When retired journalist Iola Mathews was trying to get back into writing in 2003, she called the National Trust to see if they had a room somewhere that she could write in.
“I started to think about a room outside the house,” Iola wrote in her 2009 memoir, ‘My Mother, My Writing and Me’. “Somewhere I could go each day like a regular job, a place with no phone and no interruptions. A room of one’s own.”
They took her to Glenfern an empty Gothic mansion in East St Kilda, where she was given a room rent-free in exchange for helping the Trust turn the house into writing studios.
Glenfern was built in 1857 and was owned by the family of Australian artist Arthur Boyd from 1876 to 1901. Its last owner, Amy Ostberg, left the house to the National Trust when she died in 1984 but then it remained almost empty for nearly 20 years.
Set within one of the largest Jewish communities in Melbourne, Iola remembers the area as “rich and exotic, humming with voices in many different languages.”
They had a big job ahead of them, so Iola asked then Director Joel Becker if the Victorian Writers Centre (now called Writers Victoria) could take on some of the administration of the project, and help her liaise with the National Trust.
It took two years to raise the money and then another year for the renovations to take place. When Glenfern finally opened in 2006, it was equipped with 10 studios – one of which houses the Team of Pianists and nine others through which nearly 100 writers of all sorts and all stages have spent time over the last eight years. The Australian Poetry Centre was also based in the building at one stage.
Iola herself has written three books while at Glenfern and her latest book, Chequered Lives, was launched there earlier this year.
As well as the space it has created for her own writing, Iola greatly enjoys the community of Glenfern. The writers have lunch together once a month to share tips and advice on getting published and encourage each other’s work.
Iola sent us a birthday message to celebrate the organisation’s 25th anniversary this year
“Congratulations WV, on 25 years of helping writers of all ages, stages and genres. Long may you continue!”
Iola was awarded Life Membership of Writers Victoria in 2006 for her contribution to the organisation.