K083 : Varuna House, Studio and Garden | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


K083 : Varuna House, Studio and Garden

Item details

Name of item: K083 : Varuna House, Studio and Garden
Primary address: 139-141 Cascade Street, Katoomba, NSW 2780
Local govt. area: Blue Mountains
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
139-141 Cascade StreetKatoombaBlue Mountains   Primary Address
4-6 Sherman AvenueKatoombaBlue Mountains   Alternate Address

Statement of significance:

Varuna's association with a major novelist and today with a stream of writers in residence, inspired by Eleanor Dark's custom built creative environment, give it a high level of significance at the state level.
Its studio, garden and furnishings have maintained a high degree of integrity since the Darks lived there and the continuing association with the family emphasises its significance, especially its high local significance socially and aesthetically
Date significance updated: 27 Mar 00
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Eleanor Dark
Builder/Maker: Smith and Ledger, Katoomba
Construction years: 1939-1939
Physical description: Varuna is a two storey house facing east in a garden setting, with driveways from Cascade Street and Sherman Avenue. A minor drive leads from Loftus Street. A single room studio is located north west of the house and a hipped and gabled office (former shed) is in the east yard. A gabled shed is on the east boundary, north of the Sherman Avenue drive.
A gabled wing is at the north end of the main hipped wing which runs north-south. A gently curved bay window is in the centre of the east elevation and has a set of 5 double hung windows on the ground floor and 5 casement windows on the first floor. The entry door, between the gabled wing and the curved bay is sheltered by a narrow hipped roof supported on a wrought steel bracket. A garden wall screens the service entry at the west end of the house. The southwest corner of the main wing is curved.
The roof of the house is glazed terracotta tiles, chimneys are rendered and the walls are rendered. Windows are a mixture of double hung and large fixed sashes. The gables have no bargeboards.
A single storey hipped roof building with a rendered chimney with a single corbel. The roof is corrugated steel.
An arched door is located on the north wall of the entry recess. A large fixed sash window is on the north wall
Office (former shed)
Hipped and gabled weatherboard shed with corrugated steel roof.
Gabled fibro shed with terracotta chimney pot chimney) and ledged and sheeted doors on the west side.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Date condition updated:27 Mar 00
Modifications and dates: Terrace in South-West corner, c. 1990


Historical notes: Varuna was the home of Australian novelist Eleanor Dark and her husband Dr Eric Payten Dark. They moved to Cascade St., Katoomba in 1923 and Varuna was built there by Smith and Ledger of Katoomba in 1939 to the design of Eleanor Dark. It replaced a much earlier single-storied timber cottage, which provided some of the bricks and flooring for Varuna (Pratten, 2, 7.)

Dr Eric Dark had a medical practice in Katoomba, and was a well respected figure in the community. He was instrumental in establishing a Current Affairs Library and Reading Room. He also founded a small rock-climbing club called the Blue Mountaineers. Eleanor and Eric Dark were both keen bushwalkers and their adventurous spirit led them to discover a cave in a gully off Fortress Ridge. Eleanor named this cave Jerrikellimi. (Armitage.1998: 78-80)

Eleanor Dark’s first novel, Slow Dawning, was published in 1932. It demonstrated her love for the land. (Oxford Companion: 172) Her views of the Blue Mountains were encapsulated in The Little Company (1945) where she described the "nights were long and dark and piercingly cold; days were rent and maddened by bitter westerly winds.... "(Lowe: 128). Dark’s most well-known novels "are the historical trilogy which trace the first few decades of European settlement in Australia, ‘The Timeless Land’ (1941), ‘Storm of Time’ (1948), and ‘No Barrier’ (1953)." Eleanor Dark received an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 1977 and an award from the Australian Society of Women Writers in 1978. (Oxford Companion: 172)

The Darks were an active couple in the writers community in the Blue Mountains and the broader community. They counted amongst their friends Frank Walford (sometime mayor of Katoomba) and H. V. Evatt (labor politician). (Armitage) Their involvement in many ‘front’ organisations of the Communist Party, led to unfounded attacks in the 1940s of Communist activities. (Oxford Companion; Armitage)

Many writers and artists moved to the Blue Mountains in the early twentieth century. Most celebrated is Norman Lindsay, who moved to Faulconbridge in 1912. Eleanor and Eric Dark’s house, Varuna, was central to the artistic community in the 1940s. American poet Karl Shapiro met the Dark’s friends, Margaret and Frank Trist at Varuna. Novelist Eric Lowe lived nearby down along Cascade Street. (Lowe: 127-129)

In 1989 Varuna became a Writer’s Centre, thereby continuing and fostering the artistic ambience and influence of the Blue Mountains. It was officially opened on 16 January 1991 by Hon Peter Collins MP, minister for the Arts in NSW.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. (none)-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Integrity/Intactness: High
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanLEP2005K08307 Oct 05 122 
Heritage study K083   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Blue Mountains Heritage Study1983K083Croft & Associates Pty Ltd & Meredith Walker  Yes
Heritage Study Review, Blue Mountains1992K083Tropman and TropmanRIJ; PH; CM Yes
Blue Mountains Heritage Register Review1999K083Jack, R. I. for University of SydneyRIJ & PH Yes
Technical Audit BM Heritage Register2008K083Blue Mountains City CouncilCity Planning Branch No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenArmitage, Audrey M.1998The Katoomba-Leura Story
WrittenAustralian Heritage Commission Register of the National Estate
WrittenDavison, Graeme, Hirst, John and Macintyre, Stuart (eds)1998The Oxford Companion to Australian History
WrittenLow, John1991Pictorial Memories: Blue Mountains
WrittenPratten, C. H.1990Varuna: Conservation Report

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 1170001

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