Eleanor Dark was one of Australia's finest writers of the 20th Century, and Varuna owes its existence today to Eleanor, her husband Dr Eric Dark and their family.
Eleanor was born in 1901 in Sydney, Australia. She was the second of three children born to the poet, writer and parliamentarian, Dowell Philip O’Reilly and his wife, Eleanor McCulloch O'Reilly. On finishing school and unable to enter university, having failed mathematics, Eleanor learnt typing and took a secretarial job.
In 1922 she married Dr Eric Payten Dark, and in January, 1923 the couple moved to Katoomba, where Eleanor wrote eight of her 10 novels, as well as short stories and articles.
Her best known novel was the best-selling The Timeless Land (1941), the first part of a trilogy, with Storm of Time (1948) and No Barrier (1953).
There is no doubt that Eleanor Dark (1901-1985) is an important figure in Australian literary history. She published 10 novels, of which one, 'The Timeless Land' became a best seller in Australia and the USA and was later made into a popular television series. Her work was translated into European and Scandinavian languages; she won literary prizes, including the Alice Award from the Society of Women Writers; and in 1977 she was awarded the Order of Australia. Eleanor's novels were popular, sometimes controversial and experimental, and they reflected Australian history and culture in a way which was unusual for the time at which they were published (1932-1959). In articles and broadcasts, she also voiced strong opinions on social justice, education and women's issues. Ann Skea
Dr Eric Payten Dark (1889-1987), Eleanor’s husband, was a general practitioner who wrote books, articles and pamphlets on politics and medicine.
Eric Dark was born in Mittagong, New South Wales and qualified as a medical practitioner at Sydney University in 1914, qualifying a year early because of the war. He was among the first hundred Australian doctors who sailed to England to join the Royal Army Medical Corps. Dr Dark, who was recommended for the Military Cross after the battle of the Somme, was eventually awarded the Military Cross for his service at Passchendaele.
Dr Dark later became an active member of the Labor left in NSW, was involved in contemporary political debate and was a committed socialist, although, contrary to local rumour, was never a member of the Communist Party. His books include The World Against Russia and Who are the Reds.
More information about Dr Eric Dark's military memoirs can be found here.
Michael Dark is the son of Eleanor and Dr Eric Dark, and it was he who decided that Varuna, their family home, should become a gift to Australian literature in memory of his parents. Mick spent his childhood and youth living at Varuna. After the death of his parents, for environmental and personal reasons, he did not want to sell Varuna and in November 1987 he eagerly responded to a suggestion that it could become a residential writers' centre. In 1989 the Eleanor Dark Foundation was formed and Mick gifted the property to the Foundation.
Like his parents before him, Mick was a committed environmentalist. In the 60s and 70s he was a member of the Colong Committee (now Colong Foundation for Wilderness). He was also past President of the Lower and of the Upper Blue Mountains Conservation Societies, now combined as Blue Mountains Conservation Society, of which he was an Honorary Life member. He was also a member of Greenpeace and the Australian Conservation Foundation.
He was the Life President of the Eleanor Dark Foundation Board, taking an active role in the life of Varuna, the Writers House until his death.
Mick Dark died peacefully at Katoomba Hospital on 11 July 2015 after living with Parkinsons for some years. We remember Mick with great fondness as a strong and able man of exceptional integrity and generosity.