The Art Deco Mansion in St Lucia


The third book in The Midnight Sun to Southern Cross trilogy is at the printers! Many have been fascinated by photos of this magnificent mansion since it was built in the early 1950s.

I grew up as ‘a girl whose grandfather built an elevator in his house.’

That’s the Anniversary of WA Back’s death in 1974, just weeks after my wedding on 16 March. I little thought that, as we said our vows at Binna Burra, Granddad relived his own with Christina Hart. That vista across the valleys of the Lamington Plateau and the New South Wales border must have sparked in Grandad flashbacks of his early settler years and courtship just over eighty kilometres away. Just two weeks before, missing his soul mate of sixty–two years, he wrote us a reflective letter–which I quote in the book.

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If we were superstitious, the omens might have halted my marriage.

Read the story: 

The heavens opened, emptying out a deluge worthy of Noah’s time. Cyclone Pam, the third in three months, has crossed the coast at Coolangatta near Binna Burra, just where we planned to marry three days later on a mountain top in the open air—if all the road landslides were cleared. 

A torrent of water buffeted our little red Volkswagen. The windscreen wipers made frantic but futile swipes. Defiant of black skies, we pushed on in a car painted with hippy flowers, nostrils and nose hairs. We plodded north from Sydney to Brisbane, a city already sodden and putrid from its record–breaking floods of late January 1974. 

Brisbane had the stink of debris and mud piled up in battered houses. Mounds of riverweed and flotsam lay engorged on the riverbanks. We could implement Plan B: to hold the ceremony in a small wooden church at Beechmont. 

But joy came on the morning of the wedding. The road up the mountain was clear. Despite threatening skies, the sun sparkled on raindrops and the golden splashes of Regent bowerbirds’ wings. Rainbows shone blessings through mist in the first fine day since the floods. Breezes frolicked around ladies’ dresses—and threatened to steal the marriage certificate, held by a pebble on a table overlooking the cliff. 

We revelled in the surrounding richness for all the senses; beauty displayed in rainforest trees festooned with ferns, staghorns and orchids; the fragrance of rain on volcanic earth. Hopkins’ poetry extolled the grandeur of God. Music flowed from a string quartet, from recorder and tabor. Kookaburras and parrots laughed with us; brilliant kingfishersflashed from trees.

Granddad beamed in delight, encircled by his prolific family. 

(Excerpt from Burn My Letters)

A joyful outdoor wedding at Binna Burra on the first sunny day after the 1974 floods and cyclone.
A patron of the arts and generous philanthropist
As a patron of the arts, WA Back  sponsored the organ in a recently built St Lucia Presbyterian Church (opposite Ironside State School, where I endured culture shock after correspondence lessons in Western Queensland.) He enabled his niece Perry Hart to study violin in Holland soon after World War II. WA bought his wife a piano and lessons, encouraged Giuseppe (‘Charles’) Ive to branch beyond house painting and plastering, to paint murals. On his travels he bought glassware and sculpture, and took his family through galleries and museums, historical sites and landmarks.  

WA Back was thought a ‘soft touch’ to anyone telling a hard-luck story. Executors of his will struggled to cover all the bequests he donated to charity.

Grandad was an inspiration to his many descendants and to all who knew him. Read more of the life of a 16-year-old emigrant from Finland, who embraced the opportunities of his new life under the Southern Cross.
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We launched 'Midnight Sun to Southern Cross' in the St Lucia church where Grandad was an elder. The organ was in full voice.

Where better to launch Midnight Sun to Southern Cross than in this church and to hear again the organ that WA Back donated?


Of voice, gifts and refugees

It’s Twelfth Night. Dismantle the tree and lights, throw out perfume boxes and cheap bling, and casserole the last turkey remnants. Let me share my “Aha!” illuminations of the past weeks. 

Let your light shine

An earlier post bewailed ever-tighter restrictions on “free speech” yet even I bowed to political correctness pressure. Some Christmas greetings wimped out with a vague “Whoever and however you celebrate” rather than wish happy Christmas.

“Aha!” I thought, I dodged my own issue and missed the boat of the true meaning. That the Christmas story goes on to tell of a Palestinian refugee family who fled from a despot dictator.

Soon after, The Australian newspaper reported that singing Christmas carols is now banned in Victorian public schools! Bah, humbug, to quote Ebenezer Scrooge, for singing and praise uplift the spirits!

“Aha!” at the carol service

Ever thought a casserole might be more practical for a poor, young family, not the Magi gold, frankincense and myrrh? Yet these gifts were God’s provision to afford their refugee flight to Egypt.The father, Joseph was warned by a dream that the despotic King Herod was so threatened by a baby Messiah, that he would massacre all young boys. Refugee Jesus Christ lived–to put the real meaning into Christ’s Mass. Then suffer and overcome a miscarriage of justice.

What propelled refugees’ flight?

Many struggle to comprehend, welcome and assimilate the mass of refugees who fled Syria and other regimes into Europe. What ordeals propelled them? A book has illumined this tough issue: the gripping yet lyrical I Confess – Revelations in Exile by Iranian doctor Kooshyar Karimi (Wild Dingo Press). Read my review of this eye and heart opener.

(And while on and Amazon do comment on any of my own books you’ve read. Or order them here.)

Another refugee story

My next book tells of another flight from oppression – a refugee from Russian occupied Finland, where a rigid regime’s Board of Censors suppressed newspapers and free association. Self-described “pen-fighter” Karl Johan Back, my great-uncle, fled in 1899 to asylum in Australia. Three years later his brother, my grandfather, followed to settle. He become the Migrant-Made-Good, developing much of the northern NSW, St Lucia in Brisbane, and western Queensland pastoral land.

Burn My Letters; Midnight Sun to Southern Cross is closer to publication, as I explore options. Email for info about release date and launch, to join my crowd funding caravan.

Writing Life Stories

See tips in my blog on this tricky process.

This year, may you shine in all your endeavours.
Rise and shine!” my mother chirruped to wake her eight children.
          It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. (Proverb)

                                   Be that light.