Albury – Write around the Murray festival

This weekend I’ve been in Albury, as a guest of the Write around the Murray festival and it’s been an experience to treasure.

Albury, near the NSW/Victorian border is a town I’ve often gone through but never spent longer than the time it takes to have a meal. As a child we often caught the train to Albury where my Grandfather would meet us and drive south to Beechworth for short holidays. It was pleasing to see that the train station looks much as I remember it, and I almost expected to see his old car there, alongside the modern coaches.

This time we drove up from Melbourne in time for a book launch at the library museum, a walk around town and the poetry night where Tim read alongside Emilie Zoe Baker, Andy Jackson and others. I’ve been to a lot of poetry events, and this ranked well: a good turn out, pleasant company and accomplished performers. A good start to the festival for us.

Here are some pressed tin ceilings that I admired, they’re from street awnings:

The following day I had a mission: my mother had grown up at a nearby orphanage. She’d told me many awful tales of her years at St John’s but her early death prevented her from writing the book she had hoped for. Thankfully someone else has (I picked up a copy from the library museum).

From her stories, it sounded like it was a big old house on a large, isolated farm – of course, that was in the ’50s and since it closed in 1978 there’s been a lot of development. Thurgoona was probably a small town back then, but it’s now a suburb of Albury. I held my breath as I drove up the hill to find a fully restored building with assorted outbuildings – it looks quite lovely and peaceful now, it’s hard to imagine it hosting the sort of deprivation my mother, and many other children experienced.

I still find it hard to believe that it’s the right place, it looks so nice.

My mum had spoken of milking cows, and tending fields – I think there was a lot of land originally, but most of it has been built on now. Close by is a little school, where I imagine the children had their lessons. There was a local election on Saturday so it was bustling.

The road that the old orphanage sits on is now a small unsealed lane, and if you follow it around it takes you to the little cemetery containing graves of the sisters and a few others. I wished that I could remember the names of the nuns that my mum had mentioned – it’s not that long ago, and some might still be alive. I wondered where the children were buried? Almost a century as a childrens home and there would have been a lot of small lives lost.

Although it was called an orphanage, many of the children had parents alive of course – and there were also child migrants from Britain too. As a child I found it hard to believe but of course, we know now that it’s true.

There was a small statue, I think it dates to the ’50s and when my mum was there, it may have graced the front of the building – now it’s off to one side and bears no memorial although I like to think that it’s a representation of it’s past history as a home for children.

An emotional visit. After, I went to the library museum and found the book on the orphanage. There was much walking around Albury, and admiring Art Deco buildings and time for reflection (I have a complicated relationship with the past and take solace in aesthetics).

Today we went to see a textile exhibition at the Art Gallery featured some amazing creations including an interpretation of a Victorian mourning dress and an organic work made of electrical piping and cable ties – it was like licorice and quite enticing!

This afternoon was the main event: my presentation on ladies fashions, part of the Write around the Murray festival and also part of the NSW History week. I managed to include two of the frocks from the Lisa Ho collection: a beaded ’20s and a silk ’30s, and my latest acquisition, a flocked late ’40s ballgown I bought on the way up to Albury. It was a good turn out.

It’s been quite an intense weekend, but I’m happier for it – and met many lovely people.

Thank you, Albury: Penny who helped me present the talk, Bridget, Caryn, Chris and the other ladies at the library museum and thank you to Ann-maree and the Write around the Murray festival – it’s been a pleasure and a privilege and I hope to come back again soon!

2 Responses to Albury – Write around the Murray festival

  1. Christina says:

    Thank you for sharing your personal story interlaced with interesting information from your visit.

  2. Monika says:

    Nicole, this is a very moving post, and very well written, and it looks like this visit was worth a great deal in many ways. They would have loved the talk, too.

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