- "The rubbish is gone but otherwise Lawrence's snapshot still
holds: "Each little bungalow was set in its own handbreadth of
ground surrounded by a little wooden palisade fence." Over these
fences, he noticed, the inhabitants gossiped and poked into each
other's business. He titled the second chapter of
In the novel, the visiting English writer is so appalled by the cosy
suburbia around Sydney that he wished "the sea would send a wave
about 50 feet high round the whole coast of Australia". I silently
bring DHL up to date: would you wash away the Sydney Opera House
too? But I restrain myself from speculating about what he would
think of the Sydney Writers' Festival and the jet-set authors,
festival-hopping from Auckland to Sydney to Hay-on-Wye. Lawrence and
his German wife Frieda travelled to and from Australia by slow
Before leaving London, I had resolved to revisit Thirroul, the small
seaside resort 40 miles south of Sydney, to see once more the house
where Lawrence and Frieda lived for 10 weeks in 1922 and where he
I first saw the house at 3 Craig Street, Thirroul, in 1991 when I
was writing a biography of Lawrence. Wyewurk still bore the twee
name with which it found its way into Kangaroo. It was empty because
the owner was seeking planning permission for alterations. Even so,
the house was best approached, local historian Joe Davies warned me,
from the park at the end of the road and then by climbing up from
the beach. The owner took a dim view of literary tourists.
Down on the shore, I contemplated the "long green rollers" thrown up
by "the huge rhythmic Pacific", then clambered over the pink-brown
boulders and found the steep steps in the cliff, as described in the
novel. A climb to the top and I was rewarded: "There it crouched ...
with its deep verandahs like eye-lids half closed."
All was as in Kangaroo: the solid red brick, the low eaves, the dark
Western Australian jarrah wood floors. Empty, it looked as if
Lawrence and Frieda had moved out yesterday. Walking around to the
front, I saw the outdoor shower, scene of a conjugal embrace in
Kangaroo, and made my way out of the front gate just in time to see
a police car cruise by. Such are the perils of the biographer's
The battle to "save Wyewurk" raged over the next few years, and the
preservationists won. A heritage council conservation order now
prevents alterations to the exterior, not only because of the
Lawrence connection but because Wyewurk, built about 1913, is "the
oldest surviving example in New South Wales (and probably Australia)
of the California bungalow".
Lawrence describes in his novel how each of the house's wide
verandahs opened straight on to a bedroom. This arrangement (as he
did not mention) encouraged sleeping in the fresh air, a practice
considered salubrious at a time when tuberculosis was the global
plague that Aids is today. Lawrence, coughing and shrunken, had been
fleeing from the diagnosis for 10 years.
This year, retracing my footsteps, by car rather than by train, I
found a motorway lined with Pizza Huts and McDonalds and Thirroul
transformed into a northern suburb of Woollangong. Wyewurk itself
has been preserved, but not for sightseers. The present owner has so
shrouded it with fences, thick shrubbery and a garage that almost
nothing of the structure can be glimpsed from Craig Street.
So what? Back I went to the little park where a plaque now
proclaims: "This monument is a tribute to DH Lawrence, one of the
greatest writers of the 20th century, who came here in 1922 and
stayed in this street. It was during his stay in Thirroul that he
wrote his Australia novel Kangaroo. This novel gives an invaluable
description of the land and the sea around Thirroul as it was in the
Down on the beach, I located the tall Norfolk pines which mark the
garden of Wyewurk. A rainbow obligingly appeared. But the steps did
not. They had been allowed to rot; some are missing altogether. The
birds, however, as in Lawrence's time, are fabulous and friendly.
On the banks of the creek nearby, where Lawrence used to watch coal
being loaded from a jetty on to steamers, there is a long, low shack
with walls painted bright red and dark brown, with huge yellow suns,
and a clumsy flag flying over it. A sign proclaims "the Aboriginal
(Kuradji) Tent Embassy".
The "embassy" is a barricade against the property developer who
intends to build 1,200 new houses in the meadow. The strong local
Green movement is protesting too; the planned development would
obliterate the last remaining open space in the northern Illawarra.
But the Kuradji objections are religious, based on the discovery in
1998 of a perfect skeleton, 6,000 years old. Feathers and other
objects identify the body as that of a Kuradji "clever fellow", a
holy man. The Kuradjis, supported by other indigenous groups, want
the place protected as a sacred site.
Lawrence surely would have liked the encampment, with its hand-
painted Kuradji rules, such as: "Only Koorie Males Permitted to Put
Wood on Sacred Fire".
The scene makes Joe Davies admire Lawrence all the more. He refers
to the famous passage in Kangaroo where the narrator senses the
smouldering "spirit of the bush", "watching the myriad intruding
white men". "In six weeks," Davies marvelled, "he understood it
better than I have, and I've lived here all my life."
I'm not so sure. Kangaroo has fascist undertones, describing with
admiration preparations for a secret army of returned servicemen to
protect Australia from red revolution and the invasion of the "black
and yellow people". Written in the days of the "white Australia"
policy, Kangaroo describes "ugly-faced distorted aborigines". Would
Lawrence share the new respect Australia accords its Aboriginal
heritage today? Or would he side with those who mutter that these
people had this vast landmass to themselves for thousands of years
and did not even invent the wheel?
When he visited Australia, the sickly Lawrence had only eight years
to live. What I would like to ask him is what he makes of the fact
that the tuberculosis that killed him in 1930 is now a curable
disease. If he had had more time, would he have written