I’m Dreaming of a White Gables Christmas*


Christmas Nativity 21


This will be our fifth Christmas at White Gables. I was hoping it would be a time of thanksgiving and celebration after two years that have tested everyone. Only a short time ago, Covid case numbers were low and prospects were bright. Sadly, we are now seeing the opposite – an exponential increase in infections in NSW and an appeal from certain political leaders to ‘stare Covid in the face’ and 'take individual responsibility'. 


Christmas decs special 21


Rewind to December 1, 2017, the day we moved into White Gables. It was also the first day of Advent. While the boys lugged furniture out of the hire truck and into the house, I was busy decorating the Christmas tree.  The boys knew not to question my priorities. As far as I'm concerned, Christmas has to come first. The next year we decorated the tree together.

Then came Christmas 2019, when our little village found itself face to face with the Currowan-Morton Fire which had been burning relentlessly towards us all through December. I can’t remember whether I put up a Christmas tree that year – Christmas is a blur. But I do remember wrapping photo albums and other family treasures in bubble wrap and packing them in the Land Rover while our son meticulously sealed all the French doors and windows with duct tape. Meanwhile my husband perched precariously on a ladder, cleaning gutters, installing gutter plugs and then filling the gutters with water.


White Gables and Morton NP 2007 medium


Christmas Day came and went, and still the fire continued to burn, simmering in the valleys and creating hotspots visible from the weather satellite. Each day we would measure the distance from our place to the fire, using the satellite map.

It wasn’t until just after New Year that an inferno hit our village. There was no notice. We hadn’t even expected to be in the ember zone. The main fire was still some distance away, but unbeknown to us, a pyrocumulus cloud had formed over Kangaroo Valley (36 km away). Strong southerly winds propelled the cloud towards the villages on the northern edge of the Morton National Park. That night, precious homes were destroyed, wildlife killed and ancient trees burnt to a crisp, but thankfully, no human lives were lost.


Morton fire 23 24 Jan 2020

 From the top of the hill


Finally, in February, after further fiery incursions and evacuations, the Morton Fire was declared extinguished and we held a little celebration for our neighbours. Strong bonds had been formed during those dark times. We had helped each other clean gutters, shared tips about water pumps, fire hoses and the aforementioned gutter plugs, and debated the efficacy of various face masks and respirators. (Little did we know that there would be more mask-wearing ahead, but of a different kind). That evening we laughed and cried, shared stories and had a toast to a better year ahead. We were entirely unaware that, far away in Wuhan, a zoonotic virus not unlike the pneumonic plague of 1918/19 was spreading among the local population and would soon reach Australia.

And who would have thought the spectre of Covid would still be hanging over us at Christmastime in 2021?


Christmas decs gold leaves 21


Anyway, this December, I decided to decorate the house in the usual way –  normally I love the process of placing ornaments on the tree, garlanding the staircase and festooning the fireplace. However, this year it's felt like a chore rather than a delight. Like so many other people, I don't feel particularly festive. The easing of restrictions in NSW has been chaotic and illogical. Most of us won't be eligible for booster shots till 2022. And if we feel as though we're part of an ill-advised experiment in creating herd immunity, we may well be right.


Christmas blue decs


On Christmas Day, we’ll be having lunch on the back verandah at White Gables – just the six of us, including two beautiful little girls (aged one and three), who know nothing about Covid and simply assume that masks are just another accessory that grownups wear whenever they leave home. For a couple of hours we might even forget about Covid and simply enjoy the magic of Christmas. 


Chistmas tree and ladder 21


Happy Christmas, everyone, and may the New Year and booster shots bring better times for all of us.


* Thank you to the lovely Michelle Endersby whose Christmas message to me inspired this title.


