Sunday, October 9, 2022



About Wendy:

Wendy Whiteley (1941 - ) is the former wife of the Australian artist Brett Whiteley and the mother of their daughter, actress Arkie Whiteley (1964–2001). She has become a notable cultural figure, particularly since her ex-husband's death in 1992. She posed for Brett many times. She was also a talented artist in her own right and Brett believed her life drawing talent and understanding of colour was superior to his.

Although they divorced three years before he died, she has control of Brett Whiteley's estate including the copyright to his works. She played an important role in the establishment of the Brett Whiteley Studio in Surry Hills, New South Wales which is now owned and managed as an art museum by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.


About her garden:

Wendy and husband Brett lived in their family home in Lavender Bay from 1970 for two decades. Brett painted many of his iconic Sydney Harbour pictures in the house.

Wendy Whiteley, 1971

After Brett died in 1992, Wendy was grief-stricken. To regain some control in her life, at considerable personal expense - reportedly some millions of dollars - Wendy started to clean up and landscape a large patch of derelict land adjacent to her home in Lavender Bay, owned by the New South Wales Rail Corporation. It was choked by weeds and lantanas, and strewn with old train carriages, abandoned refrigerators, rotting mattresses and broken bottles. Homeless people sometimes slept there. The Rail Corporation had no interest in doing anything with it, and they raised no objections to her beautifying the area. They even helped by removing the larger pieces of junk. Each night she fell asleep exhausted, then did the same, the next day and the next. Wendy never asked any authorities for permission, and no one told her to stop, so she kept going.

As Wendy cleared the site, she began creating a garden like a giant painting, driven by aesthetics, colour, form, beauty and whimsy. She has stated “I didn’t know anything about horticulture when I started the garden. I just knew what I liked. I’ve since learnt what likes being here. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the plants, myself and my gardeners”. 

What emerged was a place of nooks and crannies where shrubs – both natives and exotics, herbs and towering trees run along winding gully paths, all attracting an odd collection of birdlife – colourful parrots, noisy gulls, watchful kookaburras and cheeky wagtails.

Over a period of fifteen years, the garden became a coveted spot for those who had heard about or chanced upon it, with random benches in quiet spots, secluded paths, and a spectacular view to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A wide variety of birdlife previously unknown to the area arrived. It has been described as rivalling Claude Monet's garden. It is affectionately known by locals as "Wendy's Secret Garden", although the public have always had free access. Features of the garden include an antique fountain from the Paddington garden of Margaret Olley, Bangalore palms donated by Arkie and objects found in the scrub, like an old tricycle and a child's scooter.

As well as helping her mother with the project, Arkie planned to hold her second wedding ceremony, to Jim Elliott, in the garden. However, her adrenal gland cancer intervened, and they married in the house overlooking the garden, only a few weeks before Arkie's death in 2001. The ashes of both Brett and Arkie were scattered in the garden, as were the ashes of Wendy's father and mother, her twin sister Joyce and her beloved pet dogs.

In 2009, Wendy Whiteley was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for "service to the community through the establishment and maintenance of a public garden at Lavender Bay, and as a supporter of the visual arts".

In October 2015, the New South Wales Government, which owns the land, agreed to give the North Sydney Council a thirty-year renewable lease on it.

Members of the community, volunteers, help maintain the gardens and Wendy Whiteley funds the services of two gardeners.

Wendy Whiteley gets the  Yay For the Day . . .





Lavender Bay, 1880s

Milson’s Point Railway 1905-1910

Wendy’s Garden location, Lavender Bay Railway 1932



Stabilising slope

New staircase


The Present:

Life is all we've got, really for me... life and our imaginations 
and our creativity and how we deal with it. 
And if you're lucky, it gets important to other people 
and you can share it.
- Wendy Whiteley

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