We sit at the table, opposite each other, a tape recorder and a microphone between us, and I begin by saying that I don’t want to start with Brett.
‘That’s a good idea.’ Wendy looks at me and smiles. ‘I didn’t start with Brett.’
These days Wendy Whiteley is a legendary figure in the art world, the keeper of the Brett Whiteley legacy, best known for creating the Secret Garden on the land below her house on Sydney Harbour. But before she met Brett, Wendy was herself a budding artist; her creative work ever since has been under-recognised.
Wendy is a survivor: of drug dependence, bitter divorce, the deaths of Brett and their beloved daughter, Arkie. More than that, she is a remarkable figure whose life has had its own contours and priorities. Now in her early eighties—reflective yet outspoken, with a dry wit—she has much to tell about it.
The product of many hours of candid conversations at the kitchen table in Lavender Bay with acclaimed Brett Whiteley biographer Ashleigh Wilson, and supplemented by extensive research and interviews with others, this is the unforgettable story of Wendy’s life.
‘This astonishing, glorious book reveals Wendy Whiteley as she really is—an artist in her own right, a unique personality. Wendy tells the truth: she made a garden for Australia. And found the right person to tell her amazing story.’
‘A gift of a book—a rare insight into an extraordinary woman. Wise, painful, illuminating: a narrative of resilience and hope. I have so many friends I want to give this beautiful book to.’
‘Wendy is incisive, opinionated and totally loveable. She cuts to the chase, carrying her vision and creativity wherever she goes. Her approach has always been boots, secateurs, shovel and all. This book is a hidden treasure, filled with unexpected lessons on everything that life has to offer. Wendy’s garden may be secret but A Year with Wendy Whiteley reveals the blueprint behind her embrace of life.’
‘Reflective yet compellingly frank.’
‘A Year with Wendy Whiteley is the story of an incredible woman who was so much more than the cool girl hanging out with the bad boy. She is a hypnotic artist, who was able to give full expression to her own creativity when she came out from under the shadow of Brett and into the sunshine of her own secret garden.’
‘The two discuss everything from mortality and grief to celebrity and the art market. Whiteley is wise and candid, and Wilson is a fine interviewer.’
‘A marvellous window into an Australian life, a creative life, an important life.
‘Wilson’s time with Whiteley allows him to paint detailed brushstrokes of her life…The overall effect is a beautiful portrait of an Australian icon who, despite not seeking the spotlight, fell into it nonetheless; her own artistic ambitions growing in the midst of tragedy and grief, and finding new forms, such as her secret garden.’
‘An insight into the pain and pleasures of an extraordinarily creative life and the resilience and passions that sometimes fire her soul.’
‘An engrossing picture of the subject’s life…[A Year with Wendy Whiteley] tells an absorbing story.’
‘The exchanges between Whiteley and author Ashleigh Wilson grow gradually and organically to form an engrossing picture. Like a garden, this is a story featuring elements that push upwards into the light, shadowy layers nearly obscured by time, and paths leading to unexpected places.’