Words and Pictures

with Elizabeth Walton

Something about Mary

Elizabeth Walton talks to Mary MoodyGardening Australia’s Mary Moody

Mary Moody is a well known personality in the Blue Mountains – and well known to ABC viewers all over the country too, as a presenter with the popular television program, Gardening Australia.

Her family’s home is nestled within a rambling ‘cottage’ garden in Leura, filled with well-established, deep flower beds, whose abundant splashes of colour spill right out onto the street path.

The carefully planned beds of roses and lillies have surrendered to a mature garden that seems to dictate its own course. Everything looks perfectly comfortable just where it is. The pots, plants, and a quaint garden-gate all give the impression that this garden looked just as lovely 100 years ago, and always will.

Mary Moody’s background in the media goes back to the late 1960s, when she began working as a journalist on a Sydney women’s magazine. She moved to the Mountains with her family ten years later, in search of a more relaxed lifestyle. “When we arrived here, I began teaching myself to garden – and our house ended up looking like a mini-version of the house in the TV series, ‘The Good Life’. We had fruit and vegies, herbs, chickens and ducks – the lot,” she says.

As Mary’s interest in gardening grew, her passion eventually became her career. She started writing feature articles about gardening, which lead to her becoming the NSW presenter for Peter Cundall’s gardening program. “The team at Gardening Australia were looking for a State corespondent – and they came across some of my work, including an encyclopedia of roses which I edited. They auditioned me for the part and I got the job.”

Pulling together a national weekly program which features stories from all over the country is a major task. The crew travel around Australia once a month to shoot the regional segments, before flying to Hobart to edit the show. Mary’s role extends to planning the stories the NSW team will shoot, and writing the scripts well before the Tasmanian production team arrives. “You have to be so well organised that by the time the crew get here, all they need to do is get the camera out of the box and go.”

Although Mary mainly works from her home office in Leura, the filming takes her all over NSW. Her own quarterly organic gardening magazine, which is published in association with Gardening Australia’s monthly publication,was launched in December. Her husband, film-producer David Hannay, has recently moved his film production office to Katoomba. He is hoping to base future films on subjects around the Mountains.

Despite her busy career in the media, Mary still finds time to work on the local issues in the Blue Mountains which are very close to her heart. At the moment she is supporting the anti-MacDonalds campaign – which she says is important for protecting local tourism.

“In the Blue Mountains our villages are filled with terrific cafes and great street life – why would we want to change that? I believe that the mountains has a character of its own. If we succumb to all of those shopping-mall temptations then we’ll end up like the rest of Australia.

We’ll have a strip coming into town with fast food outlets, and we’ll have a strip going out of town that’s exactly the same – just like all of those wonderful old rural centres that were once so unique.”

Mary is also very concerned about local environment issues along the highway, such as the current effluent disposal system, which she believes was ‘a big mistake’. The State Government last month launched a $44 million plan to improve sewerage in the Upper Mountains. “I don’t have as much time as I used to for local issues, but when local groups contact me, I’m happy to lend my support to their cause. Many of them really are doing a fantastic job at working on these local issues.”

Because of her strong media profile, Mary is often able to assist by gaining publicity for local campaigners. She has contributed to a host of Australia’s most popular publications, including The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, Women’s Weekly, House and Garden, and Cleo, as well as television’s A Current Affair, and of course her current spot on Gardening Australia.

During the early 90′s, Mary ran a publication about The Blue Mountains, The Blue Mountains Whisper, in partnership with The Independent’s controversial columnist, Geoff Fanning. The paper investigated and exposed many local issues during its run. The Whisper gained much popularity because it provided a forum for local debate – yet the ill-fated tabloid was not without its critics.

“We were accused of being elitist and trying to keep visitors out of the mountains – but that was never the case. I’m very happy for the Mountains to be a tourist destination. But we must remember that tourists come here because of the attractions this area has. They don’t come herebecause the Mountains is a carbon copy of another area.” Although The Whisper’s run is over, copies of the paper can still be found hidden within Katoomba library.

Mary’s next action in community activism may entail a visit to Katoomba Primary school’s organic gardens and fruit forest – which she plans to film for Gardening Australia, after her eldest grandson starts Kindergarten at the school this year.

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