Hope for a memorial to Eve Langley

Almost 15 years after it was first mooted, progress has been made on installing a memorial plaque on the site of author Eve Langley’s former home in Leura.

Former mayor, Jim Angel, Joanne Hornbrook and Cr Don McGregor in front of the fireplace of Eve Langley's old home in Leura.

Former mayor, Jim Angel, Joanne Hornbrook and Cr Don McGregor in front of the fireplace of Eve Langley's old home in Leura.

Langley, author of the acclaimed book The Pea-pickers, lived in a basic shack she called Iona Lympus in Clydebank Road for 14 years until her death in 1974.

In the yard of the property on the border of Leura and Katoomba she also had a bus parked up on stumps which she called Olym-bus – she was a fan of Ancient Greece.

The eccentric author, who had changed her name to Oscar Wilde in the 1950s, regularly walked the streets of Leura and Katoomba dressed as Wilde, according to former mayor, Jim Angel.

Mr Angel was the mayor when the idea for a memorial was first raised in council.

Eve Langley

Eve Langley

In response, officers visited the site where Ms Langley lived but deemed it unsuitable because there was no longer a house there and because it is very isolated and not readily accessible to the public.

The idea lapsed until 2008, when another report recommended that the council could look at recognising Ms Langley and other prominent Blue Mountains writers in some way at the new Katoomba Library, then being developed with the Cultural Centre.

The Katoomba Library Technical Advisory Panel, which was helping with the interior design and fit-out of the new library, looked at the feasibility of having a writer’s wall in the new building to record and honour the many past and present writers of distinction associated with the Mountains.

Again the plan hit a snag, this time because of the huge numbers of writers involved. The local studies librarian, who conducted initial research, reported on the difficulties faced.

“Regarding published authors who have lived or worked in the Blue Mountains, 19th-20th century, living and deceased, all media, fiction and non-fiction, novels, poetry, drama, journalism, children’s, indigenous, I would estimate there to be several thousand, but it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to identify them all and locate their work.

“There would also be some controversy in deciding who would qualify for entry to the honour board; who is famous enough, who has lived in the area long enough and do people using Varuna and other writing retreats count?”

Some time later, Blackheath resident Joanne Hornbrook, a big fan of Ms Langley’s work, posted a comment about the author on a website. To her surprise, she was contacted by one of Eve Langley’s grandchildren in New Zealand, Andrew Barnes.

“He said you seemed very sympathetic to Eve and we hatched an idea that there be a memorial to her.

“Andrew contacted the guy at council in charge of memorials … and it just sort of evolved,” Ms Hornbrook said.

Although the shack is no more, the fireplace stands proudly on the land and, with some investigation, the old front path can be detected as well as the stumps which held up the bus.

Ms Langley lived an adventurous and often tragic life. She and her sister, June, took to the road in country Victoria in the 1920s, dressed in men’s clothes and picking peas and hops. It was this experience that former the basis for the semi-autobiographical, The Pea-pickers.

A second, White Topee, followed but thereafter eight manuscripts she wrote were deemed unpublishable.

At the age of 32 in New Zealand, she married a 22-year-old art student, Hilary Clark. They had three children – daughter Bisi Arilev, and two sons, Langley Rhaviley and Karl Marx.

But in 1942, her husband had her committed to a mental institution in Auckland. She remained there until March, 1949, when she released into her sister's care. She divorced Mr Clark in 1952.

Ms Langley bought her Leura land in 1960 and lived there alone for the next 14 years.

Ms Hornbrook, who has investigated the rather convoluted history of a memorial, said she doubted that any writer in the Mountains would begrudge a plaque for Eve Langley.

“I thought she was an extraordinary writer – let’s just honour her,” she said.

Olym-bus outside Eve Langley's Leura home. Historic photos courtesy of Karl Marx Clark

Olym-bus outside Eve Langley's Leura home. Historic photos courtesy of Karl Marx Clark

At last month’s meeting, council passed Cr Don McGregor’s notice of motion calling for a report on the feasibility of installing a memorial plaque.