The House: Rooms, Grounds, Facilities
Varuna, the National Writers House is located in Katoomba, which is part of the world heritage Blue Mountains region of NSW.
In 1989 Michael Dark, the son of Eleanor and Dr Eric Dark, gave the house to the Eleanor Dark Foundation so it could be used as a retreat for writers.
Situated in beautiful gardens, Varuna is a friendly and relaxed residential retreat for writers which includes five separate bedrooms and writing rooms (including the Eleanor Dark Studio); three bathrooms and four lavatories; extremely comfortable living and dining rooms; an extensive library; and a spacious, well equipped kitchen and laundry.
Whilst the house was renovated in 1990 Varuna today retains much of its modernist character with each of the rooms having its own unique story and particular charm.
For more details on what to you can expect during a residency, see Residency Details and Conditions.
You can also view more photos of the house and garden taken by Katherine Seppings as well as a short video clip made by Mark Welker whilst he was a resident of Varuna in the winter of 2010 by following the links.
Bedrooms & Writing Rooms
Each residential guest of Varuna is provided with a bedroom and a separate writing room (mostly attached to bedrooms). Bedrooms are modestly but comfortably furnished with ample storage space for clothes & belongings, and all bed linen and towels are supplied.
Each bedroom is just a door or two away from a shared bathroom (except "the Main bedroom", which was Eleanor & Eric's bedroom, and has its own ensuite bathroom).
Each room has a patchwork quilt made originally by the Varuna Quilt Project.
The writing workspaces each have a large wooden work table and adjustable office chair, a desk lamp, bookshelves and a window overlooking the garden.
The bookshelves in each room hold part of the Varuna Collection, including part of the original Dark family's library, as well a dictionary and a thesaurus. The rooms do not have computers, printers or any other form of writing equipment, but there are plenty of power points for your own equipment. There is a single computer for printing and internet access in the Dark Research Room downstairs.
Eleanor Dark's garden studio is for use by the writer who is allocated the small bedroom downstairs known as "the Maid's room". The Studio is a large room separate from the house, and has an outlook across the garden. It holds Eleanor's original writing desk as well as a chair, lamp and part of the Varuna Collection of books. Writers who work in the studio are invited to leave a sample few pages of their work-in-progress in the manuscript drawers that Eleanor used to store her manuscripts in.
Living & Dining Rooms
Writers generally meet in the spacious, comfortable living room in the evenings. The living room has several comfortable sofas, a fantastic library, and a large open fireplace which is much-used during winter.
The books at Varuna, called the Varuna Collection, include a contemporary Australian library, a reference collection, some of Eleanor and Eric Dark's personal library, and a large and eclectic collection of fiction and non-fiction books held throughout the house. Volunteers have been conducting a major overhaul of the Varuna Collection since early 2007, to optimise its usability by resident writers. A simple card system is in place to ensure that books are returned to their right place.
There is a small CD player but in keeping with writers' desires for a peaceful retreat, there is no television in the house.
Upstairs there is one shared bathroom and one bathroom attached to "the Main room", both with baths and separate showers, toilet & basin. Downstairs there is one indoor and one outdoor toilet, and a small bathroom with shower & basin attached to "the Maid's room".
For heritage reasons, the bathrooms have not been renovated and are a bit old-fashioned but functional. The upstairs bathrooms have lovely views across the grounds.
Kitchen & Laundry
The kitchen is large and well-equipped (including a dishwasher). Writers help themselves to breakfast and lunch while dinner is cooked each evening by Varuna's wonderful cook Sheila Atkinson.
The laundry is equipped with a washing machine so writers can do their own laundry as they wish.
The house is set in the midst of a large and lovely garden, with a mix of native and introduced species. All the rooms look out on a peaceful scene of the garden, which is maintained by Eleanor Dark's grandson, Rod Dark. The garden has many quiet places to sit, and includes a small pond. Native birds are everywhere; also resident is a snake and blue tongued lizard, in the summer months. Writers are advised to keep to cleared walking paths so as to avoid unpleasant encounters with wildlife.