Read more Home in the Highlands articles:

Finding the Dream House

The Flying Carpet

A Tale of Two Chandeliers

The Secret Garden


Deborah O'Brien   19 December 2021


Home in the Highlands




The Flying Carpet



 WG Living Room Christmasx


Although I’ve penned hundreds of words about the garden at White Gables, I haven’t written much about the house itself and its interiors. That’s because we’ve been working hard to repair damaged walls and floors and deal with a series of surprises that didn’t appear in the building inspection report. The hard work is mostly over and several rooms are finished, but there are still some mysteries to unravel.

For example, why do the lights cut out whenever it rains? Our trusty electrician has investigated thoroughly but can't find the answer. Are there ghosts at work at White Gables? While we await a solution, we’ve installed night-lights in every room - fortunately the power points still work, no matter how long or hard it rains. Torches have been placed in key positions, and in the kitchen there’s a desk lamp on the counter-top so that if the ceiling lights go, I can cook dinner by lamplight! 

But back to the real story. My tale of the first major purchase for White Gables. This is how it happened.

When we moved into the property last December, I found myself with a vast formal living room, 7 metres by 6 metres, with a 5.5 metre (18 foot) vaulted ceiling. Unfurnished, it looked even bigger than it had at the inspections. 

How was I going to turn something that looked like an auditorium, complete with echo, into a cosy sitting room? Yes, you guessed it! Add a rug, a very big one!

But where would I find one big enough for this room, without paying a fortune for it?

I spent hours browsing online before coming across a traditional design in muted shades of grey, cream and blue which I hoped would form the perfect backdrop for my existing cream sofas. What’s more, the price was very good indeed.

Fast forward to Monday morning, 9am. After a weekend of vacillating, I decided to buy the rug. Call me old-fashioned but I never place an order online when there's a phone number I can ring. At the top of the home page, there was a one-800 number operating ‘24/7’.

The voice that answered my call was bright and cheery:

   ‘Hi. This is Brad. How may I help you?’

   His American accent caught me off-guard. ‘You’re American!’ I said, forgetting my manners.

   ‘That’s right, ma’am. You’ve just phoned North Carolina.’

   ‘Oh!’ I gulped. ‘But I’m in Sydney, Australia.’

   ‘Don’t worry, it’s a free call. We have a lot of Australians buying our rugs.’

   I was on the point of thanking him for his time and hanging up. After all, it would be ridiculous to buy a rug from America – the freight alone would cost a fortune.

   ‘Which rug are you interested in, ma’am?’ Brad continued.

   It couldn't hurt to give him the details. 

  'Yes, we have that rug in stock,' he replied. Then he told me the price - it was the same as the amount which had appeared on the website.

 ' Is that Australian dollars,or American?' I asked tentatively.

  ‘That's  Australian dollars, ma'am.'

  While I was processing that particular piece of information, he added: 'And delivery is free.’

  ‘Free delivery to Australia!’ I squeaked, having recently paid forty dollars to have a new fridge delivered from twenty kilometres away.

  ‘Absolutely, ma’am. And it should arrive within ten days.’

The deal was too good to refuse, but a little voice in my head was saying: perhaps it’s too good to be true. Nevertheless, I supplied my details, paid by credit card and was informed that a tracking number and receipt would be zooming their way to me via email.

As soon as I pressed ‘End’, doubts began to fill my head. Would I ever hear from the company again? Did it really sell rugs, or was it simply an elaborate scam set up to snare gullible home decorators like me?

Later that day I happened to mention the internet purchase to a friend when she phoned for a chat.

   ‘You bought a rug from America!’ she exclaimed. 

   ‘It’s a reputable company,’ I said, trying to convince myself. 

   ‘I hope you haven’t bought yourself a flying carpet,’ she tittered. ‘The kind that flies away and is never seen again.’

Meanwhile an email had pinged into my inbox, containing the tracking number. When I clicked on the link, an official-looking page appeared on the screen, announcing that my rug had left the North Carolina warehouse and was already in a sorting centre in Cincinatti. If this was a scam, they’d gone to a lot of trouble to make it seem authentic.

