C3: Return to city living and discovering natural healing

Life and Nature:

Installment 3.  Back in the Big Smoke where I was to learn to heal myself and others with Nature’s help.


View of the Sydney Opera House from the Royal Botanical Gardens- splendid gardens and Herbarium right in the heart of the city, ringed by the harbour foreshore , the shipping terminal and main shopping centre, St. Mary’ Cathedral and the State Art Gallery.

After just a couple of years at The Cedars – our second family home in Wagga, big changes were looming both domestically and throughout the country.

My marriage bubble had burst after 10 years, and city life was calling me, and so the girls and I made for my favourite city (Sydney) in 1975  and found our new home in Balmain.

We found a delightful old semi-detached house on a very small block of land so hardly any room for gardening this time, but to make up for it, a wonderful view of the harbour over the treetops from the balcony of our semi-detached house, just up the street from Snails Bay in Birchgrove, not far from the water and an access to a view of the harbour extending over 180 degrees from the top balcony.

View from our new home in Birchgrove, Sydney

The wonderful view from our new home in Birchgrove, Sydney, to the right over towards the city

The girls settled into new schools while I adjusted to the freedom of being a single mum.

We gradually became accustomed to urban life, and enjoyed becoming involved in the Balmain community, going to the local craft and food markets, and visiting with our Sydney relatives.

Discovering the beaches was another joy in spite of not being very confident in the surf.  How I wish that I’d had the opportunity to learn to swim when I was little.

                        Heading out of the city, family camping.

When we found that we were missing the bush, we were encouraged  to buy a couple of tents and the necessary gear and learn to go camping.


My mother, my daughters and two young friends in the local park. Just the pylons of the Harbour Bridge in the background.

We had found some new friends living nearby who offered to show us how to go about it, and so every now and then, the five of us would set out on the road and explore different parts of the country.

We began modestly, spending a wonderful weekend in good company camping by the beautiful Colo River near the Wollumi National Park in the Hawkesbury River region, not far north west of Sydney.

All very quiet and peaceful, only a handful of tents spread out on a level area near the river bank, surrounded by bushland held in by rocky mountain outcrops.

We enjoyed lots of swims and cooking on a campfire, relaxing and listening to the bush sounds –  the birds and cicadas and rustles of little critters in the undergrowth nearby.

It wouldn’t take long before we would be ready to set out again on the next adventure and the next one was more ambitious, 200 kms. to the north of Sydney to Barrington Tops, a spectacular volcanic mountain area, part of the Gondawana forest of the Australia National Park in the Hunter valley.

We camped beside the Patterson River in a clearing amidst tall forest gums and beautiful ferns and palms, and made the most of the swimming holes we found among the rapids, explored the rocky bush tracks and made friends with the wild life. We cooked on an open fire, using the logs left there for us by the park ranger, then collapsed into our little tents for a good nights sleep.

Overnight, we were given a taste of nature at its most capricious. Suddenly, a very wild storm blew up which was really scary, and in our haste to pack up and look for shelter – there was none! – the car keys, and an open tin of sardines ended up locked in the boot.

Lucky for us , next morning a friendly family camping nearby got us out of trouble. What a weekend it was!

A 180 degree view over the housetops veiled by a splendid Jacaranda

A 180 degree view over the housetops veiled by a splendid Jacaranda, taken from my balcony – Parramatta River to the left, Nth Sydney ahead, and the City to the right.

After a year or so adjusting to a whole new environment and way of living, it was time for me to start thinking seriously about becoming a full-time working mum.

My plan, after settling the girls into new schools, had been to find a career in the world of social and political reform.

This had been my passion in various voluntary capacities during most of my years in Wagga and during my first year in Sydney. I had long since lost the desire to work in pharmacy and I was looking forward to having a paid career that I enjoyed and made use of my newly discovered organizing talents.

I hadn’t been long in Sydney when I was drawn back into political activism and spent the best part of 1977 working on a voluntary basis co-ordinating  the Sydney branch of the anti-uranium movement – a great experience but ultimately very demanding.  Once the campaign wound down It was time to look for a  well-paid interesting career but I was in dire need of  some R & R  before I went looking for an occupation that I would enjoy but with a salary that came with it.


Wisteria covers the whole white side-wall of our home  – the perfect city answer to shortage of garden space,

However, first of all, my overall health really needed some attention, and a good friend pointed me in the direction of a herbalist. I was rather sceptical, but thought the suggestion worth a try.

We were halfway through the consultation and I began to feel an odd excitement.

‘ Where do you learn this stuff?’ I wanted to know. The therapist, who soon became a good friend and adviser, told me that she had a diploma from Dorothy Hall’s College of Herbal Medicine in North Sydney.

I left the clinic with lots of good information about health support and exercise, good nutrition and lifestyle changes, and a bottle of tonic made up of herbal tinctures prescribed by her for my particular needs.

