The Dark family
Eleanor and Eric married in 1922 and moved to Katoomba in 1923, where they purchased a modest weatherboard home on a two-acre block in Cascade Street. A short walk away from Katoomba Falls and the magnificent escarpment overlooking the Jamison Valley, the house had been named ‘Varuna’ by its original owners after the ancient Indian god of the moon, the sky and the waters.
It was to be the place where Eleanor wrote most of her novels, and where she spent over sixty years of her life. Eric’s son, John, from Eric’s marriage to Kathleen Raymond (who died shortly after giving birth), joined his father and stepmother for some of the time at Varuna, and in 1929, Eric and Eleanor’s son Michael (‘Mick’) was born.
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).
Barbara Brooks and Judith Clark's biography, Eleanor Dark, A Writer's Life, is published by Pan Macmillan and copies are available at Varuna. Read Barbara Brooks’ essay about Eleanor Dark ‘Child of the Century’ here.
Dr Eric Dark
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 the University of Sydney 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 was 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 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.