Searching in the past for that indefinable something

Denison Street Darlinghurst

Darlinghurst 1924 from the Demolition Books

I think we’ve all done it as some stage and not especially in the past – spent time looking for something, not knowing what that something is! What exactly am I looking for, we ask ourselves. We stop for a moment, think about it and then begin again none the wiser.

I’m searching in Sydney’s way back past for either an old house that has been turned into a block of flats or perhaps a particular row of terrace houses. I’ve been gazing at photographs of the old villas of Darlinghurst at this wonderful website, My Darlinghurst. I’ve also been looking at certain streets, especially Darlinghurst Road. The City of Sydney Archives are great for that purpose, particularly the demolition books. I stumbled on their existence when I was looking for cafes in 1924. (I still need a small one in Pitt Street.) I will shortly begin searching the 1,866 Darlinghurst images here.  I should surface in a week or so.

My search for the perfect flat for Raye Reynolds my doomed artist is starting to get frustrating but I know what the problem is – I want not just her flat but something of the street as well. Maybe just down the road is the Kings theatre, or a park where she goes sketching or a cafe where she scrapes together the money for a pot of tea. So I know I’m looking for a flat plus something else. I’m hunting for a detail that will help fix the flat in the reader’s mind. Maybe its a massive frangipani tree out the front. Now that’s a thought! Or maybe something else.

I wasn’t sure what that indefinable something was when I was researching the Ambassadors Cafe late last year. See this post. I knew I was spending too much time researching but my writing was stalled. I found out where the cafe was, what it looked like and the band that played there in in early 1924 (the last detail I didn’t even end up using). The very last thing I found out before the scene almost wrote itself was that there were private rooms off the main dining area! Private saloons! I put my six characters in the private room. Even worked out who sat where. There were introductions as a few didn’t know each other. They sat down at the oval table, began to talk and the chapter was away!

Think of me as I disappear in the demolition books. I’m sure I’ll come back with something interesting!



12 thoughts on “Searching in the past for that indefinable something

  1. You sure do like your research, Debbie! I have been researching too, but I don’t need to be as specific as you do with my harbour-side place in 1961 (thank goodness! You did so well with the cafe. Good luck with finding your character’s flat!


  2. I’m also writing a trilogy set in 1920s (but Chicago) and especially at the beginning, I spent a lot of time perusing historical pictures on line, trying to come up with the locations of the story. I’m so envy you could do research in a librery. I live in Italy (I’m italian) and can only rely on online material and books for my reserach. I’d love to be able to research in a librery. Ehhhh…..


    • How wonderful! Is your book up on goodreads? I have a library and you have Verona lol. To make you more envious I’m meeting another writer at the Mitchell Library next month to discuss Bohemian Sydney.


      • I AM envious. I don’t often get the possibility to hang out with other writers. But last March I spent a day in Dublin at a workshop with seven other aspiring writers. It was like heaven! ^_^


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