On Thursday of that same week I checked the tracking info again, expecting the rug to still be in the USA, if indeed it existed at all. But the information on my computer screen indicated differently:

        Parcel arrived Sydney Airport 11pm Wednesday.

        Parcel cleared Customs 8am Thursday.

        Parcel with courier 8.45am Thursday.

        Delivery to purchaser by 4pm Thursday.

Impossible! I thought to myself. After all, I’d only ordered the rug on Monday morning. 

At 2pm that day, there was a knock on the front door. Outside, a courier was holding what looked like a dead body wrapped in heavy green plastic.


WG Rug in body bagx



WG Rug Foldedx


After the courier left, I dragged the ‘body bag’ inside and set to work with a scissors to cut it open. Finally, the rug emerged, rolled up and folded in half, like a sandwich wrap. I tried to unroll it in the hallway but it was too big.


That night my son and I lugged the rug into the living room, where we unfurled it, stood back and surveyed the purchase. 

   ‘What do you think of it?’ I asked him.

   ‘It’s perfect!’ he replied.


WG with rug 021217cropped



Living room WG March 20 


 The sitting room with the furniture in place.


Living Room 2 WG 20



 When my credit card bill arrived later that month, the first thing I did was to check the amount I’d paid for the rug. It was exactly as specified. No extras, taxes or customs duty.

Lesson learnt: There are still people left in the world you can trust.


 WG Christmas and Cody

Cody gives the rug his seal of approval.  


Postscript: Not long after I purchased my rug, the Australian Government decided to introduce GST for overseas internet purchases under $1000. I’d bought the rug just in time.

And some good news – our trusty electrician solved the blackout problem – it turned out that rats (we like to call them native mice) had gnawed through the insulation around an electrical wire running under the house to the garage. The faulty wire has now been replaced and there are no more blackouts.


Deborah O’Brien

24 July 2018



Read more about Life at White Gables:


Home in the Highlands: Finding the Dream Home

Home in the Highlands: The Secret Garden

Home in the Highlands: A Tale of Two Chandeliers 

Home in the Highlands: Autumn

Home in the Highlands: I'm Dreaming of a White Gables Christmas


Home in the Highlands







WG Autumn Cherry Tree and Lavender 270518 

 Autumn 2018


After a long, dry summer in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of autumn. But as March merged into April, the record heat wave continued unabated. Finally, at the end of April, temperatures began to drop and we even had some rain. Great, I thought to myself, autumn is here at last.

But at White Gables it didn't look like a cool-climate autumn at all. Why were my fruit trees still green and leafy when only a kilometre away in the main street of our village, the deciduous trees lining the footpaths were boasting glorious autumnal hues? Had autumn decided to bypass White Gables altogether?

I happened to mention my conundrum to a gardening friend who lives nearby, and her explanation was so obvious I couldn’t believe I hadn't thought of it myself. White Gables is sheltered by a ridge on the coastal side of town – that means the temperature is a degree or two warmer than elsewhere and consequently autumn arrives a few weeks later.


 WG autumn 080518

The first tree to realise it was autumn was the Japanese maple on the left.  Meanwhile, the house awaits a fresh coat of paint and some serious repairs.


When the much-anticipated season finally reached White Gables, it didn’t just sneak in like an embarrassed guest ashamed of arriving late. Instead, it made a grand entrance, transforming the garden into a mass of colour almost overnight. Suddenly the fruit trees glowed yellow and orange, and the rose bushes burst into flower after months of inactivity.

 WG Carpet roses and painting of gable 031118

Pink carpet roses are repeat-flowering - just trim off the dead roses but beware of the thorns!


Sasanqua camellias, inconspicuous during the summer, now produced a myriad of blooms. Even the poor rhododendrons, which had barely survived months of heat and drought, started to make flowers. Fortunately, they came to their senses and realised it was autumn, not spring, and they'd better stop flowering and conserve their energy, or they might not make it through the winter. 

