'It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar.'
That line (above) from Walden, a book by Thoreau, struck a chord with journalist and writer, Hilary Burden. She was living in London at the time. Single. Lonely. Her weekends were 'often spent shopping, walking or soaking up old movies on BBC2' and she says she often felt like 'one of the dreamers with a life unlived.' Reading Thoreau and that 'fanciful line' started her thinking about 'moving out of the city, to fresh air, open spaces and nature that was raw and wild'. And so, Ms Burden decided to visit Tasmania, where she grew up, for a four day walking tour of the breathtaking Bay of Fires, camping under the stars and rediscovering the beauty of the world around her.
Thus begins A Story of Seven Summers, Hilary Burden's memoir, which caught my interest as Peter and I are both fond of Tasmania, and the prospect of packing up and moving to a house Peter has there is rather delicious. But will we do it, take the step to make that move, leaving our beloved family and friends on the other side of the Tasman? Time will tell, I guess.
Returning to London, Hilary decided to sell her little flat and began looking at rural Tasmanian real estate online. 'Who can say which one moment or revelation pushed me past the point of no return, to construct an argument to sell my flat and move across the world, letting go of twenty years of friends and work hard won?', she questions, adding, 'like Road Runner reaching the edge of the cliff, that point had come'.
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Hilary about her 'new' life in Tasmania:
Tell me, what was the most challenging part of leaving London?
'To leave friends of long standing, not knowing how our lives would knit in the future. And trying to work out what I wouldn't need any more before I could possibly know,' she responded.
How long is it now since your move? Have you found home? Will you stay?
'I moved to Karoola in December 2004. You never know what's around the corner and I try and stay open to whatever might come in. At the moment, I couldn't imagine living anywhere else.'
What was the hardest part of establishing a new home?
'Hard doesn't really come into it because it's what I really wanted to do, where I wanted to be, and how I want to live.'
There's a photograph of a pair of foxy red high heels on the cover of the book and I had wondered about their significance, especially given that they are surrounded by more down to earth items, such as herb baskets, apples and chooks. Hilary explains that she caught sight of them in the window of a Bond Street boutique the week before she left London. 'More than femme fatale, these were killer shoes,' she wrote, 'A good omen... so much a part of the life I was leaving behind that it didn't seem ludicrous to want them'.
Did you ever get the opportunity to wear those 'killer' shoes?
'Only once, Liz, I wore them to a very smart dinner in Hobart with red lipstick to match. And you wouldn't believe it - I went to the bathroom and met another dinner guest who was wearing exactly the same kind of shoes' ... (wow!) ... 'I took a photo on my phone to remember the moment. But they're back in the hall at The Nuns' House now - sitting on a table Barn picked up from the local tip shop!'
One of the things that made me smile while reading the book was Hilary's new found love of 'grunge' fashion (you are my kind of lady, Hilary!).
Do you still enjoy dressing in grunge?
'Yes. I'm sitting here typing now, having just got up, wearing my nightie over Target trackie bottoms, and a second hand fur stole.'
Hilary has an interesting philosophy on food. She says that for her 'an appreciation of food is not about being a cook, a chef or a foodie. It's more about having an appreciation for where things come from and knowing what makes something truly itself.' In April 2009, she and her partner, Barn, established Hilbarn (obviously named for Hil and Barn), a company that sources and collects fresh local produce, packs it fresh in boxes and delivers to consumers.
Are you enjoying your Hilbarn venture?
'My partner, Barn, and I started hilbarn because we wanted to do something together that was about where we live, and about sharing a love of fresh Tasmanian produce. So we love what we do. It's hard work - sourcing, collecting, packing and delivering fresh produce from growers all around Tassie - but we wouldn't do it if we didn't enjoy it. We've both been in jobs before that led us down paths that weren't true to our hearts. So it's important to both of us that we maintain this feeling with Hilbarn.'
There are some lovely recipes peppered throughout the book, each has a special significance: Karen's blueberry muffins, Sylvia's homemade lemonade, Lizzie's elderflower syrup, Les's Tarte Tatin, Natalie's Jansz Tasmania Vintage Rose jelly with raspberries and rose petals, Rose's egg and bacon pie, Libby's pickled walnuts, and Billee's sponge cake, to name just a few.
You have a natural talent as a writer, what else are you doing with yourself?
'I write freelance features for magazines and newspapers, mostly for Country Style. It's a magazine I've always loved as a reader, so it's a pleasure to write for it. I also freelance as a broadcaster for ABC Local Radio in Tasmania, covering for presenters/producers.'
In closing, are there any more books on the horizon?
'I enjoy the process of sitting down to write without knowing what's going to come out. Although it's often more difficult that way - sometimes you have to wait for days and weeks before you actually have something to say on the page. It never ceases to amaze me what you can connect with inside yourself by being patient and waiting for those thoughts and observations to come.'
A Story of Seven Summers by Hilary Burden (Allen & Unwin) $29.99 is also available as an eBook. Thank you to Allen and Unwin and Hilary Burden for giving me the opportunity to review this title. Special thanks to Hilary for taking the time to answer some questions for me.
For more information about Hilbarn, visit the web site. To hear Hilary speak with Louise Saunders about the book and her life in Tasmania, download the audio file on this page from ABC Hobart.
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