When Australian artist and writer Norman Lindsay first saw what was to become his home at Springwood in the lower Blue Mountains of New South Wales, the sandstone cottage was sadly neglected. The floor boards were full of white ants. Nevertheless, Lindsay reported to his wife (and model) Rose, ‘There’s a lovely lot of garden.’
In 1912 the couple bought the property for five hundred pounds. Norman Lindsay spent the rest of his life at Springwood. Over the years he cheerfully wielded a mattock (his favourite gardening implement) to develop a variety of landscape features. He went on to populate the grounds with his own fanciful sculptures.
A true creative genius, Lindsay was also a cartoonist, etcher, author and builder of intricate model ships. However, he was first and foremost a painter. He covered his canvases with voluptuous nude figures, arousing the wrath of the ‘wowsers’ , as he called his narrow minded critics.
The house was set in bushland, a few kilometres outside Springwood. Today, the town has edged much closer. In a subdivision next door, streets are named after character’s in Lindsay’s much loved children’s book, The Magic Pudding.
There is Bill Barnacle Avenue, Bunyip Bluegum Road, and Uncle Wattleberry Crescent. Oh yes, and how lovely to be a child living in a street called Magic Pudding Place.
Before he died at the age of 90 in 1969, Norman Lindsay made arrangements for his home to be left in the care of the National Trust. It has been set up as a gallery, housing a wonderful collection of his work, including major paintings and etchings and first editions of his books. At the rear of the house, the studio remains just as he left it; brushes and palette in their usual position, his old coat hanging on the wall.
There is a special ambience about ‘Norman’s place’. To visit on a clear, spring day is a delight. Fronted by a dry stone wall, the gardens contain Australian eucalypts, cypresses, and deciduous trees, including three giant corals guarding the studio.
Bird life is very much in evidence. The nectar rich, scarlet ‘tongues’ of the coral trees attract honey eaters and multi-coloured parrots. Smaller birds hop around the lawns and currawongs flash overhead. Kookaburras delight in perching on the heads of Lindsay’s curvy concrete statues – chortling at the incongruous picture they present.
Hedges of cotoneaster form a walkway to a stone seat, flanked by twin magnolia trees. Kneeling above the seat is the Lindsay’s beautiful Spirit of Springwood, wings raised in a gesture of blessing. Originally moulded in concrete, she has now been bronzed, to protect her from the elements.
The focal point in spring is a wisteria covered colonnade along the eastern side of the house. Seeming to have been there forever, the vine can often be seen in the background of Lindsay family photographs.
Further back, a tumbling mass of jasmine covers an outbuilding. Beside Norman’s studio, rain water tanks rest upon impressive Doric columns.
It is definitely the sculptures, or ‘garden ornaments’ as their creator modestly called them, which give the grounds their special character. Visitors first come upon a nubile lady being pursued by a satyr at the front of the house.
Nearby is a fountain, with a bronzed nymph astride a horse as its centre-piece. Elsewhere are female figures, fauns, and other mythical creatures from Norman Lindsay’s fertile imagination.
A walking track leads through bushland to a pond, where more naked nymphs cavort around its edges.
It was perhaps fortunate for his peace of mind that Lindsay did not view his garden ornaments as great works of art. His grandson Andrew once sailed some of the model ships’ lifeboats in the fountain, and his grand-daughters dressed the sculptures in old clothes, battling to fit shorts over satyr tails!
In a biography titled; ‘Norman Lindsay; The Embattled Olympian‘, John Hetherington spoke of the artist’s last days at the house he had lived in for fifty seven years. As he was being driven away to hospital Norman saluted and said;
“Goodbye, bloody old house. I hope I never see you again.”
But of course, he didn’t really mean it. Lying in the local hospital a couple of weeks later the old gentleman asked to be taken home. Promised a visit if he slept for a while, Lindsay did so, but never awoke. I feel sure that when the nurses found him he was already back at the old property, safe in the arms of the Spirit of Springwood.
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