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In Lawrence's Footsteps
at Darlington


Sandra Darroch

BEFORE moving to Perth for a year in 1994, I know that Lawrence and Frieda had stayed at Mollie Skinner's guesthouse, Leithdale, at Darlington outside of Perth, and that Lawrence had subsequently rewritten Mollie's novel, The Boy in the Bush. I also knew that Mollie Skinner's returned WWl injured veteran brother, Jack, on whom she based the hero of The Boy in the Bush, moved to Darlington from his returned soldier settlement farm at Kalumunda in the Hills, when Mollie took up residence at Leithdate.

Jack's new patch was "an unstocked three acres by the brook" but he probably began to farm it soon after arriving. We know that he kept ducks, and he probably had a cow to supply himself and his mother with milk. Mollie says that he brought his mother's cottage (named Rose Cottage) over from the old site and rebuilt it next to an existing shack at Darlington which he lived in. This was Broook Cottage.

I also know from Lawrence's own letters to Mollie Skinner that he would wander down to Jack's little plot and would pay a visit to Mollie's mother, a once-grande-dame of Perth society, but now old and down on her luck. After her nother's death, Mollie suffered a nervous reaction, even though she said they’d never been "really close”. As a result. Nellie Beakbane closed down Leithdale for a while and went to England while Mollie went and lived in her mother's litrle house - using it as a writer's retreat as Lawrence had urged her to do in "that little cottase on the creek slope".

When we moved to Perth in 1994,  I decided to try and find out whether the two little cottages still stood. The close-knit societies of Perth and Darlington were to supply the answer. We had visited Perth's best antiquarian bookshop in search of Lawrence material and had met its owners, Robert and Helen Muir (nee Durack), who told us that their friends, Gail and David Gregson, a well-known WA artist, lived at Darlington "next door to the little house Mollie Skinner lived in" (Rose Cottage)..

A trip up to Darlington the following Saturday was rewarding.


Rob Darroch, President of the D.H. Lawrence Society of Australia, standing in front of the verandah
of Leithdale in 1994




Rose Cottage no longe existed but Brrok Cottage remained. We found the little cottage situated next to an old oak tree on a narrow strip of land running side-by-side with a wedge-shaped allotment down to the "brook", as both Lawrence and the locals called Nannya Creek.

The adjoining wedge-shaped block is now vacant, as the old cottage on it (Rose Cottage) had been condemned and demolished.. Gail and David, who had lived in their house for 32 years, said that the remaining cottage used to be owned by an old man called Mr Rawson who told them that Mollie Skinner had lived there. We went down to look at the cottage more closely, walking through the soft mossy grass strewn with large gumnuts, past wattle brightly in bloom. The old oak tree still had some leaves because the winter had been so short and gentle.

Down from the cottage was the brook, which usually only runs in winter. Lawrence had visited in late autumn, by which time the brook itself would have probably dried up, although the sudden rain storm on the day of Lawrence's arrival in Fremantle might have provided some water. But Lawrence mentions a pond and the ducks. Jack Skinner had most likely dammed the creek to provide his cow and other animals with drinking water during summer. A little, and very old, wooden footbridge with no railing led over the creek to a large cleared paddock with the rurnains of a loose stone wall on two sides.

This paddock is joined to the wedge-shaped allotment on the other side of the creek and was the three acres which her brother took up, referred to by Mollie Skinner in The Fifth Sparrow. I know Lawrence would walk down from Leithdale to visit Mollie's mother: "The path down the hollow under the gum trees, to your mother's cottage; and those big ducks - Your mother didn't belong to our broken, fragmentary generation; with her oriental rugs in that little wooden bungalow, and her big, easy gesture of life. It was too small for her, really."

The most likely path Lawrence would have taken would have been up the hill behind Leithdale and down a track to the dirt road, then along the right-of-way by the stone wall of the paddock, across the little wooden footbridge, and up the slope to Mollie's mother's cottage.

If any of the locals had observed the pale, red-bearded Englishman making his way through the grey bush towards Rose Cottage and Jack's little farm, on which there was a cow, the visit might well have gone into Darlington folklore.

But the fact that Mollie later took Lawrence's advice and used Rose cottage as a writer's retreat was indeed added to the legend.