The heart garden.
Any visit to Melbourne is incomplete without a trip to Heide, the gallery of Modern Art a fifteen minute taxi from Marios in Fitzroy or a slightly longer train ride from the city. From 1934 to 1981 it was home to Sunday and John Reed.
Sunday Baillieu was born posh and was born to rule Melbourne in as much as a woman could back then. But she chose differently. First she married a cheating dickhead and lived with him in Europe until a tragedy befell her: she went to the doctor with worrying symptoms and was told, too late, she had gonorrhea. She had to have a hysterectomy and could never have children. She moved back to Melbourne and, later, fell in love with John Reed, a tall and aristocratic male version of her. They bought a farm and called it Heide.
They both loved art and Sunday studied for a while at art school but harshly judged her own young work and destroyed it all. Only one piece remains, lined as if rescued from a bin, smoothed out and saved. Tragically, it’s really good. After she gave up art she threw all her creative energies into Heide. She turned her back on her pampered upbringing and ran the house all by herself, producing her own milk and cream from Heide cows and feeding a constant stream of visitors from her triumph of a kitchen garden. But creating a beautiful home was not Sunday’s greatest talent. That was something else, which changed the course of Australian history and culture: she had an eye, ‘the gift of recognition.’ She gathered the best modernist artists of her day at Heide, fed them, criticised them and spurred them on to greatness.
“It was Sunday who had the green fingers. Sunday could spot an artist,” Sidney Nolan said. It was she who read him Rimbaud and encouraged him to paint what it made it feel. It was at her kitchen table he created his iconic Ned Kellys, with her assistance in the finicky bits like the red-checked floor in The Trial. Nolan had left his pregnant wife to move to Heide; after Rimbaud but long before the Kellys Sunday and Nolan fell in love, with John’s blessing. After years of this complicated menage a trios Nolan asked Sunday for the last time to leave John and marry him. When the answer again was no, he left without a proper goodbye. Horribly soon afterwards he married John’s sister, and barely spoke a word to the Reeds ever again.
Sunday was devastated and for a long time could not get out of bed. In the end, her garden saved her. She dug a new plot, heart-shaped, in a sunny spot near their weatherboard house and planted it with heart’s ease, chamomile and violets. Heide’s a gallery now and filled with the paintings of artists Sunday nurtured. But I love her Heart Garden the most. As you can tell I’ve been obsessively reading about Heide these past few weeks: The Heart Garden | Sunday’s Kitchen | Dear Sun, the letters of Sunday Reed and Joy Hester | Autumn Laing, Alex Miller’s beautiful fictionalised account of Sunday’s life. (Miller first moved to Australia after seeing Sidney Nolan’s paintings of the outback.) I recommend them all.