Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden

Last updated on 07 May 2019 at 02:30PM
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You can donate to the Trust established to secure the ongoing future care of the Secret Garden, to maintain Wendy’s vision. Donations are NOT tax deductible.

BSB: 062-217

Account Number: 10861672

Account Name: Wendy Whiteley Secret Garden Trust


Playground Significant Features

  • Tiered gardens with many flowering plants and sculptures and views to Harbour Bridge.


Wendy’s Secret Garden is sited on land which was occupied by the Cammeraygal (Gameraigal) clan and was known as Gooweebahree or Quibaree (believed to mean “fresh water”). Their territory extended from Wullworra-jeung (Cremorne Point) in the east, across to Woodford Bay, in the west. With disease and social dispersal resulting from European colonisation in 1788, the Cammeraygals became scattered.

In 1821, the land was granted to James Milson where he grazed dairy cattle and provided fresh water, milk and ballast for passing ships on Sydney Harbour. The early colonists named the bay Hulk Bay after the hulk ‘Pheonix’, which was permanently moored to provide accommodation for convicts. The suburb and bay were later re-named after George Lavender, the boatswain on the ‘Phoenix’.

The land grant was eventually subdivided with houses and roads constructed. The Lavender Bay to Milsons Point Railway commenced construction in 1890, filling in part of the cove at Lavender Bay. Raised on a berm, the railway separated the water’s edge from the land behind.

In 1974 eminent artist Brett and Wendy Whiteley purchased one of the houses on the hill slope behind the railway lands.

In the studio below the house, Brett Whiteley produced a series of major paintings, which won Australia’s most prestigious art prizes. In 1978, Whiteley claimed  the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes which continues to be a unique record in Australian history. His works are considered to have influenced an evolving national Australian identity, altering our own perception of the Australian landscape of Sydney Harbour, its bays and peninsulas with its blend of exotic plantings and rugged bushland.

After Brett’s death in 1992, Wendy found solace from grief as a "guerrilla gardener" - cleaning up the government-owned land between her home and the railway line that had become a dumping ground. Wendy created a verdant garden with quiet garden rooms and secluded pathways. Bungalow palms given to her by her late daughter Arkie were one of the first plantings. In acknowledgement of the site’s earlier history as a wasteland, Wendy artfully retained objets trouvés including a tricycle and a railway points changer. In counterpoint to these, there are contemporary fine sculptures.

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On 9 October, 2015, the former NSW Premier Mike Baird granted a 30 year lease with a 30 year option to North Sydney Council, and promised that a Trust would be established to secure the on-going future care of the Secret Garden, to maintain Wendy’s vision. Premier Baird said:

This garden is a gift of Wendy’s to the people of Sydney - it truly is a living Whiteley that is bursting with life and creativity. I’m delighted that a place which brings such joy to residents and visitors, has now been secured for future generations to enjoy.

On 23 March 2018, the garden gained NSW State Heritage protection for its contribution to the heritage significance of Brett Whiteley’s home and studio. The nomination by Council in 2014 was unusual and was the first of its type for the NSW Heritage Division to consider. It was argued on an expanded visual curtilage or "view shed", that required the protection of the gardens, ferry wharves, railway viaduct and bay, that feature in Brett Whiteley’s acclaimed artworks. The state listing not only protects the Whiteley’s home at 1 Walker Street, but also provides heritage protection to the land that forms its "view shed" including: Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden, the railway viaduct, Quibaree Park, part of Clark Park and the waters of Lavender Bay.

Since 2018, Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden has also been included on the National Trust Register:


While placement on the register is non-statutory, it is acknowledged as an authoritative statement of the heritage significance of the garden and its significance to the Australian community.



Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden
Lavender St , Lavender Bay
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