As the ferry crosses the heads, calm today, no lurching up and down, we leave the Quarantine Station behind on North Head and towards the lollipop-stripes lighthouse on South Head. I’m on the left-hand side of the ferry so I’m looking south, travelling past Watson’s Bay as we turn to head down the harbour. The little footbridge at Parsley Bay stands out white against the dark crevice of the narrow bay. Then Nielsen Park and, in the mouth of Rose Bay, Shark Island. The crowded headland of Point Piper heralds the entrance to Double Bay, Clark Island stands out from Darling Point and the corner rounds to Rushcutters Bay, full of tall-masted boats as bare as the trees behind them. We hurry past Woolloomoolloo – just one grey navy ship today – Fort Denison and Mrs Macquarie’s Point. Farm Cove, the Botanic Gardens and boom – Bennelong Point and the Opera House. The ferry slows to turn left before the Harbour Bridge, negotiating the watery traffic to enter Circular Quay.

These are the bays Teresa Hawkins walked in For Love Alone, where every park, every shadow, every tram shelter was full of the ‘semitones and broken whispers’[i]of lovers. For Teresa Hawkins, the main character in Christina Stead’s novel, For Love Alone, life with her family at Watson’s Bay revolves around water. Harbour water, seawater, cliffs and sand and boats. Teresa longs to join the fishermen; she longs to be the woman she saw with them, tending a boiling pot of fish, with the men bringing her wood for the fire.[ii]The water, the lapping, ceaseless water, is as restless as Teresa herself as she struggles with life as a young woman in the early 1930s. The ferry provides transport into town, company and gossip. It’s what her sister Kitty runs for in escaping her life as the family’s unpaid housekeeper. It’s the viewing platform for social proprieties – only the girls who are engaged can sew for their trousseau on the ferry. It takes Teresa to work every day so she can earn enough money to leave, to go to England.

These are the roads Hurtle Duffield, the main character in Patrick White’s The Vivisector, walked after dinner parties at Boo Courtney’s, or after visiting his lover Hero Pavloussi. Past the streets of Rose Bay and Bellevue Hill that would be shelled by Japanese submarines on 7 June 1942. Past Cranbrook, school for Patrick White and a plethora of other Whites, co-founded by Patrick’s father, home and death-place of Patrick’s great-uncle, James White. Past ‘Cinta’ in Lindsay Ave Darling Point, home of Dorothea Mackellar from the 1930s to 1968.

At Rushcutters Bay Hurtle Duffield would have turned off New South Head Rd to go up to his house in Paddington. If he’d turned the other way, towards the harbour, he might have found himself at Lulworth House, a nursing home in Roslyn Gardens where Patrick White’s partner, Manoly Lascaris, died in 2003 and site of the house where Patrick White himself lived as a child from 1916. Lulworth, according to David Marr, was the inspiration for all of White’s descriptions of harbourside houses,[iii]but when I read about the Whites at Cranbrook between 1873 and 1890, their race season ball ‘one of the great social events of the year’[iv]and their house full of rare china and European art, I can’t help wondering if some of that inheritance also found its way to the ears of the quiet, self-absorbed little boy.


[i]Stead, C. For Love Alone. Virago, 1978 p63. First published by Peter Davies Ltd, 1945.

[ii]Stead, C. For Love Alone. Virago, 1978 p62. First published by Peter Davies Ltd, 1945.

[iii]Marr, D. Patrick White: A Life. Vintage 1991, caption to plate 12.

[iv]From ‘Beautiful Sydney’ 1895-6, quoted in ‘Cranbrook: the first fifty years’, AC Child, nd.