Wendy Whiteley 

on remaking a house and creating a special place at Lavender Bay

Wendy Whiteley moved to Lavender Bay in 1969 ‘by chance’ with her husband, the artist Brett Whiteley, and young daughter Arkie. As she relates in this short interview and home tour, it wasn’t the house that made her stay but its special place beside the harbour and Arkie’s need for somewhere to call home after years spent overseas in Europe, New York and Fiji.

The house that Wendy, Brett and Arkie occupied was built in 1907 as a single family dwelling – one in a line of five constructed around the same time. By 1969, and possibly as early as 1929, the house was divided to accommodate tenants. The interior staircase was removed so that each floor was a separate dwelling. Wendy and her family initially shared the building as tenants with the artists Rollin Schlict and Joel Ellenberg; until 1974 when the Whiteleys bought the building and decided to make it a single family dwelling again.

Over the next decade and a half Wendy and Brett reshaped an old house, made dark with small windows and coloured wallpaper, so that it became a home, a studio and, with its new white walls and copious artworks, something of a gallery. An adjoining tower was built to accommodate a circular staircase which restored access between the various floors, but saved the space that would otherwise be taken by reinstated internal stairs. With this addition the Whiteley house became a landmark. It was painted into Australian art history in various of Brett’s most iconic Harbour works which looked out from the house to Lavender Bay.

After Brett’s death in 1992, Wendy turned her attention to the overgrown unused gully below the house which had been railway land since a waterfront rail line and viaduct was built in the early 1890s creating a slope and a hollow. Through an extraordinary example of ‘guerilla gardening’ this was transformed by Wendy, a team of gardeners she employed and volunteers into a ‘Secret Garden’, an urban oasis enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

In this short film Wendy talks to Shannon Haritos about living at Lavender Bay and takes her on a tour of the house and garden.