Among the fruit trees, the pears were the first to turn golden and lose their leaves, followed by the weeping cherries whose canopies thinned out as their yellow leaves drifted lazily to the ground, forming a rich carpet of mulch on the ground. After that, it was a competition between the apples, apricots, peaches, plums and figs to see which of them would shed all their leaves first.


 WG Autumn 271518



 WG Daffodil bulbs 080518 

Autumn is bulb planting time.  I bought 100 daffodil bulbs from a lovely elderly gentleman at the local markets,
who was almost giving them away. 
After planting the bulbs under the pear trees
I began to regret I hadn't bought bluebell and hyacinth bulbs as well. Perhaps next year . . .


In the lavender garden the fragrant flower-heads turned a deep blue-purple, attracting a swarm of fat little bees which buzzed from flower to flower with such joyful enthusiasm that they barely noticed WGH* setting up his tripod and photographing them in close-up.


Lavender WG 20


WG Bee and LavenderPic: WGH*


In less than two weeks it will officially be winter. And if autumn came late to White Gables, winter will no doubt do the same. The preponderance of French lavender in the garden suggests winter might be considerably milder here than the more exposed parts of the district. Although I'll miss the 'mellow fruitfulness' of autumn, I'm looking forward to bare branches silhouetted against a cloudless sky, and early bulbs sprouting from the rich basalt soil.


WG Mist 050318


Keats called autumn the 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' - he was right!


*WGH = World’s Greatest Husband – it says so on his coffee mug.

Deborah O’Brien

17 May 2018



Read more about Life at White Gables:


Home in the Highlands: Finding the Dream Home

Home in the Highlands: The Secret Garden

Home in the Highlands: A Tale of Two Chandeliers 

Home in the Highlands: The Flying Carpet

Home in the Highlands: I'm Dreaming of a White Gables Christmas


Home in the Highlands





A Tale of Two Chandeliers


All my life I’ve been fond of chandeliers – as a child I even had a miniature one in my dolls’ house! So, last spring, when I spotted the listing for White Gables online and read the description of the living room with a “vaulted ceiling showcasing an impressive glass chandelier to its best advantage”, my heart soared.

Then I browsed the images and couldn’t believe my eyes. The glass chandelier certainly made an impression, but not a positive one. If truth be told, it resembled a piñata exploding over a light fitting.

 WG Old Chandelier square


But apart from the chandelier, the house looked great, albeit in need of some TLC. I knew I just had to see the place for myself.

Fast forward to the inspection day . . .

By the time I had climbed the front steps to the wraparound verandah, I was already in love. At the door I gave the real estate agent my particulars and was ushered into the foyer. From there I entered the spacious living room where the aforesaid chandelier was hanging from the 18-foot (5.5 metres) ceiling.

‘What do you think of it?’ the agent asked conspiratorially when she caught me staring at the colourful light-fitting.

As I tried to come up with an answer that wouldn’t offend her, she continued:

‘If this was my house, it would be the first thing I’d replace.’

She was right, of course. On December 1, settlement day, we rang the local electrician but he couldn’t come till after New Year. For the next four weeks, whenever I walked past the chandelier I lowered my gaze. At Christmas I convinced myself it looked festive. But when I took pictures I lowered the camera so that the light-fitting wasn’t in the shot.

I was at pains to explain to guests that the chandelier had come with the house. If anyone expressed the slightest interest in it, I would ask whether they’d like to have it. As a gift. But nobody wanted it. ‘It wouldn’t suit my house,’ they said diplomatically. Or: ‘It’s too big for my place.’

In the same way that I’d scoured the internet looking for the right house, I now sought the perfect chandelier. In the process I didn’t come across anything that looked like ours.

However, we did eventually find a vintage chandelier which was both simple and elegant, with just the right proportions for the room and at a very acceptable price. When the electrician turned up to install it, I offered him the old one for nothing, but he politely declined. I wasn’t really surprised.