I instantly recognized that many of the skills that I had learnt while making up pills and potions during my pharmacy training could be resurrected and put to good use in the emerging world of natural therapies. This revelation turned out to be one of those moments which changed the course of my life significantly, and more or less permanently.

In no time at all, I had enrolled in Dorothy’s two-year course, taught first of all in Chatswood, and then, fortunately for me, in Balmain, near our home.  All plans for a big career with a healthy income had evaporated without regret.

I loved the course. Dorothy was a brilliant teacher — she put those stodgy old university lecturers from the pharmacy days to shame. I soon began to acquire my own stock of herbal extracts and tinctures.

Our tiny back garden in Spring St. Birchgrove/Balmain.

Our tiny back garden in Spring St. Birchgrove/Balmain.

Plants were back in my life again, maybe not many growing in my tiny garden, but introducing themselves in other exciting and unexpected ways.

We learnt about the subtleties of vibrational medicine through using flower essences, the nutritional value of plant chemistry, the diagnostic marvel of iridology, and the arts of listening and observation.  The focus in the nutrition course was mainly on the plant world – vegetables fruit and grains, and how the vitamins and minerals they contained were absorbed naturally into our bodies and supported our overall health.

I loved the courses and thrived on the study and the companionship of the other students, most of them much younger than me, I might add!.

I also found time to fit in a six-month course in Remedial Massage, and the art of foot reflexology as well.

View of the harbour

View of the harbour from Long Nose Point at the watery end of Birchgrove/Balmain  in the park near our home. The campers were an annual feature on New Year’s eve –  everyone vying for a good spot to watch the famous Sydney harbour  fireworks.

During the second year, I also took the opportunity to attend a 12-month course in homoeopathy with another inspiring teacher, Alan Roberts, and discovered that it had its base in the vibrational use of the plant and mineral kingdoms – as well as requiring considerable diagnostic skill!

By the end of the two years, I had acquired my herbal medicine practitioner’s diploma and also membership of the Australian Association of Homoeopaths, and I began working part-time from home as a natural therapist.

As well as herbal tinctures and  extracts, I had acquired a good stock of homeopathic pills and a complete set of Dr. Bach’s flower essences. What a different dispensary I now presided over to the ones I used to work in years ago in pharmacies !

Our eating habits gradually changed too as our nutritional knowledge broadened,  assisted by two great little paperbacks that were popular in the 70’s.  The first was Diet for a Small Planet  followed by Recipes for a Small Planet and are as relevant today as they were then as the trend to a meatless diet continues to grow, and environmental awareness spreads.

                             New Age Spirituality and discovering Community Living.

Yet another pathway that opened up for me in the early days of the herbal studies occurred because at first, our lectures were held upstairs above the New Awareness Centre in Chatswood.  This centre contained one of the first bookshops specialising in alternative health and the growing abundance of literature relating to new-age spirituality.

By now, Flower Power was in full swing and alternative communities were beginning to spring up in the countryside. The Centre had a strong link with the Findhorn Intention Community in Scotland founded by Peter and Eileen Caddy, and as a result, also with the Homeland Community in the Thora Valley, west of Bellingen, which was modeling itself on Findhorn’s ethics of an expression of spirituality which is grounded in a love of nature.

There, in the bookshop, I not only discovered the reading material I needed for my studies, but it also connected me to books, teachers and like-minded people that helped to nourish my soul and reawaken dormant spiritual yearnings.


The Homeland community by the river in the Thora Valley west of Bellingen on the north coast of NSW

Over that period, during school holidays, one of our trips was up north to the Homeland Community in the beautiful, lush Thora Valley west of Bellingen and not far from Coffs Harbour on the mid north coast.

All the community members lived in caravans centred around the old farmhouse near the river’s edge. The main building had a large kitchen and dining area, a library and a meditation room and other amenities, which everyone shared.

We were able to stay in a guest caravan over the holiday period.

I had never seen so much green, such a contrast to the drier, flatter Riverina area, and I felt very much at home in a sub-tropical environment amongst hills and waterways, while not being too far from the ocean, and it helped that we all made lasting friendships there and in the valley generally, and were always welcomed back.

The vegetable and herb gardens were an inspiration. There were rosters for everyone to share in the preparation of vegetarian meals together. We were introduced to tofu and sprouts, which were made on the premises, as well as lots of new ingredients and also methods of gardening.

Treenie and Michael Roads and the other founding members were a great source of encouragement and information, particularly Michael, who occasionally gave informal talks about many aspects of nature including how to converse telepathically with plants and animals – he is still travelling the world, sharing his knowledge, and his books are available through the internet.

These were happy times, and we would return to the city, healthy and rested and ready for work until the next school holidays when we head north again.

These experiences sowed the seeds for the next phase in our family life and led to our next life- defining move in 1982  to leave the city and  find a new home in the town of Bellingen  in the northern N.S.Wales.



One thought on “C3: Return to city living and discovering natural healing

  1. Pingback: An ‘encounter’ with Mark Colvin | Elizabeth – Insights and Encounters

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