Arrival Along a dirt track in the Sunshine Coast hinterlands, there’s an old eucalyptus tree with a trunk split like this: \/. It’s the first sign you’re nearing Olvar Wood. You find the turnoff by chance, a hidden track among the foliage. The long drive twists and rolls. Trees whisper. You’re surprised by the sudden blur of lorikeets leading you on.
That Olvar is an enchanted place is confirmed when you pull up to the house. In the low branches of a tree, there’s one—no, two! tawny frogmouths. A thrill runs through you.
The Residence The house is cool, serene, welcoming. The other writers have already arrived, and you greet one another shyly. Over the next 48 hours, you will each share with the others something precious and personal, your writing.
This time you stay in the Mandala Room. You peek into the others, Hemingway, Garden, and Sky, and promise yourself you’ll return in coming months in order to stay in each.
After the drive up from Brisbane, you sneak into the lush gardens to stretch your legs. You try to remember the names of plants–cordylines, gingers, palms, calatheas, tree ferns, bromeliads—but your mind drifts after a while. There’s no need to name beauty or to put words to the sense of peacefulness that has fallen over you.
The surrounding mountains are wild and green; and you think, “I am a thousand miles away from my ordinary life. I might be in the hills of Bali or on an island in the Andaman Sea or in some undiscovered place.”
The walk is refreshing.
The Food The kitchen is stocked with breakfast foods: eggs, wholegrain breads, locally made jams, fruit, yogurt, muesli. And of course, fresh coffee and a wide selection of teas.
The chef prepares most lunches and dinners on the premises, simple meals beautifully presented. The first night you have salmon encrusted with dukka on a vegetable mash. The second night, you and your new friends duck out to a lively local restaurant for Thai food.
For lunch, there is a frittata and salad one day; a simple pasta with rocket and lime the next. Many of the ingredients are from the vegetable garden and the orchard. Naturally, all the meals are accompanied with wines that beautifully complement the food.
The meals provide an opportunity to relax after hours of writing, thinking, critiquing the work of others. You each share pieces of yourselves in quite a different way. And, of course, there’s a lot of laughter.
The Sessions You’re surprised at how much you like the others in the group. What impresses you most is the amount of generosity, talent, intelligence, and sincerity there is flying around the table. At the group sessions each writer has a chance to hear the reactions of others to the offered work. While you feel some trepidation at first, as the process unfolds, you realise how much this feedback will improve your novel. The others are gentle, honest, supportive.
There are one-on-one sessions too, in which you speak about your project with the program facilitator. The suggestions are pertinent and thoughtful. Before you know it, you’ve solved some of the problems that have been miring your progress. You have a new direction, a structure shifted just slightly but in a way that allows for new light, fresh air, more energy.
The final wrap-up session comes too quickly. But you’re confident the connections you’ve made with these other writers, who are now friends, will last long after your return to the ordinary world. Then, there’s the renewed connection you’ve made to your work: you feel certain the enchantment of Olvar Wood will somehow be embodied there.
I am at a loss to add anything to Adair’s comments which so accurately reflect my own experience. I emerged from Olvar yesterday afternoon exhautsed and exhilarated. Not only had I survived my first writing retreat, I actually enjoyed it. I received more constructive feedback, motivation, support, and knowledge over two days than I had in eighteen months of formal study. The opportunity of working with, and supporting, fellow writers in an intimate and non-threatening environment cannot be underestimated. Many thanks and congratulations to Nike Bourke and Inga Simpson.