 WG Chandelier closeup 


What I like about the new chandelier is its subtlety. It doesn’t grab your attention – it just fits comfortably in the room, like a trusted friend.

What happened to the old chandelier? Well, it’s packed in a crate in the garage, awaiting a trip to the recycling centre, where I’m hoping someone will take pity on it and give it a good home.


Deborah O’Brien

24 April 2018



Read more about Life at White Gables:


Home in the Highlands: Finding the Dream Home

Home in the Highlands: The Secret Garden

Home in the Highlands: The Flying Carpet

Home in the Highlands: Autumn

Home in the Highlands: I'm Dreaming of a White Gables Christmas

Home in the Highlands





The Secret Garden



WG Climbing roses 221218

 Renae climbing rose


When I was a little girl, I read Frances Hodgson Burnett's 'The Secret Garden' and dreamed of having one of my own. In December of 2017, that dream came true. Much like the garden in the classic children's book, my secret garden is hidden away behind a stone wall and overgrown after years of neglect. 


WG Pear Walk 280818


I can’t tell you how excited I was about the prospect of restoring this garden, but I was daunted too. What intimidated me most were the blackberry vines which had taken over like triffids, smothering plants and tearing at my skin whenever I ventured beyond the perimeter. Although garden gloves helped a little, what I really needed were those elbow-length leather gauntlets worn by falconers. Suffice it to say that removing the blackberries was a long and thorny process involving a lot of Betadine.

The many briar roses proved to be as dangerous as the blackberry vines. Even though it was summer, I took to them with secateurs and administered a heavy pruning to the old woody branches. All the while, I begged them, ‘Stop stabbing me – I’m only trying to help you.’

Once the blackberries were eradicated, there were other pests to deal with – rampant wisteria and jasmine, both of which had been allowed to grow out of control. After cutting everything back as far as I could, I poured boiling water over the remaining shoots. (I don’t use chemicals.) In the months since then, new wisteria and jasmine shoots have appeared and I’ve hit them once again with boiling water. Although they wilted and turned brown, I suspect it will take many more applications to eliminate them for good. 


Molly and St Francis


St Francis guarding the creatures living in the Secret Garden



WG Autumn Molly


 Wormwood and Chinese Plumbago line the pathway to the Secret Garden.


One day, I was peering into the shrubbery and spotted something terracotta perched high among the branches. In order to get a closer look, I started cutting wood away until I could see a large terracotta saucer on top of a wooden post. It was a bird feeder! And twining around the post was a bare vine which was later identifed as a Renae climbing rose by my dear friend and rose expert,  Michelle Endersby.



WG Birdfeeder hidden



WG Birdfeeder revealed



More discoveries awaited. A stone water feature. An old swinging garden chair (now moved to the safety of the front verandah). A collection of wonderful plants and shrubs: escallonia, rhododendrons, osmanthus, azaleas, camellias, geraniums, roses and innumerable lavender bushes, the latter desperately in need of a trim. Released from the burden of blackberries and other vines, they are thriving in their newfound freedom.

This autumn, something very special happened in the Secret Garden. Sweet little forget-me-nots began to pop up everywhere. A gardening friend warned me that the seeds would stick to my dogs’ fur and I should remove the plants ASAP. ‘Thanks for the heads-up,' I replied, 'but the forget-me-nots are staying.'



WG Forget me nots 011018


I’m certain there will be surprises ahead. Already, bulbs are pushing their way out of the ground. At this stage I can only guess what they might be. Daffodils? Jonquils? Hyacinths? Snowdrops? I’ll just have to wait and see!


Deborah O’Brien

19 April, 2018


Read more about Life at White Gables:


Home in the Highlands: Finding the Dream Home

Home in the Highlands: A Tale of Two Chandeliers 

Home in the Highlands: The Flying Carpet

Home in the Highlands: Autumn

Home in the Highlands: I'm Dreaming of a White Gables Christmas