of "her" street!! Nice work!! x

  21. Dayna - I am stoked, absolutely. It would be very sad to see 52 Suburbs sail off into the ether. To turn it into hard print is very happy making.

    And can't believe all those coincidences with your friend.


  22. That is absolutely my next tattoo.

    Hope he/she doesn't mind a copy cat :-)

  23. Hi Louise, Wow the images are so vibrant and honoring of the people you photograph...Congratulations.

    You show the beauty of everyday people - their humanity shows through. The beautiful photo of Tilly with her loving parents Suzi and Chris captures the feelings of parents everywhere...

    Thank you for your unique way of capturing the spirit of shows people and the nature of life.

  24. Hi Louise - I agree with everyone else - the 'tiny buttons' photo is gorg.If you get time, would you consider hitting the middle part of the north shore - Lindfield (the suburb I grew up in)? It runs down to Middle Harbour on the east side and reaches Lane Cover River on the west, and is speckled with untouched bushland amongst the bungalows. Well, I was just hoping... failing that, I've heard Chatswood is supposed to be an interesting place nowadays (haven't been there for years myself, though). Hope I'm in Oz for your exhibition next year!

  25. Louise,
    Your images are wonderful - some breathtaking.
    I met you with my Kelpie "Diesel" at the cafe and we chatted about the beauty of this part of Sydney and the mix of good people you find around the place. Did you know the Macquarie lighthouse is the second one built in that location? The first was a Francis Greenway design but the sandstone eroded badly so in the latter half of the 19th century the existing one was built behind the original and when the new one was commissioned they demolished the original, leaving much of the stone rubble on the site where you can see it today in the retaining wall.
    There is a great photo of the Architect and Builder in the State Library (I think) discussing the project with both lighthouses shown in the background.
    I think your project is inspiring and you are very generous to share your experiences and beautiful images with us all.
    Your work showcases the beauty in the everyday activity that surrounds us, and reminds me of those wonderful John Lennon lyrics "life is what happens when we're busy making other plans"
    James Allison

  26. James - I remember you of course - and the beautiful Diesel! Thanks so much for your comments and so glad you like the images. Say g'day to Diesel for me - have an image of him staring down that bit of leaf or whatever it was, willing someone to push it for him!


  27. Amasing work Louise, please keep it up!!! And cannot wait for the book :)

  28. Absolutely amazing blog! I love all of your shots. May I ask what camera you use?

  29. Jennifer - Thanks! I use a Canon 5D mk II.