In preparing to honour the life of my friend Peter Fisk two questions came to me which I would like to propose
What makes a garden?
And what type of person creates a garden?
While I know there is much recorded about Peter Fisk the celebrated Film and TV director, I would like to write about Peter the generous host and passionate gardener.
I first met Peter & Claudia Fisk in 2002 when my partner Ian and I moved from inner city Sydney to Leura. At the time Peter was in the late stages of a very successful and long career as a television & film Director. While I didn’t really know who Peter was, I certainly knew his work. Like a lot of Australians, and particularly mountain’s folk, Peter’s ‘Day of the Roses’ had a huge and lasting effect on me. This piece of work earned Peter an AFI award, the third of his career, and Claudia still laments the fact that one more and she would have had the makings of a rather smart coffee table.
During the time we have known Peter & Claudia I have heard a number of industry related anecdotes, however there are, no doubt, many people far better equipped, that can speak far more eloquently than I, about Peter the Director.
For my partner Ian, his move from a life in the city to the mountains was literally a baptism by fire. The summer of 2002 was a particularly bad year for bush fires in the Blue Mountains, and three days after moving to Leura, I found myself having to stay overnight in Sydney due to work commitments. It was the first night that Ian had been alone in his new home, whilst a substantial fire was burning in the Grose valley north of here. At some stage during the evening, the power went out, and the glow of the firefront was sufficient to light up our living room.
While I had a little more understanding of bushfires, having grown up in the country, Ian had none, and unfortunately for him, I was not around to help alleviate his fears.
Thankfully, soon after the power went out, Ian had a visit from what, at this point, was our virtually unknown next door neighbour, inviting him next door for company & to listen to radio broadcasts of the progress of the fire - this was Peter Fisk.
Over the years we have shared friends and many dinners - I remember one evening sitting around the dinner table of one of Woodford Street’s renowned dinner parties, turning to Peter’s mother-in-law Marion who was sitting next to me, and saying that no matter where I found myself placed around this table, I would have had no less of an evening. This was the community in which we had found ourselves - the community that Peter & Claudia Fisk were an integral part of.
The other thing I have shared with Peter Fisk over the past 8 years, apart from our passion for gardening, was the love of our dogs. 6 months after moving to Leura, 2 beautiful dogs came into our lives. They were like chalk & cheese, one a big black Labrador named Rhonda, so called because she reminded us of one of those strong, dependable, cake making CWA ladies, and the other a rather coquettish Maltese Shih Tzu called Gracie (we think the ones responsible for naming her were going for irony). Straight away these two stole our hearts, and soon after the hearts of Peter, Claudia & Marion, who immediately took the role of doting grandparents, or as they became known, Uncle Peter, Auntie Claudia & Auntie Marion. While there were rules and boundaries at home, at Rustlings there were none. Needless to say as soon as Uncle Peter and Auntie Claudia’s names were mentioned, Rhonda and Gracie were out the door and up the lane before we could complete the sentence.
Peter was especially fond of our Rhonda - my partner Ian vividly recalls finding Peter one night with Rhonda, who had clambered up onto the antique loveseat in Peter & Claudia’s bedroom & fallen asleep, tucking her in with a hand crocheted rug.
Peter’s spirituality was clearly evident through his connection with the soil at Rustlings. Casual passers by would often observe him tending his garden, and later describe the experience of watching Peter working his garden with a ‘monk like’ reverence. The way Peter worked his soil has given Rustlings a very strong sense of Spirit of Place. And Peter, true to form, even up to a couple of years ago deferred the garden’s soul to its original creator Thelma Charlesworth, though it was clearly evident the evolution of Rustlings was of Peter’s making. Peter the Gardener was a very humble man.
While still directing episodes of All Saints, Peter mused at how these episodes financed the major works such as the Teahouse, ponds and major planting schemes. These major works which, over the years have become the main structural elements and major drawcards of the garden, were carried out adeptly and with quite a degree of professional skill by Peter and his trusty side-kick John King. The paradox of this beauty being created with the proceeds of the work Peter produced was never lost on me - you see Peter was well-known though the industry as the man to turn to, to orchestrate disaster, misery& mayhem, and deliver it on time and within budget.
7 years ago Rustlings opened as one of the esteemed gardens opened to the public during the internationally renowned Leura Gardens Festival. I know this gave both Peter and Claudia, as indeed it did all of us, an enormous amount of pride because it recognised the amount of hard work and personal pride that Peter put into his piece of paradise, and the joy he had in sharing it with others. The skills Peter had acquired from years working in film and television were applied to the preparation and subsequent opening of ’Rustlings’ The displays were timed with the utmost precision and the daily ritual during the festival of blowing all the paths, personally carried out at 7.30am, so the garden always presented freshly.
In true theatrical form, Peter believed the experience of the last person through the garden on the last day should be no different to the first person on the first day.
Unlike Peter’s achievements captured on celluloid, where his name will live forever, his garden, like any living thing, is much more sensuous. It will live on in the hearts and memories of those who have lingered, smelt, tasted and imagined, as they have wandered Rustlings paths.
During the last couple of hours of my friend’s life I had the honour of being in the presence of Peter and his beloved Claudia. During this brief time I was able to witness the strength, courage, grace and dignity, but above all the love between these two incredible people. THIS was Peter, the gardener.
Gardens are created for a lot of reasons, the best ones are created to protect and nurture love.